There are certain advantages to attending a state-level conference in your own backyard. First, it’s cheap (especially if you’re a presenter), and it’s difficult to understate the importance of this when millions of dollars are being trimmed from my district’s budget. Second, travel time is reduced considerably, allowing one to drop off sub plans at 7 AM in one’s classroom and still make it to one’s session at 8 AM at the convention center. When you’re a classroom teacher, taking days off always sucks, but this makes it much more manageable. Third, many of the people whom you respect and admire come to you, allowing you to appear knowledgeable and savvy about local pubs and eateries. Of course, this is only effective when you are the only “townie” in your group, so it didn’t work so well for me (thanks, @bethanyvsmith and @plugusin).
And so it was that I ended up attending both Thursday and Friday of the North Carolina Technology in Education Society’s 2010 conference in Raleigh. Originally, the plan seemed straightforward enough. I wrote lesson plans for a substitute teacher, pitched a couple of presentations (one with my fantastic Media Specialists and one with a first-year teacher techie who has joined my school), and put it on the ol’ trusty Google Calendar. Jump forward a couple of months, and now it’s the perfect storm of stress: wife is out of town (there goes the built-in daycare for my son), I’m stuck dogsitting a 120-lb “puppy”, an unexpected out-of-town trip limited my opportunity to practice my talks with my co-presenters, and it’s track-out week so I have to pack up everything in my classroom.
In spite of this stress, or perhaps because of it, NCTIES 2010 was a remarkable experience. Rather than detail the sessions I attended, as others have done very successfully, I will use this space to rank the five best moments of the conference from my point of view. This will also help me disguise the fact that I didn’t get to spend very much time in actual sessions, between arranging for childcare and tweeting about “Chandler“.
#5: The Second Presentation of “Going Google-free” Thursday, 4:45 PM
When I read the email announcing the dates and times of my presentations at NCTIES, I was a bit disappointed to see that while we would be presenting this one twice, the second preso would be at the end of the day. From previous conferences that I’ve attended, I know that this time slot is when many folks head out of the convention center. Sure, enough, there were only couple dozen participants in attendance which made it difficult to gauge interest and conduct an interactive discussion. Despite the small crowd, several individuals approached us at the end of the presentation to share how much they enjoyed the session and learned from us. One woman said, “You changed my life.” I don’t even get that from my students.
#4: My “Google Wave Makes Ripples in the Classroom” Presentation Friday, 8 AM
After Thursday’s “Google-free” success, it seemed both unlikely and ironic that I would lead a good session about a Google product. Luke Miles and I arrived as early as we could, and we were ready to start a full 20 minutes before “go time”. We decided to use that extra time to hand out some Wave invitations and get a half a dozen of the attendees participating in the wave that we had setup to run side-by-side with our slides. The idea for this presentation format had crystallized at breakfast just the day before, and yet it went off without a hitch. Personally, I think that the key to this presentation was the presence of some very insightful and motivated learners, including @kathyschrock (in the front row!), @samandjt, @susanrmyers, and @dteague71.
#3: Sam Morris’ WordPress ePortfolio Presentation Thursday, 1:45 PM
I think that we’ve all experienced the “Goldilocks” effect at conferences: many sessions are over our heads and the rest are geared toward the novice technologist. Sam has a knack for sharing information that appeals to everyone on the spectrum and keeps the audience engaged at the same time. His use of a tablet PC during his talk was one of the first I’ve seen and he really wielded it like a pro. Best of all, I left the session with lots of take-home knowledge that I plan to use to implement eportfolios with my students next year.
#2: The First time presenting “Google-free” Thursday, 9:30 AM
As one of the first sessions of the conference, none of us knew what to expect. Our room was located at the top of the escalator from the vendor floor and we had a window that looked down on that expansive space. It was a bit distracting, but even more so was the constant flow of people into that little room. By 9:20, we were at capacity and lots of folks kept coming in and sitting on the floor or standing along the walls. The bar was pretty high before we ever spoke a word. By the end of the presentation, we had received dozens of positive comments and were on an emotional high.
#1: The whole darn thing.
This is going to sound corny, so I’ll just say it. The best experience that I had during the entire conference was the camaraderie and feeling of connectedness. I spent some time late last year debating the benefits of membership in professional organizations, but NCTIES helped me to remember how uplifting and invigorating it can feel to be surrounded by like-minded and energetic folks teaching and learning from one another. People commenting on Twitter, having backchannel discussions during presentations, lingering in a session to continue the conversation, and seeing a new teacher look and act like a seasoned one made me realize that I need to ensure that I get to more of these things more often. Anybody want to sponsor me?
*I was tempted to add the “Beer Up” from Thursday night at The Flying Saucer with Steven Anderson, Bill Ferriter, Bethany Smith, and Susan Myers. It was a fantastically fun time where I learned more about a certain quilter/Jeopardy-contestant/ManU-follower than I would ever have guessed. And, thanks to Susan I have a new favorite Guinness drink. I hope to enjoy their company again soon.