A conference like ISTE requires a high level of mental preparation. I find that explaining my process to the world gets me ready. I hated not knowing what to expect nor what to pack for my first ISTE, also in Philadelphia, so some of my tips are for curious newbies.
In My Bag
Let’s start with the bag: I learned my lesson the first year that a shoulder bag will bring nothing but regret. Back packs are so much better. I organize my bag with lots of clear ziplock baggies to make finding everything easier. You will be hungry and thirsty, so pack snacks and a refillable water bottle. You should have devices to connect (there is an app for that, aka ISTE). An old school notebook and pen will make it less stressful if you are in a wifi deadzone. I have a baggie with tech accessories: stylus, screen cloth, earbuds (for much needed relaxing time), portable cell phone charger, wall extension (you might make new friends by sharing a charging station). Because you will be meeting so many new people, first impressions matter, I bring a travel toothbrush, a stain stick, and a bunch of business cards. If you plan on visiting the Expo Hall, print out address labels that also include your school district and email address. This is so much quicker than handwriting the same thing on every drawing you consider entering. However, don’t get sucked into a vendor time vortex. There are so many other great things to see and learn. Some other random items that will be in my bag: tissues, handsanitizer, chapstick, bandaids, a pedometer, and a sweater. I have preview bag images from ISTE 2011 and ISTE 2012.
As far as a dress code: wear what you feel comfortable in, but make sure it includes layers. The temperatures will vary from tropic to arctic. No matter the temperature, the air always feels dry, so bring a water bottle to refill. People who present might be more dressed up, but business casual is perfectly acceptable or jeans/t-shirts are totally acceptable. I have worn t-shirts with logos of my favorite products before and it inspired great conversations with people. For the sake of your feet, wear comfortable shoes. I wear cute sneakers the entire time, even if wearing dress pants.
Have a plan of what you want to see/learn, but do not feel trapped in sticking to it. I have a Google Calendar with all the sessions I want to attend and additional social events I want to attend. This will allow me to access it from any device I am on. There is an app for ISTE2015, but I could not find the locations for the sessions. That is a major flaw and hinderance for its usefulness. If anyone can prove me wrong I would appreciate it.
Be prepared to get many great ideas that you will want to share what you learned. I love Diigo for this purpose. This year for the sake of weight and battery life, I am only going to bring my iPad instead of a laptop to the Convention Center (except maybe when presenting). Anything I find interesting I will save with #istefind, which IFTTT will recognize and automatically Tweet for me (@SrtaLisa) with the official #ISTE2015 hashtag. Each night I will use my netbook back at the room to type longer and more reflective annotations on Diigo to the saved websites and move them to my ISTE Ideas Diigo Group. Around midnight, all the websites and annotations will be pushed and published on my blog. It is not visually pleasing, but it does share in an organized way for me to find later. I also take session notes in Evernote or GoogleDocs so they can be shared with people I think will be equally interested.
ISTE has determined that the official conference hashtag is #ISTE2015. Is it too early to start a petition for a simpler and shorter official conference hashtag for next year’s with just #ISTE16 not #ISTE2016? Even people who do not love writing Tweets can still follow the conversation and favorite other people’s. A tool like Twubs will allow you to just see the ISTE tweets instead of being overwhelmed by everything else, though ISTE alone is overwhelming. You can check almost any social media platform and find examples of people learning and celebrating being passionate educators: Twitter, Vine, Voxer, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc. When you find someone who shares great information, make sure you connect with them digitally. The conference also provides the unique opportunity to meet so many of your PLN in real life. Mentally I am prepared … that just leaves the physical packing and traveling to ISTE. I can’t wait to meet many new enthusiastic educators who I will connect with long after the conference ended.