I’m going to try the “instantaneous blog” style of posting today. I’m back in Philadelphia for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) annual conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I flew in yesterday from Salt Lake City and was met by a friend at the airport who drove me to another friend’s house where I will be staying (I have to do these things on the cheap, and saving over $100 per day on hotel fees is one way I could make this work). I’ve attended six sessions today, four of which have been excellent (as in useful for me professionally or for my project) and two that have been good but not quite as useful.
The first was on NASA’s Astrobiology program, presented by Pamela Harman of SETI (her office is just down the hall from the legendary Frank Drake of the Drake Equation) and Leah Bug, who was with NASA’s Explorer Schools program back when I was a facilitator for the program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is now at Penn State, and I haven’t seen her since 2004, but it was good to catch up again. I attended because I love all things NASA and especially anything that might relate to the nearby stars and exoplanets, and even more so an interdisciplinary subject like astrobiology, which combines biology, evolution, astronomy, planetary science, and chemistry together.
The second session was sponsored by ISTE (International Society of Technology Educators) about a school district that truly gets the idea of using technology to help students be creative. I talked with Ben Smith, one of the presenters, afterward and got his advice on how to sell this project to teachers and get the ball rolling. He’s found that having students be creative by building their own videos (on physics, chemistry, or other subjects he teaches), he has to teach content less than before since the students are taking the digital tools and expressing themselves creatively. They are engaged, and they learn the content they need on their own without him having to pour it into them through a lecture or some other ineffective technique. It takes standards of content rigor to make sure the students find out the depth of information they need, but it has been working. He gives them the tools, provides enough training to learn the basics of using them, then gives then a very open-ended topic (“Tell me about waves”) and lets the students run with it. And his test scores have gone up (always good to know).
The third session was in the Marriott by Gigi Naglak and Shelley Geehr of the Chemical Heritage Foundation to kick off their “It’s Elemental” video contest for students, where students (individuals and teams) will submit short (3-5 minute) videos on an element that they sign up for in advance. Videos will be judged in two rounds. Those making it to the final round will be judged by an august group of scientists and media specialists (including a Nobel chemistry winner) and the overall winners will receive a free trip to Philadelphia next spring, to coincide with the International Year of Chemistry. Gigi and Shelley asked me my recommendations last summer for how to kick off the contest and what the levels of equipment needed by teachers would be, and I hope to be able to help out more as they roll out the website this summer. I also hope to have some student groups submit their videos and win!
The fourth session was by a coalition of teachers, media experts, scientists, and museum directors in Omaha called the Omaha Student Media Project, where a group of 16 students and 16 teachers attended a two-week workshop to learn video editing and science reporting skills, then created videos on viruses and infections and how they work. I talked quite a while with the museum person about how this coalition began and how they sold it to the school district and got media involvement. It’s given me some good ideas for how to sell my project and build a similar coalition in Utah.
I attended two other sessions on video podcasting and new media literacy, which gave me some good information but weren’t as useful as I would have liked. I will be going to a video program in about 20 minutes over at the Loews Hotel, so I need to sign off. I haven’t visited the exhibitors’ hall other than poking my head in and realizing I will need a plan of attack before attempting it. I hope to make some valuable contacts there. I’ll be presenting The Elements Unearthed project on Saturday at 9:30 in D-17. I’ll post again tomorrow.