Science educators continued to experience multiple opportunities to enhance their professional development during the second day of NSTA’s Denver Area Conference on Science Education.
Featured speaker Larry Lowery presents a summary of his presentation titled Practical Ways to Improve the Learning of Science.
Activities taking place on November 9 included featured speakers, workshops on climate change, and special events focused on evolution. To read a story about highlights from the first day of the conference, click here.
Featured speakers at the conference included Larry Lowery, professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Education and Lawrence Hall of Science, at the University of California, Berkeley. Lowery made a presentation titled Practical Ways to Improve the Learning of Science.
“I plan to present things from the teacher and learner points of view,” Lowery told attendees as he began his talk. Lowery outlined and provided examples of how students learn science. He also suggested teaching strategies to attendees that could improve student learning at all grade levels.
Lowery first explained there are various formats of instruction. These formats include concrete, pictorial, and symbolic learning. “Each one is effective and does something different for learners,” Lowery noted.
Lowery added that it is also helpful for teachers to build upon the various formats in order. “If you organize learning in this way (concrete, pictorial, symbolic) it improves reading and language arts skills,” he noted.
A discussion of classroom arrangements followed. Lowery explained there are various ways teachers can arrange their students in the classroom to impact learning. Examples of these arrangements include didactic, individual task, tutorial, cooperative/collaborative, and Socratic.
“There are times and places for all of these,” Lowery noted. He said, however, the didactic is the most common form while the tutorial arrangement is the most powerful.
The third and fourth parts of Lowery’s learning outline included a discussion on the importance of focusing on details and patterns. Lowery said it is important that teachers take time to have their students learn about objects. For example, Lowery showed attendees a slide of a leaf and asked them to describe it. He then noted that educators should “bring in critical competitors and press kids for the details.” Lowery used a slide of a second leaf to illustrate his point. “The concept comes from the details,” he noted.
The final part of Lowery’s outline included a discussion on skills and knowledge.
“All skills require a certain kind of teaching,” Lowery said. For example, Lowery said it is best to have a tutor when teaching math because it allows for immediate feedback. However, if teachers are unable to do this, they can place students in groups. Skills also need to be taught by repetition, Lowery noted.
Regarding knowledge, Lowery reiterated the importance of students focusing on details and patterns in their learning. Remembering the details and patterns of something can help students gain the knowledge they need, Lowery explained.
Lowery concluded his presentation by telling attendees that his presentation was not about what he shared, but rather what attendees took away with them “and use as an educator in the classroom.”
Attendees were able to learn about climate change in a workshop titled Climate Change: Classroom Tools to Explore the Past, Present, and Future.
Attendees make carbon dioxide out of vinegar and baking soda during a workshop on climate change.
Designed for teachers in middle and high school grades, this session enabled attendees to explore the scientific foundations of what is known about climate change through hands-on and data-rich activities.
Presenter Lisa Gardiner began the workshop by asking and then explaining to attendees the definitions of weather and climate. She then explained to attendees the various tools scientists use to study past, present, and future climate changes.
To study past climate changes, Gardiner noted that scientists use proxy records. Sensors and indicators are used to examine present climate changes. Computer models are used to predict future climate changes, she said.
Gardiner and colleague Randy Russell who both work for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, then engaged attendees in various activities.
In an activity titled Carbon Dioxide—Sources and Sinks, attendees made carbon dioxide using vinegar and baking soda. Attendees then learned how to use a chemical indicator to detect the presence of carbon dioxide.
“It’s about getting students to understand carbon dioxide and how it enters and leaves the atmosphere,” Gardiner explained of the activity’s purpose.
Another activity titled Mapping Ancient Coastlines enabled attendees to learn how to draw the location of ancient coastlines onto a bathymetric contour map. The activity consisted of using colored pencils and a worksheet showing a graph depicting sea level changes and a map. Students can map ancient coastlines using their understanding of contour lines and their interpretation of the sea level graph.
This activity can help students look at different shore lines at given times, Russell noted.
Eric Rossi, a teaching assistant from Colorado Springs, described the various activities as “informative.” Climate change is something I’ve not had a lot of time to research, Rossi said, “so the activities are powerful learning tools.”
Evolution was the focus of special presentation by Susan Epperson, a biology and chemistry professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Epperson delivered a presentation titled Reflections on Epperson vs. Arkansas and Evolution Teaching in Public Schools Today. The event was part of several activities at the conference marking the upcoming 50th anniversary of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.
Attendee Samuel Johnson of Colorado Springs, Colorado, talks with featured speaker Susan Epperson.
During the presentation, Epperson reflected on her teaching days in the fall 1965 at Central High School in Arkansas when she was asked to become a plaintiff in a case challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas’s 1928 anti-evolution law.
Epperson explained that fellow teacher Virginia Minor asked her to be a part of the lawsuit, noting “they thought I was right for the job.”
“I remember feeling very nervous about it,” Epperson recalled. “There was going to be a lot of publicity about it.” But when I told my husband, he said “do it.”
Epperson also received support from her principal. He told Epperson, “this is needed, and I congratulate you for getting involved.”
With plenty of publicity from the media and questions from her students, Epperson’s case moved through three courts: Chancery Court in Little Rock, the Arkansas Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court. In November 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional.
“I was grateful we had won,” Epperson observed.