I had two goals in mind when attending the Colorado Science Conference (#COSciConference) last Friday–to get closer to being able to revive my Colorado Science Teaching License (to give me a few more options for generating income) and to reconnect with folks in the science education community in my home state. I’m happy to say that both goals were accomplished, AND I learned a few things.
I was a little concerned about getting across Denver during rush hour to get to the conference, but my GPS assured me that the highways were flowing smoothly. So I got to experience the new ramp from US 6 east to I-25. Nice. Almost makes the years of construction seem worth it 🙂
My day at the conference started well, as I was met at the door by Dr. Courtney Willis, who was my science methods instructor at the University of Northern Colorado a couple (ha) of years back. He told me later that a woman asked him who he had been talking to, and she turned out to have been a former high school student of mine! I didn’t end up running into her. Though I expected to see former university students (I actually saw only one former advisee), I certainly did not expect anyone from my high school teaching days.
I think I was still waking up in my first two sessions, and I don’t have much to report until the morning keynote address. It featured Dr. Scott Sampson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I’ve heard “Dr. Scott,” a dinosaur paleontologist, speak before, and he is always entertaining. On this day, he was talking about the ideas from his new book How to Raise a Wild Child.
He started by noting that the average kid today gets 7 hours per day of screen time (TV/computer/phone/tablet) and only 7 minutes of outdoor play time. I think we can all agree that whatever its causes and effects, this is a far from ideal situation. He encouraged the audience to help the children in their lives see the world with NEW eyes. Here the “N” stands for notice, or use the power of observation; “E” represents engage, with age-appropriate hands-on experience; and “W” is for wonder, or that deep sense of awe about our world that we all tend to lose–unless we continually access stories and remember our connections to everything else on the planet and in the universe. He concluded by noting that we need to help kids (and ourselves!) replace the popular post-apocalyptic/zombie version of the future (yes, I’ve read the Hunger Games and Divergent books too) with a vibrant and thriving vision for humans and for all life on earth. In case you’re interested, Dr. Scott is featured on the PBS show Dinosaur Train (this I have not seen), which ends with the sign off “Get outside, get into nature and make your own discoveries.”
After the keynote, there was a break for lunch. This brings me to a discussion of why I don’t like the Denver Merchandise Mart as a venue (this dislike is a actually the main reason I rarely attend this event). Here is reason #1:
(Yes, those are ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights–all the meeting rooms have them.) Reason #2 is the distance of the venue from eating options (not uncommon for conference facilities), which forces one to buy lackluster food or bring your own. I chose the latter option.
After lunch, I went to a session on STEM design. For those who may have heard of STEM, but may not be clear on what it means, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. And everyone wants to be in on it, partially because in many states and regions it comes with extra funding. This session really got to the heart of STEM, and was the best session I attended all day. Led by Dr. Violeta Garcia, who was formerly the coordinator of STEM for the Colorado Department of Education, the session began with an overview of major components of STEM learning. These include (1) a problem/project-based approach, (2) concept integration across disciplines to solve real-world problems, (3) a focus on 21st century skills such as collaboration and entrepreneurship, (4) connection to STEM careers, and (5) a direct connection to industry. To me, this sounds a lot like the work we have done with ChemCom for the last few decades! We spent the rest of the session working through the engineering design cycle while each group focused on a science concept. The problem was building a chicken coop, something that is becoming more and more popular in urban areas (including Denver). My group was interested in energy, so we had to think about keeping the chickens warm or cool depending upon the season. Here’s a glimpse of the design cycle in a student-friendly format.
I made it to two more sessions to complete my day. The first showcased the excellent (and free!) HHMI Biointeractive materials for teaching life science topics (some examples are shown in the photo below). I found it interesting that this speaker also talked about the human microbiome, since Dr. Scott had mentioned it in his keynote, and it is an increasingly common topic in human health research. This speaker commented that microbes do the real work of life, while Dr. Scott had pointed out that only 10% of the cells in our bodies are human (I know, ick!).
Biointeractive also has a new short film resource, The Biology of Skin Color, which notes that about 1.2 million years ago it is likely that all humans were dark skinned. The variations in skin color that we see now arose as evolutionary adaptations to the levels of ultraviolet radiation experienced in the parts of the world to which early humans migrated. Food for thought. Science does rock.
The final session was a demo of a “portable” version of NOAA’s Science on a Sphere. You may have seen SOS in its large format if you’ve visited one of the institutions that has this technology. Now, some of the data used to animate the 6-foot diameter globes is available for personal computers and thus, educational applications. Pretty cool.
All in all, it was a day well spent. I earned some professional development hours, saw some folks I hadn’t seen in a while, and got caught up on some new resources. Despite the venue, it’s definitely a good way for Colorado science educators to keep current and network with one another.