The Best Way to Answer Kids’ Questions, and Other Things I Learned at #NSTA14 Richmond

collage of images from Richmond keynoteWhen you bring a bunch of science teachers together, the most amazing, surprising connections are made. Last week in Richmond, Virginia, thousands of science educators gathered to talk about informal science, reach for the stars, and make connections that solidly ground them in professional learning communities that will keep them as energized throughout the year as they were while gathered at that conference.

National Geographic Explorer Brendan Mullan kicked off the conference with a keynote address  that delivered one of the most important messages of the week. He said his parents were inspiring because they were real people. And it was that inspiration that led him to become an explorer, a FameLab winner, and an astrophysicist who sees no limits in our abilities to teach kids to learn, explore, and expand their knowledge.

Richmond telescope winnerAs teachers who are nurturing the next generation of scientists, NSTA members are the real people who are inspiring explorers and astrophysicists who are searching for intelligent life beyond our planet. One simple act can truly take us to the outer reaches… both of our imaginations and the solar system. And NSTA conferences are the perfect place to be inspired. As part of the conference, we harnessed some star power ourselves and gave away telescopes to three lucky winners at our book store. Congrats to the winners: Megan Ennes, Ann Davis, and David Pagel! Join us at our next Conference on Science Education in Orlando from November 6 to 8 and become an NSTA member/winner too.

Since October is Connected Educator Month (CEM), we were especially pleased to see connected educators everywhere in Richmond. One especially powerful connection was among Twitter users who have formed a professional learning community around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). On Thursday, October 16, they held a Twitter chat from Richmond, and the ideas and solutions that bubbled up were incredible. Read more about the chat: #NGSSchat PD for the NGSS. And NSTA is not leaving CEM at the conference. On Thursday, October 23, from 1:00pm – 2:00pm ET, Dr. Al Byers, NSTA Associate Executive Director, Services will be participating in a panel discussion on Designing and Evaluating Effective Online Communities of Practices.

Preeti Gupta from AMNHTwitter brought us a quote that resonated throughout the conference: “My mission is to maintain the curiosity kids have about sci into adulthood. If you’re in science now, don’t ever forget where you came from.” (@realscientists) Partnerships among museums and schools are great proponents of helping kids nurture their innate curiosity and develop it as they become citizens of our society. On Friday, October 17, Preeti Gupta talked with teachers about the kinds of activities that support children and youth in developing an interest in science, and potentially pursue careers in STEM. Her videos of the Science Club she worked with were particularly motivating! Read more about the work Gupta does at the American Museum of Natural History.

starbucks sign from NSTA in RichmondWhat fuels all these amazing connections? We can’t say for sure, but we are pretty sure that caffeine is involved. One of the winners of our #NSTAGroupie contest won a caffeine beaker mug, and whether she chooses to fill it with a caffeinated beverage or not, she’ll have an instant chemistry lesson in her hands to share with her friends and family when she gets home. Because sharing is what teachers do best, it’s the reason we ran a “groupie” contest rather ask for “selfies.” If you’re at our Orlando or Long Beach conferences, think about participating. We’ll be doing it at both!

trade book authors gather at NSTA conference in RichmondThe conference culminated with one of the greatest connections of all: A celebration of Science and Literacy in which NSTA partnered with the International Reading Association. Authors whose books are featured on the annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 gathered to read, share, and enjoy the magic that happens when science and literacy come together. At that gathering, author Vicky Cobb encouraged teachers and parents alike to answer kids’ questions with “Great question. How can we find out?” This real answer for a real question brought the week full circle for me. I’m guessing that’s exactly the type of answer Brendan Mullan’s parents would have given him, as they empowered him to become the amazing scientist he is today.

Many many more great connections were made last week, and we’d love to hear about yours. Please tweet using #NSTA14, or share on our Facebook page. If you did attend, please be sure to complete session evaluations for a chance to win a Kindle Fire. Evaluations can be completed online. Read more about the conference from early education expert Peggy Ashbrook: Richmond, Virginia and science in early childhood 2014 NSTA area conference.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Rich
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed Brendan Mullan’s take on SETI….”Searching for Extraterrestrial Inspiration” is even better than “Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”.

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