NSTA member Becky Litherland, a middle level STEM coordinator, loves taking the teachers in her district to the NSTA Conferences on Science Education. “One of my favorite things is to take a teacher to their first NSTA conference,” she says. “It’s so much fun. They come back to the classroom super charged and ready to do all kinds of things.” Litherland’s teachers aren’t the only ones who have benefited from those trips, however. Litherland, who served as a district science coordinator for 26 years before becoming a STEM coordinator, has found a number of professional learning resources at the conferences. She has turned to NSTA many times for guidance on how to provide quality learning opportunities for teachers.
Litherland: Over many years, I have encouraged teachers to become presenters at NSTA conferences. Usually, I have them present with me the first time. Then, the second time, they present on their own. The process of preparing for and presenting at a conference is an educational experience. There is so much learning that takes place at an NSTA conference.
I have a long list of professional development resources I’ve found at NSTA conferences. For instance, I already knew about Science Notebooks when I attended an NSTA conference in New Orleans. I came out of a session and said to a colleague, ‘This is what our district needs. This is the next piece to the Science Notebooks.’ When I came home I ordered the book Writing in Science and I realized the presenter was the author!
At the NSTA Conference in Seattle I happened upon a session by Julia Cothron, author of Science Experiments by the Hundreds. Her work also has had a major impact on my teachers and students. She has conducted professional development for our teachers many times. When Missouri wrote their grade-level expectations, their inquiry strand was basically the experimental design that Cothron outlined in her book. It wasn’t the intent of her book, but it became a great match. Part of our state test involves experimental design or inquiry. Our district does a pre- and post-test for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade science that is similar to the state piece, but it all aligns with the ideas we got from Julia Cothron. My teachers are taking their labs and modifying them to be more open and more student-centered all thanks to Cothron’s work. It is fun to think this all got started from an NSTA session years ago.
How else has your NSTA membership helped you with professional development?
Litherland: I’ve served on the NSTA Board of Directors and Council. That’s been a great learning experience and I have met fantastic people. You always pick up ideas whenever you get science people together. You also get a good sense that science education is bigger than you and it’s bigger than just your school district. NSTA sets you up for professional networking, which increases your professionalism.
And, you make connections that you wouldn’t have made if you weren’t an NSTA member. For example, our district applied for a Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grant through our state department of education called the Scientist in Residence Program. The RFP for the three-year project made it very clear that they wanted us to provide content training for third- through sixth-grade teachers. As we worked on the RFP, we were trying to figure out how to provide that content. Another colleague (who is also active in NSTA) and I we were at one of our writing meetings and we both thought of Bill Robertson. I had seen his Stop Faking It series, which is published by NSTA. So, we called NSTA and they gave us Bill’s contact information. We got in touch with him and he ended up working with us for three years. It was fantastic. We purchased many of his books.
NSTA also connected me with Page Keeley. I can’t tell you how many of her Uncovering Student Ideas in Science books I’ve bought. For five years, I was in charge of inquiry training in our district. Everyone who attended the training got copies of Page’s books. Her work has really made an impact on my teachers who use her formative assessment approach quite frequently.
(Note from NSTA: How has NSTA helped you with professional development? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)
Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.