The chemistry and biology teachers’ conferences were run in tandem this year. A Dunedin teacher reflects on what she learned.
In early July 2015, BEANZ and NZIC held their biennial conferences in tandem for the very first time, with the theme ‘Moving forward: pathways and partnerships for biology and chemistry learning’.
This event was held in Wellington from Sunday 5 July until Wednesday 8 July, and involved a range of joint sessions and concurrent specialist sessions, a shared dinner at Te Papa and a selection of field trips around the Wellington region.
The opening ‘extravaganza’ involved alchemy and forensic science. The Chemistry of Light Show by Dr Peter Wothers from the University of Cambridge delivered lights and action, flashes and bangs.
Taieri College secondary science and chemistry teacher Rachel Chisnall attended BioLive/ChemEd and shared her thoughts about the conference on her blog. She kindly lets us reprint her words here.
Rachel Chisnall: BioLive/ChemEd reflections
I started writing this post wanting to think about my highlights. But reading through my notes, there were so many good sessions and ideas, I’d like to recap them all.
Peter Wothers’ Chemistry of Light Show
I learned some new chemistry! When sodium reacts with water, and then ‘explodes’ it isn’t the hydrogen gas exploding. It is a Coulomb explosion – where the build-up of positive sodium ions repel each other with enough ‘force’ to generate an explosion. It was reported in Nature of January this year, and it is always awesome to see even ‘old science’ getting some new understanding.
Peter also had some cool explosions – including using a violet laser (I have ordered one….) which, as it is higher energy light, is able to set things off when red and green lasers can’t. My favourite part of the show was watching Peter Wothers use his own blood for luminol to recreate the CSI scenes. I am going to try to do this with my classes.
Read more about the chemistry show here.
Laura Trout – POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning)
I really enjoyed this session – not so much about POGIL, but about the use of data to transform your teaching.
I took a lot of notes in this session, including a reminder to blog about it!
A few things really struck me about the content in this presentation. One was that over half of students were failing a course or dropping out before POGIL. Surely, it must have been a pretty tough or poorly designed course to have that sort of result attached to it. So while I am glad they changed and used POGIL, I wonder if the results did look a little skewed and there could have been other factors at play.
Secondly, students didn’t feel like they learned anything if the teacher didn’t say it. That the perception of ‘learning’ is that it has to come from the ‘teacher’. This is an important point for me to consider as I think about developing student agency – if all is takes is a five-minute teacher discussion at some point during the lesson to lead a discussion for students to feel they have been taught what they have learned, then that is a good strategy. Not all students will need this, but I think it is a good middle step for me.
Thirdly, there was a talk from primary industries. This included excellent examples of real applications and clear pathways for study for students. This is an area of growth for New Zealand, and we need our students to be innovative, driven and doing science.
Ian Shaw – Molecular mimicry
When I grow up, I want to present like Ian Shaw did. His presentation was amazing, informative, funny; he acknowledged his research team, acknowledged ideas that weren’t his and he maybe didn’t fully understand. It was really cool. And his message about soy and plastic products really hit home for me – it isn’t just one in a low dose in the environment. There are multiple mimics, all in low doses but if you take them together, there is a significant dosage with unknown consequences.
John Evans – Breakfast seminar
I am so glad I went to this. The food was amazing, and once things got underway, it was very easy to pay attention, despite the early hour. The talk focused on how physical forces also affect the way a body functions, and that this is often forgotten about when you are getting into biochem-speak. But different forces can affect gene expression, or even other phenotypics differences – like fingerprints. So how fingerprints are formed is going to form a big part of my genotype/phenotype explanations when I am teaching Level 1 science from now on.
Roy Tasker: Research into practice: molecular-level visualisation for a deeper understanding of chemistry and cell biology
Like the POGIL presentation, I really enjoyed this session because of the pedagogy behind it. Roy talked about working memory and how it can really only hold 7 +/- 2 ideas.
So when we ask students to complete tasks with more than seven steps, we are effectively ‘titrating’ out their capacity to succeed.
He also gave some good tips about using models effectively – it isn’t enough to just show them. Even pointing out that ions in a lattice are vibrating is important, and that water molecules don’t just swoop in and grab them, it is a tug-of-war situation as attractions are overcome.
There are resources – including some great animations – at the website www.vischem.com.au
Hot topics for chemistry
My crazy wool obsession went into overdrive with a talk from Jim Johnson on how they are using gold nanoparticles to created ‘opulent’ and ‘exclusive’ wool. Imagine a crocheted baby blanket made from nothing but merino and gold. I went up after the talk and touched the wool. It was amazing. Even the carpet wool felt like heaven. So hopefully it becomes commercially available for all the crazy crafters out there.
Rebecca Priestly – Communicating controversial science
I really enjoyed this session, and did my best to corner Rebecca afterwards into promising to do a #scichatNZ on this topic. The best advice was ‘people remember three facts’, so if you are trying to undo a misconception, stick to the three most important points. Mentioning the misconception can also be damaging – people will hear their idea again and cling to that instead of the new information you are trying to give them.
We also did a great activity where we split into four groups. Each group was given a topic.
We were asked to talk about some perceptions and political views on that topic and note them down. Sadly, we ran out of time, but the aim was for our piece of paper to go to the next group, so they could talk out some of the issues, and then on again so they could find some solutions.
Siouxsie Wiles: Fireflies and superbugs: when science and nature collide
My favourite talk was by bioluminescence expert and science communicator Siouxsie Wiles. It was like being back at university again.
She spoke about using fluorescence to make animal models for studying disease more ethical by reducing the number and disease load of animals used.
Having used so many animals in my thesis, I was really pleased to see progress in this area. She also stressed the importance of not relying on antimicrobials – our golden window of being able to ‘fix’ disease with them is almost over. This will not just affect colds and coughs and ear infections, but surgery, cancer treatments and all sorts of things. We must be more selective when using them.
You can find out more about her work at this website http://www.superbugslab.org/
I also made presentations. One was about using OneNote in the classroom, and the other celebrated #scichatNZ’s first birthday.
I found the OneNote presentation more difficult than I expected – it is always so difficult when you have a room of completely unknown people in front of you – some of whom had used OneNote before, and some who hadn’t.
I tried to show a range of things, and did my best to respond to questions. Because I was showing a live assessment, it was a little challenging as I couldn’t share this fully with the group. You can see my OneNote that I used for the presentation (and conference notes if you are interested) here. My presentation on #scichatnz was more of a general discussion around the benefits of getting out there and getting connected. There are many willing educators to talk to and be inspired by. We talked about barriers to sharing, with people thinking they ‘aren’t good enough’ being a common idea, which is such a shame.
As always though, the very best thing was talking to people face to face. I met up with colleagues and friends from around the country. Because this was my third ChemEd conference, there were some familiar faces around, too. As much as I enjoy the ‘digital’ catch up sessions, nothing beats sitting down over a cup of tea.
I should also acknowledge that I was supported by my school, the Otago Science Teachers Association and Education Perfect for the cost of getting me to the conference. Thanks guys :) It was a great conference that I got a lot out of. Hopefully see you in 2 years.
- Rachel Chisnall is a secondary science and chemistry teacher at Taieri College in Dunedin.