New Experience #39: An NSTA STEM Forum (and ice cream)

A few years ago, the National Science Teachers Association added a summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Forum to their slate of conferences. STEM is a hot topic in education, but I hadn’t been tempted to attend until I saw that it would be held in Denver this summer. So my friend and chief collaborator Cece and I submitted two proposals for presentations with a STEM “flavor.” Both proposals were accepted, so we found ourselves planning to attend a STEM Forum.

After a couple weeks of intense presentation prep, we arrived in Denver last Wednesday afternoon. We had just found out our friend (and longtime Chemistry in the Community colleague) Steve was also in town for other NSTA activities, so after checking in to the hotel and conference and managing regular work tasks remotely, we headed for dinner with Steve. I had secured a reservation at Mercantile Dining & Provision at Denver’s Union Station for 5 pm. It was a little early for dinner, so we started with a cheese board and then had (small) pasta plates for dinner. Everything was quite good, especially some of the cheeses and the pickles on the cheese plate. We viewed the dessert menu (viewing it is “required” in our circle), but opted not to partake. Instead, we walked across the station to Milkbox Ice Creamery, which serves Little Man ice cream. I went with Salted Peanut Butter Cup. I asked for a cone, but the consistency of the ice cream (uber soft) meant I got it in a cup with a cone on top.

Thursday we started the day at Modern Market (wait, is this post about the STEM conference or food?) before heading to a session about STEM projects in chemistry (also the topic of our presentation later that day) where we learned about some new sources of project ideas (like this) and were reminded that designing a process (as chemical engineers do) could also be considered design. We spent some time in the exhibit hall (including promoting my upcoming teacher recruitment event) before grabbing lunch while reviewing our presentation. Thursday’s talk was attended by about 30 conference-goers, who luckily were very willing to participate in our discussion of culminating projects, 21st-century skills, and STEM integration.

One presentation down, we attended a session by FIRST LEGO league where we “programmed” a robot to fetch a plastic bag and rescue a turtle. FIRST conducts robotics competitions for teams of students in grades 1-12. Most teams are part of after-school programs, sponsored by schools, universities, libraries, boys and girls clubs, etc. It sounds like something I would be interested in pursuing…

Next, we were entertained by keynote speaker Derek Muller, founder of Veritasium. One of the important points that he made was that if one does not make a prediction before watching a demonstration, the demonstration has essentially no educational value. Also, his doctoral work examined the question of why technology has not replaced teachers. It turns out that personal connection really IS necessary… Check out his video on slinky-dropping here–good stuff.

When I sent Cece a list of restaurants for this adventure, she remarked that the ramen restaurant was the farthest from her comfort zone, so we should definitely try it. This was the best night to try it, so after dropping our heavy bags in the hotel room, we grabbed a cab and headed for Denver’s Highlands neighborhood. We arrived at Uncle and were seated at a communal table (sadly with an unhappy toddler) and decided to just enjoy the ramen shop vibe. I ordered a sake and riesling cocktail to further enhance the vibe. We contemplated trying the shrimp or fried green tomato buns, but asked our server whether we should try the buns or the fried fingerlings. She said the fingerlings–she was right! The fingerlings were heavenly. They were clearly boiled first, then smushed, fried with kimchi butter, and salted. They almost melted in one’s mouth. They were perfectly complemented by scallion sour cream served on the side (aside: I usually hate sour cream). This was a tough act to follow, but our main dishes–ramen–did not disappoint. I went with duck and Cece had spicy chicken. Both were delicious. 

Happily sated, we hiked about a mile across Highlands to Sweet Cow (because there is always room for ice cream). I am reluctant to say that I can’t remember what flavor I had. A good friend of mine had joined us, and I think I was just engaged in conversation. We caught an Uber back to the hotel to catch the last few minutes of that night’s DNC action.

Friday started much the same as Thursday, except that we had to pack up and stow our bags before we went to the conference. We attended a session on STEM certification at 9, because it featured a high school just a couple miles from my home in Pueblo. Then we presented our second session, on meeting Common Core reading and writing expectations by employing the Science Writing Heuristic in chemistry labs. Sadly, there were many popular sessions at this time, and we drew only a handful of participants. The few who did attend were engaged, though, so it was worthwhile. After another visit to the exhibit hall, we grabbed some pizza for lunch and finished out the conference at a session on infographics. The idea is that students do research and then share it in infographic form, which is a pretty cool way to learn to synthesize information.

Maureen picked us up from the conference hotel in order to join us for the final dinner of the event. We headed to Acorn, in The Source, in Denver’s very hot RiNo district. We didn’t have a reservation, but it was early, so we weren’t worried. We took a few minutes to check out the other shops and restaurants in The Source before asking for a table at Acorn. It was not yet dinner time (5:30), so we had to have cocktails and fried pickles. The cocktails were tasty, as were the inner pickles. I could have easily skipped the fried part. For dinner we ordered five small plates. The peach, tomato, and mozzarella salad was outstanding (Palisade peaches!), as was the Icelandic cod. We skipped dessert in favor of another ice cream outing. We ventured several miles to the Hilltop neighborhood try High Point Creamery. It was worth it–this was definitely the best ice cream of the trip. I had pretty much settled on Salty Dog Chocolate (milk chocolate with a hint of salt) and was considering pairing it with Salted Caramel when Maureen requested a sample of Mint Chocolate Bark. OMG. I have only once before (at Boulder’s Basta) had ice cream that actually tasted like mint. There was no choice after that. I had the mint and the salty dog. In fact, we all had the mint. It was a fitting end to a lovely three days in Denver.

One thought on “New Experience #39: An NSTA STEM Forum (and ice cream)

  1. Food. , OK. But sour cream ?
    What did you take away from the conferences?
    When is your recruitment presentation?
    Too many questions?
    When can we ho get some of the ice cream?
    Love, Dad

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