So it's your first NSTA conference …

NSTA Area Conference in Kansas City logo … and you’re wondering how to make the most of your time in Kansas City … or Baltimore … or Nashville. Not to worry: You’ve got mentors on the NSTA General Science listserv. They recently offered some tips for newbies.
“It’s usually advisable to stay at one of the hotels NSTA has available,” observes Bill. “For one you get a discounted rate, and another they have a shuttle [at national conferences] for all the hotels listed in case they’re far from the convention center.” Those who bring their own cars will have to pay for parking, he points out. “I suggest you book the hotel through the NSTA website. That way you’re sure to get the reduced rate and the block of rooms,” he adds.
“One benefit of staying at a nearby hotel is that it’s easy to stop by your room and unload all the stuff you end up carrying around … freebies, stuff you purchase, conference programs, etc.,” says Heather. “If your room is not nearby, I’d suggest bringing a bag or something that rolls instead of having to be carried all day.” Some also suggest packing a fold-up duffel bag that can be used as an extra suitcase on the way home.

“I try to pick up posters that other teachers at my school can use also. The trinkets you pick up at some of the booths are great for classroom use,” reports Pamela. Nora advises “hit[ting] the vendors on Friday afternoon” because they “don’t want to take stuff home, so they give great stuff away.”
And this from Wendell: “I always spend at least a couple of hours at the NSTA [Science] Store just looking at all the trade books and professional development materials they have. It gives me a ‘hands-on’ opportunity to check out what interests me. I’ll always buy 2 [or] 3 books for my professional library.”logo for NSTA Baltimore conference
For gathering and taking home her conference goodies, Kathleen advocates the “buy a box and ship it” option, available at national conferences. “It’s not super cheap, but in my mind, well worth every cent! You get a box, put your name on it, and place it in a designated area. You can drop in and out as you wish to put stuff in the box,” then have it shipped home or to your school. “It’s made me more selective about what I take/keep—and it beats lugging it around.”
“Spend time looking at the things you know you can never afford,” counsels Nora. “I went home with no intentions of getting interactive boards but was asked to sit on a grantwriting team. We wrote a … grant that got the math and science teachers in our system interactive boards, Elmos, and clickers. I used some of the ‘buzzwords’ the vendors used in our grant.”
Kathleen suggests you “definitely talk to folks and allow plenty of time on the exhibit floor. The conversations there can be as valuable as the sessions.” If you think you might run out of time, follow Nora’s advice: “I also signed up my husband as a non-teaching spouse. He loved the computer and technology stuff and found amazing vendors I missed.”
As you proceed from exhibit booths to sessions to hotels, Wendell suggests you “carry some drinking water (or whatever vital fluids you’re into) and snacks in your backpack” and “wear comfortable shoes—you’ll do a lot of walking.”
“Attend sessions that pertain directly to what you are doing, but be sure to go to some just because you think they sound interesting,” advises Kathleen. “You never know what cool ideas you will come up logo for NSTA Nashville conferencewith.”
“Don’t be afraid to walk out of a session if you can tell from the start that it’s not for you,” urges Bill. “Presenters never like it, but you are there for you, not them.” He advises you to “have second and third choices for each time slot” and “get there early for big-time presenters (the ones who have their pictures in the program!) or you won’t have a seat.”
Nora adds, “some of the sessions that look lame are great. I look for crowds going into classes.”
Bring your camera to help you remember your sessions, counsels Pamela. “Sometimes a snapshot that I’ve taken about how someone set something up or how something looked during a presentation gives me food for thought when I get home and have time to process everything.”
Bill thinks “the best thing you might take from the conference is the people you meet. Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with the people around you at a session.”
If you want to continue the conversation later on, Kathleen reminds you to bring your business cards: “It’s easy to make your own these days. When someone gives you their card, make a note on the back of it so that you can put a context to the name.”
At the end of each day, agree these experienced attendees, be sure to have fun. “[The] Middle Level Science Teachers usually have a free ice cream social,” says Nora. “There are often cool things to do at night.  Enjoy them.”

About Debra Shapiro

Associate Editor of member newspaper, NSTA Reports (www.nsta.org/publications/nstareports.aspx). Editor of Freebies for Science Teachers (www.nsta.org/publications/freebies.aspx) and NSTA Calendar (www.nsta.org/publications/calendar) pages. Follow me on Twitter: @Debra_NSTA
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