Close to 1,600 science teachers, with more expected to arrive over the next two days, descended upon beautiful Salt Lake City yesterday for NSTA's Western Area Convention, the first of three NSTA regional conventions to be held this fall. The convention is being held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City, just a couple of blocks from Temple Square (site of the famous Mormon Temple) and within walking distance of world-class restaurants and shops.
This article, designed to convey a flavor of the convention experience, represents a preliminary account of the first day's events. More in-depth articles will be posted in the coming days. So make sure to check back with us.
Morning: General Session
NSTA President Harold Pratt greeted the crowd in the morning with an important message: In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the scientific community must once again be ready to rise to the challenge of ensuring the nation's security. The country has looked to us in the past and they are looking to us again, Pratt told the packed conference hall, expressing great confidence in the ability of NSTA members to mold the next generation of scientists.
NSTA President Harold Pratt welcomes
Convention Chairperson Virginia Ord reiterated Pratt's message of high achievement. In honor of the spirit of the 2002 Winter Olympics, which are to be held in Salt Lake City, she urged attendees to "go for the gold."
Blake J. Merrell, a college physics student, then introduced the morning's featured speaker: former NASA engineer and best-selling author Homer H. Hickam. Hickam enchanted the audience with his tales of growing up in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia, stories that would later form the basis of his popular memoir Rocket Boys.
He told the audience: "When I saw Sputnik fly over my hometown, my life changed. I knew I wanted to be part of that, and I decided I had to get NASA to some day hire me. The only thing I could think of to impress NASA was to build a rocket" and fire it into space.
Homer Hickam signs his book
Against great odds, Hickam did eventually succeed in his goal, but only after years of sweat, tears, and hard work - and only with the encouragement of a very special teacher, Miss Riley. Hickam told the audience that he has never forgotten the kindness of Miss Riley, and he expressed profound gratitude for the dedication and commitment that teachers bring to their jobs every day. "You are my heroes," he said. "All your salaries should be tripled, if not quadrupled."
Ribbon Cutting: Exhibition Area
After Hickam's presentation, many attendees made their way to the exhibit hall area for the ribbon cutting ceremony, marking the official opening of the exhibit hall. While filing in, attendees were entertained by the music of the Davis High School Jazz Ensemble.
Once the ribbon was cut, attendees wandered through the exhibit area, which featured more than 200 exhibitors offering educational products and services (including many freebies). At an exhibit sponsored by Educational Innovations, Inc., two NSTA members, Sammie Frost and Nila Jones Thomas, said they were shopping for "hands-on activities that we can take back to the classroom."
An exhibitor shows his stuff
"Science is exciting if you make it exciting," they said, and one of the reasons they come to NSTA conventions is to stock up on those hard-to-find classroom supplies and teaching tools that grab the attention of their students.
In the afternoon, convention-goers had the option to choose from dozens of workshops, presentations, courses, and field trips. To help attendees navigate through the choices, many events were centered around one of three convention strands: the science of sports; technology; and the systems of earth.
One popular presentation in the earth systems strand was led by Dr. Jeff Goldstein, director of a project (called Voyage) that installed a permanent scale model of the solar system on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Voyage model is one-one billionth the actual size of our solar system, Goldstein told the hundreds of convention-goers who attended his presentation, making the sun the size of a large grapefruit and the earth smaller than the head of a pin.
Jeff Goldstein demonstrates a concept with a
Utah Jazz basketball
In his riveting presentation, which elicited many an "oooh" and "aaah" from the audience, Goldstein demonstrated how teachers can convey the scope and majesty of our universe through the use of models, including objects as simple as two balls and a piece of string. He also impressed upon the audience the importance of explaining science in terms that students could understand. For example, did you know that if you collected a grain of stand for every star in the known universe, you would be able to form a beach the size of Colorado?
Goldstein ended his presentation with some words of inspiration for teachers. "From the Wright brothers' first flight to the moon landing, the story of the human race is one of achievement on top of achievement. What makes teaching so wonderful is that you are charged with passing the book of knowledge on to the next generation. You can say to your students: 'This is what we have already learned about our world. Feel free to jump into history any time.'"
Rave Reviews So Far
During day one, veteran and first-time attendees alike had only rave reviews for the professional development opportunities offered at the convention. In fact, to the extent that there were complaints, it was that there was too much to choose from. "I wish I could attend all the sessions" was a common refrain heard among attendees.
The Salt Palace Convention Center
That kind of enthusiasm has also contributed to some pretty jam-packed schedules. For example, Leah and Robert Spencer, who described themselves as "NSTA members forever," said they make going to an NSTA convention a "must-do" event every year, and every year they find themselves impressed by the rich array of information, resources, and expertise available to them. "We go nonstop from the first session through the last, and they're all treasures," Leah said.
"We love coming, and why wouldn't we?" her husband added. "Everything you need is here - given to you on a spoon."
In the days ahead, stay tuned for more reporting from Salt Lake City.