Methods to inspire students A wish: An elementary school teacher will travel across the Chesapeake Bay to the National Science Teachers Association convention in search of "new ideas."

The Education Beat

November 15, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ANGEL LINS WILL be up before dawn tomorrow to travel from Kent County, across the Bay Bridge to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) convention in downtown Baltimore.

Ms. Lins, who teaches a combination first- and second-grade class at Rock Hall Elementary, will join 5,000 other teachers and exhibitors. In the ritual of American professional conventioneering, they'll pack five hotels and the Convention Center, spending more than $3 million in just three days. Then they'll head home, vacating space for the next gathering.

What Ms. Lins wants out of the convention is simple: "I'm looking for some new and innovative ways to excite my children about science. We're a little bit isolated on the Eastern Shore, so I want new ideas -- and an exchange of ideas."

The NSTA convention, one of three regional gatherings sponsored this fall by the 52,000-member organization headquartered in Washington, will set no records for size, and it probably won't make big headlines. But it comes at a good time -- November is a slow month for conventions -- and Baltimore convention people say teachers are wonderful guests.

They start their sessions early; 8 a.m. is standard, and no one complains. They don't get drunk and ride motorcycles through hotel lobbies. NSTA's convention fee for members, $60, is one of the lowest in the nation for professional meetings. But teachers have to eat, too, and though 40 percent of them pay their own way to the convention, according to NSTA planners, they tip generously.

"It's a very nice meeting to have," said Kitty Ratcliffe, director of convention marketing for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, which bid successfully on the NSTA gathering three years ago.

The double-meaning theme of the Baltimore meeting, "Harboring Science Opportunities," seems perfect for the occasion, just as Baltimore seems perfect as the host city for 5,000 science teachers. The teachers will fan out to Goddard Space Flight Center (if the federal government is back in business), the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Baltimore Zoo, Columbus Center, Johns Hopkins and other sites that make Baltimore a mecca for science and medicine.

Speakers include Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, the Hopkins neurosurgeon; Heidi Hammel, principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an expert on the planet Neptune; David Heil, host of the PBS science program "Newton's Apple"; and biochemist Robin Cotton, a DNA expert who testified in the O. J. Simpson trial.

But teachers like Ms. Lins can pick up the stars on television. For them, a convention like this is most useful for the dozens of workshops, many conducted by fellow teachers, with titles such as "Female Science Role Models and the New Standards: Connections That Work," "Weather Satellite Imagery -- It's Elementary" and "Operation Primary Physical Science," given by Towson State University Professor Leon Ukens.

For Dave Berenhaus, NSTA's convention coordinator, having the meetings in Baltimore is a "dream come true." He grew up in northwest Baltimore County and lives in Ellicott City.

Mr. Berenhaus and his staff have been planning for the convention for 18 months, and they already are anticipating the year 2000, when the NSTA's regional meeting will return to Baltimore. (The NSTA's national convention, which draws 18,000 teachers, is next spring in St. Louis. The organization has its national meeting booked through 2002 and blocked out through 2016.)

Mr. Berenhaus said one result of decentralization in American schools is that teachers are making purchasing decisions that used to be made in central offices. The 175 exhibitors plying their wares at the Convention Center tomorrow and Friday will find customers "with some purchasing power," Mr. Berenhaus predicted.

In the end, though, the real benefit of a professional convention is what Mr. Berenhaus called "a little booster shot of enthusiasm."

"It's charging your batteries," said Ms. Lins. "All teachers need that now and then."

Hello message brings big Internet response

How powerful is the Internet? Kris Meyer, media specialist at Stevens Forest Elementary School in Columbia, found out.

Not long ago she sent a note on the worldwide computer network asking kids to say hello. Within two days she had 300 responses in numerous languages, including replies from most of the American states. "Some of them were carefully crafted," said Ms. Meyer. "Some were class projects, with everyone participating."

Next week, Ms. Meyer said, she'll use the electronic letters to teach a geography lesson. Her students will look up the addresses in a world atlas and plot them on a world map.

"It reaffirms your faith in humanity," said Ms. Meyer.

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