But in all honesty, when someone asks me what the best thing about CONASTA65 was it will definitely be the opportunities I had to network with AMAZING science educators from all around Australia and totally geek out about one of my biggest passions. The three days were filled with laughs, lightbulb moments and thousands upon thousands of ideas to help transform my classroom.
My journey to CONTASTA65 started at 3.30am on Monday morning when my alarm went off and I began the trek to Brisbane. The flight was uneventful and the taxi ride from the airport was more expensive than I care to admit, but I eventually made it and registered.
The first event up for the conference was the first keynote from Professor Neal Menzies titled ‘Is feeding the people costing the Earth?’. In his keynote address, Professor Menzies spoke about the costs of feeding our ever increasing population both economically and environmentally. With 2 billion people in the world consuming more calories than they should and 2 billion people not consuming enough, there is a massive imbalance in the access to good food. Professor Menzie spoke about our reliance on nitrogen fertilisers and how this is impacting on the environment in the form of algal blooms and how many people are against the idea of genetically modifying our food crops in order to create higher yields as well as foods that are more nutrient dense to reduce the actual volume needed. All in all, this was a great keynote that really made me think about what we are doing to our Earth and our bodies by creating the foods that we eat at the moment.
After morning tea, I headed to my first workshop of the conference - ‘CoralWatch tools to bring the reef to your classroom: from lesson plans to virtual reefs’. Looking back, I am really not sure what made me choose this session considering we don’t have access to coral reefs in Sydney, but it was an interesting session. The presenters showed us some utterly shocking facts about the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef over the last few decades and the program that is currently in place in order to gather data from everyday people who visit the reef through the CoralWatch program. Looking back, this will be a good resource to have when looking at current programs to ensure biodiversity in the Evolution of Australian Biota unit of Year 11 Biology.
The second keynote of the conference was delivered by Dr Brad Tucker from Mount Stromlo Observatory exploring ‘Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the End of the Universe’. I will have to admit I wasn’t the greatest keynote attendant in this session. I haven’t really got a huge interest in astronomy, but I did try to get into what he was saying - I remember tweeting out a few things, but nothing really stuck with me I don’t think, which is a shame and my own fault really!!
The rest of the afternoon was spent in two different workshop sessions. Firstly ‘Minecraft in the science classroom’, which I enjoyed - quite a bit. I had a go at building a house and actually worked out how to use the crazy program! It’s a real shame that it’s no longer accessible the way that it was - but it is something that we could look into in the future. I love that you can have students create models of things that they are learning about in class. I have used Minecraft as a ‘passion project’ option in the past and was absolutely blown away by what the students created to explain the concepts of the particles of matter.
After that I went to the workshop titled ‘Contextualising science across the curriculum’ as we are currently looking at re-writing our programs at Rosebank. I was a little put off when I first walked in, but I left really happy with what I had walked away with. We were shown a GM cotton plant and a ‘normal’ cotton plant and asked to tell the difference between the two. It was a great way to show people that you really can’t tell the difference between a GM plant and it’s original form by just looking at it. It was only when we saw the two petri dishes of leaves with caterpillars and saw that in one petri dish they were feasting on the leaves while in the other they had no interest in them at all!! We also did a few other little activities based on nuts, moths, caterpillars and superheroes as well as having a go at ‘ginning’ our own cotton! This workshop was definitely one where ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ definitely works!!
Day 1 of the conference closed with the Australian Science Teacher’s Association (ASTA) Awards and the Stanhope Oration delivered by Dr Alan Finkel - Australia’s Chief Scientist. Throughout his speech he talked about the need to increase our expectations of students in the attempt to increase the number of those who are taking on harder science and maths subjects in Years 11 & 12 and then moving into STEM based tertiary courses. With the reliance on technology increasing so quickly, it is believed that within the next decade the STEM industry could bring $57 billion into Australia’s economy. Dr Finkel spoke about how we, as science educators, can help to inspire our students to take risks in STEM fields to ensure that they are prepared for the future that they are going to be facing.
Tuesday kicked off for me with morning tea as I was so exhausted when I got back to my hotel room on Monday night that I forgot to set my alarm - oops!
Day 2 was a day of workshops with a Women in Science forum held in the middle session of the day. The first workshop I attended was a ‘STEM Sphero Workshop’ and was plain and simply GREAT! I had so much fun programming our Sphero to knock over 6 plastic cups that were placed on the corners of a right angled triangle. In our trio we had to work out which direction, how fast and for how long we wanted our little light up ball to travel before turning a certain number of degrees to travel along the next arm of the triangle. I’m pretty sure we were the first group to succeed in this challenge - not that it was a competition, but I just thought I’d throw that in. I would LOVE to have some Spheros to help to incorporate coding, computational thinking, problem solving and STEM into my Science classes - so I’m working on it!
The next workshop I attended was run by my friend, Vatche titled ‘3D printing and virtual reality in the science classroom’. Again, this was another FANTASTIC workshop. It was 90% hands on where we got to play with 3D printing pens, virtual reality apps on the Knox V2 cardboard and investigating the possibilities of augmented reality. The latter two of these three I have heard of and seen in action before, but had never got to the point of actually integrating them into my classes… I now have a bunch of ideas ready in my head, I just need to go back to school to get them going! The 3D pens were awesome and a quick and easy way to create 3D objects - but would require a bit of outlay to purchase the things needed. Thanks Vatche for an amazing, hands on and relevant session :)
The last session of the day was nowhere near as enjoyable as the previous two. I don’t think I’ll mention what the session was, but the session title was extremely misleading and was more of a commercial type session than a ‘workshop’ as it was described. Anyway - I will leave it at that!
Tuesday ended up happy hour drinks followed by a lazy night doing some further reading of the things that I had been introduced to during the two days of the conference while watching X-Files in my hotel bed in the hopes of not repeating my efforts that morning!
The last day of the conference started again with another keynote, this time by Dr Stefan Hajkowicz from CSIRO. Throughout his address he spoke about ‘digital megatrends’ and how yes, technology and STEM jobs are necessary, we still also need humans to carry out jobs that involve ‘fuzzy and complex problems’. He shared with us a project by the University of California who worked to try to teach a robot to fold a towel and the best time that they could get was 20 minutes. This was a great way to show people that technology CANNOT do everything but we still need people with STEM skills to be able to work in those areas that do involve these new up and coming technologies. STEM skills also provide people with the basic skills of problem solving, critical and analytical thinking and the ability to work collaboratively and independently.
After the keynote it was finally my time to present my workshop ‘Flipping the Stage 6 Biology Class’. I was told I was going to have 43 people in my session, so I set out about 50 business cards and Kahoot stickers… and they all went, plus about another 20 or so more people! It was great. I presented my content via a ‘blind Kahoot’ where I used a Kahoot quiz to introduce the concepts of flipping the classroom along with my Google Slides presentation. We then re-did the Kahoot in ‘ghost mode’ and I had prize packs for the top 3 Kahooters. The feedback from my sessions was amazing. I had people ask great questions that I felt more than confident that I could answer and it was so great to hear that people were willing to give flipping a go in their classes. I really left with a big buzz!!
Not long after my session finished I received a text to tell me that my flight had been cancelled for that night and I was being put on a flight on THURSDAY morning, with no real explanation and no suggestions for accommodation other than ‘find some and we’ll reimburse you up to $x’. So I didn’t really make it to the keynote that was being held at this time, which is a shame because it sounded like it could have been great as it was on critical thinking in Science - something that I need to push my students to do more of!
After lunch, (where I sorted my drama out - thanks Marg!) I went to two more workshops to end the conference. The first was titled ‘Smartphones for Smartclasses’ and looked at the ways you can leverage smartphones in your classes. We looked at a range of apps and then had a go at using them to create stop motion animations of osmosis, to take photos of microscope slides and to compare our resting heart rate with our heart rate after exercise. Again, some great ideas that can be incorporated into any class with the tools that the students already have in their pockets.
The last session I went to was again, not overly great - but it wasn’t terrible. I walked out with a few ideas that I could revamp and re-jig to get my students engaged in a range of different areas of science. This conference really showed me that I’m a doer, not a sit and listener. I really need to be able to attend workshops where I’m moving around, doing things with my hands and interacting with what the presenters are sharing!
To end 3 amazing days we all convened back in the huge school auditorium to wrap up CONASTA65 and hand-over the the Tasmanian crew to share the information for CONASTA66, which will be held in Hobart next year. This was followed by another happy hour, which involved a few wines, beanies and some hilarious photos. A group of us then shared an amazing dinner at Popolo at South Bank before retreating to our rooms ready for our 5.30 alarm.
All in all, CONASTA65 was an amazing experience and I am really disappointed that it was my first but it definitely won’t be my last. I have made some amazing new Twitter buddies and met some of ‘my people’ who share my passion for giving our students the most amazing experience they can have while they are in our classrooms. I can’t wait to see where our friendship takes us (and our students) as we continue to network and work together even though we all live at opposite ends of the state (or country!).