I have completed my third day at the NSTA annual conference in Philadelphia and I’m tired . . . emotionally and physically. As the old Jerry Rafferty song went, “Winding my way down on Baker Street, I’m light in my head and dead on my feet, well another crazy day . . . .” I’ve pushed myself to the limits to make the most of this trip to Philadelphia by presenting The Elements Unearthed project this morning and by visiting the Exhibition Hall this afternoon and talking to everyone I can anywhere I can.
I arrived at 8:30 to my designated “room” in the rabbit warren of cubicles on the ground floor of the convention center. The rooms are divided by moveable partitions, and the sound of all the presenters just bounces off the ceiling so that it’s a bit of bedlam, especially if you’re trying to hear a soft-spoken petite lady speak when some guy is practically shouting next door. I was worried about people being able to hear the videos on my laptop speakers (I know my voice is loud enough). I contacted the AV people yesterday and arranged to have computer speakers placed in my room, which was great since my cubicle was also directly under two large industrial ceiling fans. Fortunately, they weren’t on this morning so I didn’t have to compete with them. I got myself all set up – my 17 inch MacBook Pro hooked up immediately and instantly showed on the projector, so all my worries and Plans B and C were unnecessary (I had some trouble getting it to work on a projector last summer). I didn’t have to lug my old laptop all the way across the country after all.
As 9:30 approached I became worried that no one would show up. No one was coming to my room, yet the session across the hall was packing them in – standing room only. Later I discovered it was a session on Edible Science. I guess science teachers are all hungry. I could only offer food for thought. But with two minutes to go, a professor from a college in St. Louis came in who’s doing science journalism with his science education students, so at least I had an audience. Then two more came in and as I started a few others trickled in, until I had about 12 attendees overall. Not a bad crowd. I’d told a lot of people over the last two days about my session, and none of them came, but at least they know about the project now.
The actual presentation went well. The computer speakers were better than nothing, but were a bit blown out and distorted. I went over by a few minutes, but I did have several attendees talk to me afterward and I think overall it went well. I said all that needed to be said, showcased what my students and I have done, and helped them see how to set up and maintain a large-scale project for a professional audience created by high school students.
Here’s a link to download an Adobe Acrobat .pdf version of the Keynote presentation I gave (without video, of course):
I packed up after the presentation and crashed in a quiet corner of the convention center, then did my post about day two of the conference. I went to the Reading Terminal Market across the street, with its wonderful crazy mix of food stalls and produce stands, with everything from Thai to Greek to Philly cheesesteaks to Amish sausage sandwiches (which is what I had – with a Sasparilla to wash it down). I was heading back to the exhibitors’ hall when I ran into Kay Ferrari, who is over the JPL Solar System Educators Program (I ate dinner with her and the SSEP-ers last night) and we talked about her projects as a co-PI for some NASA astrobiology initiatives and the possibility of interviewing some of the scientists working on astrobiology experiments. I braved the hall and went from stall to stall, talking to anyone whose materials seemed to correspond to this project. I got some great leads, some possible leads, and some “Yeah OK thanks for stopping by” head nods. I did a preliminary interview with Clark County School District in Los Vegas (just in case).
The highlight came as I was talking to a business owner that creates interactive digital textbooks (you know from my iPad post what I think of these) when two men stopped and started joking with the owner about how their textbook needed to be interactive and if they were going to have an iPad version. I didn’t recognize one of them until the other pointed out who he was – no other than Paul Hewitt, author of the popular “Conceptual Physics” series of textbooks (which I taught from in my physics classes at Juab High School way back when. I spent a total of three weeks over three summers learning how to teach his materials). He’s as funny in person as he is on the videos I’ve seen. I stayed on the dealer floor until they literally were rolling up the carpet under my feet and the exhibitors were tearing down their displays. I got a few more contacts even so.
I then talked the ears off of a teacher from New Jersey who teaches in a small town school (yes, New Jersey does have small towns. There are even farms in New Jersey [that was for all the Utahns that think, as I used to, that every square centimeter of land is covered with asphalt east of the Mississippi]) and her experiences have been very similar to my experiences in Tioga High School in California and in Juab High School in Utah. Rural schools have a unique set of problems that aren’t fully appreciated by urban or suburban educators. It’s getting dark outside (it’s 7:14 here) and now I have what seems like a ton of materials, two computers, and two cameras to carry back to Darby. As I follow up on all these contacts, time will tell if this four-day marathon will be worth it. I think it will.