Highlights from NABT

Last week I had the great opportunity to attend the annual conference of the National Association of Biology Teachers in Atlanta. I learned a lot and was pretty overwhelmed by the end of each day. For my next few posts I want to spend a little time sharing some of my highlights from the experience. Today I will start with two talks that I attended on the first day of the conference.

“Climate Change, Oceans, and Waterborne Infectious Diseases: Prediction and Prevention”. Rita R. Colwell, Ph.D. This was the first session that I attended. Dr. Colwell is an amazing scientist and a former director of the National Science Foundation. Her topic, waterborne infectious diseases, is something that is near and dear to my heart. If there is one thing that we could do to improve overall global health, it would be to provide universal access to clean drinking water.

Dr. Colwell’s talk focused on cholera and how climate influences the incidence of the disease. She challenged the idea that it is a disease caused solely by inadequate sewage treatment, but pointed out that the causative agent, Vibrio cholerae, is commonly found in aquatic environments associated with copepods. During periods of increased temperate and rainfall, resulting increases in phytoplankton lead to increased numbers of copepods, and in turn, more Vibrio cholerae. They can actually predict outbreaks of cholera by monitoring environmental conditions like sea surface, temperature, salinity, rainfall, and chlorophyll.

As a teacher, what I took away from this talk was the importance of presenting concepts within a global context. It can be very easy to zero in on a particular topic and focus on the fine details, but if you don’t take a step back and put the concepts into context, you can get a skewed understanding. I was very familiar with how Vibrio cholerae causes disease, but I had never really contemplated the environmental context outside of the importance of clean drinking water and proper sewage disposal. I love learning about familiar topics with a fresh perspective!

“Lessons of a Half Life”. Paul Andersen a.k.a. Bozeman Biology. Paul Andersen is kindof a rock star in biology education. It was funny, people were lining up for pictures with him. If you are not familiar with his work, check out bozemanscience.com. He does these amazing YouTube videos on a wide variety of topics related to biology. They are great for reinforcing material in my introductory biology course.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from his talk. To be honest, I felt a little intimidated at this conference. I was not trained as an educator. My education and training have focused solely on biology and biomedical science, not teaching. I do my best as a teacher, and slowly, but surely I feel like I am getting my footing, but I was definitely over my head during several of the sessions that I attended. Mr. Andersen’s talk, however, was very approachable. He talked about his journey as a teacher, starting out at a school with around 50 students, to moving on to a school with several thousand (side note, my nephew will be attending that school next year, yikes!). One big take away from his talk was the importance of seeking out positive influences in your teaching journey. He is very interested in integrating technology in the classroom and formed an informal learning community with fellow teachers to bounce around and share ideas. This is something that I am excited about because we will be starting our own teaching circles next semester here on campus. I am hoping that they will be as fruitful for me as his was for him!

Those were just a few of the talks that I attended. Next time I will write about the sessions I attended onĀ  implementing the ideas outlined in the document “2011 Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action”

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