Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

I absolutely love the conference experience.

Although online learning comes with its flexible benefits, nothing beats the real thing. There’s something so special about the face-to-face connection. From ignite talks to snapshots to workshops, there’s sure to be something for everyone at a conference. And if there’s also something for me to do in a session, I’m all in.

Here’s one session I’ll never forget.

At the National Science Teacher’s Association Area Conference (#NSTA19) in St. Louis, a few Wake County Science Core Leadership Team (#wakesclt) members and I enjoyed touring the Elementary Extravaganza. With a name like that, our curiosity was spiked from the onset.

At first glance, I saw about 50 tables set up in a huge hall. It didn’t take long to realize that there was no required flow, direction, or people who vendor-like “encouraged” us to go here, go there, see this, or buy that. Alas, it was a completely self-guided, self-paced playground in which to learn as I preferred.

Great start! Now what?

As I visited nearly all 50 tables (and some of them 2-3 times), I realized that moment when a potential one-and-done conference event transformed into a meaningful, relevant, and memorable experience. These themes ran through my mind:

  • This is kind of like a poster session. But instead of someone presenting information to me from a science fair tri-fold board, I got to DO the learning with hands-on materials. Because of this opportunity alone, I now have associated a long-term, fond memory of learning constructed at the Elementary Extravaganza. If I don’t have something to do, I’ll forget the session by the end of the day.
  • These ideas are simple. Some of them were the main thing; some were introductions; and some were test results, for example, but they were all engaging.
  • These resources were inexpensive. By contrast, I sometimes use a handkerchief to wipe my mouth from salivating over vendor products. Then, I use the same handkerchief to wipe away the tears when I hear those vendor product prices.
  • I could see my students doing these experiences in our space tomorrow, so to speak. That relevance is a big deal. At big conferences, it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to get swept away in topics and products that may not directly benefit our very own learners. But there’s definitely value there! Diverse learning opportunities are needed to inform the lifelong learner–for the sake and passion of learning itself. Exposure to seemingly supplemental concepts builds perspective and reinforces the scope-and-sequence of vertical alignment. And at the same time, planning for the intentional conference requires specific takeaways with practical ideas that will impact your practice and enhance learning in your space.
  • Finally, imagine if you could have fun AND align your learning conference session experiences with the standards that you are teaching and learning. I often perceive this unfortunate dilemma in education: Either it’s fun OR standards-based. Why not both?

Overall, I was most excited that the Elementary Extravaganza–a session at a big conference–had direct correlations to our learning spaces, and I could confirm that through hands-on learning on-the-spot.

And really? There wasn’t anything overly-extravagant about it all. Sometimes, just one new twist on an existing idea, or one small change can make a BIG difference.

There is joy and… extravagance in simplicity.

2 Replies to “The Extravagant Conference Session”

  • The Elementary Extravaganza session, which includes presenters who work with preschool children, is my favorite way to present at a NSTA conferences for all the reasons you give. It also helps me learn from those who come to my table and discuss the materials and strategies I suggest. Thank you to Linda Froschauer and all the other organizers and organizing groups!

    • Well-said, Peggy! Thank you for adding this context. I’m a huge fan of this session format, and I hope NSTA keeps it going. Lifelong learners of all ages need hands-on learning experiences, access to presenters, and opportunities for meaningful exchanges. I also like how you mentioned that you as a presenter learn from others, too. So much value here!
      Thanks again.

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