Irish Science Teachers’ Association (ISTA) Conference 2018

The idea of attending a national conference was daunting to me. I couldn’t find anyone I knew who was going. I’ve been spoilt in the past because all my CPD needs were met in schools I worked at, or through structured professional courses.

I decided to attend this year’s ISTA conference in Athlone, and cannot say I was disappointed. I left the weekend feeling better prepared to guide and advise my students, and full of ideas to trial in the classroom (mostly dry ice related).

There are far too many highlights for me to include in one blog post, but the range of speakers and workshops on offer included:

  • @jctscience
  • @abe_ireland
  • Dr Declan Kennedy and Sean Finn showing some impressive dry ice experiments
  • William Hirst’s interactive literacy workshop
  • Dr Jeremy Airey on action research for teachers
  • Professor Robin Miller on using diagnostic questions skilfully in the classroom
  • Dr Allen’s magic workshop
  • Professor Luke O’Neill’s (@laoneill111) superb lecture on ‘What life is’

The calibre of speakers was impressive, and there was an excellent choice available for each time slot. For me, Professor Luke O’Neill provided the main event.

‘What life is: 75 years after Schrodinger, are we any closer to answering the biggest riddle of them all?’ started with Prof. O’Neill offering an insightful look into the moment he realised biology was his passion.

His light bulb moment as a student was sitting in a fifth-year biology class being introduced to the molecule of DNA. Immediately as an educator I wondered if at some point some student might have felt this way sat in one of my lessons.

For me, thinking back, it was the cell. How could one microscopic unit be so powerful and complex? Molecular biology has remained an area of fascination for me. The information pathways already discovered captivate me, and I’m still in awe at just how much one tiny little cell can accomplish. The more I know, the more I know that I don’t know, and the more I want to learn!

The ‘What life is’ lecture gave an insightful look at a world moving on from the molecule DNA. Without a doubt name dropping James Watson was impressive, but Professor O’Neill took us on an impressive journey irrespective of this. A few years back (more than I care to admit now) when I sat in molecular biology lectures, DNA was still the hot topic and its possibilities seemed endless. Now science and technology have moved on. The molecular biology my students will study has moved on in leaps and bounds, and now at least I feel like I’ve had a glimpse into what their futures may hold. They need to understand how important DNA is but see it as an integral part of a bigger picture.

Do I feel better prepared to teach now? Yes, prepared and inspired.

If next years conference offers half as much, I will be attending. I’m already looking into the Schrodinger at 75 – the future of biology event in September.