Tag Archives: nabt

Correlation: Tats and Twitter?

Where else can you find this kind of humor but at the NABT?

Where else can you find biology jokes like this, I ask ya?

Ten years attendance at the same annual conference gives one helpful perspective for measuring trends.  Last week I had just such an opportunity to measure the impact of social media on a conference community. The National Association of Biology Teachers conference (NABT) is an annual conference of high school and college biology teachers. It’s a smallish meeting – roughly 800 people – who gather to participate in posters, sessions, and workshops. “Teaching and Learning” is the mission and a fierce dedication to their students is the common bond. It’s a wonderful group and I always enjoy being in their company.

Although networking is a strongly stated goal of the assemblage, I’ve been struck by the lack of social media use amongst this community. There is a robust online community of AP Biology teachers (facilitated by the College Board) who regularly share updates, questions, and suggestions – but that’s just one small segment using just one (relatively blunt) tool. In past years, there have been attempts to inject a little social media sauce to the proceedings but they were tepid and never quite took.  A few hardy Twitterers, one or two ardent bloggers capturing the essence, but in past years it sounded like crickets out there to my lonely twittering posts.

This year, however, was different. A vibrantly hard working Twitter crowd seemed to emerge out of nowhere, documenting the scene and tweeting the sessions.  Hashtags abounded.  Blog posts were thoughtful. Someone started an open Google Doc for posting notes from the session.  An NABT tagboard surfaced to showcase the Twitter productivity.

NABT13 Tagboard

Not only did the Twitter stream bring me in contact with many new teachers, it was an extremely useful way to make sure I was covering the right sessions.  You know how that goes at these conferences – so many good sessions occupy the same time slots – how best to decide which is the best fit for you?  What I quickly learned to do was pick from the program description then, once there, monitor the twitter stream to hear what was happening in the other sessions.  If the reports showed a session with a better fit for my needs, I would politely shift locations. If there were multiple best-fit sessions at the same time, I could always go to the Google doc page to pick up the notes from a fellow traveler.  It was a handy ways to graze and make sure to capture the bounty.

So what made the difference this year?  How did we move from the social media desert to this rich harvest of interaction and sharing?  I definitely noticed a greater number of younger members in attendance….hmmm.  I hate to make the ageist mistake. Was it my imagination or were there more attendees sporting tattoos (thank, Ilona – @mikoartscience – for pointing this out. Even from a distance you are remarkably perceptive!)?  Is there a correlation between Twitter-use and Tattoo-display? Mostly, I suspect it was a classic Malcom-Gladwell-esque tipping point: enough experienced Twitter users to lead by example and provide sufficient value so that less experienced others found it worth the effort.

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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). www.spongelab.com

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:  http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/

Content on epigenetics: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/

Video on twins research:  http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/twins/

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.

www.skepticalscience.com

http://www.talkorigins.org/

http://www.pandasthumb.org/

http://www.realclimate.org/

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

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.

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From the NABT

Two weeks ago, I was in Atlanta at the 2008 NABT conference.  It was a fabulous four days – full of interesting sessions, great speakers, useful ideas, and – as always – incredibly talented teachers. My own small contribution to the meeting was a session called “Teaching with Technology” where I shared some insights about using web tools, podcasts, and blogs in the science classroom.  In addition to a whirlwind tour through a number of my favorite web sites, we broke into small groups to share ideas and – at the end – try creating a podcast using some of the equipment I brought with me.  Ever resourceful, the teachers in the room came up with some great stuff.  They successfully put together a couple of short podcasts and also came up with a few suggestions – for instance, having students submit podcasts as an assignment, asking knowledgeable parents to create podcasts, and some creative ideas for working with reluctant IT coordinators on campus. For those not able to attend the meeting, I thought I’d share a few of the web site resources that the teachers seemed to like here in the blog.  So, for a start, here’s an interesting site, Gene2music.  Started by a few UCLA scientists, this site converts genome-encoded protein sequences into musical notes in order to hear auditory protein patterns.  The idea is to make protein sequences more approachable and tangible for the general public and it’s an interesting intermingling of art and science. You can submit a gene sequence for conversion or listen to a few examples on the site.  For instance, they have the audio files for the Huntington and LacYPermease proteins sequence (it’s interesting to notice how many repeats there are in the Huntington’s sequence).   So, check it out.  And let me know what you think.   

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