My Highlights From the 2011 NABT Conference

I came late and left early, but here a few of my favorites from the two days I spent in Anaheim, CA at the 2011 National Association of Biology Teachers meeting.

HHMI Night at the Movies:  On Wednesday evening, we were all treated to a movie night (complete with popcorn), emceed by Sean Caroll. The evening featured three movie “shorts” (about 10 minutes each) that are part of an evolution storytelling series called “The Making of the Fittest”.  The series is produced by HHMI and the Biointeractive team.  They are optimized for classroom use, each one features Sean, traveling with a research scientist to demonstrate and explain their research. Very well done and just at the right level for high school/introductory biology. Meeting attendees received a CD with the three films but they will be available for downloaded here. In the meantime, I found the three videos here (scroll down to find the links).

Biology Best Bets:  Every year I faithfully attend Sue Black (Inglemoor HS) and Nancy Monson’s (West Linn HS) “Biology Best Bets” because they always deliver terrific new ideas that come directly from their own classroom experience. This year marked their 15th (!) and it did not disappoint.  You can find their wonderful ideas, along with worksheets, handouts, and links here.

Biology and the Arts:  Diane Sweeney and Mike Judge (Punahou High School) gave a rousing workshop, chock-full of great ideas for integrating cooking, crafts, dance and music into AP Biology.  They’ve formed an AP Bio Band at their school and have recently cut a CD of their students singing biological lyrics set to popular tunes.  You can find their materials here. Lots of fun.

SpongeLab:  Until this meeting, I’d never heard of this Toronto-based company with a web site of the same name. Spongelab positions itself as a game-based, online learning resource.  Their website (which you can join for no cost) offers a rich library of very good-looking graphics, animations, and casual games.  Everything on the site carries a “cc-by” license and can be downloaded, embedded in your own site or PPT.  The site is supported by advertisements (from publishers) and they do sell site licenses for the games and the tracking data on your students who play the games on the site in your created “classroom”.  They also have a number of more serious games under development which, I’m sure, will be sold. They had a booth in the exhibit hall and I sat in on a session given by the company’s owner, Jeremy Friedberg. As you play games or use images on their site, you earn “points” which unlock new features and access to other goodies (employing what Friedberg refers to as a “game layer” into the site).

Epigenetics:  Louisa Stark, Director of the Genetic Science Learning Center, gave a terrific talk entitled, “Lamarck Wasn’t All Wrong:  The New Science of Epigenetics“.  Stark shared recent research revealing that the genome, far from being a static, fixed entity dynamically responds to all manner of external stimuli. Diet, exercise, maternal care, environmental cues, toxins – all can have an impact of which genes are expressed or suppressed.  Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence (hence the name “epi”, meaning over, above, outer).

And as if that’s not cool enough, apparently these changes may remain through subsequent cell divisions and, in some cases, are passed along from generation to generation (thus the title of her talk).  Stark shared some wonderful resources on the University of Utah, Generics Science Learning Center web site that are well worth exploring.  Particularly powerful (and at the right level for 9th/10th graders) is the video explaining epigenetics research done with identical twins.

The general site:

Content on epigenetics:

Video on twins research:

Updates on AP Biology:  I sat in on a couple of the College Board sessions as well as Fred & Theresa Holtzclaw’s excellent session, “Help Your Students Succeed in AP Biology”.  Although there still isn’t all that much information coming from The College Board on AP Bio, I did learn a few new things.  Here are the key dates they shared:

February 2012  New Course materials will be available (including labs)

March 1, 2012  TCB will begin accepted AP Biology syllabi

January 1, 2013  All AP Bio syllabi are due

2013 will be the first of the new exam

They will be offering professional development both online and in summer workshops.  Fred Holtzclaw predicted that, since there are precious few authorized workshop instructors, the workshops will most likely fill up quickly (sign up as soon as you can).

The proposed structure of the new exam is currently looking like this:

Section 1: 

63 Multiple choice questions

6 In-grid questions

(90 minutes)

Section 2:  

2 Free-response questions

6 Short free-response questions

(90 minutes)

College Board officials suggested referring to the New York Times article (about AP reform) for representative samples of the question styles.

A few other things I learned from talking with others:

– The College Board is developing online materials to support teachers in the new curriculum.  They will include help for teaching the most difficult concepts and assessing student progress in meeting these objectives.

– The College Board will post a few sample audits” in early 2012 so that we can review what will be expected

– 50% of the 180k students who take the AP Bio exam currently score a “1” or a “2”.  Ouch.

It was surprising to me how little information about the new Framework was available at the meeting.  In fact, I would say that I didn’t learn much over what was said about it at the 2010 NABT.  From what I understand of the new Framework, there’s a lot of good news here.  When you think about it, biology educators should be excited and invigorated by this new direction!  Instead, mostly what I sensed was anxiety and concern.  My opinion is that the anxiety stems from a lack of information (we naturally fear what we do not fully understand).  While I understand not wanting to release flawed or incomplete information, there is sometimes greater risk in providing too little information. The College Board should be over-communicating about their plans and new materials.  Instead, it feels like they are holding all the cards, close to the vest, and dole out the information in small increments.  What a missed opportunity.

Eugenie Scott's talk at the 2011 NABT

Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution:  Eugenie Scott (National Center for Science Education) gave a rousing talk about science “denialism” and its impact on biology educations.  She pointed out ample and specific examples to show the remarkably similar approaches taken by deniers of both evolution and climate change.  The basic approach is to distract from the data with tangential issues (e.g. the peppered moths or “Climategate”) cast doubt on the issue (by cherry picking data or providing list of “scientists” who disagree or deny), and then plead for fairness so that teachers can “teach the full range of views”. The language used in the plea for fairness, of course, resonates with us, as Americans, who hold the principles of a democratic society near and dear. But as Scott points out, the job of a 9th grade biology teacher is not as simple as that. She gave us a number of excellent resources and urged any teachers having trouble teaching these issues in their schools to get help.

But, by far and away, my best moment from the conference was when I found (and purchased) my very own Charles Darwin bobblehead.  Oh yah.



Filed under web resources

18 responses to “My Highlights From the 2011 NABT Conference

  1. Margie S.

    Thanks so much for sharing, especially the links! ~ Margie S. (NYC)

  2. rheyden

    You bet, Margie!

  3. You make all of us who were not in attendance so jealous 🙂

  4. Cheryl Hollinger

    Robin, I want to comment on your observations about the College Board workshops you attended. I only saw one College Board answering questions at the workshop I sat in on. Most of the discussions were led by members of the Development Committee who are not CB employees, but teachers and college faculty. The College Board has posted extensive information at AP Central and the Advances in AP sites. The Curriculum Framework has been available for almost 2 years. It is the consultants, working in “the trenches”, that have been disseminating information to teachers for the past 1.5 years. None of the people leading those symposium sessions are consultants.

  5. Stacey Peters

    Robin, Thanks for taking the time to do this write up! I love that I could “attend” the conference vicariously through you. Oh, and the Darwin Bobblehead is too cool– What company makes those?
    Signed — Ohio teacher 🙂

  6. Cheryl Hollinger

    Robin, I must comment on your impressions about the College Board. I sat in on a session at the NABT conference and only saw one CB employee talking. The rest were AP Development Committee members. No consultants were included. Information on the Curriculum Framework has been available for almost 2 years on the CB site. It’s not a secret. A LOT of information has been shared by the consultants (working in “the trenches”) with teachers at workshops and summer institutes. The CB has sent out numerous emails to teachers the past 2 years about where to find the resources and course changes, but it’s the consultants who share the specifics. We were trained by the CB to do so. The list serv members have also been working together to share info. If a teacher hasn’t read the Curriculum Framework by now or joined the list serv, they really need to do so.

    • rheyden

      Thanks for your insight, Cheryl – good to hear a different perspective. I was just so taken by the number of teachers I spoke with who didn’t have their questions answered and were anxious about workshops, the new labs, what the exam questions will look like. I think you’re right that most everyone has now read the Framework, but there are so many other unknowns. I think everyone is well intended but it’s too bad that the anxiety gets in the way of being enthused and excited by what appears to be a much better approach to teaching HS biology.

      • Cheryl Hollinger

        I wasn’t surprised that you learned so much at Fred and Theresa Holtzclaw’s workshop. They are consultants. I agree with you that there is still a lot of confusion. I have heard that the summer institutes are going to be packed next year and hopefully teachers will get the answers they seek. There are workshops on the new labs begin offered this school year. I also want to thank you for sharing your observations and resources with us. I truly enjoyed reading about sessions I could not attend.

  7. Thanks for sharing your comments and the links–it is good to hear about sessions I could not attend. Thank you Robin

  8. Claudia Fehres

    How kind of you to take the time to share your observations with embedded links, no less!
    Much appreciated,
    Claudia Fehres

  9. Neil Heyden

    What a useful distilled set of resources this blog provides.

    The CB is not choosing to be secretive; they fear inadvertent information will be turned against them.

    Not sure how much of teacher anxiety is attributable to a lack of information. Perhaps some or more of it stems from basic human nature’s aversion to change, especially if it involves having to change high-stakes habits.

  10. Hi Robin,
    A great summery of the conference – thanks for posting! Just a note on Spongelab to clarify, content will always be free and open, even the more elaborate games coming out this year. For you interest, Spongelab is dedicated to not only creating content and platform technology but developing community-based models that remove all fiscal constraints around access to learning tools and content. Everyone, regardless of budget should have equitable access to amazing content anywhere in the world! The site license that we sell is only for accessing data tracking at the school level, training and support, not for access to content.


  11. Joe Evans

    I really appreciate you posting the links; I was intrigued by the arts integration but alas that link didn’t work.
    Joe Evans

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