NSTA launched its third and final area conference for 2007 on Thursday providing science educators various opportunities to enhance their professional development.
Jolene Hodges of Chesterfield, Missouri, and Michelle Whitworth of Saint Peters, Missouri, sort through items typically found in a beach bucket.
Highlights from the first day of NSTA’s Southern Area Conference on Science Education in Birmingham included the General Session, exhibitor workshops, and presentations.
The conference is taking place at the Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex. Sessions will conclude at 12 noon on Saturday, December 8.
Kathryn C. Thornton, associate dean of graduate programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Virginia helped attendees begin their day by welcoming them to the General Session. Thornton served as the session’s guest speaker. She made a presentation titled Space Flight: A Human Perspective.
Thornton, a four-time space flight veteran, shared her experiences with attendees. Selected by NASA in May 1984, Thornton served as a member of the following missions: STS-33 in 1989, STS-49 in 1992, STS-61 in 1993, and STS-73 in 1995. Thornton also discussed various opportunities for future explorers.
Dozens of elementary educators decided to spend part of the day by taking an exhibitor workshop titled Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading™: Integrating Science and Literacy at the Elementary Level.
Sponsored by Delta Education, this workshop enabled attendees to gain experience in using strategies for integrating science and literacy. Attendees were also able to hear research results that provided compelling evidence that students learn more science when inquiry is supported by reading and writing.
“Reading and writing are authentic to inquiry science,” explained presenter Megan Goss of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Goss also noted that that the pressures of congested curriculum are forcing educators to look for ways to integrate science and literacy.
With those concepts in mind, attendees engaged in several hands-on activities using curriculum materials under the direction of Goss and copresenter Jonathan Curley.
One activity consisted of attendees reading a book titled Beach Postcards. The publication provides information about beaches. Some students might not have been to the beach, explained Curley. The book can provide knowledge.
After reading the book, students can conduct investigations with globes, Curley noted.
Attendees spent time sorting through materials typically found in a beach bucket. Curley and Goss asked attendees to classify the materials in several categories. Examples of these categories included evidence of animals and evidence of rocks and minerals.
Another activity involved attendees looking at sand from different beaches around the world. Attendees were then given several hand-outs that enabled them to record their observations about the color, shape, and size of the sand grains.
“In the beginning of the unit, we give (the students) a lot of help. But as the unit goes on it becomes more independent,” noted Curley.
An exhibitor workshop titled Inquiry Investigations™—Forensic Science enabled attendees teaching grades 7–12 to learn how to provide customized web-based content, create individual assessments, and have access to annotated experimental results for more than 50 case investigations. Frey Scientific sponsored the workshop.
Presenter Ken Rainis began the session by first describing the Inquiry Investigations program. Rainis explained the curriculum consists of 55 activities. Half of the activities can help students build skills while the remaining half are actual cases based on fictional scenarios. The program takes about a year, Rainis said, noting that teachers can change that time frame around to accommodate their lessons plans.
Rainis and copresenter Sarah Forst enabled attendees to experiment with the curriculum materials by engaging them in several hands-on activities.
Deborah Collins and Jill Easterling, both of Jemison, Alabama, use a magnifying glass to view a fingerprint.
In one activity, attendees learned how to take a direct fingerprint. Rainis instructed attendees to use one their thumb and press it against their forehead or face and then take the thumbprint and place it on a inkless fingerprinting card. Attendees then observed the development of the fingerprint finding it turned dark blue. Attendees then were told to classify the fingerprint. They also had to identify the ridge lines in the fingerprint.
“All of this work is necessary to identify a fingerprint match,” Rainis said.
Attendees also had the opportunity to practice handwriting analysis skills. Given three writing samples of the same letter, Rainis and Forst asked attendees to examine the letters for word formation, letter formation, quality of lines, and unusual styles.
These activities will grab students’ interests, observed Deborah Collins, a high school science teacher from Jemison, Alabama. Collins added that with television shows like the CSI series students “want something that is relevant” to their lives.
Attendees of all grade levels filled a meeting room to hear a presentation titled Using Science Centers to Enhance Your Curriculum. This session enabled attendees to learn about several options for how to make a field trip an extension of the classroom.
Rachel R. Pace, director of school relations for the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, presented the session.
Pace explained one option for teachers is to have them take their students on a field trip to view exhibits at a science center or science museum. Before teachers engage in this activity, educators can also inquire if there local science center has teacher preview days. These events enable educators to visit the center and learn about the various resources they can use to enhance their science lessons.
Most science centers will align their resources with the national or state standards, Pace noted.
Another option offered by science centers are various programs such as classroom programs and outreach programs. Pace explained the outreach programs can be helpful for schools that are on tight budgets. These types of programs eliminate the need for permission slips, packed lunches, and transportation to the centers. “There are a lot of benefits to outreach programs,” Pace noted.
Pace explained that science centers also offer overnight camps. These activities typically involve engaging students in a hands-on activity and having them spend the night at the center.
Other options include IMAX films for students. Teachers can benefit by taking any professional development workshops offered by science centers, Pace explained.
“She’s saying exactly what I would have said,” commented Jan Hemphill, chief of the education outreach department for the National Science Center in Augusta, Georgia. “It’s nice to have it validated what a sister organization does.”