By: Donna Giachetti
First Day of School Jitters
Heading to LaGuardia airport for my first science convention, I was reminded of my first day of kindergarten. Instead of a shiny new lunchbox, I toted a battered old suitcase but otherwise, it felt much the same. My first convention! Would I make friends? Would there be name tags? Bathroom breaks? Worst of all, would I get lost?
When I joined Educational Innovations in September 2014, my new colleagues tried to describe the magic and mayhem that occurs at science conventions. “You’ll see,” I heard more than once. They tossed around terms like “regionals” and “nationals” as if they were talking about March Madness.
I listened to their stories wondering when I would get my turn to become part of the larger-than-life Educational Innovations convention crew. And then, in mid-November, my moment arrived. CAST—the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching—would be my initiation into the world of science teachers.
Dallas, Here We Come!
I was fortunate to be traveling from Connecticut with our company’s “A-Team”—Tami, Anthony, and of course, Ted. We were met in Dallas by three more veteran conventioneers: John, Jeff, and Chris. Our first night was a genial catching-up session. I got the sense that, combined, these folks must have attended at least 500 conventions. Maybe more.
Waiting at the elevators after dinner, Tami reminded me, “Dress to get dirty tomorrow, we’ve got to unpack the booth. Wear comfortable shoes, and don’t forget your blue t-shirt!”
The next day, the secrets of convention set-up were revealed. Imagine a small store’s worth of products boxed and wrapped into five enormous pallets. The Speedy Six—as I had dubbed them—and I spent hours deconstructing these 9-foot-tall pallets, installing flat-screen monitors, hoisting banners above our heads with our company’s motto (“Teachers Serving Teachers”), unpacking dozens of boxes of products and much, much more. If there were an Olympic event devoted to synchronized effort and organization, the EI team would have surely won.
We also had the coolest t-shirts. (See for yourself.)
On Your Mark… Get Set…
The next morning was Opening Day. The Speedy Six and I met at our booth around 9 a.m. to administer the last-minute touches to our displays. Was the Chinese Spouting Bowl centered on its mat? Had we prepared enough strips of Color-Changing Goldenrod and Dissolving Paper? Were the Ultraviolet Detecting Beads spread out under the UV light canopy that demonstrated how quickly they turned from white to purple, blue, red, orange and yellow? Were our Growing Spheres fully grown?
We were ready.
A voice announced over the loudspeaker, “Exhibitors, the hall opens in 5 minutes.” I left our booth to see what kind of crowd had gathered at the entrance of the conference center. The photo I took barely conveys the throng of people patiently waiting at 11 a.m. for their chance to see what cool new items we’d brought to the convention.
And then it was 11:30… and the ropes dividing the crowd from us were removed.
The rest of the convention was exhilarating and unforgettable—even if it did go by in a blur! Soon enough we were packing up our equipment for return to Connecticut and checking our flight itineraries.
So what did I learn in my first days of “school?”
- Science teachers have better memories than the rest of us mortals. I already knew our customers are smart, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how much information their brains were able to retain. Scientific equations and theorems came rolling off their tongues the way some of us say “Pass the salt.”
- Science teachers are incredibly generous with their knowledge. Again and again, visitors to our booth struck up conversations with each other, freely sharing their favorite teaching ideas. If someone had a question, say, on how to use our Hoberman Switch Pitch Balls in a chemistry class, another teacher would volunteer some ideas on activation energy.
- Science teachers love to touch things! Our Instant Snow Polymer, flowing out of a champagne glass into a Lucite tray below, was the center of attention. Visitors dipped their hands into the snow, grinned and beckoned their friends over. “Feel this!” they’d say. “It’s actually cold!” And—keeping with #1 above—inevitably someone in the group knew exactly what compound it was that turned our fine white powder into mounds of fluffy, warm-then-cold snow. I eventually learned its name, too: sodium polyacrylate.
- Science teachers are funny. Attendees wore t-shirts with clever science puns, dressed up as the mad scientist from Despicable Me, impersonated Sheldon Cooper with his favorite Green Lantern t-shirt and just plain let their inner geek flags fly!
- Science teachers love Educational Innovations. I mean, they LOVE us! Everywhere I went—food truck, restroom, elevator—someone recognized the EI logo on my shirt and took the time to tell me how awesome our company is, and how many “oohs” and “aahs” our discrepant event materials elicit from their students. It was a wonderful nod of approval for the work we do when we’re not in convention mode.
With my “first day jitters” behind me, I can’t wait till March. Chicago, here I come!