Attending a conference?

talkingWe are excited about attending an NSTA conference next year (it would be our first conference). The school has professional development funds to cover some of the expenses, but we have to write a proposal describing what we hope to learn from it. Any suggestions on what to include? We’ve never been to an event like this, and we want to get the most out of it. Do you have any suggestions for a conference first-timer? —E. and M., Virginia

Attending professional events such as the NSTA national conference in the spring and the area ones in the fall is a wonderful professional development activity. Many of the sessions are hands-on, demonstrating strategies and procedures you can use in your classroom. The opportunity to hear scientists describe their research in person is extraordinary. In the exhibit hall, you can visit major textbook publishers along with vendors of lab equipment, supplies, professional development programs, and other teaching materials. Agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, and U.S. Geological Survey have excellent (and free) materials to bring back. There are numerous sessions related to the Next Generation Science Standards, and events geared specifically toward elementary and middle school teachers, as well as other specialties. You can meet NSTA officers, staff, and book authors. Making connections with teachers from around the world is a priceless experience.

See the related blog for 2016 conference first-timers with many suggestions on what to expect at an NSTA conference.

Check with your district to see if there is a format for your proposal. In my district, like yours, teachers who wanted to attend conferences had to submit a mini-proposal that included

  • our professional goals for attending the conference
  • what topics we were interested in learning more about
  • a strategy for sharing information with the rest of the teachers when we returned

During the conference we were expected to keep a log of our activities and expenses. After the conference, we had to submit a report summarizing our activities and what we learned. It was work, but we understood that because the district was using grant funds, some accountability and documentation was necessary.

Survey other teachers for suggestions of themes for sessions to attend: topics they would like more information about, content their students struggle with, new equipment or materials to investigate and compare. Add these topics (and the fact that these would be helpful to other teachers) to your proposal. The conference schedule is available online in advance, so you can decide together how to split up the sessions to meet your needs and the needs of your department.

In your proposal, indicate how you will share what you’re learning. During the conference, use tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, blogs, or e-mail to update the folks at home. Send pictures of yourself at various sessions and events or even posing with a science education celebrity. Many of the conference presenters upload their handouts and other materials to the NSTA Communities site, so even if you can’t make a session, the materials can be accessible.

Your proposal could also note that you are willing to do a presentation to the faculty about what you learned or lead a discussion or demonstration of a new idea. Turn in session evaluations to have access to a transcript from NSTA that documents your participation and include it in your report. (My supervisor was amazed that we attended sessions on Saturday and Sunday, too).

In case some supervisors think you’ll be on vacation… I’ve been attending educational conferences for more than 25 years, and I have yet to see teachers lounging around. Attendees are usually exhausted (in a good way) from participating in sessions from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., browsing the exhibit floor for new ideas and materials, and networking with other educators. And of course before they left home they had to prepare lesson plans for the substitutes. But it’s worth it to come back charged up

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