Boston hosted the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) annual conference at the end of March, and Tom Snyder Productions hosted 50+ science educators from the conference for an open house at our office. A mix of science teachers, district-level science coordinators, state consultants, and other science education specialists from across the country joined us for an evening of demos and dinner. It was great fun and a wonderful opportunity to connect with the people doing the hard work at the front lines.
I was particularly impressed with the number of TSP folks who surrendered a Friday night to hang out with a bunch of science educators. Engineers, quality assurance specialists, producers, IT personnel, customer service reps, and others mingled and chatted with our guests. Most of these TSP employees don’t get a chance to meet the people who actually use the products they create. There were fabulous conversations going both directions. I look forward to the next time a relevant conference is in town.
I was invited to say a few words at dinner. The last thing I wanted to do was interrupt the flow of the evening (and the meal) with a boring speech. So I kept it short. I offered three bits of research-based advice for how to behave at dinner.
1) Talk to your neighbors. Research is very strong about the value of sharing what you’re learning to build your own understanding. In fact, recently published research on problem-solving transfer among young children concluded, “The general lesson might be that if you are having difficulty in understanding something, you should try explaining it to your mom.” (Rittle-Johnson, et.al., 2007). I like that.
2) Be careful what you say. Last year’s report from the National Research Council called "Taking Science to School" offers a very nice summary of the available research on science learning and instruction. The report notes that past science instruction paid little attention to the informal background knowledge that children brought with them to school. Kids’ have some well-entrenched notions about the workings of the natural world, notions that can help or hinder the acquisition of accurate scientific concepts. If we don’t take students’ existing understandings into account, then what we tell or teach them may well reinforce a fundamental misconception.
3) Have fun. Affect, the way we generally feel, has an impact on how well we learn. Engagement and happiness tend to reinforce retention. We remember what we enjoy. So have a good time. Learning is fun.