by Megan Durst, Kelso Elementary
This was the second OSTA conference I have attended in my 12 years as an educator. For a little context, I grew up with a biology teacher mother and an organic chemist father. I always wanted to be a veterinarian but my undergraduate work resulted in a BA in Spanish with an Animal Sciences minor. I spent 10 years teaching at an International Baccalaureate World School and now I teach second grade in Boring, Oregon.
The best experience I had at the conference this year was when I heard more than one presenter using the term “phenomena” to describe natural occurrences that we can observe and analyze. Of course, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the LL Cool J song, “Something Like a Phenomenon”—a good motivator for my students for sure. I realized that even though I have always thought of myself as fluent and consistent in using science terminology with my students, I had never used that term in twelve years of teaching! During my three-hour drive home, however, I concluded that there really is no better way to describe the oddities of the natural world using a single noun.
My second graders were just about to start learning about insects and their survival when I attended the conference. I was a little confused about how to approach this, as this is my first year teaching second grade. The main reason I chose to attend the conference was because I felt unprepared for the unit and felt like I was relying on provided curriculum, which seemed to only scratch the surface of the science content while focusing more closely on the grammar and language behind it. Of course, the keynote speaker at the conference this year, Dr. Okhee Lee, emphasized the importance of incorporating language and science content, but the curriculum didn’t seem to allow for inquiry and discovery with interesting enough information. I definitely felt stuck before the conference.
The week after the OSTA conference, I went to yet another training: Building Academic Language. My teaching partner and I were able to incorporate what I learned at the OSTA conference with this new information to create a deeper learning of the content. Second graders are now creating labeled diagrams of insects (see photo) and have even completed a 4-chapter non-fiction book about an animal of their choice, based on the research we did after the OSTA conference. They explored the phenomenon of survival, from an insect’s perspective, which led to researching a vertebrate of their choice and its methods of survival. The students are now eager to continue learning and writing about the natural world and its phenomena. They can use both library books and Chromebooks to find the information they are looking for and they also learned the importance of citing their sources.
While my students certainly learned about the phenomenon of survival from various perspectives, they also learned valuable research, language, and scientific skills in context and with a deeper understanding of the content. Without attending the OSTA conference, I would not have felt as comfortable pushing my students as hard as I did. Now, I feel like they can definitely take this learning and apply it to a variety of different content areas.