Tips for Getting the Most Out of Conferences

ConferenceI am the kind of teacher who loves to shake up my routine and go to conferences even though I have to come up with sub plans and give up personal time. I have delivered content, presented poster sessions, attended workshops and, of course, meandered down the Expo halls to get free teacher swag. There is so much information to be gleaned from these sessions and the experience of meeting and connecting with other educators. In April I attended the National Science Teachers convention in Nashville with our team of scientist educators from my high school. This was an entirely new experience for me and it was eye opening for a few reasons.

One big takeaway was that traveling with the team is so much better than going to conferences alone. We could tag team workshops so that we all did not attend the same sessions. I was able to attend workshops such as “Sewing Science: Using Electronic Textiles and Development Science Maker Kit.” Meanwhile teammates attended sessions called “Black Holes Suck!” and “Physics in Hollywood.” Later we shared our resources in a collaborative OneNote document. We also attended sessions that had cross-curricular impact: “Collecting data with Vernier probes and Arduinos.” Physics, Forensics, and Environmental Science all realized that we need the Arduino add-in so we could collect data and manipulate it through programming in the microprocessor interface. Budgets don’t often allow the luxury of teams traveling together like this, but it really was very productive for our science team.

The even larger takeaway is something I find that I miss in attending a conference. I do not have to fill my schedule with back-to-back workshops as an obligation for the time I am away from the classroom. I seem to think that I have to spend the time in all of the sessions that are relevant to my course studies. However, after attending some really fantastic sessions ,I realized I needed to process the information I had just heard. Imagine if we had time to decompress after all of those fantastic presentations without feeling like we have to rush to another one? We could look at the content and then mull over how it will fit with what we are already doing in the class. We can start cataloguing the information and make decisions like “maybe not this year, but I can plan for next year” or “this is fantastic… I have to tell my team.” There should not be some pressure to make it to yet another session. Instead I want to give myself space to look over the research and resources I just received before running somewhere else to get even more information. Maybe you are like me and you are torn between getting as much as you can from a conference and realizing that you are already doing a lot by just attending the sessions.

First, good for you to take time out of your own schedule to fit in a conference. Yes, you are taking time away from the classroom but you are also dipping into your personal time. You should be commended for that, even more so if you share with teammates and invigorate your course content. Great job. But if you take some time away to synthesize some new meaningful content to bring back to class, then the trip pays for itself.

Melissa Wrenchey is part of the team of teachers at Nikola Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, WA. She is currently teaching Computer Science and Engineering. She has previously taught middle schoolers and pre-service teachers; she is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and gets to travel and train other educators. She enjoys teaching in a field that forces her to only be a step ahead of her students.