First, let’s agree on this well-known fact: the ISTE Conference is awesome. There truly are not enough adjectives to encompass the possibilities one engenders while attending this mega-conference of passionate educators seeking to use technology as learning tools. Secondly, along with this awesomeness comes the potential to be overwhelmed to the extent of mental and physical exhaustion. Especially for first-time attendees, the result can be a lack of clarity and an inability to apply the amazing ideas, technology tools, and “Aha!” moments that were so apparent and simple in real time. However, there is no need to fear. The ISTE Conference Survival Guide is here.

Less Is More

As a first-time attendee in Philadelphia in 2011, I was gung-ho, to say the least. No matter how far I had to travel to make it to a self-appointed, must-see gathering, I found myself in a workshop or session nearly every hour. The problem I encountered was information overload. Everything was so awe-inspiring and seemed to happen so fast. I took in too much, too quickly. Fast-forward to my attendance at the following two ISTE Conferences in San Diego and in San Antonio… I learned my lesson. Through careful planning each previous night, I allowed myself only two consecutive workshops and/or sessions before taking a mandatory break to reflect. The outcome? Balance and a multitude of creative ideas and applications for the knowledge I had just acquired.

Eat and Hydrate

One definite requirement for participating in such a galactic assembly of forward-thinking educators is ENERGY. Sounds simple, I know. As a former ISTE greenhorn in 2011 who ate breakfast at 6:30 every morning and did not slow down again until a 7:00 dinner, please believe me when I say, “Sustained fuel is vital to your overall success at the ISTE Conference.”

Divide and Conquer

If you are attending with other colleagues, devise a plan to crowd-source the workshops and sessions. Instead of attending a particular workshop or session with three of your colleagues, divvy up your common interests and assign one person per workshop or session. Since you cannot be in several places at the same time, this teamwork eliminates the culling of potentially beneficial meetings. Furthermore, sharing a Google Form and its accompanying responses spreadsheet is a highly efficient and organized approach to crowd-sourcing all valuable links, resources, and comments.

Be Organized

Whether you are attending solo or with a team of colleagues, a plan for taking and curating notes is crucial. Evernote, Twitter, Google Drive apps, and an abundance of other technology tools can easily accomplish this important task. Personally, I hammer out comments and links on Twitter, store pictures as notes in Evernote, and use a shared Google Form that is bookmarked to my laptop browser and to my iPad and iPhone screens. Although I love the personal connection between my thoughts and my handwriting, a pen or pencil is seldom used simply because I type much quicker than I write. Since most presenters share all of their notes and ideas via a slideshow or other technology tool, one key thing to remember, however, is that personal note-taking is often redundant and unnecessary. All that is left to do then is copy the given link of resources and soak up the knowledge.

Use the Mobile App

To cover the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” of sessions, workshops, and meetings you will attend, the ISTE mobile app is a must-have. Never make a wrong turn and miss a session with the multitude of cool features to keep you in the right place at the right time for the right reason.

Have Fun

Never miss an opportunity to have some fun and hangout with your colleagues. One such example of a conglomeration of educators having a blast and rocking it out is the EdTech Karaoke. If showing your talent or lack thereof is not your tune, look around. There will be plenty more impromptu and planned gatherings.

Take in the Culture

Don’t forget to take in a bit of the local culture. Click here to see a list of attractions in downtown Atlanta.

Ignite Sessions

Need a spark of creativity? Check out the Ignite sessions. Here is the ISTE 2014 Conference website’s definition of an Ignite session: “Twelve presenters will have just five minutes and 20 slides each to share their passions and ignite yours in one continuous rapid-fire presentation!” These fast and furious outpourings of ideas are a perfect start to the conference.

Bloggers’ Café

If you need to kick back and take a load off or find a hopping place to chat with other writing educators, take a look at the Bloggers’ Café. Click here for a full description and more details.

Eat Lunch with Strangers

Perhaps some of my best educational conversations the past few years have taken place directly outside of the conference rooms and in the hallways. One such conversation occurred two years ago in San Diego while I was seated in a hallway waiting for my iPhone to charge. Fifteen minutes later found me much smarter and more connected due to an impromptu and informal meeting with three colleagues from three different states. I now make sure I am aware of any possible “anywhere” #edchat discussions. As my good friend and colleague, Dave Guymon, says, the next minute may find you “eating lunch with strangers,” but who knows what you would miss if you passed up these chances.

The Poster Sessions

Inquiring about students’ and teachers’ adventures and projects in education is an absolute must. To do so, take a slow stroll through the poster sessions.

The Expo Hall

A casual stroll through the Expo Hall will open your eyes to the current trends and futuristic potential of educational technology. And you may walk away with a few freebies, too.

Keynote Speakers

The keynote speakers always set, maintain, and wrap-up the theme and tone of the ISTE Conference. This year’s line-up appears to be stellar. Beginning with Ashley Judd, pausing at the midpoint with Kevin Carroll, and ending with the National Teacher-of-the-Year, Jeff Charbonneau, the keynote speakers will keep all attendees fully anchored to the awesomeness of ISTE.

Twitter, Tweetdeck, and the Official Hashtag

Be sure to use the power of Twitter, Tweetdeck, and the official ISTE hashtag (#ISTE2014) to share and follow all #edchat and #edtech conversations at ISTE. Heck, you can even be at home and follow the constant stream of progressive thinking directly from your Tweetdeck. Don’t forget to find Dave Guymon and me at ISTE ’14 in Atlanta. Stop by and say, “Hey.” We may even have time to grab a lunch and speak about the awesomeness that is the ISTE Conference.   Got any other ideas to share for the ISTE Survival Guide? If so, please share.

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