I will be attending the NSTA national conference for the first time. And while I am really excited, I am also nervous. Can you give a newbie some advice on how to approach the conference? I want to make the most of this experience.
—Krishna, Chicago, IL
Attending this event is a wonderful professional experience. I assume you’ve registered, made arrangements for lodging and transportation, and have your lesson plans ready for the substitute.
There are a few other things you should do before you go:
- Add the NSTA Conference page to your bookmarks or favorites. Be sure to check out the Conference Newcomer’s page.
- Decide what you’d like to focus on at the conference: What content do you want to know more about? What topics do your students struggle with? Are you looking for new textbooks or equipment? Get suggestions from your colleagues, too. Ask your students what you should learn more about (related to science, of course!). Then go to the conference website and use the Session Browser to look at the session descriptions. You can even print out a personal schedule.
- Preview the Conference Transcript section on the conference site. When you turn in a session evaluation, the session will be added automatically to your transcript. You can also add events manually. This is a great way to show your administrators which sessions you attended—and it looks impressive!
Some hints on what to take:
- An empty bag—preferably one with wheels—if you know you can’t resist picking up every brochure, handout, and session material you encounter (resistance can be futile).
- Address labels are handy for sign-up sheets and marking your program and other materials.
- If you don’t have any business cards, get some or make your own. Be sure to include your e-mail address and what and where you teach. These are great to handout when you’re networking with other teachers, presenters, and even exhibitors.
- A digital camera is handy to take pictures of equipment, displays, speakers, and new friends.
- Have an envelope or other system for keeping receipts and other documents. Expenses not reimbursed by your school might be tax-deductible (check with your accountant).
- Above all, wear comfortable walking shoes!
More suggestions for while you’re at the conference
At the Conference:
- Pick up your badge holder, your copy of the program (there’s one for each day) and other conference materials ahead of time, if possible. Take some time to finalize your daily schedules. I like to put a small reminder in my badge holder with the session names, times, and locations. You can also stash a few of your business cards in your badge holder, making it easier to hand them out to new contacts.
- Attend the first-timers session on the first day.
- Turn in the session evaluations so they can be added to your transcript.
- Get to the sessions early. Sometimes the smaller rooms fill up quickly.
- Divide and conquer if you’re attending with a friend or colleague. You can only be at one place at a time, so coordinate with other teachers to share notes and materials from sessions missed.
- Consider taking some snacks and a water bottle (the concessions are often crowded at lunch time).
- It’s tempting to collect every brochure, poster, and promotional giveaway in the exhibit area. It’s like a science wonderland! But whatever you collect, you’ll have to get home somehow. I know teachers who take an empty bag (see above under things to take) they can check on the way home (this might be cheaper than shipping via a delivery service).
- Take some time for sightseeing. There will be a booth at registration staffed by local teachers. They’ll have lots of ideas and suggestions for what to see and do and where to eat. If this is your first visit to Philadelphia, be sure to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which are not far from the convention center. If you have time, check out the Constitution Center, the Art Gallery, the Italian Market, and the Franklin Institute (my favorites). Culinary treats in Philadelphia include cheesesteaks and soft pretzels (available at the Reading Terminal Market across the street from the convention center). Also check the murals on building walls and other structures throughout the city. They are works of art!
- Keep a log or journal of the sessions you attended, people you met, and new ideas. Update your homepage, Facebook, or class Wiki/blog/twitter with a summary of what you are learning at the conference. Update your conference transcript.
- Introduce yourself to teachers at the sessions or events. You’ll meet lots of interesting people and make many new personal connections.
- Attend a session or two on a topic you know nothing about. It’s a good way to learn something new.
- Share your experiences with your students. Use some of the promotional items you collected as prizes or gifts.
- Organize and file your notes and handouts. Share the materials and what you learned with your colleagues.
- Send a note of appreciation to the administrator who approved your attendance at the conference. Write a brief article for the school or district newsletter, if appropriate.
- Print your transcript.
- Get ready for next year!
Does anybody else have tips for conference newbies? Please leave a comment.