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Teach High School Science

Science Conferences as Professional Development
Judy Jones

As money becomes more scarce, there are fewer and fewer funds to send science teachers to state and national conferences. Yet, these conferences can provide great professional development! Just recently (in November) I attended the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Conference in Denver, CO and the North Carolina Science Teacher Association (NCSTA) Conference in Greensboro, NC. I did have to pay for these conferences myself (including my substitutes!) but the conferences were worth the expense in many ways.

Over the years, I have found that these conferences send me home with renewed enthusiasm and with a huge array of activities and ideas that I can share with colleagues and students. I am also a frequent presenter and view this as my way of giving back to the profession that has given me so much.

The theme of the NABT conference this year was Evolution – due to the 200th birthday of Darwin and the 150th birthday of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Many, although not all, of the sessions were focused on issues surrounding the teaching of evolution.

The conferences usually include some field trips that require a small additional cost. This year at the NABT conference, there was a trip to the Denver Zoo, bird watching at Barr Lake, and a visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park. I did not do the field trips this year because I travel to Denver frequently and have taken my granddaughters to these sites. However, in the past, in other cities, I have had an inside view of the Memphis zoo, canoed on the western coast of Florida, gone to many museums for special programs, etc. Often these trips include “behind the scenes” opportunities that would not be possible with an ordinary visit.

Conference participants can also sign up for special workshops which last one half to a full day and also have an additional cost. In years past I have gotten incredible ideas for my classroom from these workshops. I have learned where to order large fresh veal hearts to have my students do a mock bypass operation as part of their dissection. I have learned how to have my students collect their own DNA and where to send the DNA for sequencing so a part of the mtDNA genome can be used later for evolutionary comparisons. Workshops often involve labwork and may be presented by companies or by individuals.

In addition, there are regular workshops which usually last about one hour. These are typically presented by teachers or university folks, but also may be presented by exhibitors from various supply companies. Each day of the conference has these workshops scheduled all day long. Typically, these are held in rooms that hold 40-60 people.

Interspersed with the regular workshop sessions are wonderful speakers. These are experts who are well known in their field for various areas of research. These talks are held in large auditorium-style rooms.

Then there are the exhibits. Over 100 companies and organizations set up booths in a large room and have materials for teachers to examine. There are lots of free CD’s, posters, pencils, books, etc. At the end of the conference, the big biological companies raffle off the living materials. This year I won a tarantula, some anoles, and some larva and butterflies which my granddaughters were delighted to adopt! It would have been hard to bring them home to my classroom (and I already have quite an array of classroom critters for my students to enjoy.)

There are also some special functions, including a large dinner banquet. This year’s speaker was Sean Carroll whose most recent book is Remarkable Creatures. There is also an honors luncheon where the Outstanding Biology Teacher from each state is honored and presented with gifts – including a beautiful microscope. And there are evening receptions with food! The Biology Club reception included a 100 dollar gift certificate to Carolina Biological to all sponsors of Biology Clubs at their school. Book companies often host receptions to feature a new textbook and there are free copies of the book for all attendees.

Here are a few examples of workshops and lectures I attended this year.

Inquiry-Based Microscopy: The Case of the Missing Cockatoo (Connie Russell from Angelo State University) In this workshop we learned about a laboratory designed to teach microscope skills. The whole activity is based around a mystery of a cockatoo that goes missing from a pet store. Students examine blood samples, hair samples, and other clues to propose a hypothesis for how the cockatoo came to disappear. The lab is very adaptable to middle and high school students.

Featured Speaker: Brian “Fox” Ellis as Charles Darwin - Charles Darwin and His Revolutionary Idea
Brian Ellis entertained us by acting as “Charles Darwin.” We, the audience, pretend that we are attending an evening meeting of the London Royal Geological Society and the young Charles Darwin is telling stories of his adventures. He regaled us with humorous (and true) tales of his training and his discoveries of strange creatures on the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere. He also threaded through his impersonation plenty of scientific process and evidence for evolution. His presentation is full of fossils, insects, plants, and other paraphernalia. I did not need any convincing to buy his CD so that my students can watch the performance!

Paper Microarrays: A Classroom Activity Exploring Lung Cancer and Smoking (Rose Seltzer from FOTODYNE) – In this workshop we were presented with an interesting microarray paper simulation with an interesting and authentic connection to gene activation, smoking, and cancer. I have been looking for a relevant microarray activity that is at the level of my ninth grade biology students and this is perfect!

Blogs and Podcasts, Wiki Sites and Streamed Video, Oh My! (Rich Benz – Educational Service Center, Concord, OH) I am interested in how to incorporate new technologies into my classroom and this session was filled with interesting tools, techniques, and technologies to help bring my classroom into the 21st century.

Featured Speaker: Phillip Danielson - Forensic Analysis of Human DNA in Criminal Investigations (University of Denver, Denver, CO)
This was a fascinating talk on crime detection and the modern technologies that are being used to provide crucial information. The emphasis was on teachers using forensics in the classroom to build student interest as well as on the science of the technologies – very engaging and up-to-date!

Featured Speaker: Cheryl Charles (Children and Nature Networks, Los Angeles, CA)
Cheryl Charles talked about the importance of getting children into the out-of-doors for both health and happiness as well as for success. She co-founded an organization (Children and Nature Network) with author Richard Louv who wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. I was challenged as a biology teacher to think of ways to engage my own students in the outdoors more often.

Time to Abandon Darwin? Teaching Evolution in a Climate of Controversy (Kenneth Miller (co-author with Joseph Levine of Pearson Biology)
Ken Miller argued that it is time to make evolution a central feature of the biology curriculum – not an add-on. Ken discussed his many experiences in defending evolution both in the media, the courthouse (Dover, PA) and in his own biology classroom at Brown University. He has helpful suggestions for biology teachers who are bombarded with anti-evolution sentiments.

Keepin’ Biology REAL— Using Podcasting to Support Science Literacy (Ben Boyer from Boulder High School in Colorado)
Ben had some engaging ideas for how to enhance scientific literacy using podcasts for previewing and reviewing course materials and concepts.

Dinner with Sean Carroll
Sean Carroll discussed his latest book, Remarkable Creatures, by highlighting the scientific journeys that have shaped evolutionary theory. His fascinating talk spanned two centuries of discoveries. Talks such as these help enhance my own scientific knowledge!

What a Difference a Herp Makes! (George Sellers and Judy Jones)
My wonderful colleague from South Carolina, George Sellers, and I discovered a couple of years ago that we are both herp (reptiles and amphibians) fans so we put together a talk about how to care for herps in the classroom, how to get specimens and how to use them in teaching.

HOW ABOUT YOU?
I hope many of you consider attending a science conference, either state or national level. You will learn so much about new scientific discoveries and new pedagogies.

Here are some links where you can find some of the latest national conferences.

National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT)
http://nabt.org/websites/institution/index.php?p=1
At the left on this webpage is a “conferences and workshops” button.

National Association of Science Teachers (NSTA)
http://nsta.org/
At the top of the webpage is a “conferences and workshops” button. NSTA has one big meeting in the spring and three smaller regional meetings in the fall.

American Chemical Society (ACS)
http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content
Click the button at the top that says “meetings.”

As always if you have questions or contributions, please feel free to contact me.
jjonesae@gmail.com

 

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