First-Timer Tips for #NSTA15 Chicago

Program PreviewAre you attending the 2015 NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Chicago March 12–15? 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 is the first time you’ve attended the national conference, it can be overwhelming at first. Here are some suggestions to consider before you go, updated from last year:

  • Consider attending the first–timers session on the first day. This year, Bill Badders is hosting the session Is This Your First NSTA Conference? on Thursday, March 12, 8:00–9:00 AM in the McCormick Place W183a/b. It’s worth the time—you’ll meet people to share the conference with, and there will be great door prizes.
  • NSTA Past President Bill Badders at a first-timers sessionAdd the NSTA Conference page to your bookmarks or favorites. Be sure to check out the Conference Newcomer’s information.
  • Decide what you’d like to focus on at the conference: What information do you need about the Next Generation Science Standards? What content, practices, or crosscutting concepts 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 smartphone calendar (mine is getting full already). Pick a few sessions for each timeslot, in case the rooms are full. There are several conference venues (the conference center and several hotels), so allow travel time between sessions. 
  • Image showing the conference appAfter March 5, download the NSTA conference app to your smartphone or tablet. Search sessions to build a schedule that integrates with your calendar; access maps of the convention center, hotels, and exhibit hall, share the play–by–play with social media, complete session evaluations, and more.
  • Preview the Conference Transcript section on the conference site to access online session evaluations and tools to track your professional development.  This is a great way to show your administrators which sessions you attended—my principal was always impressed that I was at sessions all day into the late afternoon and on Saturday and Sunday!

What to Take?

  • conference packing checklist infographicAn empty bag—preferably one with wheels—if you know you can’t resist picking up any brochures, handouts, and session materials you encounter (resistance can be futile), although many presenters and vendors 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, twitter name, and what and where you teach. These are great to hand out when you’re networking with other teachers, presenters, and exhibitors.
  • A 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 and adapters for your electronic devices.
  • Above all, take comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for the Chicago weather!

At the Conference

  • NGSS Forum flyerPick up your badge holder, your copy of the program (there’s one for each day, unless you opt for the electronic version) and other conference materials ahead of time, if possible. If you arrive the night before, be aware that you can pick up your badge early and go right to your sessions Thursday morning. 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 smartphone handy (and charged) if you’ve created a calendar on it.
  • Feeling social? NSTA would love you to join our online community and share your experiences. If you tweet, blog, post on Instagram, etc., we encourage you to tag NSTA so that we see it and can share too. The conference hashtag is #NSTA15.
  • Evaluate your sessions online—not only is this a great way to document your professional progress but also you’ll be entered into a contest to win a Kindle. They’ll be automatically added to your transcript. (Navigate to the session browser and find the session you attended. There is a link to add your evaluations.)
  • Unless you’ve signed up (and paid for) a special event, the session are first–come, first–served. So 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. This will be especially true for the featured speakers like Neil Shubin and Bill Nye.
  • 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 refillable water bottle. The concessions are often crowded at the noon hour and there is no formal lunch break at the conference. Take your lunch to a session if it’s one you don’t want to miss! The presenter won’t mind.
  • The exhibit area is a science wonderland, with samples, brochures, posters, and promotional giveaways. (I brought back a great rock collection last year!) 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). To get real-time notifications about what is being given away, raffled, etc., download the app or follow @NSTA on Twitter.
  • Stop by the booths at registration staffed by local teachers who can fill you in on the many science education and cultural opportunities in Chicago. If you’re new to the area, take some time to explore some of the important historical and cultural sites (the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium are on my list).
  • 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. But do feel free to live tweet, Instagram, etc. Just please do so quietly.
  • 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 and classes back home 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.
  • Access your transcript online to add to your professional portfolio.
  • Get ready for next year!

Does anybody else have tips for conference newbies? Please leave a comment.

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2 Responses to First-Timer Tips for #NSTA15 Chicago

  1. Mary Bigelow says:

    Show your conference badge for free admission to the Shedd Aquarium during the conference! http://www.sheddaquarium.org/Learning-Experiences/Educators–Classrooms/Professional-Development/Conference-admission-offers/

  2. Danielle Penrod says:

    This will be my second conference…I attended in San Antonio as a DOW Fellow in the NSTA New Science teacher Academy. I said then that I would find a way to go back, and I was awarded a grant from the NEA Foundation to support my conference expenses and to help develop STEM interdisciplinary units at our JH!!!!! I’m super excited!

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