Say you’re a plant biologist who wants to devise educational components for your research project but you’re not sure what might work well for high school students. Or say you’re a high school biology teacher looking to ramp up how you challenge your students with the latest research findings and tools. Enter the upcoming Life Discovery Conference, which will bring about 120 educators and scientists together to enrich biology education for high school and undergraduate students.
Organized by a consortium of four scientific societies with a collective membership of nearly 20,000, the inaugural conference will take place at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, from March 15-16, 2013. The conference is part of the consortium’s Digital Resource Discovery project, led by Teresa Mourad, Director of Education and Diversity Programs at the Ecological Society of America.
“This will really be a small working conference,” said Jeff Corney, conference local host and managing director of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. “It’s structured to promote the use of digital resources and new technologies, publish classroom-friendly resources in LifeDiscoveryEd Digital Library and emphasize research-rich biology education.”
Peer working groups will give educators feedback on lesson plans or activities during education share fair roundtables held during the conference.
“Our vision is to offer a session format where educators and scientists can present their digital resources to their peers for feedback by submitting a draft entry into the digital library,” explains Corney. “We hope that in this manner, they will quickly understand the issues for high quality education and incorporate suggestions and ideas by their peers.”
Another goal envisioned by the partnering organizations is to encourage communities of practice.
“We really want to foster greater interaction between educators and scientists,” said Thomas Meagher, Conference Planning Chair and professor at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. “These groups have so much to learn from each other and together can greatly enhance our mutual desire for greater hands-on, data-driven biology in the classrooms.”
In addition to the education share fair roundtables, the conference will include keynote presentations and panel discussions from a wide range of educators and scientists, such as Jay Labov, Senior Advisor for Education and Communication for the National Academy of Sciences, Nancy Geving, a high school science coach for St. Paul public schools and Gillian Roehrig, with the University of Minnesota’s STEM Education Center.
Workshops and short presentations geared to enhance understanding of key concepts and active learning techniques will also take place both days. Among the topics: using technology to connect students and scientific data, solving engineering problems in nature, using mathematical modeling to better understand biological phenomena and engaging students in solving real-world environmental problems through computer games.
Conference partners are the Ecological Society of America, Botanical Society of America, Society for the Study of Evolution and the Society for Economic Botany. The National Science Foundation is a major funder of the societies’ Digital Resource Discovery project.