Downtown Chicago

What do you get when you put approximately 1,400 life science teachers, 100+ exhibitors and vendors, and several “rockstar” scientists together in one city? Well, as a life science teacher myself, I’d say a roaring good time! But, for everyone who wasn’t able to attend, you get the National Association of Biology Teachers National Conference in Chicago, Illinois, that was held November 1417, 2019. 

The NCSE teamProgram Coordinator Emma Doctors, Director of Communications Paul Oh, and Imet so many amazing teachers seeking resources to help them provide quality science education in their classrooms. We handed out more buttons and bumper stickers than I can count, all themed to the teaching of climate change and evolution in the science classroom. With so many “punny” stickers to choose from, we were a must-stop location for teachers the entire weekend.I even got to chat up one of the keynote speakers, Savannah Martin, an indigenous anthropologist doctoral student from Washington University striving to break down the Eurocentric biases often seen in Western science. She loved our bumper stickers so much, she took one of every kind!

Lin Andrews and John Mead

Lin Andrews and Teacher Ambassador John Mead at the NCSE booth. Photo by Paul Oh.

Other highlights of the conference were getting to spend time with all my Teacher Ambassadors who attended the conference. Jeff Grant and Traci Richardson-McVicker were our two TAs that actually volunteered to help in the booth for most of Friday, while Emma and I got to talk shop with all six TAs in attendance during our NCSE Teacher Ambassador luncheon at a local Irish pub. Though our time together was brief, it gave me great insight into what an amazing team of teachers NCSE assembled in just three short years. Not to mention that both John Mead and Blake Touchet received awards for their incredible work in the classroom.

As for the conference itself, I was an extremely “lucky duck” because I got to attend the conference as both a teacher and exhibitorthe best of both worlds! One minute, I’d be in the booth working with my amazing team, then the next minute, flitting off to hear outstanding speakers or presentations that were all organized by Jacki Reeves-Pepin and her phenomenal NABT conference team.

One thing that has always amazed me about the NABT conference compared to all others is the tireless work put into this event by Jacki and her team to make sure every facet of the conference is hand-tailored to suit the needs of life science educators. They make sure that almost every keynote speaker who attends does not have to compete with breakout sessions and presentationsvital to teachers who desperately need resources but also want to hone their craft with new content knowledge from current research happening in the field today.  Speaking of presenters, this year’s Distinguished Service Award went to keynote speaker, Bonnie Bassler, a biochemistry professor famous in the AP biology world for her TED talk about quorum sensing. If you are one of the few biology teachers who have not seen her video on how bacteria “talk,” prepare to be amazed

I now get to be one of the people helping teachers all over the country learn how to combat ignorance and distrust in science. I take this role very seriously and can’t wait to become a “go-to” person for teachers everywhere.

Additionally, in trying to help teachers make the most out of the conference experience, the exhibition hall is always open at times when teachers can actually attend at leisure instead of having to skip meals to go gather “swag.” During this time is when Paul Oh, our Director of Communication, and Emma Doctors, our Program Coordinator, really got to shine. They worked tirelessly to set up our booth on Thursday in time for the big opening ceremony; then worked all day Friday to help teachers make connections and gather resources for quality science teaching in the classroom. I couldn’t ask for a better team of people to work with and it was an honor to stand beside them throughout this time.

Other amazing events that NABT offered this year was a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium, HHMI Night at the Movies, and a Chicago City Lights Architecture River Tour. I made sure to attend all three and was not disappointed. During our Shedd Aquarium adventure, we were able to see a huge variety of aquatic species up close, listen to two marine scientists that work at the aquarium talk about their current research, and see a wildlife show full of marine mammals exhibiting natural behavior seen in the wild for their audience. For the Night at the Movies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Biointeractive team rolled out the red carpet for four amazing scientists: Sean B. Carroll, Tony Sinclair, Jody Hilty, and Whisper Camel-Means. The last three scientists were all surprise appearances as Tony Sinclair came all the way from Africa to showcase his new short film titled “Serengeti: Nature’s Living Laboratory” and Jody Hilty and Whisper Camel-Means explained how their work with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is crucial to maintaining biodiversity in the Rocky Mountain National Forest with their short film titled “From Ants to Grizzlies: A General Rule for Saving Biodiversity.” Finally, we ended the conference on a very, very chilly night by getting to eat, drink, and be merry on a tour boat along the rivers of Chicago. It was breathtaking both in its beauty and in its freezing temperaturesthe photo of me all bundled up might give you an idea of just how cold it was on the water. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!

Lin Andrews bundled up

Lin Andrews was prepared for a cold Chicago night at the NABT conference. Photo by Lin Andrews.

One final note about my experiences at the NABT conference: I have not missed a conference since 2011 and usually pay myself to attend the event (as many teachers have to do thanks to never-ending educational budget cuts). What makes me recommend this event so highly is that when you are there, you are with family. Being a teacher can be so isolating, and being a biology teacher in today’s miasma of misconception and conspiracy theories can make it even worseeven when surrounded by your own colleagues back home. The reason NABT has such a unique niche among conferences is that Jacki Reeves-Pepin’s entire team is made up of current and retired biology teachers. Who better to open up the world of new resources and ideas to us than biological education’s own “people”?

This year’s NABT conference was even more special to me as I got to attend for the first time as Director of Teacher Support for NCSE. I now get to be one of the people helping teachers all over the country learn how to combat ignorance and distrust in science. I take this role very seriously and can’t wait to become a “go-to” person for teachers everywhere. Our nation’s teachers, and helping them succeed, are the only reason I’d ever leave my own classroom behind, I can guarantee you that! 

NCSE Director of Teacher Support Lin Andrews
Short Bio

Lin Andrews is NCSE Director of Teacher Support.