…a wonderful event this year. I’m glad that I was able to attend via a grant from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and Boeing. I was able to attend last year’s conference in Boston as well. Both events were wonderful, but in different ways for me. I’m going to use this post to describe what I got out of the Chicago conference and advice I have on attending a national conference. I will use a different post to describe the Boston conference (trying to keep these things short and sweet as best I can).
If you’ve never been to a national conference, the number of choices on sessions to attend can be overwhelming. My best advice is to focus on a topic or two to help decide what sessions to attend to get the most out of the experience. I used this year’s conference in Chicago to improve my teaching of STEM and assessment of science learning in the classroom. I tried to choose sessions that I thought I would be able to easily take back and put into use in my classroom and share with other teachers.
I went to several sessions that pertained to STEM in the elementary classroom. One was on Green STEM (www.mcrel.org/STEM), another on STEM in K-6 classrooms, STEM using children’s literature, and one put on by my friend and mentor, Annette Huett, on getting reading and math skills into science. A common theme I noticed throughout these sessions was how student-centered and student-driven it needed to be. Several of these sessions even pushed how the more authentic the topics, the more involved students would be in the projects. I’ve been to other workshops that have stated the same thing, and I’ve got to say I agree with them. If the students think that this could make a real-world impact, not just a fun activity in class, they will be more heavily involved in the project and take it more seriously. There will be those students that may think, “I’m just a kid. How can I come up with something to make a real difference in the world?” Even some adults may feel this way. I think the best way to approach this is by not making a big deal about the true impact it could have, and just get them started thinking and creating. They just need to start with an idea, then let’s see where the idea will end up.
Some of the other sessions I attended had to do with formative assessment for K-6 and using interactive word walls in the classroom. These sessions provided me with ideas that I can easily take into my classroom and use (one of my criteria I placed on a session to attend). They also gave me new ideas on assessing what my students know and how to use that to guide my instruction. I strongly encourage you to follow the links I’ve provided and research these topics as well.
My next bit of advice on attending a national conference is to set aside time to go back over what you learned from the different sessions you attended and how you can apply it to your teaching. This is what I’m doing at this moment. I’ve got the notes I took out beside me, going over my thoughts and ideas during the sessions, plus have different websites open on the various sessions and topics that were covered. It can all blur together with so many sessions to attend. You need to allow yourself time to recover from the trip, then to see how you can use what you learned.
All in all, I felt it was a very productive conference. Attending these conferences can get educators excited about trying new things (something we encourage our students to do). It’s also a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know educators from around the country and to share ideas with each other. I highly recommend attending an NSTA conference. If cost is a factor (and, let’s face it, we’re teachers…it’s a factor!), then look into grants to help fund your way there. It is well worth the time and effort.