Blue skies and the Rocky Mountains greeted the nation’s science educators on Thursday when they convened for NSTA’s Denver Area Conference on Science Education.
General Session speaker Homer Hickam with NSTA Executive Director Gerry Wheeler (left) and NSTA President John Whitsett (right).
This event is taking place at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. Teachers can register on-site for the conference. Activities will take place from Thursday until 12 noon on Saturday, November 10.
“Conferences like this provide us with incredible opportunities,” said NSTA President John Whitsett.
The first day of the conference began with best-selling author Homer Hickam serving as the guest speaker for the General Session. Hickman made a presentation titled Peak Experiences: Lighthouses, Rocket Ships, and Dreams Come True.
As a young boy growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia, Hickam reflected on his childhood experiences with attendees explaining to them how he dreamed of building and launching sophisticated rockets into outer space, while witnessing Sputnik flying overhead. The images provided the perfect Hollywood opening scene. Years later Hickam’s dreams would turn into reality through the written word and serve as the basis for a popular movie.
In 1999, Hickam’s memoir Rocket Boys reached number one on the New York Times best-sellers list. The book also served as the story behind the popular movie October Sky.
“I’ve written a lot of books,” Hickam told attendees. “But I know you want to hear about Rocket Boys.”
Hickam explained to attendees that Rocket Boys was a phenomenon, a classic, he noted. The book was translated into several languages. Schools have used the book in their curriculums.
“Who would have known that a little story out of Coalwood, West Virginia, would inspire teachers and students?” Hickam asked the crowd. Hickam noted that he was even surprised the book became a best-seller and would turn him into a national figure.
Popular books were also the focus of workshops at the conference.
A workshop titled Charlotte’s Web Goes WILD enabled attendees in elementary grades to learn how to perform hands-on science activities based on excerpts from the beloved children’s book. Activities used in the workshop were taken from an interdisciplinary program called Project WILD. This program connects wildlife education with math, science, social studies, and other subjects.
Attendees create a web using white thread and tree branches during a workshop called Charlotte's Web Goes WILD.
Presenter Cherie Wyatt engaged attendees in the activities by first reading to them. Wyatt’s colleague, Linda Groat of the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Lamar, would then instruct attendees in the various activities.
In one activity, Wyatt read pages 36–40 from Charlotte’s Web. This part of the book involves several characters discussing spiders. Groat then explained how attendees could engage students in activity called Interview a Spider.
Groat explained that attendees could begin the activity by having students brainstorm a list of wildlife species and find information about them. Students would then decide what animal to interview and develop a list of questions to ask. Responses to the questions would be based on the reference materials located by students.
Interviewing and research has to be learned in school, Wyatt noted. “This is a fun way to do it,” she said.
In another activity, Wyatt read pages 56–60 from Charlotte’s Web. This part of the book discusses how different items are needed to spin a web. Wyatt and Groat then instructed attendees on how to create their own spider web in activity called Spider Web Geometry.
Working in two groups, attendees used white thread, tree branches, scissors, and a hot glue gun to create their own web. Following the creation, Wyatt explained that attendees could have students perform a geometric analysis of the web by looking for different angles or shapes.
“This is great,” Lehua Williams, a third grade teacher from Honolulu, Hawaii, said of the workshop. Williams noted her class is reading Charlotte’s Web. “So, it will be neat to use the activities,” she said.
Light and optics were the focus of several activities performed by attendees in an exhibitor workshop titled Light and Optics: A Series of EnLIGHTening Experiments.
Two attendees use diffraction glasses to view colored LEDs.
Sponsored by CPO Science, the workshop enabled attendees in middle and high school grades to learn what makes light, why are there different colors of light, how light behaves, and how atoms are involved.
Under the direction of presenter Erik Benton, a curriculum writer and professional development specialist with CPO Science, attendees learned these concepts by engaging in hands-on activities that involved them using colored LEDs, diffraction glasses, a laser, several lenses, and a prism.
In one activity, attendees were given a board with a white sticker on the back. Benton instructed attendees to carefully place their hand over the sticker and then to turn the board over. The lights were turned off in the meeting room which enabled attendees to see their handprint glowing in the dark.
Attendees learned how different colors of light mix together by placing red, blue, and green LEDs on their boards in the shape of pyramid. Attendees then took a lens and moved it in a straight line from the location of the colored LEDs toward a small board with graph paper at the opposite end after the lights were turned off. The effect produced various colors of light, such as white and pink.
“I would love to have more time to play,” Kurt Kimm, a middle and high school science teacher from Denver, Colorado, said at the conclusion of the workshop.