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Technical Writing: Sharing Resources at the 2011 NSTA Conference

T.R. Girill Technical Literacy Project leader, STC and LLNL

T. R. Girill
Society for Technical Communication/Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Technical Writing: Sharing Resources at the 2011 NSTA Conference

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) brought its
huge annual National Conference on Science Education to San
Francisco on March 10-13, 2011. I am pleased to report that the
technical literacy project shared its resources with 70 conference
attendees at one of this event's 2000 professional development
sessions on Thursday, March 10. One unusual feature of our NSTA
session (compared with others on science literacy) was that it
shared techniques anchored in real-world technical-writing cases,
rather than those focused only on just-for-school exercises.
Here are the highlights:

T. R. Girill, who manages the technical literacy project for
the East Bay Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication and
is an STC Fellow.
Nadine R. Horner, external relations officer for Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where in-service and pre-service
teachers learn about this project's approach each summer and where
high school students meet these writing techniques through the
LLNL-sponsored regional science fair for which Horner is the

NSTA Session Abstract
Improving Technical Writing Skills In Science Class

This presentation discusses ways in which science teachers
can improve the basic technical writing skills that their
students need to effectively "record, summarize, and communicate
the results of inquiry to their class, school, or community"
(National Science Education Standards, p. 214). Attendees will
see how explicit guidelines for revising instructions and
descriptions can externalize the often-hidden text-design
techniques of those who communicate successfully about science.
Scaffolded exercises that adapt real-world technical texts for
high-school use enable students to iteratively improve the
usability of draft explanations, including their own. This
"cognitive apprenticeship" approach, which treats writing as
text engineering, addresses the academic-English needs of ESL
and underperforming science students as well as those in AP
classes. Through student notebooks, risk assessments, and
poster presentations it promotes practical science literacy
during all stages of preparing typical science-fair projects.
It also connects classroom practice directly to the
on-the-job writing of research scientists, crime scene
investigators, the technical trades, and health-care providers.
The cases and materials shared here have been refined in
California classrooms, have earned praise from science teachers
pursuing professional development at the Edward Teller Education
Center, and have received a Pacesetter Award from the Society for
Technical Communication.

Supporting Websites (listed on NSTA attendee handouts)
Literacy development through science fair projects--
Comparative, explanatory overview of techniques and resources--
Writing instructions (checklists and annotated cases)--
Writing descriptions (checklists and annotated cases)--

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