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On the Road with STEM and Engineering

On the Road with STEM and Engineering

VISTA Elementary Science Institute alum Wendy Severin Goldfein (left) is a retired Fairfax County teacher, an author and consultant. She and her teaching partner presented two STEM workshops this month at the regional National Science Teachers Association conference. Following is her account of the event:

If we had a magic wand right now, we would wave it over your head and send you to The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)’s Conference in Chicago next spring. Not only are their conferences the most amazing congregation of science and STEM professionals, but the wealth of ideas, inspiration, freebies and creativity is beyond anything else that you can find in one place. The sharing of ideas is absolutely amazing.

NSTA also holds regional events and, although not the size and impact of a national conference, they do provide a wonderful collection of resources and networking opportunities for educators.

My teaching buddy Cheryl Nelson and I recently attended and presented at the Richmond Regional NSTA Conference. The convenient location and low financial investment made it a win-win situation. And the enthusiastic response to our two engineering workshops  (despite an 8 a.m. time slot for both) contributed to a great experience for us.

"Enchanted Engineering: Integrating Fairy Tales and STEM" was the first session we presented and it was a popular one for elementary teachers. They enthusiastically took notes, participated in hands-on activities, and eagerly grabbed up handouts with lesson plan ideas. Without hesitation they formed collaborative groups to use the engineering design process to help that famous juvenile delinquent Goldilocks build a chair from recyclables for Baby Bear. They used a variety of materials like spaghetti, toothpicks and shaving cream to create a pig’s house that the Big Bad Wolf (otherwise known as a hair drier) could not blow down. People were poking their heads into the session wondering what all the laughter was about as attendees cheered each other on. The session ran over as teachers stayed to chat and share ideas.

The second session we presented at focused on STEM and community partnerships. The session covered grant-writing opportunities, STEM resources in the community, and how to develop a school-based program or family engineering night. The crowd had great questions and, once again, stayed long after the session ended in order to get more ideas.  We have continued to hear from the attendees and to advise them as they work to incorporate STEM into their curriculum, specifically through our Get Caught Engineering Pinterest, website and Facebook pages. 

After our own sessions ended, we had the pleasure of attending everyone else's. With nearly 500 sessions over the three days, covering all aspects of science and STEM for grades K-12, we felt a bit like children trying to choose a favorite candy from a shelf. We enjoyed learning about 3-D printers; problem-based-learning projects; unique ways to utilize painter's tape in interactive STEM lessons; how to use the popular "Wimpy Kids" book series to help teach science; and a cool program called Creek Freaks that offered wonderful suggestions for exploring local streams.

Over the years, we've learned that one place to allow lots of time in any conference/convention is the exhibit area. These areas can be a bit overwhelming but are often well worth it. Take the time to grab up freebies and resources as well as chat with company reps to find out about new products coming down the line. Experienced convention-goers know to hit this area up right before the companies exhibiting pack up. Exhibitors typically don't want to carry and ship back all their materials and will give most of it away. 

Using this technique, we've accumulated skeletons, hermit crabs, hissing cockroaches, fish, large aquariums, computer programs, games, and even a classroom set of interactive response equipment! Note: if one drives to the convention, this strategy is not a problem, but if one flies, airport security can be…shall we say…an interesting challenge. 

Wish you could have gone? One of the great things about NSTA is they allow presenters to post content on their website. You can access it if you are a member. And we really recommend you join now if you're not already a member, since NSTA offers an excellent journal on elementary science and a very active online forum filled with helpful members.

We highly recommend attending conferences and conventions. When one is bogged down with meetings, unpacking standards, gathering data, and giving endless tests, these events can help remind you why became a teacher in the first place and offer inspiring ideas and materials that you can bring back to your classroom. Cheryl and I have already booked our next two:  The Virginia Children’s Engineering Conference in Williamsburg in February and the NSTA National Conference at Chicago in March.

Drop us a note if you plan to go. We would love to meet up with you!

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