MAST Conference Takeaways

MAST LogoLast week I spent a day out of the Burlington schools to attend my first Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers or MAST annual conference. The professional development event was a good opportunity to connect with more local teachers and resources than I might at the national conferences held by the NSTA. Here are some of the takeaways I walked out with:

  1. Jake Foster of the STEM office at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spoke of the importance being paid to educating “the whole child” in education reform circles, emphasizing the increased interest in elementary science education (evidence-supported by MAST’s first ever elementary share-a-thon session.) His presentation can be found here.
  2. The DESE intends to release computer science standards being developed at the state level in the coming year. While having computer science courses and expectations at the K-12 level will still be a district option, the standards will be there to help facilitate curriculum development.
  3. The state’s adaptations of the Next Generation Science Standards is close enough to promote the collaboration and sharing of resources across state boundaries with those who have adopted the NGSS outright.
  4. The roles teachers play in a school or district are evolving beyond those traditionally held. These changes include more career ladders for instructional leadership and the increased expectation that the most experienced teachers be connected with students who have the neediest situations. These changes, along with increased collaboration and profession development time for teachers can still be consider slow to develop and catch on, but are being endorsed by the DESE with the hope that additional pressure to make such changes will result in their implementation.
  5. District Determined Measures or DDMs are a hot topic in science education. A packed house of teachers and teacher leaders attended a PD session hosted by Craig Waterman of DESE and William Bobrowsky of Westford Public Schools who shared a few of his own district’s DDMs to facilitate a conversation about what makes good and bad DDMs. Many participants shared concerns over developing “valid tests” to which Waterman responded that the key features of a DDM are:  1) Aligned to “content” including skills as well as practices 2) Provides useful information 3) Measures growth and 4) Comparability
  6. The Engineering in Elementary curriculum developed by the Museum of Science continues to expand. Their office now offers professional development willing to travel to your district, a boon for those without direct access to Route 93.
  7. Worcester Polytech is hosting a STEM SuperSaturday for elementary school educators on Saturday, January 24th from 8:00 – 12:30. The cost to attend is $25 and includes light refreshments. Contact Jackie Bonneau for more information.
  8. Some school systems are already hosting professional development opportunities for elementary educators, including the Hudson Public Schools who shared their experience in a morning workshop. Their course included the exploration of Eric Brunsell’s “Engaging Minds in Science and Math Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy“.
  9. Top new organizations I discovered in the exhibit hall were “Salem Sound Coastwatch,” a small cohort of educators who (you guessed it) host school groups and professional development focused on the Salem shores and harbor. Runner up to the Earth Watch Institute and their teacher fellowship program connecting teachers with real scientific field work for free when their application is accepted. Teachers can travel all over the world with field studies in nearly every continent.
  10. Lengthy conversations with science program vendors make it more apparent than ever that these organizations are still wrapping their heads around the NGSS and have not yet made the paradigm shift to support the purchase of kits and curriculum at this time. For the most part, legacy kits (a.k.a. to be retired) are either being shifted to different grades without much attention to student progressions or the kits fall short of offering authentic practice-oriented experiences. The holding pattern for curriculum coordinators in search of a “quick-fix” continues.

About MrMusselman

@BurlMAschools Science Specialist and @CambridgeCollg Science Methods instructor. @NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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