I have had the benefit of attending the NSTA national conference 3 out of my 4 years in education and I have to say it’s one of the best professional development experiences. I love seeing and hearing what other people are doing in their classrooms or other sectors of education to help all students science.
That said, 4 days of NSTA can be overwhelming and after 3 years there are some recommendations to make the most of NSTA (or any conference).
1. Go with a group
If at all possible, don’t go alone. My first year going to NSTA I went by myself. I learned a lot but you get at least 4x more out of the experience if you go with a group. Our district has been very supportive in sending a team of 10ish people to NSTA every year including teachers from all schools, TOSAs (science and english!), our curriculum director, and even the assistant superintendent. You may not be that lucky but I’m sure you can find some teacher friends that are interested in going! Here’s why going with a group is better:
- You can cover more ground. There’s probably 4 sessions in every time slot you want to go to. If you’re with a group you can divide and conquer.
- Learning is a social process. At the end of the day it helps to process what you learned and bounce ideas off of other people.
- The group texts are amazing. ————————————–>
- It’s more fun! You’re probably in a new city you may have never been to. Explore it with a friend or two or ten!
2. Pick a Focus
National conferences can be overwhelming with all their offerings. There are literally thousands of sessions and workshops to choose from and they all sound awesome! It helps to narrow you focus to one or two things you want to learn about and use that focus to help you set your schedule. Last year my focus was assessment, so I went to a bunch of sessions and workshops on how to write NGSS assessments. This year my focus was equity and discourse. By picking a focus you can narrow the thousands of options down to a manageable amount.
3. Pack Light and Wear Comfy Shoes
At this past NSTA we were averaging 15,000 steps a day. That’s about 5 miles. Dress shoes and a huge bag are a recipe for pain. NSTA and many other conferences usually provide a handy bag. A lot of people like to carry their laptops and the program and chargers and… too much stuff. I live pretty minimally in general so I just toss a few things into my bag and I’m good to go:
- Phone, wallet. The basics.
- Water bottle. I have a reusable 16 oz Nalgene that I refill throughout the day.
- iPad. I used to drag my laptop around to conferences (I have a 13″ Macbook air so it’s not too big) but honestly I don’t need it and lugging it around all day gave me shoulder pain. The iPad is sufficient for my browsing and note taking needs.
- Notebook. I prefer jotting down notes by hand and am obsessed with my beautiful Erin Condren productivity layout notebook. I like this notebook because it has lined pages for note taking, sticker flags that I use to label each session, and a sidebar where I jot down resources and websites the speakers share as well as questions. I added pockets for handouts, a ziploc pouch for business cards, a pen holder, and snap in post-its. I really don’t need anything else for notes.
- Portable charger and cable. NSTA typically does not have free wifi so I use the heck out of my phone and I burn through the battery 2 or 3 times a day, especially if there are Pokemon nearby. My Mophie Powerstation Duo is a lifesaver. It does up to 8 full charges for my phone and because it’s portable I never have to be attached to the wall. (Side note: I use this a ton at Disneyland and end up being the charger of everyone’s phone).
4. Hit the Expo!
There is a lot of awesome free stuff.
— Alyssa Wallace (@MsNsChem) March 30, 2017
5. Finally, Pace Yourself
I have a tendency to get overly enthusiastic and want to do ALL THE THINGS, so I tend to schedule myself from 8am-5pm with no breaks. Then I end up burning out and missing half my sessions. This year I made a rule that I wouldn’t attend any sessions before 9am. It worked out for me.
Private Reasoning Time
In our math classes the teachers use “Private Reasoning Time” to allow students to sit quietly and make sense of their learning before moving forward, and at the end of my 4 days I took a few hours of private reasoning time to organize my notes and reflect on my learning. I mentioned that my focus this year was on equity and discourse. After 4 days of taking everything in at NSTA I was left with questions about my own teaching practice, which is what you WANT to have after 4 days of professional learning. My main takeaways:
- Are our competencies (assessments) standards aligned performance tasks? Should they be?
- I don’t know what I don’t know about the science and engineering practices. I know what the end goal is but what is the learning progression? How do we get to that end goal?
- How can I be more intentional about student talk?
- How can I integrate and scaffold reading more in my lessons?
- How relevant is my curriculum to ALL students?
- What experiences/biases am I bringing to my classroom?
I’m looking forward to exploring these questions further with all the new tools I got from NSTA!