Chicago's famous football team, the Bears, was not named for the polar variety, but I came to this city to share about my Arctic expedition— a story of polar bears and sea ice! I was selected to deliver a workshop at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference along with two other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows, Mrs. Bugg from North Carolina and Mr. Szymanski from right here in Chicago. We wanted to let teachers know about this amazing National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions fellowship that brings teachers on voyages of discovery all over the world.
I took a long red eye flight out of Honolulu all the way to the 'Windy City' of Chicago. In fact, tens of thousands of science teachers from all over the country descended upon Chicago to attend the conference. The purpose of this huge gathering of science teachers is to learn about new classroom resources, enrich our knowledge of science, and gain new teaching strategies. I am grateful that Star of the Sea School supported my attendance at this worthwhile learning experience.
After my long flight and check in at the hotel in downtown Chicago, I needed to go for a walk. It was just over 30 degrees out— good thing I brought my Arctic parka! I bundled up, grabbed a coffee, and headed out to explore. Chicago is a big city; in fact, it is the third most populous US city, after New York City and Los Angeles. The city is situated on one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. I made my way down to the lake and walked along a path that followed the shoreline. The blue water, though shining bright in the mid day sun, was dotted with ice floes. I took in the Chicago skyline and, of course, I also found some snow to play in!
In addition to hundreds of presentations by teachers and exhibitors, the conference also has a featured keynote speaker. I was so happy to find out that scientist and author Dr. Neil Shubin would deliver a keynote address this year. Dr. Shubin wrote on of my favorite books, Your Inner Fish, which has now also been turned into a three-part PBS television series. The book traces back the organs and limbs of the human body back millions of years in evolutionary history to our fish ancestors.
Each day of the conference, there was a thick program that detailed all the available sessions. Most sessions were an hour long, so you could attend about seven a day. Every hour, there were so many great options, it was hard to choose. I went to workshops addressing a wide variety of topics: designing effective STEM programs, implementing middle school engineering projects, partnering with local science institutions to conduct field labs, and many more! In the convention center, there was also an enormous exhibit hall where all sorts of science related textbooks, technologies, and specimens were out on display from various companies and organizations.
This morning, about 30 teachers attended our session, and they were a very enthusiastic audience! Our talk was entitled "Exploring Global Regions and Resources with National Geographic." Mrs. Bugg, Mr. Szymanski, and I had all taken different voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer through our fellowship: Mrs. Bugg journeyed through the Canadian Maritimes, Mr. Syzmanski got to explore Antarctica, and I, of course, was cruising through Arctic Svalbard.
Our talk introduced the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship and described our particular voyages using expedition photos. We emphasized the importance of imparting geo-literacy to students; that is, an awareness of global interactions, interconnections, and implications. So, we tried to describe how our adventures enriched our own geo-literacy of the regions we explored and how it impacted our teaching. Expeditionary learning can be incredibly powerful!
The Field Museum
The conference sessions kept me really busy, but this afternoon I finally had a chance to visit the Field Museum! The Field Museum of Natural History contains over 26 million biological specimens and cultural artifacts, but one of the most famous ones is Sue, the largest, best-preserved, and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever found. Sue is 90% complete and measures 42 feet long from snout to tail and 13 feet tall at the hip and has a huge skull with 58 teeth. That T. rex is a really impressive fossil!
I love natural history museums, and this one of the best in the world. They had a special Viking exhibit with tools, jewelry, and other artifacts. The Hall of Gems had sparkling mineral samples from all over the world. The Evolving Planet hall was an interactive journey through the history of life, and it was complemented by the high-tech DNA Discovery Center. They even had a model Tiktaalik! I most enjoyed touring the Traveling the Pacific hall, especially the Aotearoa exhibit's Maori Meeting House and, of course, the Hawai'i exhibit.