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Science teachers convene in San Antonio

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Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 12:00 am

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has some 60,000 members. Each spring the NSTA holds a national meeting about science education. This year’s meeting was at San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

For several years I was a judge for a major NSTA competition sponsored by Duracell. This provided an opportunity to see some of the best science and engineering projects conducted by students from around the country. This also provided an opportunity to attend NSTA national meetings and meet hundreds of science teachers and students.

So I looked forward to visiting the recent NSTA science meeting and seeing the latest science education products on display.

My first stop was the huge exhibit hall. There I visited several vendors that sell miniature cameras that function as microscopes. These amazing devices resemble a small flashlight. The viewing end features a lens encircled by a ring of bright LEDs. A thin cable emerging from the opposite end plugs into a computer port. Some have no cable and use wifi to wirelessly send the video images to a smart phone, tablet or computer.

When one of these amazing microscopes was pointed inside a flower, the computer screen clearly showed the stamens, pistil and even individual pollen grains. When pointed at clothing, the fabric resembled a fish net.

Next I visited a company that sells hundreds of scientific novelties, demonstrations, toys and tools. Their products include powerful magnets, fluorescent powder, heat-sensitive paper, invisible ink pens and nail polish and beads that change into various colors when illuminated by ultraviolet light.

This vendor’s space was surrounded by dozens of enthusiastic teachers. Many lined up to have some white powder poured into an open hand. The powder expanded to forty times its size when a small amount of water was added.

Many teachers were also attracted to something happening in the main aisle of the exhibit hall. I went for a look and saw a few dozen teachers pointing their cell phone cameras at something out of sight. The object of their attention was a wallaby hopping along the aisle under the watchful eyes of its handlers from Sea World. During the day Sea World also exhibited a penguin, two colorful macaws, a juvenile alligator and other intriguing critters.

Many science suppliers, universities and book publishers had exhibits. NASA, NOAA, EPA and several other government agencies were also represented.

A decade ago NASA’s exhibit was the size of a house. As its budgets shrank, so did its exhibits. This year NASA occupied a tiny fraction of the space taken by the displays of companies that specialize in biology, chemistry and physics gear.

Forrest Mims, an amateur scientist whose research has appeared in leading scientific journals, was named one of the “50 Best Brains in Science” by Discover Magazine. His science is featured at E-mail him at

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