My colleague and I are hoping to attend NSTA’s national conference this year, our first. The school has funds to cover some of the costs, but one of the school board members says conferences are just excuses to lounge around and play golf! What can we do to convince him otherwise?
—Brianna, Wilmington, Delaware
Hmm. 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 AM to 6:00 PM, browsing the exhibit floor for new ideas and materials, and networking with other educators. That’s after preparing lesson plans for their substitutes before they left home.
Attending the NSTA national and area conferences are wonderful professional development activities. Many of the sessions are hands-on, demonstrating strategies and procedures that can be used in the classroom. The opportunity to hear scientists describe their research in person is extraordinary (I still remember sitting in the front row to hear Carl Sagan). If your school is updating textbooks or reference materials, virtually every publisher is there, along with vendors of lab equipment, supplies, and teaching materials—many with free samples! Making connections with teachers from around the world is a priceless experience.
In my district, teachers who wanted to attend conferences had to submit a mini-proposal, outlining their professional goals for attending, topics they were interested in learning more about, and a strategy for sharing information with the rest of the teachers when they returned. After the conference, we had to submit a report. It was work, but we understood some accountability and documentation was necessary because the district was using grant funds. Perhaps such a proposal from you and your colleague would show the school board you mean business.
Survey other teachers for suggestions on sessions to attend: topics they would like more information about, content students struggle with, and new equipment or materials to investigate and compare. Ask your students what you should know more about (related to science, of course). Add these topics to your proposal. The conference schedule is available ahead of time online, so you and your colleague can decide how to split up the sessions to meet your needs and those of your department.
In your proposal, explain 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 posing with famous people. 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 instantly accessible.
Your proposal could also note you are willing to do a presentation to the faculty about what you learned, lead a discussion, or demonstrate a new idea. Let your supervisors know you will prepare a report to the board about your experiences, too. Turn in session evaluations and you will have access to a NSTA “transcript” documenting your participation. Include it with your report (my supervisor was amazed we attended Saturday and Sunday sessions, too).
You can also point out there are no golf courses in center city Philadelphia! I hope to see you there.