With so many different options for educators to connect – through Edcamps, Twitter Chats, Online Education Meetups, Virtual Conferences, to name a few – you might think regional and national face-to-face conferences are not relevant. Wanta bet?
I am heading to the Regional NCTM Conference in Atlantic City this week. It will be my first time as part of Casio. It’s been at least a year si
nce I’ve been to an NCTM, as I took some time off while finishing up my doctorate studies. If I were to gauge my feelings regarding the upcoming conference, I would have to say I am a little nervous, a little excited and mostly thrilled to get to see some old friends, meet some new friends, and connect with math educators again. This is what is relevant about these face-to-face conferences – the connections made between like-minded educators.
Don’t get me wrong – I am a HUGE proponent of virtual and online professional learning opportunities. I learn so much from Twitter chats I participate in, such as #edchat, and I think online discussion forums and virtual conferences are valuable because of their ability to provide anywhere learning and affordability for those who cannot travel to these face-to-face options. Edcamps are powerful in their focused, participant-led learning. But – face-to-face conferences, like the NCTM Regionals and National or any of the content-focused conferences that are out there, like ISTE, or NSTA, provide a cornucopia of possibilities and connections.
I remember my very first NCTM conference as a teacher. It was in Minneapolis, 1999. I’d been to many local and state conferences up until that time,as both a presenter and participant, but 1999 was the first time I went to a National Conference. I remember being overwhelmed at the sheer number of presentations to choose from, and then completely blown away by the Exhibit Hall. (Who knew, many years later, I would actually be a vendor in the Exhibit Hall)? Someone gave me some great advice – pick a focus, and choose your sessions based on your focus. I was teaching several sections of pre-Algebra, so I decided that was my goal – gain some new ideas to bring back to my classroom.
Honestly, I don’t remember what specific sessions I went to, but I do remember getting so many ideas and being so pumped about trying some new things in my classroom. I went back to my school with all these ideas and activities to try, and was already planning for the NEXT school year. It was a long time ago, but that feeling of “WOW, I am going to be the best teacher ever now!” was very memorable, and its a feeling I still get when I attend conferences and see or hear something that gives me new ideas on how to improve my own teaching.
Here’s why I think face-to-face conferences are still relevant:
- You have many choices of sessions, so you are more likely to find some that are relevant to your own teaching, your own interests
- You almost always connect with someone new from a different part of the country, and you realize you are not alone in your struggles and successes, and sometimes, you realize, you might be better off or luckier than some and you get a new respect for your own situation
- There are so many ideas, strategies, resources and opportunities that you are exposed to in one place, that you almost always leave with at least one new thing to try in your classroom or with your students/teachers. If you can leave with ONE new thing, then it’s been a success
- Being surrounded by other educators, doing the same thing as you, helps rejuvenate you. We are stronger together.
Here’s some suggestions for making a face-to-face conference beneficial:
- Pick a focus, and choose sessions to go to based on that focus. Otherwise, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming.
- Spend some time in the Exhibit Hall, but keep your focus in mind. The Exhibit Hall can be overwhelming – so let your focus guide which places your stop at, what resources you look for, and what questions you ask the vendors.
- In sessions, make an effort to introduce yourself to those at your table/around you. You will gain insight, new ideas, and connections if you do so. It is always interesting to find out what others are doing in other areas of the country.
- If you end up in a session where a) the presenter is not so stellar; b) the information is not new or relevant to you; c) or you realize it’s Not what you thought, then leave. Do NOT be embarrassed, afraid, or worry about hurting the presenters feelings and end up wasting an hour or more of your time. Get up, walk out. As a presenter myself for over 20 years, I realize that sometimes what I am saying is not of interest to those in the room for whatever reason – I am never offended when someone leaves. Life’s too short to waste your time. Sometimes those titles are not descriptive enough and its easy to end up in a session that was not at all what you thought it was. Leave, as unobtrusively as you possibly can, and go somewhere where the learning is relevant to your needs.
- Spend some time seeing the city in which the conference is being held, but don’t forego the conference in order to only sight-see. You are missing incredible opportunities to learn from other educators.
Any of you out there going to Atlantic City this week, I hope to run into you. Please stop by the Casio booth and say hi – if I am there, I would love to connect! Booth #415.
Check out some Casio-related sessions:
- Session #111 – Thursday, 1:30-2:45 pm, Mike Reiners “Thinking Like a Synthesizer: Applying Algebraic Transformations to Musical Melodies”
- Session #128 – Thursday, 3:15-4:30 pm, Terry Walsh, “Exploring Released AP Calculus Questions in Grades 6-12”
- Session #156 – Friday, 8 – 9:15 am, Tom Beatini, “Handheld Technology + Hands-On Activities=CCSS Sucess!”