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Summer Conference Survival Guide

It's Summer! Hooray! Time for sun, family, fun and... conferences! Whether you're going to a huge event like ISTE or a smaller district PD, conferences can either be an amazing, inspiring experience or an overwhelming cyclone of information. Below are some tips for making the most of these events so you leave refreshed and ready to rock.

#1 Create a Top 3 Dance Card

Going to conferences, I realized that I was leaving with a laundry list of dozens and dozens of apps, ideas and devices I wanted to try out. I had an  "omgineedtotrythisnowitisamazing!!" reaction to each of these in the moment, but upon returning home and to work, the list was too daunting for me to actually attack. Instead it sat to the side, collecting dust and guilt. So I started going to events with a "dance card" holding only three to-do slots. As I heard about something I wanted to try, I put it in a slot. Once my dance card was full, if I heard about something else I that got me excited, I had to decide if it was more enticing than the three items I already had on my list. If so, one got bumped. If not, then it was relegated to a "parking lot" of ideas. When I returned back home, I committed to trying only the three ideas on my dance card and not looking at that parking lot. As a result, I was actually able to try what I had learned. 

#2 Take notes as a team

Ever get to a conference and see several sessions in the same time slot that you want to attend? Use a collaborative platform like Google Docs to share real-time notes with your colleagues. When I head to an event with a group, we start a Google Doc at the beginning, make a game plan to divide and conquer interesting sessions, then take collaborative notes throughout each. I've been in a session on student blogging and noticed a friend is taking notes in a digital portfolios session. I can jump in her notes and comment in real time, requesting that she ask the presenter a question for me. In this way it's like I'm in several sessions at the same time! What's even better is that our peers who couldn't attend in person benefit from these notes as well... we simply share them out when we return. Everyone wins! (Bonus - have everyone list their "top three" from tip #1 on this doc -- then you can see who else is endeavoring to dig into the same idea / tool as you and team up around this goal!)

#3 If there is a Social Space, use it

Many conferences have "blogger's cafes" -- which is code for "cool furniture space where people can sit around and talk". This is often where I do the most learning. I talk to other educators about exciting initiatives they're attempting, challenges we're both facing and successes from the year. These discussions frequently yield more items that make it on my dance card than actual conference sessions. So I would definitely recommend you stopping by and spending some time in this space. And while you're there...

#4 Say hello to someone new

It's so easy to move through a conference with the same folks you showed up with. Or by yourself. Yet that's missing out on a huge opportunity. You never know if the person sitting next to you or in line for lunch behind you might be your educational soulmate... or at least someone with a similar challenge or goal. I've made some of my best edufriends... nay, friends, by talking to someone new at a professional learning event and trading contact information. Some of the best teaching moments I've had has been because of ideas they've helped me refine and iterate upon. In fact, the whole reason I'm here today, sharing on this blog is because of these friends. All because I said hello to someone new.

#5 Fully charge

Fully charge - your phone, your laptop and your body. Even if it's a one day conference, it will be a long day... moving from room to room or sitting in the same chair all day, it can be exhausting. Get lots of sleep the night before, wear comfy clothes and bring some water and snacks in case they don't feed you enough - or at all. Also, remember to fully charge your laptop / tablet / phone the night before. It can be quite the drag to have to hunt down a power outlet in the middle of a workshop.

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