If you were with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in Washington, D.C. last week, you would have been part of the most exciting and productive Congress of the year! In Georgetown, about 145 representatives of chapters, state organizations, affiliates and NSTA governance met to spend “quality time” breaking down walls at the National Congress on Science Education (NCSE). What walls? Those that might exist among educators, those that define where and when we teach science, the ones that create barriers to a literate citizenry, and especially those mental barriers that might keep us from imagining great accomplishments in the near future.
In every hall, over endless great snack breaks, on the streets and in the parks the group smashed preconceptions. State to state sharing ruled! How do you create a new style of conference? How can social media support membership retention? What are the legal and ethical guidelines for association management? NCSE had sessions for every need. There were also updates on NSTA’s Strategic Planning process and building program, as well as updates on the state of publishing and STEM in the “age of NGSS.”
This year was the first Congress at which the Robert E. Yager awards were presented. Five outstanding teachers gave short presentations on their educational philosophies, highlighting both creativity and diversity in STEM education. They were supported so that they could mingle with other attendees and contribute to the rich mix of ideas that would come out of the meetings.
A Congress is also a voting body; in each Congress there are forums focusing on the issues that are most important to the NSTA membership. The initial topics are first proposed by an elected team (four from Congress, and four from the NSTA Council). Any delegate can propose issue forums as well. This year, the forums concentrated on STEM implementation partnerships between formal and informal educators, and assessment in the light of NGSS.
The latter two topics generated recommendations for action by the NSTA Board of Directors. At a Congress, these resolutions go through several voting stages: by Congress, Council, and then Board. In the process, it is common for a resolution to take a different form as it goes “up the chain.” Resolutions urging the Board to develop both contacts and tools for partnerships with informal educators resulted in long discussions at both the Council and Board levels. With whom do we “talk” as an organization? What new opportunities for interactions exist?
Here’s an example: An existing network of Earth science/STEM educational groups was researched, and at the urging of Congress, NSTA delegates will take a more active role in this group. Both Council and Board discussed what resources NSTA had to make partnerships more productive. Turns out we have a lot, but they may not be as easy to find as we’d like because the NSTA Learning Center is getting truly massive. Because of the activism of Congressional delegates, new links and bundles will be available to members in more accessible formats.
The topic of assessment also turned out to be as hot as the DC weather last week. We asked first if there are good resources already available to assess the practices and crosscutting concepts of NGSS? How do educators in adopting and non-adopting states influence the development and use of assessments, to make sure that the three-dimensional learning in NGSS is reflected? Is it time for a “timely” policy statement by NSTA? The Congress said “yes,” but the council and Board said: “Let’s find out.” They assigned a research project to the appropriate NSTA Standing Committee, and asked for an answer soon.
What do science teachers do after long days of learning and legislating? Explore science, of course. The group was hosted by Smithsonian Institution at Q?rius—an interactive collection of (mostly) hands-on artifacts and learning objects with wonderful potential for inquiry. “What does a cockroach smell like?” (Vanilla) “Can you fold an origami passenger pigeon?” (I failed, but many others succeeded.)
The “meta” discussion that this series of Congress actions stimulated was about where and when NSTA Position Statements are used. NSTA currently has a list of perhaps a dozen potential position statements needing development or revision. Each requires months of work: research, development, and a series of reviews by committees, membership, council, and board. The ultimate product is the result of the cooperation of many professionals.
There are various levels and perspectives on position statements. Some are specifically designed as tools that science teachers can use. A document on safety, the importance of science at the elementary level, or what kinds of assessment are appropriate for a given purpose might be used at the local or Board level to argue for best practices. Other topics for position statements, like “poverty” or “diversity” might represent the best thoughts of talented science education leaders but might have less potential for impacting a specific local or state debate.
Check out our current list of position statements on the NSTA website and let me know your thoughts. How can these position statements be useful to you? How have they been useful to you in the past? Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for a major survey on this topic later this summer.
And finally, check your calendar. NSTA’s next Congress is scheduled for Omaha, Nebraska the second week of July, 2015. Can you be there?
—Author Juliana Texley is the 2014–2015 President of the National Science Teachers Association and Chairperson of the 2014 Congress Planning Committee