Life Lessons, Middle School, Science, Uncategorized

NSTA14 Boston Conference Summary

At the time I applied for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award in November, my goals for this conference were three-fold: improve my understanding and application of inquiry based learning; learn how to utilize technology into my daily instruction; and discover how to incorporate literacy-based activities into my curriculum and develop literacy skills. In the few months since my initial application, as I matured as a science teacher, I found that my goals had slightly changed. Inquiry-based learning and project-based learning still ranked first on my list of conference goals. Similarly, I still wanted to know how to incorporate scientific literacy into my instruction and how to develop my students into science writers through the use of scientific argumentation. Finally, I decided to use this conference as a way to build my content knowledge in topics that I could connect to my curriculum – such as citizen science, ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and climate change. Additionally, I shifted away from the focus on technology and instead directed my efforts to understanding the Next Generation Science Standards.

#nsta14 #nsta nsta
In case you were wondering what to wear at your next #NSTA14 NGSS PDI session… PS: Don’t judge my mirror selfie.

I spent my first day of the conference attending PDI-8 NGSS 101. Through this all-day session, I gained a greater grasp on the NGSS standards and how to use them. Prior to the conference, I found the standards overwhelming—particularly how the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and performance standards tied together. I came away from this session with, I believe, a much clearer understanding of the standards. The Disciplinary Core Ideas is the actual science content students should know. The performance standards reveal student understanding—they prove that students understand the DCI. The Science and Engineering Practices are the practices, or approaches, that scientists use as they study the natural world. These are skills that students, as scientists, need in order to find success in the sciences. Finally, the crosscutting concepts are themes or ideas that apply to the many disciplinary areas of science and engineering and unify each of these fields as a natural science. While I’m still not an expert, I feel much more comfortable using these standards and understanding how to truly know if my students have mastered them. I am very excited to take a look at my current curriculum and determine ways I can shift my units to address these NGSS standards!

On a slightly more silly note – I had a great time with these two ladies from Texas! Meet Lara and Kelsey:

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I also added another goal to my conference “to-do list.”

On Thursday and the first half of Friday, I traveled to research institutions at Cape Cod, Woods Hole, and Northeastern University’s Marine Lab to learn about ocean ecosystems.  This area is very much of personal interest to me – I studied coastal ecology during a short study-abroad session the summer after my freshman year of college, and I am still very drawn to that field.  Even though my students and I don’t live by the ocean, its role in the health of our planet is especially important today as threats of overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten our stability and perhaps even the survival of our way of life. As a student in a landlocked state, I was never really exposed to the disciplines of coastal ecology and ocean sciences, and I truly wish I had been. I would have loved to study it in more depth during college and perhaps even pursue a career in the field.  It is my hope that by incorporating some ocean science into my curriculum through our examination of climate and climate change, I can expose my students to this interesting field, even though we are geographically removed from the ocean.

Through my field trip experiences, I gained an understanding of the work marine scientists do, their areas of research, and actual fieldwork techniques.  I enjoyed a presentation by a doctoral candidate from Northeastern University who is currently looking at the genetic diversity of algae in intertidal zones, as well as heard how researchers are using synthetic muscle to create robots that respond to “neural impulses” (or something like that. I don’t remember the specific vocabulary, as it was a pretty complex presentation).  It was also very interesting to hear of the work being done at the salt marshes in Cape Cod, particularly the efforts to quantify the “carbon sink” and “methane sink” abilities of saltwater marshes to open the possibility of using marshes as “carbon offsets” or “carbon trading.” I was also able to learn about the history of the region and its contributions to the field of science, such as the fossils that were discovered by Agassiz that filled in some gaps in the fossil record. Finally, I was able to participate in “fieldwork” as we examined the intertidal zone, identifying species and counting number or estimating percent cover in randomly selected plots in the lower, middle and upper intertidal zones.

At Northeastern University’s Marine Science Lab in Nahant, MA.

Friday night I was able to participate in the Teacher Awards Gala at the Renaissance Hotel.  Not only was it wonderful to be a part of the celebration and delicious food, but it was also inspiring to see the achievements of other science teachers.  I am motivated to continue to grow professionally and do what I can to earn another opportunity to attend NSTA’s awards gala. While the PDI on Wednesday allowed me to “check off” the NGSS content on my conference goals list, and through my fieldtrips build my content knowledge, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday were devoted to improving my instruction in the areas of inquiry-based learning and scientific literacy development.  I attended conference sessions on the use of interactive notebooks in science classes (“Writing to Learn Through Science Notebooks/Journals in Elementary and Secondary Classrooms”), the progression from hands-on to mind-based models in science (“Moving from Hands-On Models to Minds-On Models”),  and the utilization of NOAA’s resources for instruction on coral reef and ocean acidification (“Engage Your Students With NOAA’s Coral Reef and Ocean Acidification Resources”).  Additionally, I attended a presentation by Loree Griffin Burns on citizen science designed to engage, inspire and empower students to participate in the science community from a young age, and I learned about the Boston Schools Environmental Initiative’s partnership with Dennis Haley Elementary Pilot School, where an integrated thematic curriculum and a dedication to outdoor learning is engaging students in scientific practices and increasing the relevancy of classroom content.  While I plan to stay in my present position for a few more years, it is wonderful to hear about the success of school and community collaborations like this in the hopes that I may have the opportunity to work in a similar environment someday.

Comic Interlude: Penguins

Finally, although it is not the last session I participated in, I attended the presentation, “To Lead from the Classroom, Get Out of the Classroom!”  My goal in attending this presentation was to identify additional strategies to engage with others and take advantage of opportunities to develop as a scientist, instructor, community member and ultimately, a leader in the field of science education.

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, and I can only hope to be lucky enough to attend next year.  Not only was I able to connect with other professionals in this field and learn from their experiences, but I was also able to explore the New England coast and Boston’s city life.  I definitely have expanded my understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards and inquiry-based learning, and I am so excited and motivated to bring that learning to my classroom! Thank you, NSTA for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award!

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