Jul 9, 2020 - 8 min read - 1,238 views

A Day of Virtual PD in the Age of Virtual Learning: ScIC3 Unconference presented by PocketLab

This is the third Science is Cool "Unconference" that PocketLab has sponsored and the second one that I attended! These 8 hours at home with my Zoom going were so well spent. Such a variety of knowledgeable presenters and so many amazing takeaways. The unconference host, Dave Bakker, does a phenomenal job with addressing our teacher questions and smoothly moving the whole conference along! THANK YOU and well done! Below are some resources and cool things I learned that I wanted to share with you!

If you want to learn more and hear about updates and future Science Is Cool events hosted by PocketLab please visit:

Chuck Nice - A self-proclaimed Climate Change "Actionist" began by sharing some early details of a conference that he is working on. It will be held over Climate Week in September (21-27, more details tbd) and he wants to primarily involve teachers with his conference and idea. He called it a conference to start the beginning of a movement of "10,000 teachers" to utilize the natural skills that we teachers have to help communicate these important climate issues. His goal is to make teachers an "army of ambassadors for the climate crisis" and equip us with strategies to talk about these issues not just with our students but with everyone, everywhere! Chuck finished by saying his vision is "to make the medium the message and the message the medium" and getting as many people involved (teachers, entertainers, governors, etc) to do that as possible. I am looking forward to seeing this develop more!

Resources shared during his discussion that I found helpful:

StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice answering Cosmic Queries - Neil started his cosmic query StarTalk with a question on nurturing students' curiosity through distance learning. He responded by saying that you need to "put things out in front of the students for which there is no obvious answer", then you help them dig and dig further and allow students to wonder about the answer without just handing it to them. He emphasizes treating even well-known answers to questions as an unknown exploration for your students as they are learning. Lead your students through their own natural curiosity in their learning.

The next question for Neil was about how we can help restore science to its proper status among the general populous. Neil started with an answer that he said he didn't want to give. He said, "If every science research program came with a fraction of its budget for advertising...to just advertise what science is doing in your everyday life because science is there for you in ways that many people take for granted". Example, childbirth, checking the weather, MRI's, etc. Essentially making science public service announcements to remind people of how science helps them daily.  The 2nd answer he gave directly related to his audience of 10,000 scientists around the world was this: "To teach science not as information but as a way of querying nature... if you learn what science is and how and why it works then you're not going to grow up not trusting science". His example of this was the conflicting mask information at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, scientists were getting new information about this novel virus daily and relaying that news to the public in real-time, so it changed because... 

"That's how science works!"

His next questions were directly related to space. This is where I tell you how shocked I was to hear my name and question being answered directly by Neil deGrasse Tyson! When I registered for the conference I had just returned from watching the SpaceX manned rocket launch down at Canaveral so Mars was definitely on my mind. I typed my question into the registration box, never in a million years thinking it would be chosen out of thousands of great questions that were submitted. So I kinda freaked out when I heard my name... my first and last names are common so I didn't freak out immediately, but when I heard my exact question, I went nuts!! So here is that segment from the video. The whole conference will be available to watch in the future so follow the facebook group mentioned at the very beginning of this blog. I also heard that the StarTalk portion with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice will be on their podcast in the future. I encourage you to watch or listen to the whole thing if you can.


Another great question Neil was asked was: How do we need to modify our learning now that students have so much more information yet less guidance? The conversation around that mainly focused on how assessing source reliability needs to be a major part of our curriculum. He discussed how we teachers need to try to find a way to separate the objective reality from the bias and agenda ridden information that is so easily accessible. Especially now that there is not really a built-in filter and fact-checker into our information system as there used to be when information came from physically published and vetted sources. He finished his answer by saying

"a search engine is the ideal way to confirm any belief you have... no matter what the belief is".

Next up was how do you explain the magnitude of space to a student. He shared a few resources (listed below) that would help with this difficult visualization. The next question was: What is the most important astrophysics concept for everyone to know? Neil did not hesitate with his answer. 

"We need to know the immensity of space and the immensity of time... those 2 are the hardest to grasp... once you get those concepts... then you have a true cosmic perspective of who and what we are here on Earth"

Knowing this allows humans to better understand how things like evolution, subduction, and geologic processes work over time periods well beyond our lives.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson wrapped up his session Dave asked him about the silver lining from this COVID pandemic. As a teacher going into the unknown again I found his answer quite moving. He said that this age of video conferencing we have effectively separated the necessity of both space and time, and now "the WHEN is all that matters", the where is tied to our computers which open up so many opportunities. I love that thought process and Neil deGrasse Tyson's words on our connectedness in our isolation are what I want to finish this section with: 

"as the result of this coronavirus lockdown...as distant as we are from each other...we have never been closer simply because we can communicate in ways that we care about, with body language, with gestures, with carrying around the device. So by being more distant from each other, there is a part of it that actually makes us closer together, and if we carry that forward out of the coronaverse it's definitely another key tool that teachers can use and invoke to deliver content and instruction and whatever else is necessary to get the job done."

Resources mentioned by Neil or shared by others:

PocketLab presentation by Clifton Roozeboom: Amazing sensors that can be used for a variety of hands-on lab investigations. These sensors are easy to use and connect to phones to gather data. The PocketLab site shows tons of investigation examples and resources. these do cost a bit, so if there are grants or donors choose options available to you in the future they are absolutely worth checking out!


Jason Lindsey aka "Mr. Science" with Hooked on Science - Jason always has an amazing presentation with easy to replicate demos or labs you can do with your students. He demonstrated some "Back to School" science experiments that can be done with students. He only used common household supplies that most students would have at home or are reasonably priced.


DataClassroom - It's a data world. Teach kids to work with real data in grades 6-12 and beyond. This was very cool real-life virtual experiments that take students through what quality data analysis looks like. This is a very valuable resource to teach critical math and data skills. Has some cost to it. 

There was a National STEM Pannel that I missed while I was taking care of lunch and putting my daughter down for her nap. Sorry! 

LabXchange - This was a resource that made me stop everything else I was trying to do and send my district science specialist an email about it immediately. Created by a team at Harvard Arts and Sciences, its functionality and content are unmatched. Teachers can create personalized Online Learning pathways for their individual students or classes they set up. You can choose from 1000's of verified and quality resources including, texts, videos, STEM career narratives, interactive simulations, etc. Not only can you make customized "lists" for your students from their content, but you can also add your own documents, videos, or assessment questions! The content available right now is mostly geared towards high school+ biology, but they are just getting started and hoping to expand into NGSS in the future!  The best part is that LabXchange is 100% free. The presenter/ founder Dr. Robert Lue said

"I am tired of free stuff being not that great... Free should be awesome and we have the resources in this world to make it happen"


Killer Snails - Cool games for younger biology students. Their top game BioDive has AR and a lot of interactive features students would love. Killer Snails is currently offering free licenses for BioDive due to the Covid-19 pandemic through September 2020, you should check it out before then.

Foldscope - Exploring the Microcosmos with Foldscope. These small "paperlike" microscopes were created to make science more accessible and work remarkably well. They can be purchased relatively cheap to be shared with your students, even if they are at home for a while. 

American Museum of Natural History OLogy Resource - OLogy from the American Museum of Natural History - is a great resource for K-8 activities. They highlight various fields of study (ology) and provide content, games, and hands-on learning lessons. This is another completely free resource. Their platform is focused on game and student-based learning and is super fun. Their goal is to connect students with phenomena that will lead them to explain theories. They also have an "ask a scientist" series where students submit questions to real scientists and get video response answers.


Nearpod:  This is a WONDERFUL tool for getting students to engage in physical classrooms and it is a lifesaver when having to convert your lessons to a virtual format. NearPod is easy to use with students no matter what the platform or LMS you use because all you have to do is send them a link and a code and they are in. You have options to record audio over your imported slides, add embedded videos, quizzes, matching, drawing and so many other assessment and interactive features. You can have students work through the Nearpod with you or self-paced and either way you get real-time data of work progress and comprehension. If you do not know about Nearpod your should look into it. There is a paid version that a lot of counties are subscribing to for their teachers, but you can still do a lot with their free format. 


Twig Education - Inspired NGSS Distance Learning. Students get to explore STEM careers and complete interactive student-based activities. Students get a journal that allows them to record their observations like a real scientist. This is a paid subscription.