Monday, June 10, 2019

First Time at ISTE

Two exciting things for teachers are evident on social media right now: gearing down for the end of the school year and gearing up for ISTE at the end of June. Lots of posts are emerging announcing when people are speaking, emails are coming from edtech companies, and people who won't be there are already experiencing FOMO even though ISTE is still two weeks away. Last year was my first time at ISTE, so I am posting my tips to make it a great experience.

Getting to ISTE

 If going to ISTE is high on your wishlist, but low on your employer's list, there are ways to get there that won't break the bank. My biggest surprise about getting there was how much the actual conference costs. By the time I paid the registration (and mandatory membership fee), I needed to cut corners in other areas:

1. Look for grant support. I attended last year by writing a Hach Professional Development grant and it covered all of my expenses.If you really want to do it, funding is out there. You just have to go after it.

2. Public transportation and AirBnB. I used both last year. Staying in downtown Chicago was cost-prohibitive for me, so I stayed about 20 minutes by train away from the conference center in a rented room in someone's home. For $50 per night and the cost of my train ticket, I saved a bundle. I loved the neighborhood where I stayed and enjoyed getting out of the conference fray at the end of the day. 

Being at ISTE

The biggest surprise I had about ISTE was the constant standing in lines. Lines everywhere you look. Food? Bathrooms? Sessions? For all of these things, you have to stand in lines.

 1. Take a backpack. Seriously. Do not rely on a tote bag, especially if you will go to the conference early in the morning and never leave until the evening. I found a great, reasonably priced backpack with a laptop sleeve at Walmart and it was the best purchase I made last summer! Pack a water bottle and some snacks when you leave in the morning. Take your tech and not much else.

2. Dress in layers. It's hot outside. It's cold inside. Or it's not. Have a hoodie or sweater you can put on and take off as you need to. Again, if you head to the conference early and leave late, the hoodie will come in handy. 

3. You need walking shoes. Sure, you can wear strappy sandals or fancy pumps, but you'll be more mobile if your feet don't quit halfway through the day. 

4. Only stand in line for sure things. I am an Apple enthusiast and they put on a great show at ISTE. If you love Apple products, you can't lose with any of the sessions they have. People will start lining up by the Apple booth around 6 AM every morning to get tickets to Apple sessions. It's worth it. Look at the schedule and choose your session. Stand in line for tickets. Once you get your tickets, get back in line to see if you can get tickets for another session. Tickets for all sessions for the day will be gone by early in the morning. Again, every session I attended was awesome. This is one line I endorse waiting in.

5. People will line up for regular sessions sometimes as much as 60-90 minutes in advance. If you have your heart set on seeing something (or someone) in particular, get in line early because once a room is filled, people are turned away. 

Now, remember, that these presenters are regular people like you and me. They probably blog and post resources to social media. They might even present at your home state edtech conference. Think carefully about how long you want to take your chances in a line before you commit. I got frustrated with the lines, so 

6. Spend lots of time in the Exhibit Hall. Many of the big vendors set up stages and demo products or tools constantly. I eventually gave up on waiting in lines and just walked around the Hall. It's overwhelming at first, but I attended some excellent sessions at booths by the people who make the tools (or demo the tools for a living). I learned a lot in there. And practically never had to wait in line.

You can read more about my experience at ISTE last year here. If you are not attending this year, it's easy and fun to follow along with the #NOTATISTE crowd. I've done this many years and it's all the fun of a conference (door prizes!) with none of the expense.
I won't be at ISTE this year. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't want to go every year anyway, but this year I'll be at an AP Summer Institute for Chemistry. It's probably time now to go looking for posts about attending one of those for the first time!

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