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PhD students Chelsea Andrews and Yara Shaban reflect on AERA 2016

The 2016 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) was recently held in Washington, D.C. In celebration of AERA's centennial year, the theme of the meeting was "Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies" and the meeting featured interesting retrospective work as scholars reflected on how far the field has come in the last 100 years.

The Tufts Education department was well represented at the meeting; many current and former faculty members and graduate students presented their work. Below, Tufts STEM Education PhD students Chelsea Andrews and Yara Shaban, who each presented posters, reflect on their experiences at the conference.

Chelsea Andrews:
One of the main benefits of attending a broad conference like AERA is the opportunity to meet and learn from scholars outside of your immediate research area. The most moving session I attended was entitled, "Teaching for Change: Teacher Education in the Age of the Black Lives Matter Movement." It was an invited speaker session featuring Duchess Harris, an African American academic, author, and legal scholar who recently wrote a book intended for grades 8-12 called "Black Lives Matter." She discussed how race relations are rarely mentioned in high school and how much of the population is historically illiterate in terms of race relations, which will continue to be a problem until more recent racial history is taught in schools. Dr. Harris's new book came from a recognition that teachers feel ill-equipped to address this history and context and lack age-appropriate resources. Dr. Harris argued that students see racially-based protests, police brutality, and public trials on the news and social media, and when they come to school they need a safe place to process what they are seeing and hearing. Following Dr. Harris's presentation was a whole group discussion centered around the question of how to teach as if black lives matter, with a focus on pre-service teacher education. One theme of this discussion that stuck with me was a recommendation—particularly relevant if pre-service teachers are resistant to teaching black history or race relations because they are not planning on teaching black students—to frame it as American history, an essential part of what makes America what it is, and thus essential for all students to encounter.

Yara Shaban:
This was my first time attending AERA and what an experience it was! As a phd student, you get to meet your intellectual heroes whose work you follow, get inspired by, and inform your own research with. However, within the intense academic conversations that take place, you are also reminded of the personal stories and struggles educators face. One particular story that touched me was Michelene Chi's account of her personal journey that she recounted during her award acceptance speech. Professor Chi was one of the recipients of AERA 2016 award for excellence in education research. Her work was acknowledged for its outstanding effect and success in the field. Professor Chi's work impacted the way we think about students' knowledge and motivated further research into questions of conceptual change. Her journey, as she narrated, started on a boat many years ago when her mother decided with great courage that the United States of America is the best place to secure a good education for her kids. The family traveled for many dangerous hours till they reached land, and little Michelene got the education her mother wished for her. Professor Chi thanked her mother for that decision and her perseverance to make it happen. As an international student at Tufts, I am aware of how lucky I am to be able to be part of a bigger community of passionate researchers in education. Professor's Chi's story is a reminder of what our work is supposed to be all about; it's about giving opportunities to students to engage in learning. The kind of learning that appeals to students' curiosities and leaves them feeling accomplished.