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!

Wednesday: Lunch Break!

So I am sitting in the lobby of the Westin – holy cow, this is a nice hotel! Apparently this is where all the New Teachers Academy cadets are shacked up… Gotta remember to apply for that for next year! I sure wouldn’t mind hitting up Chicago in 2015.

Anyhoo, the session I have been attending is an introduction to the NGSS standards.  I’ve been sitting at a table all morning with three people from Texas, one who spent a few years teaching in Alaska, and another guy who was born in my own home town – Erie, PA! He currently lives in Maine, but still – small world, huh! It has been pretty cool connecting with these teachers.  You can see below how well we hit it off:

clearly rocking the goggles

clearly rocking the goggles (not.)

But seriously now, it was cool to talk about these teachers’ experiences teaching in their very different environment. Apparently in at least some parts of Alaska, many locals have trouble accepting “outsiders.” That would be a serious challenge toward building the relationships so important to effective classroom management. On the other hand, I definitely heard some teachers discussing challenges I have in my own class – students being so worried about grades, they lose sight of the experiences and learning; the importance of extracurriculars; pressure from parents, etc. As a result of these pressures, the teachers mentioned, their students were often afraid to try and fail – which is a problem when incorporating the engineering aspects of the NGSS.  I have found my fifth and sixth graders don’t yet have that type of response to engineering activities, but at the same time, I can understand how high school students might worry about grades for projects that don’t quite work, or about peers looking down on designs that aren’t quite right.  Unfortunately, the failures are part of the learning process (and really scientific methodology all together), and students are missing out on this experience…

Anyway, lunch is over  – more on that later!

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Day 1: NSTA National Conference on Science Education

Business Card Sized PaperSo yesterday a fellow science teacher and I spent the day traveling from good ol’ Erie, Pennsylvania to Boston, Massachusetts for our first day at the NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education.  Today we will be attending the Professional Development Institute for a day-long program on the Next Generation Science Standards. Right now, I am (well, obviously updating this blog but also) waiting for my fellow teacher to get ready to hit the road!  We stayed last night in a hotel just south of Boston, so it will probably be a 40 minute drive to the Convention Center.

Side Note: I really have no idea how this happened, because usually I make great time on the road, but it was only supposed to take us 8.5 hours and it definitely took us closer to 10.  It was a long drive and kinda sucked. I mean, I have done long drives before (and alone at that!) from Erie to Charlotte (and on several occasions!), but this drive definitely felt longer. Maybe it was because we were literally on I-90 for like 400 miles (that’s just a guess, I don’t know exactly how many miles).

Anyway, I started off yesterday morning with my car packed and ready to go:

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Ugh, I hate mirror-selfies and this picture as a whole, but I don’t have time to be picky, and I feel like I need to justify how my leggings look is still cute and not ridiculously casual.

I definitely overpacked. However, my dilemma this morning was that I didn’t have enough clothes.  Last night, I didn’t want to bring up my huge suitcase since we were just staying here one night, so I tried to grab just a few clothes to wear today to the PDI session…  It left me with very little wiggle room this morning (although that might be a good thing because I sometimes have trouble deciding what to wear).  Anyway, I am doing black leggings, long white shirt, black vest, and maybe a scarf (haven’t decided).  I really hope I’m not underdressed… but I also really hate real pants. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like to be comfortable – and I think the learning that is going to take place today is way more important than my fashion decisions. (Because who can argue with that statement? Hah!)

Anyway, so now I am in Boston and ready to go! The PDI session I picked is called “NGSS 101: An Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards.”  Basically, it is a look at the new standards, what they mean, and how to adapt teaching and classroom learning toward implementing those standards.  I expect to learn a lot… but I’ll let you know!

YAY FOR #NSTA14! 

When I saw this in the gas station (even though we were still about two hours away), it made me feel better.

 

National Conference on Science Education

As a first year science teacher, I am always looking for advice and ideas to use in the classroom.  I have long been a believer in professional organizations – like the National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, and most recently, the National Science Teacher’s Association.  As a member, I receive a monthly journal with lots of amazing lesson ideas, science content, and resource reviews, and I can access additional material on the web – including old journal issues, email lists, and mini science content courses.

Browsing the site earlier this year, I came across an opportunity for new teachers to apply for an award to help defray the cost of attending the National Conference on Science Education, to be held this year in Boston.  To be honest, I was not expecting the award.  On the application, it directly states that preference will be given to teachers who had been members of the NSTA Student Chapter of their college or university, and to make matters worse, I realized I forgot to send the main information form with my entire application packet and had to send it in a separate envelope.  I figured it was a long shot, but why not try.

I was incredibly surprised and honored, then, to receive an email from NSTA, announcing that I had been one of 25 teachers selected for this award. WOW! I can’t begin to share with you my excitement — it only grew after I began browsing the sessions to be held at the conference as well.

Being selected for this award has not only filled me with excitement to travel to Boston and to attend these amazing conference sessions and (yay!) FIELD TRIPS, but it has given renewed life to my drive to continually improve — to gain new experiences, to make connections, and to become a leader in my field.

I have definitely had my ups and downs with education — when I left Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools last year, I thought I would give up on it entirely.  I felt like a failure of a teacher, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the career I had spent the last seven years working toward. Teaching at OLCS this year has entirely turned that around, though.  I work with an amazing team of teachers, with awesome students, and with administrators that are there for me.  I have the freedom and support to meet curriculum standards creatively and to incorporate the authentic learning experiences so important at the middle level.  My students have video-conferenced with professors from Penn State Behrend, collected water quality data from Cascade Creek, and conducted an energy audit of our school.  They are engaged in independent research projects, investigating original questions and sharing their results through journal-like reports.    Some of my students will even share their research at Allegheny College’s Creek Connections Symposium in April.  I am lucky to work at a school like OLCS, and the culture that our teachers, students, and administrators have created has been a huge factor in my success.

I look forward to what’s to come, and I can’t wait to share it all with you!

 

Layers of the Earth & Plate Tectonics

My students have just started an Earth Science unit, looking at the questions: What factors shaped our land? and How has Earth changed over time?

I got lucky that as I was planning this unit, I received the NSTA’s Science Scope December issue, which had a great article about using Oreo cookies to teach plate tectonics.  I have attached the three day lesson I created that centers around that activity.  In addition to the actual Oreos, I also utilized the Sciencesaurus book (green version) and another text, Science Explorer: Inside Earth.

Layers of the Earth

Plate Tectonic Puzzle

Oreo Tectonic Collage