Last month, I attended my first STEM conference and wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone that I talked to warned me that the annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference was a BIG show, and they were totally right! Here are some tips I picked up at ISTE 2019 that helped make the experience a little less overwhelming.

STEM Supplies Conference Booth

Book Your Travel Early

If you’re going to a big show like ISTE, you can expect that thousands of other people are also attending. ISTE took over the entire Philadelphia Convention Center, and just under 17,000 people were in attendance. This means 17,000 people stayed in hotels nearby, with a limited number of rooms available.

If you’re able to, book your hotel as soon as you register for the conference. I registered a little late and had slim pickings in what was available nearby. My colleague was able to get the last room at a hotel right by the Convention Center, but I had a further distance to travel each morning which affected my planning even though I booked my hotel only moments after her. Things book FAST and it’s better to get ahead of it to get the best rate and location.

Plan What You’d Like to See

Many STEM conferences have detailed websites with information about all the workshops, talks, and expos. Before you go, create an itinerary of all the events within the conference that you plan to attend. Plan to have back up sessions marked in case your first choice gets filled up. Don’t forget to schedule time to browse open environments like makerspaces or STEM playgrounds set up by exhibitors. And of course, leave plenty of time for the expo hall. The spaces are always huge, but it’s so helpful to hear from exhibitors how products work and see examples of new ideas for the classroom.

STEM ISTE Conference

ISTE AppDownload the App

If the conference you’re attending has an app, download it! In planning what you want to see, you’ll be able to add your itinerary to your phone via the app. I found the app immensely helpful not just as a planner, but for all the maps! The Philadelphia Convention Center spanned over three buildings and I always found myself lost between sessions. The map was helpful in these moments and also for navigating the huge expo hall.

Bring Snacks and Water

This might seem like an obvious one (especially for teachers!), but I made the mistake of leaving my water bottle in my hotel room on the first day. Water and food are very expensive at the convention centers (think stadium prices!) and it’s best for you to tuck away some snacks in your bag. Right across from the Philadelphia Convention Center is the famous Reading Terminal Market, and it was easy to pop over these between sessions and grab cheaper, high quality food. Don’t be afraid to leave the conference to save some money!

Strike Up Conversations

Network, network, network! This is what conferences are all about – learning about new STEM practices from amazing STEM educators. My conversations started the moment I got on the plane to the moment I got home. On my flight out to Philadelphia, my entire section happened to be ISTE attendees and I was able to meet local people who I could collaborate with in the future. At the conference, it’s really exciting to connect with people from all over the world and hear how they approach STEM education in their region. Collect all the business cards (and bring your own!) and continue the conversations after you’ve collected all your thoughts at home.

Overall, don’t forget to have fun, learn from one another, and of course—wear sneakers!