Getting the most from the NSTA conference

Are you attending the NSTA conference in San Antonio this spring? At this point, you should be registering, making arrangements for lodging and transportation, and thinking about your lesson plans for the substitute (if you haven’t done so already).

If this the first time you’ve attended the national conference, it can be overwhelming at first. Here are some suggestions, updated from last year’s blog.

Before you go:

  • Add the NSTA Conference page to your bookmarks or favorites. Be sure to check out the Conference Newcomer’s page.
  • Check out the new NSTA Conference app. Search sessions to build a schedule that integrates with your calendar; access maps of the Convention Center, hotels, and Exhibit Hall, share the play-by-play with social media, complete session evaluations, and more. Available for download via Google Play, the Apple Store, and coming soon to BlackBerry World.
  • Decide what you’d like to focus on at the conference: What content do you want to know more about? What topics do your students struggle with? Are you looking for new digital resources, textbooks, or equipment? Get suggestions from your colleagues, too. Ask your students what you should learn more about (related to science, of course!). Then go to the conference website and use the Session Browser/Scheduler (or the app) to look at the session descriptions. You can print out a personal schedule or add the session information to your smartphone calendar (mine is getting full already). Pick a few sessions for each timeslot, in case the rooms are full. There are several conference venues, so allow travel time between sessions.
  • Preview the Conference Transcript section on the conference site to access online session evaluations and tools to track your professional development. This is a great way to show your administrators which sessions you attended—my principal was always impressed.

Some hints on what to take:


Click for a full size infographic.

  • An empty bag—preferably one with wheels—if you know you can’t resist picking up every brochure, handout, and session material you encounter (resistance can be futile), although many presenters are now posting their handouts online.
  • Address labels are handy for sign-up sheets and marking your program and other materials.
  • If you don’t have any business cards, get some or make your own. Be sure to include your e-mail address and what and where you teach. These aregreat to handout when you’re networking with other teachers, presenters, and exhibitors.
  • A cellphone camera is handy to take pictures of equipment, displays, speakers, and new friends as well as play Click!, a photoscavenger hunt on the conference app.
  • Have an envelope or other system for keeping receipts and other documents. Expenses not reimbursed by your school might be tax-deductible (check with your accountant).
  • Chargers or other adapters for your electronic devices.
  • Above all, take comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for the San Antonio weather!

At the Conference:


Click for a full size infographic.

  • Pick up your badge holder, your copy of the program (unless you’re using an electronic option) and other conference materials ahead of time, if possible. Take some time to finalize your daily schedules. I like to put a small reminder in my badge holder with the session names, times, and locations. You can also stash a few of your business cards in your badge holder, making it easier to hand them out to new contacts and vendors.
  • Consider attending the first-timers session on the first day. This year, Patricia Simmons is hosting the session “Is This Your First NSTA Conference?” on Thursday, April 11, 8:00–9:00 AM in the Texas Ballroom C, Grand Hyatt. It’s worth the time.
  • Keep your smartphone handy if you’ve created a calendar on it and to access the app.
  • Evaluate your sessions online or through the conference app.
  • Get to the sessions early. Sometimes the smaller rooms fill up quickly. Have a back-up session in mind in case the room is full.
  • Divide and conquer if you’re attending with friends or colleagues. You can only be at one place at a time, so coordinate with other teachers on what to attend and how to share notes and materials from sessions.
  • Consider taking some snacks and a water bottle (the concessions are often crowded at lunch time).
  • It’s tempting to collect every brochure, poster, and promotional giveaway in the exhibit area. It’s like a science wonderland! But whatever you collect, you’ll have to get home somehow. I know teachers who take an empty bag (see above under things to take) they can check on the way home (or you can ship things home via a delivery service).
  • Stop by the booths at registration staffed by local teachers. Members from the Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT), the Rio Grande Valley Science Association of Texas (RGVSA), the Texas Council of Elementary Science (TCES), and the Texas Science Education Leadership Association (TSELA) will be on hand to fill you in on the many science education opportunities in Texas
  • Keep a log or journal of the sessions you attended, people you met, and new ideas. Update your homepage, Facebook, tweets, or class Wiki/blog with a summary of what you are learning at the conference. I’ve even seen teachers Skyping back to their students!
  • Update your conference transcript.
  • Put your cell phone on mute during sessions.
  • Introduce yourself to teachers at the sessions or events. You’ll meet lots of interesting people and make many new personal connections. Although it’s important to keep up with your colleagues via texts/tweets/email, take the opportunity to actually talk to the teachers in line with you or sitting next to you at a session. The value of a face-to-face conference is meeting and interacting with real people, and teachers are the most interesting people of all.
  • Attend a session or two on a topic you know nothing about. It’s a good way to learn something new.

Back Home:

  • Share your experiences with your students. Use some of the promotional items you collected as prizes or gifts.
  • Organize and file your notes and handouts. Share the materials and what you learned with your colleagues.
  • Send a note of appreciation to the administrator who approved your attendance at the conference. Write a brief article for the school or district newsletter, if appropriate.
  • Access your transcript online.
  • Get ready for next year!



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  1. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted March 6, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I’d add a sweater to the must-bring list. You can never count on a comfortable temperature in all the conference center rooms.

  2. AngieT
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Trying to find the app for my new iPad? Help

  3. MaryB
    Posted March 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Search for “NSTA 2013” in the App Store. You should see the conference app there!

  4. Aoko Hope
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Plan for what you would like to see. You can’t visit every booth and attend every workshop. Get to bed early. Your day will be packed. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring an empty bag/suitcase to lug home freebies like textbooks. Carry snacks! You will be a changed educator after the conference.