Education in Chemistry visits the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) conference in the US and it's big!

The US flag

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It's well known that things are bigger in the US: cars, TVs and food are popular examples. So it is with science education conferences - the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) annual conferences are about 10 times the size of similar events held by the Association for Science Education (ASE) in the UK. 

But bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, so we thought it was time that Education in Chemistry took a trip across the pond to see how things are done in the land of the free. 

The flying time to the location for NSTA 2013 from London is about 11 hours in total. Despite the best efforts of the British rail system, this makes the annual pilgrimage to Reading or Liverpool for the ASE a mere hop in comparison. 

All this time in the air though does have one advantage: it's an ideal opportunity to wade through the massive conference programme - over 200 pages of workshops, presentations, special events and exhibitor demonstrations. And that's just volume one - Thursday. Similar weighty tomes cover Friday to Sunday. The sheer choice of sessions is staggering. 

The view from here

The other thing to do when flying is to chat to your fellow passengers. On my final connection I sat next to a young woman who was eager to talk. 

As a journalist I'm usually ready with the first question after the introductions and small talk, but she beat me to the punch: 'Do you have a national science curriculum in the UK?', she asked. 

Her question is timely, and not just due the machinations of Michael Gove. Returning to the conference programme it's evident that the current hot topic in US science education is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) - a national curriculum for science education across the whole US. It's only just been published in draft form and so this conference is the first opportunity for teachers to get to know it. 

Miranda, my fellow passenger, tells me why she's excited about the NGSS 'The recent implementation of a new common core [maths and English] curriculum in the US has meant that that there has been a shift to allow science to have a greater emphasis [in teaching].' 

She understands that the NGSS will necessitate not only a big shift in what the students need to know, but also in how it is taught and assessed: 'children will need to display greater higher order thinking, reasoning and analysing skills in their science learning', she says. 

Will Miranda and the US science education community be satisfied with the NGSS? Hopefully the NSTA annual conference will give them some answers. 

David Sait 
San Antonio, US