What an all-around fabulous conference the National Science Teachers Association put together! I just returned from this very rewarding four-day professional development experience and it will likely be very tough to surpass it in the near future. It was educational, fun, rewarding, and inspiring all at the same time.
First of all, how thrilling it was for Dennis and I to walk into the NSTA bookstore to see our second book, Whole-Class Inquiry, on the shelf in front of us! We have been working on this book for five years. Dennis received a Spencer Foundation grant back in 2004 to research my classroom. His focus was in the area of Whole Class Inquiry (WCI), a teaching strategy we've developed that culminates in the creation of a self-sufficient scientific community of learners. This book is a direct result of that experience and a labor of love we're extremely proud of. We think it has the potential to help both pre-service and in-service teachers make the mental shift, transitioning them into the world of WCI. During the conference, we attended an author's reception where we were able to meet and make connections with other authors, educators and researchers. We met the president of NSTA, Page Keeley, who welcomed us into NSTA's Author's Circle, along with many other authors, including Randy Bell. The reception was an inspiring venue, a place to hear so many people brainstorming ways to understand and improve science education. I've realized just how much there is to do! Personally, I hope more teachers are willing to open their doors to the world of research. If we can further connect with educational researchers, we will then be able to bring theory into practice, study practice to develop theory, and so on. I've learned a great deal about my teaching through Dennis's lens. And I hope to continue!
Dennis and I also gave three presentations. We spanned the spectrum in terms of the material we shared. One was very philosophical—the big idea of WCI, with the video cases and research results showcased. At the other end was a ready-to-implement classroom activity—The Element Walk. And somewhere in the middle, we gave a talk on how different types of journals are used to help nurture WCI. All were incredibly well received. After each session, we were questioned by some very enthusiastic Knowles Fellows, some passionate teachers from varied districts, and a handful of dedicated university researchers. It was challenging and fun and rejuvenating and intriguing all at the same time!
During the conference, we also had the opportunity to hear Arne Duncan speak. (See videos below.) Of course I was mostly skeptical or unnerved by some of the content he shared; he is a politician and refers readily to his experience in Chicago. So we'll have to wait and see. But I was for the most part impressed with the way he "thought on his feet" and responded with a compassionate and foundational understanding of education during the question and answer section. I was happy that he was adamant about not signing off on NCLB without first determining its attributes and failures. It will be interesting to see how he proceeds with the conversations necessary to determine these things. All and all, it was a neat experience to hear him in person.
Of course we also had the opportunity to visit the French Quarter, socialize with a few colleagues, submit our proposals for next year, and to outline our next book. Yes, we discussed a bit of our idea with our editor and we're planning to get started this summer. No rest for the wicked! But just as I came out of last year's NECC conference with new ideas and new philosophical challenges, I feel the same way having spent time in New Orleans (N'Awlins) at NSTA.
Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.