Seeking Patterns in Workshops: Making a NSTA Conference – Part 2

Roughly a year after our NSTA Boston 2020 arrangements team met for the first time, I was back in DC for our next big step toward making the national conference a reality. With Programming Coordinator, Pam Pelletier and the NSTA conference arrangements team, roughly one-thousand workshop proposals were reviewed and sorted in roughly a day and half’s time. The work cemented the hundreds of hours already put in by 60+ volunteers from the Massachusetts Science Teachers Association and New England more broadly.

While the NSTA team had already sorted proposals by grade level before our arrival, Pam and I took the time to dig a little deeper, using our “human instinct for patterns” to uncover a trove of subtler themes. On several occasions we stopped to take in the descriptions and summations of the great work that will be on display next April. While our conference’s four strands are and will be explicitly highlighted in the months leading up to the conference, NSTA2020 in Boston will also have a number of recognizable undercurrents including:

Human Impact and Student Activism:

After just a few hours on day one it was clear that K-12 science educators have been paying attention to ESS3 in their NGSS standards. What really excited us was the inclusion of opportunities for students to act on their new found understanding of the role humans are playing in changes to our planet. While the spotlight certainly centered on climate data and action, several proposals took on biodiversity conservation, soil, water, air degradation, and even light pollution!

Equity and Social Justice:

Challenges around access and equity in science have been well documented and hold a prominent place in the Framework for K-12 Science Education, so it was great to see just how many educators are working so hard to do something about it! Many workshops highlighted partnerships where urban students and communities connected with scientists to do authentic science work, changing their perceptions and/or doubts about themselves as scientists. Others focused on supporting English Language Learners access and understanding of scientific language while still more centered on research and work being done to improve access to high-quality science education in underserved urban and rural areas alike.

Engineering for all:

Many hands-on workshops and presentations hit on the integration of engineering and use of the engineering design process across the PreK to 12 realm. While there will always be bridges to build, workshops diverged to coastal erosion mitigation, rocketry, polymers for soft-bodied surfaces, and solutions to fairy-tale dilemmas. Some took the extra step of integrating such art in the way of origami, and the beauty in the balance of forces and motion.

Tech Integration:

Makerspaces, programming, robotics, oh my! Lots of workshops, presented by individuals or teams from schools or school districts, will bring to life the interplay between building strong foundations in computer science and three-dimensional learning. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality has also made its own space next to 3D printers, dash-and-dots, LEGO Mindstorms, and other technologies on display at past NSTA conferences. Interested in using NASA, NOAA, and citizen science data sets? NSTA Boston will have that covered for you too.

So why all the fuss? To minimize the amount of overlap among similar workshops of course! Conference regulars know the “FOMO” feeling they inevitably get when having to select between two or more outstanding workshops. While I am 100% certain that you will be unable to avoid this feeling at NSTA2020, we’ve tried our best to give attendees the opportunity to catch similarly-themed presentations at another time.


A quick selfie at NSTA with Program Coordinator, Pam Pelletier and NSTA’s Conferences Director, Delores Howard.

Before we left Pam and I got to sit down with long-time NSTA Conference Coordinator, Delores Howard and layout our favorite recommendations for the conference’s keynote and conference strand speakers. While I can not share who they will be until NSTA finalizes agreements, I am very excited about the possible lineup to be! Before leaving, Pam and I snapped a few pictures in the lobby and with our NSTA colleagues that we are so very grateful for. The grind that the NSTA conference team goes through to host not one, but five conferences over a calendar year can not be understated and I am so appreciative of their work. Thank you, Delores Howard, Beverly Shaw, Dayna Ward, Donna Fletcher, and Linda Crossley!

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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