How to Make a Conference Worth Your While

It’s conference season.  To date, I’ve been to 2 conferences (Northwest and CMC-South) and am packing up to head to CMC-North in Pacific Grove, CA.  It’ll be a 5 hour drive up north, but it’ll be worth it when I see the gorgeous ocean and the scenic views.  Oh…and all the learning that my brain can soak up.  

For the first time in many years, I’ve been going to conferences solo.  This is foreign to me because I’m usually with my co-presenter.  She would usually attend any K-2 sessions.   Some of them were hits while others were complete misses.   The misses felt like some of these presenters robbed me of learning from another session.  At NCTM conference last year, I went to a session and fell asleep.  It’s not because I was sleep deprived, but because the session didn’t hold my attention.  It did not stack up to what the description indicated.

And this got me thinking….how do you choose sessions that are worth your time and attention?  At some conferences, there are few time slots and many sessions to choose from.  You (or your school/district) have paid for you to attend and learn all from other brilliant educators.  Your time is precious.  

Here’s a few tips that I have learned through trial and error over the past years.

  1.  Be aware of presenters from companies.    Why?  They present and use materials strictly from their company.  Of course, you are going to be interested in trying it out.  But then the kicker is, you’ll have to go and buy it at their table at the exhibition hall.  Sometimes these presentations turn into one big commercial.
  2. Be cautious of speakers from colleges/universities.   I write this one because of an experience I had where I went to a session where I was interested in the content.  The speaker announced that the presentation is about her doctoral thesis.  At that moment, my head slung forward.  The presentation was not engaging and really dry.   And I have heard from other teachers that these presenters aren’t in the classrooms so that are a little “out of touch” with what really goes on. (I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve read the last statement on Twitter)  One exception to this guideline is Dr. Jo Boaler who is a fantastic speaker.  
  3. Trust names, not content or grade level.  For a long while, I headed to sessions that were about the content or within my grade level, but it was hit or miss.  And when the sessions missed, it was super frustrating because that was time/learning lost.  For instance, up at the Northwest conference, there was a session about number lines. Terrific.  Love me a good number line.  The description written and what was actually presented were 2 different things.  The participants were given a packet of papers with different problems from 2nd – HS that we were supposed to work out on the number lines.  What?!?  This is how you engage me?  With a packet?   Once I figured out this out, I politely got up and left.  
I’ve had discussions on Twitter about this topic.

What names do you trust?  Good question. I trust any name from #MTBoS (Math Twitter folk).  Authors are good sources of info (although this could still be tricky).  I try to look for just teachers or math coaches who are presenting on what they have done at their school or classroom.  

As for a successful conference?   It’s been a successful conference if I have one takeaway from the conference.  If I think I can implement one idea, or expand on something I’m already doing, then it’s been a successful conference.  If I walk away with nothing, then I start to reflect immediately.  Was it the sessions I chose?  Was it the speaker?  Was it the content?  What happened?

Like you all, I’m still learning. Hence…I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  

Until next time,


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