NISE Conference

On November 17, 2014, the Northern Illinois Science Educators (NISE) organization held their inaugural conference.  The recent adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards in Illinois prompted huge demands by K-12 science teachers for professional development.  A new set of standards prompted educators to look for answers ranging in complexity from “What is NGSS?” to “How do I successfully implement NGSS?”

Keynote speaker and NISE Vice-President, Dr. Carol Baker, led the 450 conference attendees in an overview of NGSS and what it means for science education.  She emphasized that the Science and Engineering Practices will help teachers transition from “teaching kids about science to teaching them to do science.”  The opening speech was followed by 50 minute sessions offered by over 50 presenters. While the presentations did not mandate an NGSS focus, many of the presentations offered ideas and guidance on the topic. The NGSS presentations provided teachers with guidance on how to incorporate the eight Science and Engineering standards into instruction, clarified the Cross-Cutting Concepts, and suggested ways to incorporate technology into lessons.  

Several presenters provided great examples of how we can get kids to DO more science.  In particular, Elizabeth Hamann led chemistry teachers through a series of experiments that integrated inquiry rather than cookbook labs.   Ever get tired of reminding kids that the units for density can be in g/mL or g/cm3?  In her density lab, students use clear plastic containers to figure out that a milliliter equals a cubic centimeter.  Her take on a Double Replacement Lab encouraged me to expect more of my kids.  She expects her kids to determine what unknown solutions are in the bottles rather than simply identify the identity of the precipitates.  With VSEPR modeling her students must figure out molecular shapes on their own by studying PHET simulations from the University of Colorado.  She reminded us that inquiry must start with a question.  Her focus on inquiry forced me to admit that my students are doing way too many cookbook style labs. (SEP 3, 4, & 6)

Mike Heinz, reiterated the need for science classrooms that promote inquiry in his session.  True inquiry focuses on the student as a learner who can develop open-ended questioning skills.  Kids don’t necessarily arrive in our classrooms with an understanding of how to ask questions.    To help students develop a culture of questioning we must train them how to question what they see and experience.  Mike discussed 3 Levels of Thinking and Questioning, which was designed by Arthur Costa.  To help us understand the different levels of questioning, Mike handed out a variety of topics on index cards ranging from serious (solar polar) to silly (Justin Bieber).  He made each team come up with a Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 question based on each team’s topic.  His quick and fun activity allowed us to explore the levels of questioning and I could easily see students doing this activity during the first week of school.  In the back of my mind I wondered if my students were stuck at Level 2 of questioning skills. (SEP 1 & 6)


The most passionate presenter of the day was Phil Culcasi from Wheaton Warrenville South HS.  His session described the modeling approach to chemistry and its emphasis on the particulate nature of matter.  I loved how his students stood in front of their peers and explained their theories about how things worked.  Students utilize white boards to draw particles and their behavior to back up their predictions.  Phil teaches Chemistry Modeling workshops during the summer.  Phil emphasized that modeling takes time to implement.  The teacher must gain skill in questioning kids, which takes “practice, practice, practice” to get good at.  Paul inspired me to take one of his Chemistry Modeling workshops when he said “I will never go back to teaching the old way.  Never.” (SEP 2, 4, 6, 7, & 8)

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About Tanya Katovich

I am a proud mother to three beautiful girls and two dogs (one naughty, one nice). Currently serving as Vice-President on the NISE Board of Directors. Incredibly proud of winning the CICI Davidson Award in 2015. I love presenting, whether it's at NSTA conferences, workshops for teachers, ChemEd, or private consulting. I am National Board Certified in HS Chemistry,