What Are Conferences For?

I’m exhausted. I just got back from a whirlwind NSTA ed-venture. I had to check to see what the students covered with the SUB while I was gone, I had to submit lesson plans for the week. I have to catch up on grading as the quarter comes to a close before spring break next week! I started to wonder, what are conferences for?

Then it hit me. Conferences, like #NSTA18, are for making you feel uncomfortable, for increasing the chances of connections, and slowing mastering the art of creating change within each of us.

Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortble

Conferences are for making you feel like you are in over your head. Yes, you read right! If you don’t feel you are in over your head, you aren’t pushing your limits. While walking around NSTA’s conference sessions and the exhibitor hall, I felt in over my head while talking to most people. At first it can be overwhelming, but then I realized that it is exactly where I should be! As educators, we ask our students to think beyond, try new things, build new skills, and put themselves out there ALL THE TIME. Yet we sometimes hide behind our podiums and desks, behind familiar lessons on content we have taught for years and feel comfortable with. What example are we setting? Just as we ask our students to push, read between the lines, dig deep to develop new skills, we too need to continue doing so. We need to have those “OVER OUR HEAD” conversations with people who are WAYYYY smarter than we are so that we can learn new things. We too need to be open to trying that new experiment in class that we ourselves may not have complete dominion over and dive deeper into our content learning more about the NEW RESEARCH!

Like I said in my DAY 1 Post, my favorite part of my session was giving teachers the opportunity to create, test, and fail–reminding them what it’s like to be students. During our downlink with Astronaut Scott Tingle, he also reminded our students and the teachers listening, that “You are going to have to work hard, so get used to it”.  Getting comfortable in uncomfortable settings keeps us growing intellectually and emotionally.

Amplifying  through Connections

Conferences are also for connecting with people who can take your classroom and your career to the next level through, tools, class material, new lessons, innovative programs, STEMonstrations, (virtual or actual) Field trips and (visual or actual) visitors! Sometimes our classrooms make us feel like we are on an island. But conferences like these should remind us that we aren’t! We have organizations who are making it their JOB to design ways to help us as educators to align our lessons to the NGSS standards. They are helping us connect students with the real-time data they can collect from their experiments using different types of class probes or from experiments being run anywhere around the world (NOAA, USGS)  or in space (ISS_Research). There are organizations like NASA that are connecting astronauts orbiting in space at 17,500 mph with teachers on earth like myself who’s heart was beating too hard to hear myself ask my question during the downlink. There are organizations like PBSLearning Media that are turning data into stories to engage learners so that students embrace the fact that data doesn’t just mean numbers. There are organizations like Houghton MIlton Marcourt that are creating lesson plans for google expeditions to give students the opportunity to travel in your own version of Ms. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus.

We are not alone when trying to figure out ways to connect students with phenomena where they can problem solve, analyze, and provide evidence of their learning experience. Just look at platforms like Amplify and the opportunities they offer teachers for differentiation and designing personalized learning experiences for our students.

In the end, conferences like #NSTA18, are avenues to connect ourselves and our students with the real world! Essentially, we have a world of possibilities to show our students the value of SCIENCE in the wider context of life! We can connect students with their interests and create active learners who want to be in our classroom, not because we hold the key to all answers but because we are there, “Hombro a Hombro” (shoulder to shoulder) as we were told in the Peace Corps, learning alongside them and serving as connectors as best we can.

Shifting Perspectives

Conferences are for generating shifts in the way we view ourselves as educators. Ron Clark said in his keynote, “Our profession needs a MAKEOVER”.  I heard: “Teachers need a MAKEOVER”. To make students think that science is HOT & SEXY, we need to believe it and live it. We need to teach with the type of passion that ignites fires in our students to become the next generation of great thinkers, makers, and problem solvers. That kind of passion can’t be faked; students will detect it from a school zone away.  The only way to fuel that kind of passion that drives PHENOMENAL TEACHING is to recharge our own passion for what we do! We need to infuse our own careers with OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD internships, opportunities, connections, professional learning networks, knowledge, & projects that will make us feel most ALIVE. Learning about ways in which other teachers are transforming classrooms around the world shouldn’t scare us or threaten us. Instead of asking them to “CLOSE their doors” or “DIM THEIR LIGHTS”, we should walk right up to them and thank them for making us feel uncomfortable. Thank them for the opportunity for growth! And then JOIN THEM! Afterall, Ron Clark did say, WE ARE CREATING A REVOLUTION. And like most revolutions, they aren’t successful, unless support for the cause keeps growing.

We define learning as the transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced– changes what we know and builds on what we do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us.” –From The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

In the midst of the back to school craziness, I am sitting in my class with earthquake structures adorning all surfaces and glue and pieces of wood complementing the flooring decor of a project I have never done before of a unit I’ve never taught before in my 6 years of teaching… and I feel like I’ve answered my own  question. Conferences like NSTA are for helping me embrace the art of discomfort, connections, perspective!

I’m so thankful for all the inspiring educators, professionals, organizations, and STEMstonauts I met this past week. I look forward to continuing to grow with your help, tools, insight, and friendships.  

Happy “Conferencing”  friends!

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3 Responses to What Are Conferences For?

  1. Tonya Garcia-Arnold says:


  2. joyce gleason says:

    Well said! Continue to expand your horizons
    Joyce Gleason.

  3. Javier Montiel says:

    Great article, as teachers we need to reimagine our career every year

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