I have attended iSTE since 2010 and the best advice I have for newbies is: pack your sense of humour and keep an open mind. iSTE is a different country and remember it is big. Sooo big there is a chance you won’t get into ANYTHING without forward planning and queuing – and that includes the keynotes. Its actually really obvious when you think about it. iSTE can be 10-15,000 people. No single conference room holds that many people. The queue to get in the door for the keynotes last year started hours before the doors opened.
So take care to look at the program way before the event (that would be now, if you haven’t already), book in to whatever you can, but don’t plan lots of back-to-back sessions (especially in the first couple of days) because if the presenter is any good, the odds are the queue for that session will have started before the previous session has finished.
Having said that, I keep going back. Its the journey, not the destination. You can see the keynotes streamed from lots of places around the venue. You might prefer to park yourself in the blogger’s cafe rather than standing in a queue for ages? If you can’t get into any sessions at a particular time, go up and look at the posters. They change frequently and the people there have the time to talk to you (just remember to talk slowly because although we can understand most of what they say without difficulty, many have trouble with the Australian accent). Or there are numerous playgrounds to visit and there is always the Exhibition Hall. Some of the exhibitors, eg. Google, Microsoft, Adobe, etc. put on workshops and demonstrations that are not always crowded (but sometimes they are really busy too).
Talk to anyone you come across. You will learn lots while queuing. Although there are actually many Australians at iSTE, most people you come across will not have met an Australian before and they will be really interested to talk to you. If you don’t feel confident walking up to random people and starting a conversation – do it with purpose – become a Volunteer. When you are a Volunteer, people come to you – with the most amazing questions. The Volunteer Captains are really professional and give you training, they supply you with the most common answers and what to do when you don’t know an answer. I was asked last year how to book baseball tickets (apparently the local team was playing that night), where the nearest WalMart was and how to find the local Governor’s house so they could complain about a decision in person. Fortunately the majority of the questions I was asked were exactly what we were told they would be: toilets, venue locations, lost and found and food outlets. Oh, don’t use the word ‘toilet’. ‘Bathroom’ or ‘restroom’ is preferred but Canadians seem to like ‘washroom’ I think, or is it the other way round?
As a Volunteer it is REALLY important to talk clearly and a bit slower than usual. And although if asked, we would all say we speak English, communication can be at times a little tricky. If people look shocked when you say something – rephrase. For some reason, there is a problem with how we say numbers – a linguist once told me it was to do with our vowels. If you get a blank look, write the number down.
There are also things you can do that will make understanding what is going on in sessions a little easier for you. Take the time to look over the iSTE Standards – they are usually talked about a lot. Google what a ‘Charter School’ is. Some of you will have watched enough American television to work most things out but make sure you know what the age groups in an Elementary School, Middle School and High School are so you attend appropriate sessions. Like Australia, American school organizations are different state to state but their District also has an important Administrative function and that frequently comes up.
And remember American educators are often used to dealing in huge numbers. Last time I checked, the largest Sydney high school was just pushing 1,500 students. 1,200 is considered pretty big. These are small compared to some American High Schools. This has implications to how things get done.
There are probably plenty of people who can add to this list, and others who recognise the gross generalisations I have made. But forewarned is forearmed. Hopefully we can up somewhere at iSTE and compare the hilarious mis-communication stories.
For another viewpoint, try The Nerdy Teacher.
PS One of the most difficult words for the Americans to understand when I said it was ‘queue’. And it comes up a lot. Americans ‘stand in line’.
Regards, Leanne Cameron (@leannecameron)
(This piece originally appeared on May 24 in the iSTE Connects Forum. If you have already registered to attend iSTE2015 and would like to read more from Australians travelling to iSTE, go to the ‘Calling all Aussies at ISTE2015’ thread.)
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