NSTA conference—your first one?

Are you attending the NSTA conference in Indianapolis this spring?  At this point, you should be registering, making arrangements for lodging and transportation, and thinking about your lesson plans for the substitute (if you haven’t done so already).

If this the first time you’ve attended the national conference, it can be overwhelming at first. Here are some suggestions, updated from last year’s blog:

Consider attending the first-timers session on the first day. This year, Dr. Christine Royce is hosting the session Conference Tips for First-Timers on Thursday, March 29 3:30–4:30 PM  in the JW Marriott Indianapolis, JW Grand Ballroom 5. It’s worth the time.

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 digital resources, 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/Scheduler to look at the session descriptions. You can  print out a personal schedule or add the session information to your smart phone calendar (mine is getting full already). Pick a few sessions for each timeslot, in case the rooms are full.
  • 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—my principal was always impressed.

Read more suggestions on what to take and what to do.

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), although many presenters are now posting their handouts online.
  • 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 exhibitors.
  • A digital camera or cellphone 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).
  • Chargers or other adapters for your electronic devices.
  • Above all, take comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for the Indianapolis weather!

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. Keep your smart phone handy if you’ve created a calendar on it.
  • 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. Have a back-up session in mind in case the room is full.
  • Divide and conquer if you’re attending with friends or colleagues. You can only be at one place at a time, so coordinate with other teachers on what to attend and how to share notes and materials from sessions.
  • 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 (or you can ship things home via a delivery service).
  • Take some time for sightseeing, especially if this is your first trip to Indianapolis. 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. I’ve never been to Indianapolis, so I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
  • Keep a log or journal of the sessions you attended, people you met, and new ideas. Update your homepage, Facebook, tweets, or class Wiki/blog with a summary of what you are learning at the conference. I’ve even seen teachers Skyping back to their students!
  • Update your conference transcript.
  • Put your cell phone on mute during sessions.
  • Introduce yourself to teachers at the sessions or events. You’ll meet lots of interesting people and make many new personal connections. Although it’s important to keep up with your colleagues via texts/tweets/email, take the opportunity to actually talk to the teachers in line with you or sitting next to you at a session. The value of a face-to-face conference is meeting and interacting with real people, and teachers are the most interesting people of all.
  • Attend a session or two on a topic you know nothing about. It’s a good way to learn something new.

Back Home:

  • 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.

Update: 2012.08.21

NSTA has created these “infographics” to help you maximize your conference experience—click on an image to open a full-sized PDF:

Conference Checklist: Packing

Conference Checklist: While There

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