This past March I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the annual National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. While I was there I gave a talk related to my current work involving spatial ability and early childhood education, but more importantly, I was able to spend four days learning science alongside other science teachers. The NSTA conference is one of the largest science education conferences in the country. With nearly 10,000 attendees, NSTA provides an interactive four-day venue for teachers to explore, experience, share, and invent new ideas for the classroom. In many ways, attending a NSTA national conference is like drinking out of a fire hose, with more talks, workshops, and exhibits than one can ever experience. It is often hard to choose a session from the myriad of offerings, and if you don’t go early enough it’s nearly impossible to get a seat. But with four days and hundreds of talks there is more than enough science for everyone to experience.
Beyond the official talks and workshops there are the informal table and hallway conversations which are so important for the growth and sustainability of a science teacher. It is a chance for each teacher to meet other, like-minded educators from around the country, all with similar classroom logistics and issues. It is a chance to share ideas, challenge assumptions, and create a vision for the future of education through the infusion of new methods and ideas from the ground up instead of being mandated from the top down. The challenge for any teacher is how to translate the myriad of new ideas into the classroom once you get home. From my experience it is far too easy to feel “behind the eight ball” after being gone for a few days and immediately put the conference experience behind you to play catch up. Soon, those newly discovered ideas are lost in the shuffle of the daily classroom grind.
I would certainly recommend that all teachers be given an opportunity to attend a science education gathering such as a national or regional NSTA conference. To make the most of such an opportunity, I would suggest that all of us should take what we have learned and immediately share that knowledge and experience with our colleagues once we get home. I always come away from such a conference feeling energized, excited, and filled with new projects and ideas. But attending a conference is not just about learning something new but also about finding innovative ways to implement and disseminate those ideas into the classrooms at your own school. Don’t let that spark of energy and invention that sprung to life at a science conference wither and die. Keep it alive, feed off that energy both for yourself and your colleagues. My challenge to you as a teacher is to find the collaborative space, time, energy, and dedication to allow that to happen at your school.