March 1998

Sci-Tech '97
Sci-Tech '97

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Science and Technology Teachers Learn
New Tricks at Sci-Tech '97

Science and technology subject associations worked together to organize a successful conference. Sci-Tech ’97 showed how relating science and technology works for students – and the conference was a hit with teachers, too.

Evidence and Aliens
Going From "I Can’t Do Science" to "I Can Do Science"
Eureka! Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Linking Knowledge and Understanding
Teachers Speak
Sci-Tech Not to be Missed

Sci-Tech organizers worried that having an entire month’s worth of snow dropped onto southern Ontario in one day would keep teachers away from their conference, but more than 1,000 teachers from all over the province crammed into a Toronto airport hotel on a blustery November weekend to find out what’s new.

And there was lots new. Teachers and students roamed the exhibitors’ room, sat on the floor in crowded sessions, served as volunteers for presenters doing "magic" tricks, collected material and talked with colleagues about issues and ideas.

The conference theme, Partners for Tomorrow, reflected the emerging emphasis in education of combining science and technology. A third of the more than 220 sessions focused on science, a third on technology and a third on both.

Presenters came from elementary and secondary classrooms, universities, boards, media, museums and businesses.

For the first time, this annual conference was organized jointly by the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO), Ontario Technological Education Co-ordinators Council (OTECC), Ontario Technical Directors’ Association (OTDA), Design and Technology Teachers of Ontario (DTTO) and the Association franco-ontarienne en éducation technologique (AFOET).

Canadian Astronaut Awes Teachers

About 250 teachers and students paid close attention as a conference headliner, Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason, highlighted the Sci-Tech theme and showed some awesome photos of his home planet.

"Science and technology have made our lives a lot more comfortable and a lot less expensive," said Tryggvason, citing a list of everyday examples, like television, safer cars and being able to drive on a set of tires for 100,000 kilometres.

But, he continued, governments need to spend more money to support science.

He noted that the United States spends $50 a year per person on the space program, while Canada spends only $10 a year per person. Without government support, society will get fewer benefits from scientific and technological discoveries.

Tryggvason paid tribute to teachers, telling the audience, "You try to turn excitement on in your students."

According to Tryggvason, teachers put in the foundation that society needs to support scientific discovery.

In response to a request from the audience, Tryggvason showed some slides from his trip on the space shuttle Discovery.

In some ways, it was like looking at any traveller’s photos, with the speaker pointing out landmarks of interest. In this case, however, the points of interest included the layers of the atmosphere, a dust storm somewhere east of Russia, and Tryggvason’s birthplace, Iceland. The usual "this is my room" picture showed him at his computer, but as he was weightless he was neither sitting nor standing.

The audience sat engrossed in these picture of Earth, taken from space by the person standing in front of them, talking about how the shuttle "shuddered a bit, like a giant coming to life" when the lift-off began.

The personal touches in the pictures reminded the audience that it was entirely possible one of their students could be going into space one day.

[sci-tech sidebar #1]

Evidence and Aliens

By Rosemarie Bahr

With a title like Science and the Paranormal: UFOs, Dowsing and Spontaneous Human Combustion you’d expect a crowd of the curious. And you’d be right.

All the seats in the small room are filled 10 minutes before the session is set to start. People crowd in, filling every corner.

Doug Fraser, wearing an alien T-shirt under his tweed jacket, starts early, remarking it’s "no use waiting for more to arrive."

Science, says Fraser, is about gaining knowledge, finding out what is true to the best of your ability. Teachers tell students to look at the quality of the evidence, not the quantity. But teachers usually provide only good evidence. "We don’t tell them it’s lousy evidence in the real world. Rarely, if ever, do we give them poor evidence."

The Haileybury teacher sets out to give students bad evidence so they can compare good and bad. "And there’s lots of bad evidence available," he says.

Fraser starts the session by reporting on a survey he had done of 100 junior and senior high school students, asking them if they had heard of alien abduction, spontaneous combustion, dowsing, and ESP and whether these things had happened. Forty-five per cent of the senior students believed in alien abduction and in spontaneous combustion. Three-quarters thought dowsing worked. Ninety per cent believed in ESP while only a quarter believed in astrology.

"Astrology’s out of vogue," comments Fraser, noting that society’s always had myths.

Mystical Beliefs

"Ask your students," Fraser instructs, "if someone tells you they saw an alien would you believe them? What if a thousand people saw the alien? If you believe a thousand people, you also have to believe in leprechauns, fairies and goblins. They’re all mystical beliefs supported by honest eyewitnesses doing the best they can. The problem is with the evidence."

Fraser demonstrates several ways to help students judge the evidence.

"Testing for ESP, telepathy and clairvoyance is easy. You just have to understand statistics and probability," he says. With help from a volunteer, Fraser uses a deck of cards to "prove" he has ESP.

Then he explains an experiment in dowsing he uses with his students. The students use divining rods, a piece of wire bent at right angles (two-thirds of a coat hanger) that rest in what look like the small test-tube-like water containers florists use, to figure out which of the covered cups contain water.

"With practice," Fraser says, "some students will find water." He reminds the audience that about 97 per cent of land has water under it and that the water is like a lake, not streams, so that it’s pretty hard not to find it.

Fraser continues, showing a bit of a famous alien autopsy film. He points out that it contains a danger sign that didn’t exist until 20 years after the autopsy was supposedly done.

Fraser provides other facts that contradict the evidence of incidents of spontaneous combustion.

Leaving the audience with a long list of resource books and videos, Fraser has provided several ideas on how to excite students’ interest.

As for teaching "alien abduction," Fraser says, "students will talk about it forever, maybe so they don’t have to do density. Besides, it’s biology."

Going From "I Can’t Do Science" to
"I Can Do Science"

By Angela Monaghan

"Me teach science? I don’t think so. I can’t do science!"

That’s how I felt until I attended the Sci-Tech ’97 conference.

I am a pre-service teacher at Brock University, and I’m being trained to teach all subjects from Grade 4 through 10. My emphasis is music and social studies, and I claim to have no background in science.

Science intimidates me. Joe Engemann, my science professor, encouraged me to go to Sci-Tech ’97.

My intimidation dissolved. Workshops were presented in such a manner that anyone with no science background could understand most of what was going on. I felt better about myself and my abilities.

Integration of subjects is important, not only to make sure all necessary material is presented in a very short time, but more importantly to help show the interrelatedness of one subject to another.

I found Sci-Tech to be a great way for science and non-science people to learn more about math, science and technology and how to either teach or integrate them.

I knew more than I thought I did, and I expanded on this previous knowledge. I learned about rain forest and coral reef conservation and how these areas affect Canada; specific aspects of humans’ damaging interaction with nature; the physics of sound and how to teach it; using a computer to make 3-D model patterns; technology as a process as opposed to a product; ways to keep parents from doing their child’s science projects; and setting up a science committee.

Non-science related topics that were reinforced were how to make resources for next to nothing and how to use them; concept mapping; global trends and their predicted impacts; making an effective rubric; where to find more information; how to get students to do their homework; lesson plans and evaluation techniques; writing worksheets and creating learning centres; encouraging and evaluating student participation; and team teaching.

Sci-Tech ’97 was invaluable.

Non-science Science Teachers

I spoke with Fay Trimble of the Halton Board of Education about non-science teachers and their ability to teach science. The music teacher in her school works closely with Trimble and another colleague in creating science lessons.

Trimble says the music teacher’s initiative in asking questions and researching his lessons has made him a better science teacher. At Sci-Tech ’97 I learned that teaching science is not beyond this musician either.

Teachers of all disciplines should be encouraged to attend Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario conferences. Attending is a great way to learn that science is more interesting than intimidating.

I certainly learned that I can do science.

Angela Monaghan is a pre-service teacher at Brock University.

Eureka! Innovation and Entrepreneurship

By Keith Gibbons

What makes a session at SciTech ’97 a success? Audience participation, humour, challenging questions, useable handouts and innovative ideas immediately spring to mind. Exposure to invention case studies was the hook that drew me to this workshop: Eureka! Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

As we enter the session, Susan White of the Canadian Industrial Innovation Centre in Waterloo uses puzzles, clocks, birth dates, heights, thumb sizes, among other things, to help this motley group of participants meet each other. She then focuses our attention on the soft drink can, asking us to question its origin and evolution.

If you think you have an idea that will satisfy an urgent consumer need, Susan White can ensure the most rigorous testing of your product, including development, protection and marketing. Answers to critical questions will highlight the potential strengths and weaknesses of your invention as well as recommendations for progress.

In fact, since 1976 the Canadian Industrial Innovation Centre in Waterloo has evaluated over 12,000 products at a cost of $345 per application. This organization has categorized the key factors for product success into four groups: technical, production, management and risk.

The fun-filled session revolves around evaluating inventions by using real submissions to question technical feasibility, safety, production costs, potential markets, existing competition, and legality.

Will Ratapult Work?

Examples such as Ratapult, Gopher Sucker Upper, Easybagger, and Easy Jug let participants appreciate the complexities of making a viable product acceptable to the public. This process is fraught with pitfalls.

Stephane Lewis of the Simcoe Board of Education explained the possible misuse of an invention, "If you’re stupid, don’t use this product."

My group analyzes a wheelbarrow rack. We do not recommend it because the rack doesn’t satisfy a true consumer need and lacks practicality … try parking a car in your garage with this product on the side wall.

My creative juices are beginning to flow. Perhaps there is something innovative in my future. Not!

Keith Gibbons teaches at Catholic Central High School in London.

Linking Knowledge and Understanding

By Christina Clancy

If we could ensure that students could both know and understand science and technology, then we have accomplished our mission. It is the linkage between the two, knowledge and understanding, that should drive each one toward the other. That was Ursula Franklin’s message to us.

Franklin is a favourite speaker at science teachers’ conferences. She is renowned for her uncanny ability to eloquently outline the constructs of present-day socio-economic problems affecting learning in science and then to deftly display a palette of solutions, reflections and insights.

An educator of mechanical engineering students at the University of Toronto for many years, she came to us this year with another clear and inspirational message about our teaching mission in life: to preserve the quality of education.

It may be a common misdirection among teachers, parents and education officials to equate amount of knowledge with a quality education, but if students cannot apply their knowledge outside the classroom, their education has failed to serve them.

At the same time, it is a sorry state of affairs, especially in developing countries, when citizens of a community are intuitive about problems and possible solutions but do not own the tools of knowledge that will enable them to construct viable solutions.

Keeping the Awe

Franklin outlined how to ensure the security of the linkages between knowledge and understanding. Among comments about learning to learn and using technology to enhance learning in science, her most valuable reminder was to keep the awe in science alive.

She recounted a memory of her early childhood. At age seven, she was on a beach in Germany. Seagulls were flying overhead. Suddenly she had a revelation so strong that she stopped in her tracks: she watched the gull’s shadow moving on the sand in relation to the gull up above and in an instant understood the perspective of shadows.

Franklin said she has had only a very small number of these "religious moments" in her life of science, but it was these small "eurekas" that kept the understanding weaving through the knowledge. She reminded teachers that we should always endeavour to create the occasion for these precious moments to happen to our students.

Her own reflections and unfailing wit inspired, enlightened and amused the audience.

Greg Howard, a teacher at Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, who was hearing Franklin for the first time, was deeply impressed by her power as a speaker. "Not a word is wasted," he said.

Franklin closed with an uplifting nod to our courage and persistence as educators and stewards of education and with some new insight as to how to face the challenges of reform in our everlasting determination to preserve the quality of education.

Christina Clancy teaches at Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far at Sci-Tech ’97?

"I saw this wonderful program called Moon Link in the exhibitors’ section, where children can see space the way it really is."
—Irene Krytiuk, Josyf Cardinal Slipyj, Toronto

"How much water a diaper can hold. After Bill 160 had me depressed for so long, this conference has got me excited again."
— Darlene Holyoake, Armour Heights Public School, Peterborough

"Ideas for the science Olympics."
—Althea Brown, Diefenbaker Public School, Toronto

"Using interactive technology to have a less structured classroom."
—Oksana Baczynsky, R.H. King Academy, Toronto

"You have to keep things moving faster and faster these days. It’s really the same information but there are so many new ways to give it to the students."
— Benjamin Lawton, Chatham-Kent Secondary School, Chatham

"Chaos theory is teachable."
—Chris Nokes, pre-service teacher at OISE/UT

"Connections I’m seeing in the integration of science and technology in workshops and exhibits, but also connections between the grade levels – and the fun and challenges."
—STAO regional councillor Lynda Bachynski, St. Patrick High School, Thunder Bay

Sci-Tech Not to be Missed

By Roxanne Le Blanc-Lemieux

Whether it was the magic and demonstrations by Steve Spangler, the thoughtful presentation on the independent chemistry OAC research unit by Carl Twiddy or the innovative Science and Technology 10 by Christina Clancy and Malisa Mezenberg, all sessions at Sci-Tech ’97 brought us a wealth of information.

More than 300 dynamic speakers in science and technology and over 100 exhibitors of the latest in material and equipment met up with lots of teachers willing to learn and share.

The enthusiasm was contagious. Elementary level teachers were introduced to the technology of toys, robotics, technology across the curriculum and 60 other sessions. There were countless resources, kits, materials, books (most of them in English only, unfortunately). Everything was conducive to experimentation and discovery.

Universities, partners in scientific programs such as Science North, Ontario Science Centre and Shad Valley, as well as researchers from the international approach to science in education listened carefully to questions and concerns from teachers.

Even the most frustrating session, from a representative of the Ministry of Education and Training, reflected well the mind-boggling pace of the changes in science education.

Next year, we are promised stimulating and innovating presentations to help us implement the new elementary curriculum in science and technology and the new secondary curriculum guidelines. So, let’s meet again at the ’98 STAO conference in Toronto in November.

Roxanne Le Blanc-Lemieux teaches at the Collège catholique Samuel-Genest, Ottawa