No Mystery to Appeal of Some Science-Conference Sessions

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Anaheim, Calif.--The myriad sessions open to the 13,000 educators who attended the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association here ranged from "Authentic Assessment in the Classroom'' to the more whimsical "Batty About Bats.''

And it often was hard to figure out why some became standing-room-only events while others devolved into one-on-one presentations.

But the organizers of "Murder in the Science Lab?''--an award-winning lesson on forensic science that coaxes students into working with microscopes and other tools to unlock "clues'' to whether a researcher was killed on the job--weren't surprised that their audience spilled into a hallway.

"The closer you can get to the classroom and something that will work with their students, that's what draws them in,'' said Andrea Foster, a presenter who teaches at San Antonio's Katherine Stinson Middle School.

Educators also packed to "sold out'' levels a special meeting of the N.S.T.A.'s Environmental Education Advisory Board, where they were urged to emphazise "science'' over "activism.''

Organizers distributed copies of newspaper editorials discussing an Education Week story about how competing pressures from various interests have turned environmental-science classes into philosophical and political battlegrounds. (See Education Week, June 16, 1993.)

And John Padalino, the head of the advisory panel, noted that a growing number of science-based texts and other materials are being published to teach impartially about the environment.

He added that the N.S.T.A. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to jointly develop a curriculum on "global change.''

As far as teaching students how to apply science in the political process, he noted, "the social-science teachers are paid to do that.''

Yet another popular event, the space educators' luncheon, provided a striking illustration of how the character of America's space program--and of American society--has changed over the past 30 years.

Nichelle Nichols, best known as "Star Trek's'' Lieut. Uhura--who spurred women and minority astronauts to think about careers in space--gave a rambling introduction for Ellen Ochoa, the nation's first Hispanic woman astronaut.

Ms. Ochoa, a mission specialist on S.T.S. 61, a 1993 space-shuttle mission to study the earth's atmosphere, subtly emphasized the changing nature of the formerly all-male, all-white astronaut corps.

Astronauts, she noted, collaborate on the design of each mission's unique patch.

The Marine commander of S.T.S. 61 "was absolutely adamant we had to have an eagle,'' she said. "It would have helped to have an anchor.''

The colorful final design, far more to Ms. Ochoa's liking, features neither raptors nor ground-tackle, but the orbiting shuttle conducting environmental science.

Seated at a back table, meanwhile, were Walter M. Schirra, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, and Charles (Pete) Conrad, best known, perhaps, as the Apollo astronaut who swatted golf balls across the lunar surface.

While they genially posed with teachers for snapshots, the graying former fighter pilots also entertained their tablemates with earthy jokes and salty tales about famous colleagues.

While many attendees let their hair down in sunny Southern California, only one publicly chose to "go ape.''

In introducing Jane Goodall, the famous expert on chimpanzee behavior, Gail Paulin, a teacher from Mesa, Ariz., and a protegee of Ms. Goodall, gave her mentor a simian 60th birthday greeting.

Exhorting the audience to join her in a chorus of "pant-hoots''--Ms. Goodall's term for a simian screech--she launched into a bloodcurdling imitation of chimp vocalization that rang the rafters.--PETER WEST

Vol. 13, Issue 29

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