Resolving misconceptions and building community at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference

NCSE Teacher Ambassador Chandler Tawney presents a lesson at the Evolution Symposium.

NCSE Teacher Ambassador Chandler Tawney presents a lesson at the NABT Evolution Symposium.

This year’s National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) conference was extra special because NCSE’s incoming Executive Director, Amanda Townley, was a guest of honor as the President-Elect of NABT.

Our Supporting Teachers team had the opportunity to spend concentrated time with Townley at the conference and dream together about NCSE’s future. In addition, NCSE Teacher Ambassador Rebecca Brewer received the 2023 Evolution Education award and two other teacher ambassadors, Jeremy Cook and Chandler Tawney, were named Outstanding Biology Teacher in their states: Indiana and Michigan, respectively. Of course, NCSE hosted the always-popular Evolution Symposium, which featured science author Riley Black. The Supporting Teachers team also presented sessions on climate change, evolution, and the nature of science, met with hundreds of teachers at our booth in the exhibit hall, and networked with teachers and science educators who share the goal of improving public understanding of science. This conference was truly the highlight of the year for us!

Teachers Tackle Climate Misconceptions in Pre-Conference Workshop

We kicked off the conference with a three-hour pre-conference workshop titled “Tackling Misconceptions in Climate Change: The Power of Place-Based Resources.” Over 30 teachers joined us to engage in activities from our Climate Change in Your Own Backyard lesson set and plan how they can adapt the activities to their own context. We were thrilled to have NCSE Teacher Ambassador Jeremy Cook present with us and share the place-based activity that he developed for his own students about climate-induced tick population changes.

After the workshop, conference participants continued learning about best practices for teaching about climate change at the keynote by Lauren Feldman, Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. We were encouraged by her talk, “Finding Hope: Challenges and Opportunities in Climate Change Communication,” because it validated so many of the strategies that we have built into our climate change resources for teachers. Following the keynote, we welcomed teachers to our booth at the exhibit hall grand opening. We passed out hundreds of stickers and buttons to our fellow “science geeks” and shared the mission of NCSE with many new faces. The team ended this jam-packed day by enjoying dinner with NCSE’s incoming executive director, Amanda Townley, finding common ground and shared purpose with regard to the Supporting Teachers Program.

Standing Room Only at NCSE’s Evolution Symposium

Our main work of the conference’s second day was to host the annual NABT Evolution Symposium. Titled “The Road to Extinction,” the symposium featured author Riley Black, whose latest book is the popular The Last Days of the Dinosaurs (2022). The room was filled to capacity for the entire two-hour session. Black’s talk expertly wove together the link between climate change and mass extinction while focusing on the one mass extinction event that was not induced by climate change: the asteroid impact that led to the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction of three out of four species on Earth.

After Black’s presentation, NCSE Teacher Ambassador Chandler Tawney led participants through a series of classroom activities from our storyline, The Road to Extinction. Tawney brought a wealth of experience from teaching this lesson in her honors biology class in Michigan. Participants were highly engaged and were excited to bring the activities back to their classrooms.

Wrapping It Up: Nature of Science Session and the Evolution Award

We began day three with our session, “Is Bigfoot Among Us? Follow the Evidence to Combat Pseudoscience.” Twenty teachers rose early on the last day of the conference to experience this activity from our Science is About the Evidence lesson set. This activity is always a hit with teachers and students alike because participants use simulated DNA to investigate whether or not there is sufficient evidence that the mythical creature Bigfoot exists. (Spoiler: there isn’t.) The teachers really got into the spirit and channeled their inner students as they engaged, which made this session a lot of fun for everyone.

Next up was the NABT Honors Luncheon, which included the presentation of the annual Evolution Education Award to our very own Teacher Ambassador Rebecca Brewer. Lin Andews, NCSE’s Director of Teacher Support, emphasized that Brewer “desire to ensure all teachers have the materials to accurately and effectively teach the theory of evolution has always been a mainstay of her work.” In addition, two other teacher ambassadors were presented with their state’s Outstanding Biology Teacher Award: Jeremy Cook from Indiana and Chandler Tawney from Michigan.

The honors luncheon was a great way to close out the conference while celebrating with three NCSE Teacher Ambassadors who are living proof that our work is making a difference in the lives of students.

Wendy Johnson.
Short Bio

Wendy Johnson is a Science Education Specialist with NCSE’s Supporting Teachers Program.