Friday, November 28, 2014

What I Learned From Attending a Regional NSTA Conference in Orlando, Florida

Needless to say, attending the regional NSTA (National Science Teachers' Association) conference was a phenomenal experience I would not trade for... anything. It was all I imagined and more with a plethora of workshop offerings, a wonderful store, and a bountiful exhibit hall.

Here are my notes from each workshop--

What's In My Lunch? Genetic Modifications Workshop--

This workshop (hosted by Edvotek) was intended for upper middle school and high school students, though curiosity lured me to this 8:00 offering my first morning at NSTA. In the workshop, we extracted samples from Tostitos yellow corn chips, Sun Chips, and Herb's Corn Chips to see which contained genetically modified organisms.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) came to the forefront in the 1970s. Mutations in foods grant advantages in tastiness, but are dangerous. Scientists directly manipulate DNA sequences to generate desirable traits. Changing one place in the DNA preserves genetic diversity. Corn was inbred but then lost resistence to fungus, so DNA was directly manipulated.

The process consisted of-- 1. Extracting DNA from the samples, 2. Amplifying the samples using PCR, and 3. Analyzing the PCR using electrophoresis.

30 microliters of sample were loaded in each well. I then took the micropipette and conducted the experiment. It was pretty fascinating, though working with micropipettes and electrophoresis is never something I had the opportunity to do (ever) before that morning. I think that was lured me to that workshop-- I was curious, and because of my innate curiosity, I will always remain a lifelong learner.

Argumentation Workshop, Hosted by FOSS--

I then headed to a workshop that was intended for elementary school teachers. The presenters talked about interactive notebooks and assessment systems. My group of four explored magnetic fields using ring magnets and paperclips. We increased the number of magnets from 1-3 and saw how the distance in which a small paperclip was attracted. We used a ruler to measure that distance.

This statement was one I underlined a few times in my notebook-- "Data is evidence, but evidence is data."

Atoms Workshop from CPO Science--

This workshop offering was fascinating because of the build-an-atom activity below! The essential question was: What are atoms, and how are they put together? 

In the picture below, electrons are yellow, neutrons are blue, and protons are green. You can see this game in the CPO Science Online Store here


Polywhat? (hosted by the Polymer Ambassadors at was my favorite Thursday workshop offering. Their ideas were phenomenal, and I think visiting the website will help you to see everything that made this workshop intriguing. 

Modeling a Black Hole 

The last workshop on Thursday had to do with modeling a black hole, which was a challenge because we had to wrap Reynolds Wrap around a balloon. However, we were successful, and it may be something I try with my fifth graders in the future.

Middle School Chemistry Workshop--

Molecules Matter was the 8:00 a.m. workshop offering I attended on the second day. Visiting will help you to see the activities the instructors introduced at this workshop. Since attending this workshop, my fifth graders have completed a few of these activities. 

The Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall was a really intriguing and fun experience. Carolina Educational Supply had an exquisite display, but one of the items I was most impressed with was the T-Bot II Hydraulic Arm from Pitsco. It is inexpensive and pretty fascinating at the same time. Pitsco's website states the arm "is a great project for illustrating hydraulic power and mechanics. See how syringes, tubes, and water work together to power the parts of this robotic arm. Each control moves one of the T-Bot II's axes. The four controls can be used one at a time or all at once by a team of students-- they can try basic maneuvers or moving objects as a team-building exercise!" 

Miniature Golf Workshop--

This workshop was intended for upper elementary educators. The instructor recommended "Engineering is Everywhere" and "Engineering Design Process" from NASA's Best, which is here. She also recommended these Gizmos activities-- Force Fan Carts, Ants on a Slant, and Golf Range (regular, not miniature). One of the videos she showed was NBC Learn's "Science of Golf-- Potential and Kinetic Energy". 

I found a few links after the workshop-- 
- Boston Children's Museum activity for constructing mini golf holes (very similar to what our school's second grade students complete annually) 

Carnival of Science

I liked this offering because it was intended for upper elementary teachers in Florida. Hosted by two science coaches who work for Hillsborough County Schools, they shared a plethora of activities that make test preparation review exciting. Below are two of my favorite activities they shared-- especially the second one!

Hosting an Engineering Fair

My second-to-last NSTA workshop, the instructors talked about hosting an engineering fair/invention convention. They mainly showed examples, which were pretty interesting and made me think of my Technology Club students as they are coming up with exhibits for the Maker Faire we will be holding at the end of the school year. The students in this group started out as fifth graders last year and will improvise their designs through the eighth grade, which sounds somewhat similar to my Technology Club students, too! I taught a number of the sixth graders last year, and they will be in the club through the end of eighth grade... =)

Density-- Life Jackets + Toy Soldiers

This workshop was pretty interesting! Intended for middle school students, I saw where my fifth graders could complete this activity as well. Students are given a piece of foam to cut a small "life jacket" that helps a toy soldier to float in a container of water. The mass, volume, and density of the toy soldier are calculated with and without the life jacket. This activity comes from a NSTA booklet I purchased later that morning at the store called Everyday Engineering. Here is a preview from a different part of the book.

Overall, I learned a lot! It was a wonderful experience I cannot wait to have again when the opportunity arises.