They say the world is flat … and so it often seems. Cross the ocean by plane, or travel far from home by train or car…sit down for coffee with other teachers…and the issues are almost always the same. We find much in common wherever we go. And I found this to be true recently when I attended the annual meeting of the Association for Science Education (ASE) at the University of Reading, in England (NSTA’s counterpart in the UK).
NSTA’s collaboration with the Association for Science Education has a long history. The Patron of the Association is HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and it traces its origins back to 1900. The first Annual Meeting was held in January 1901, which then led to the formation of the Association of Public School Science Masters. Incorporated by Royal Charter in October 2004, the ASE operates as a Registered Charity. (By comparison, NSTA dates back to 1944.) ASE’s governance structure is a bit different. Each year a high-profile scientist or educator is appointed President and serves as spokesman for the organization. This year it’s Professor Sir David Bell, chancellor of University of Reading in the UK. On his first day “on the job” he made a major address to the ASE conference and did a radio interview about the importance of science education. The operational governance of ASE is managed by Chair Chris Harrison and Executive Director Shaun Reason. (Chris is a science education researcher and professor.)
So much for the differences; the rest is much the same. On the first day of my visit, I sat with a teacher from Finland who was looking for ways to help his bilingual immigrant students (mostly Somalian) integrate quickly. Next morning I did a workshop on “square pegs,” diverse learners who don’t seem to fit into regular classroom routines and how to structure lessons to make them successful. The attendees each had their own “square pegs” and shared many innovative solutions. NSTA’s retiring president Bill Badders was there, too, and did a workshop on how to integrate literacy seamlessly into an inquiry lesson on earthworms. Again, everyone found it relevant and the discussions were very energetic. I attended sessions on integrating science and social studies (geography) and assessment, ideas that would translate to any country’s teachers in any language. Even the exhibit hall had lots of material that merited importing, like science in Europe in the Middle Ages (much from the Islamic areas of Spain), and the greatest 3D exploration of cell biology yet.
There were some differences in emphasis, of course. Assessment is a high-priority issue there as here, and there were many sessions on the topic. But because of the smaller scale (and perhaps less litigious environment), there were more initiatives in performance and multi-factorial assessment programs discussed. And because the current assessments are very familiar to educators, it was common to learn about how a certain experience could increase success on a certain component of a test.
The growing emphasis on early childhood education here has already been embedded into science education in the UK, with many creative ideas. And of course, our national goals are changing at a much more rapid pace with the inspiration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—a topic that almost every participant wanted to learn more about. Change is occurring in England, Scotland,and Wales as well, but perhaps at a slightly slower pace that might seem more manageable to the average attendee.
The meeting also provided opportunities for me to talk to the ASE staff about organizational issues. They share the challenge of getting pre-service teachers to stay involved once they are hit with the heavy load of their first few years of teaching. The meeting featured a great forum where beginning teachers could make 10-minute presentations of their favorite lessons rather than commit to a full=hour session; this was one of the most popular areas of the exhibit hall and it seemed “a good time was had by all.”
In the past many NSTA members have associated international efforts with tours. Visiting schools and teachers is always informative and enriches our perspective on what we do at home. But we can go much further. Our International Committee does far more than that, beginning with a full day of discussions at each national conference. At ASE we discussed possible projects through which we might combine web resources in a convenient and easy-to-access portal, create international discussion forums on very specific topics like climate change education, and perhaps exchange publications. Citizen Science initiatives might also enable us to facilitate for young investigators the comparison of methods and ways of thinking, and these insights could help us adapt our own classroom curricula to an increasingly diverse student body. (Do you have ideas? Send them to Juliana_texley@nsta.org and they will be included in a Board discussion in the near future.)
In common conversation, the term “flat” is often equated with something that is boring or lacks effervescence. But not in this case! A “flat” world is one with endless opportunities. To create valuable pathways to better international cooperation in science education, we don’t have to cross high hurdles. Our common teaching instincts provide the sign posts to guide us toward productive collaborations.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.