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Educator Perspectives

First-Time Conference Attendees Reflect on Experiences in Denver

By Debra Shapiro

Posted on 2024-03-29

First-Time Conference Attendees Reflect on Experiences in Denver

NSTA’s National Conference in Denver had many first-time attendees. Four first-timers shared their thoughts about the conference and their experiences.

What inspired you to attend the NSTA National Conference in Denver?

“Since I became a science teacher, it has always been my dream to attend this conference,” said Ash Mahadevan, high school biology and chemistry teacher for the Plainfield Public Schools District in Union County, New Jersey. “This year, I was determined to make it happen….[My] inspiration to attend is the plethora of resources and the feel[ing] of thousands of likeminded people in the same place.”

“As a middle school/high school science teacher, I’m always looking for ways to enhance my teaching skills. [I also wanted to] learn about new developments in science education and connect with fellow educators. When I heard about the NSTA National Conference in Denver, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't miss,” declared Mark Tingson, middle and high school science teacher at Sawyer Public School in Sawyer, North Dakota.

“When I was getting my teaching degree, I joined NSTA as a pre-professional, and our student chapter would attend the Colorado Science Conference from CAST [Colorado Association of Science Teachers]. I always wanted to go to an NSTA conference and could not pass up how close it was in Denver,” explained Sarah Burger, seventh-grade science teacher at CY Middle School in Casper, Wyoming.

“To be completely honest, the district offered to pay for me to attend, so I couldn't say no to that. I attend our state science teacher conference whenever I can, but I've never had the opportunity to attend the national one, so I jumped at the chance...and I'm ecstatic that I did,” asserts Steve Shultz, astronomy teacher at Wheat Ridge High School in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

As a first-time conference attendee, what things did you need to feel comfortable when you arrived in Denver?

“The conference website, e-mails, and app were immensely helpful. I couldn't believe how many volunteers there were to help guide us and answer questions; I never felt lost. The first-timers session was wonderful, if for nothing else, to show us that this was the first conference experience for numerous teachers,” related Shultz.

“I needed to know that I stayed close by, so [there was] easy access to sessions and [the] main area of [the] conference. I needed reassurance that I [would] be taking away great ideas; I needed to know that the place is safe and [has] dining options within the area, and [the] NSTA cafe was a great place,” recalled Mahadevan.

“I needed to feel an environment with clear information and directions, [a] welcoming atmosphere, [a] comprehensive conference program, opportunities to connect with others, access to resources and support, familiarity and ease of navigation, [the] ability to ask questions and get help, and lastly, comfortable accommodations,” said Tingson.

“I was born in Denver, and grew up in a suburb, so it was coming home for me,” Burger contends. “It was helpful to have all the Convention Center helpers directing us where to go in the building.” 

What did you learn about NSTA conferences as a first-timer?

“It was worth every penny, and I left feeling inspired and empowered,” Burger declared. “I learned that our community is supportive and caring, so pretty much I could strike up a conversation with whomever I encountered and had a welcome discussion with a likeminded person. I also learned that next time, I will take a poster tube to protect all my new posters, and possibly a wheeled cart to carry all the giveaways!”

“I’m not an English teacher, so it's difficult for me to put into words how blown away I was,” Shultz admitted. “I've been teaching for 24 years, so I wasn't expecting to gain much in the way of new content. But every session I attended gave me lessons, resources, and ideas that I can implement immediately! I didn't have high expectations for the exhibit hall, fully assuming that it would be just book and product vendors (of which there were a few)...but my goodness, there were so many organizations there! I came away with all sorts of resources that I can use immediately! With all of the giveaways and swag, I had to make multiple trips to my car; I definitely got my arm workout and steps in!”

“I learned that it is a vast conference, and if you are not sure of what you really want to do, it could get overwhelming. I was able to share and discuss many strategies with [people from] different areas of [the] nation. I also figured out everyone’s struggle is similar when you look at the bigger picture. This conference reignited my passion of teaching science and did help me make the decision not to quit this year,” Mahadevan reported.

“I learned that networking is key,” observed Tingson. “Second, connection sessions are diverse and abundant. Third is that the exhibit hall is a treasure trove. Fourth, NSTA is a community. Fifth, professional development opportunities. Sixth, fun and engaging. Seventh, you will leave with resources and ideas. Eight, NSTA is a great support system, and lastly, you feel that you belong.”

What suggestions would you offer to future first-time NSTA conference attendees to make the most of the conference?

“Getting on the website and setting up my schedule helped me get through my initial anxiety of ‘how do I pick from the 1,441 sessions to maximize my time and get the most out of the conference?’ I started with just searching for my subject titles (which provided me with numerous sessions), and then I went down a couple of rabbit holes, and I ended up with an absolutely full conference schedule. I was also extremely grateful that many of the presenters posted their materials, so I was able to look at sessions I missed as well. I can't wait to go to the next one,” declared Shultz.

Attendees “have to plan ahead,” Tingson suggested. “They have to network like crazy. They need to attend a variety of sessions. Visiting the exhibit hall is a must. Taking notes and photos is important. You have to be open-minded and learn how to set goals. Have fun, and lastly, follow up after the conference and connect with new contacts, share resources, and implement new ideas in the classroom.” 

“Try to attend the whole conference, and take advantage of as much as you can,” Burger recommended.  

Mahadevan responded with this list:

1. Keep a Google slide stack open in your phone and add images of those brochures on different slides with the name of the vendor or brochure right away instead of taking it back to hotel or your school. It was my lifesaver. 

2. Do fine tune your plan and stick to it.

3. If you are coming in groups, plan so that everyone is attending different sessions so you take back more information to your department in the same amount of time.

4. Have clarity on what [your] district and your students actually need to meet goals, rather than sitting through all marketing demos. 

5. Do not miss poster [sessions] and share-a-thons; valuable lessons and free resources.

6. Many vendors are there for [attendees’] awareness and provide opportunities. Make use of them and get their resources and try [them] out.

7. Reflect on your thoughts [at the end of] the day every day so it’s fresh in your mind, before you get into the routine of teaching. 

8. Have lots of fun being a nerd!

Start planning now to attend NSTA’s National Conference in New Orleans, November 6–9. Learn more at

This blog post is part of the new blog series Educator Perspectives. Each quarter, we’ll share educators’ thoughts about timely, relevant topics, including those related to NSTA, and their perspectives on education issues.

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