The Joy of Reconnecting in Person: Our Return to the NSTA Conference

By Jenny Goldner, TAS 2011

It seems like it was just yesterday, but it was three years ago. I had just fixed myself dinner and sat down to watch a little TV before bed. I heard an announcement come over the evening news that would change all our lives: a mysterious virus had entered our country.

I listened in disbelief as I heard that in some cases, the virus could be fatal. I immediately thought of my grandmother and her compromised immune system. Then it hit me. I was scheduled to work at the NOAA Education booth during the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) Conference in Boston in April 2020. My mind was racing—what if I went and brought the virus back to my hometown of Jay, Oklahoma? I could not take the risk. The next day I emailed Britta to let her know I didn’t feel comfortable traveling to Boston. She completely understood as TASAA was already looking into pulling out of the event and that she wouldn’t be surprised if NOAA and others cancelled their booths as well. As she predicted, no one made the trip, as the conference was shut down entirely, and shortly thereafter, so was the rest of the country.

During the next two years, the NOAA Teacher at Sea program was “dry docked,” along with the NOAA ships. Even when the ships began returning to their missions at sea, non-essential personnel (like teachers in our program) were not allowed to sail due to strict COVID safety protocols. Fortunately, in 2022, the Teacher at Sea program was able to send a small group of teachers back out to sea and Teacher at Sea Alumni were asked to help once again at NSTA’s National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2023.

During the pandemic, many of the typical Alumni Association activities, like working at the NSTA conference, as well as our regional workshops, had to be suspended. However, like many organizations, the Association pivoted to online activities and TASAA staff did an outstanding job of keeping us all connected. We had regional meetings and book clubs via Zoom meetings, where we played games, shared ideas, and visited (complete with fun hats or bandanas). The TAS and TASAA teams made sure we all continued to network, which was important considering all the new challenges we faced in the classroom.

When I came to NSTA this year after the long hiatus, I knew it would be special. I have always been appreciative of getting to participate in the Teacher at Sea program as well as the other opportunities provided by TASAA, but this time around I was even more appreciative and it’s difficult to express how exceptional and impactful it was after so many years away.

Staff holding giant earth model at NOAA booth at 2023 NSTA
The Earth is in good hands with these Teacher at Sea Alumni!
Bedazzled Crocs with text All You Need Is Vitamin S-E-A by Scientist Symone
Crocs worn by Scientist Symone Barkley

Since going to NSTA was such a rewarding experience, I’d like to share it in more detail and introduce you to some of the amazing NOAA Staff that I met working at the exhibit hall. If you’ve never been to NSTA and want to know what it’s all about, read on!

What is the NSTA conference?

The National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) is a community of science educators and professionals committed to best practices in teaching science and STEM and its impact on student learning. Every year, NSTA hosts several face-to-face conferences and virtual events, offering the latest in science and STEM content, teaching strategy, and research to enhance and expand educators’ professional growth.

NOAA’s Office of Education regularly hosts a booth at these events like this to offer up their wealth of knowledge and resources to educators. They appreciate having Teacher at Sea alumni on hand because these teachers understand how to access and use these valuable resources in the classroom and can anticipate questions the attendees might have. In short, alumni are the best interface between NOAA and NSTA educators. They also share their experiences with the NOAA Teacher at Sea (TAS) Program to potential new applicants. It was so meaningful to be able to promote the TAS program this year since 2023 will be the first year that applications will be accepted since 2019!

Meet the NOAA Booth Staff

Frank Niepold

As NOAA’s Senior Climate Education Coordinator, Frank is currently seeking your input for the revamp of Climate Literacy, a document written in 2009. Link to the document using the button below, then answer some questions here.

Eric Hackathorn & Juan Pablo Hurtado

Eric (Senior Developer) and Juan Pablo (Office of Education Program Coordinator) use Science On A Sphere, a room-sized spherical projection of planetary data, to immerse students in earth science.

Bruce Moravchik

Bruce (Coord. of NOAA Ocean Service Education & Planet Stewardship) has many awesome resources including teaching modules and a wide range of tutorials for students.

Bekkah Lampe

Meet Bekkah, NOAA’s Outreach & Education Coordinator. If you’ve ever ordered something from the outreach center, likely Bekkah sent it to you. She’s also behind the new Sea to Sky Education Resource website!

Teacher at Sea Alumni

Picture yourself here. You, too, could participate in an upcoming NSTA conference! Alumni who are in the region where the conference is being held and who haven’t attended before are prime candidates. We will announce future opportunities in the TASAA newsletter.

Alysha Payne

Alysha is the GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites) Senior Communications Specialist. Did you know that NOAA owns or operates 17 satellites that share valuable information on weather, the environment, and more?

Paul Taylor

Paul (NOAA Communications) will bend over backwards for your educational needs! He is in charge of all booth setup and communication. He makes sure everything runs smoothly.

NOAA Education NSTA Booth

It takes a village to run the NOAA Education booth! Aside from TASA there are meteorologists as well as education staff from several NOAA line offices.

Symone Barkley & Kurt Mann

Symone, Exhibits Manager & Ed. Specialist (left) & Kurt, NOAA Ocean Today Exec. Producer (center) have short educational videos on everything from bioluminescence to horseshoe crabs for your classrooms. [Also pictured (right): June Teisan, TASA]

NSTA Presentations

In addition to exhibitor booths, the conference features hundreds of presentations. For a list of NOAA Teacher at Sea alumni presentations, click here. A searchable list of all NSTA presentations can be found here, however, many of the presentation notes are only available to registered attendees of the conference.

Some of the presentations that I really enjoyed included:

The Joy of Connecting and Reconnecting

If you’ve experienced working at the NOAA Education NSTA booth, you might be familiar with the feeling you get in your soul when you see educators from around the country race to the booth to get educational materials. It never gets old for me! This year I soaked it all in while they were telling their stories, sharing a smile, and telling me how they loved our profession. If you get a chance to work at a future NSTA, jump on it! It’s refreshing, inspiring, and a wonderful way to connect to other TAS alumni and NOAA staff.

To the teachers who participated alongside me this year at the booth, I’m sure you have so much more to add. I loved all our discussions together. It was so meaningful! I look forward to the next time we can be together.

Jenny Goldner sailed as a Teacher at Sea in 2011 aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II. She frequently works with the Alumni Association to help review TAS lesson plans and support alumni events.