Field Report: NSTA Boston (long post)

I’m home from Boston. Music was shared, much fun was had, and some lessons were learned. Details below:

For those of you who aren’t familiar with NSTA, the National Science Teachers’ Association runs (among other things) a very large annual national conference for science teachers, administrators, publishers, etc. For this year’s conference, they invited me to Boston to do a presentation on my work and a live show for an evening reception.

I’ve flown to do shows before (WorldCon, filk conventions, etc.), but never had to fly with my own amplification. Flying with a duffle bag, a guitar, and amplification gear without a roadie would require more hands than I currently have. Ship my amp, perhaps? I looked into it and it would have been nearly as expensive as just buying a new amp! Yeah, all those magnets are heavy.

Best Beloved suggested I arrange to rent amp gear in Boston. Guitar Center has multiple locations in Boston; I found their prices reasonable and their people helpful. Next time I have a similar situation, I will use them again.

Because the timing coincided with the Boy Genius’ spring break, we decided to make a family trip of it and visit some friends and relatives along the way. We flew to Philadelphia and did the American history thing, then went to stay for a few days with friends near Trenton, New Jersey. Mr. Lynn arranged for me to come do a live show and some writing workshops for the fourth graders at his school. The kids did a great job, writing about plant cells. Thanks Mr. Lynn!

Brainstorming for a song about plant cells.

Brainstorming for a song about plant cells.

Then on to Boston. With three of us traveling, it was far cheaper to rent a car and drive one-way rather than take three people with luggage on a train. Best Beloved once went to college over there so she drove. I have heard stories about aggressive drivers in that part of the country, but because children may read this I will not describe the multiple near-death episodes on that drive. Next time, the train.

Boston! Cool museums! The USS Constitution! My old friend Arun lives there; he volunteered as our guide and my roadie. One lesson learned: for a conference this big, hotel rooms near the convention center fill up very early. I did not book a room until the NSTA confirmed that they wanted me; this was a mistake. Next time, book early.

The conference was huge. Huge! There were over 600 scheduled events ON THURSDAY. Most sessions turn out to be infomercials for one publisher or another, but I found some good ones. One trick I have learned for finding the good stuff at an academic conference: learn ahead of time which sessions are being run by groups whose core mission is not to sell things. I’m talking here about NASA, the National Geographic Society, and AAAS. And Griffin Education Solutions, obviously. Save the publisher-sponsored events for when you’re actually shopping for new textbooks.

Friday was nuts. In the morning, Dr. Estin had me out at Newton South High School for a fun writing workshop with his 9th-grade history class. The kids made a good start on a song about the causes of the Crusades. Good fun. Thank you, Dr. Estin!

Late afternoon: two live sets at the Boston Children’s Museum. That place is fantastic. They have everything an active small fry could want: an indoor multi-story climbing structure with safety nets; a whole area dedicated to construction; an indoor neighborhood to explore with beauty parlors, barber shops, and a dance hall; a full-size, actual hundred-year-old Japanese house for kids to explore in their socks; it goes on and on. Of course, the kids all stopped playing and came to sit quietly when I started singing and playing guitar. Or possibly not. But it was a whole lot of fun.

Then directly to the Museum of Science. I have to say the last two words with an echo there: OF… SCIENCE!!!!!! The NSTA conference included a Friday evening reception there for all the science teachers. I set up and started to play and… well, at first it was a lot like my show at the Children’s Museum: lots of people super excited to be here and explore, not so much to see me. I completely understood: if I hadn’t been the one trying to do a show, I would have been running around exploring too! As the evening progressed and people settled down, I began to gather a small audience of teachers and one filker (Hi Mabel!), playing pretty much every song I know for over two hours. It was a good time.

On Saturday, I worked my way through the big (huge!!!) exhibit hall. I made some contacts, schmoozed some publishers, gave out some CD’s, and met some new friends. Some collaborations may come of this; I’ll let you know. I was only visiting the booths that looked like they might be relevant to GriffinEd’s mission, perhaps one booth in ten. It still took more than four hours. Thankfully, some genius had placed large beanbag chairs in strategic locations for visitors to stop and rest.

Sunday morning: Best Beloved is flying home with the boy genius because he has school Monday. The hotel lobbies are jammed because everyone else is leaving for the airport too… but wait, there are still some sessions left! One of them is mine! MINE!!!

To my immense relief, I had a decent turnout for my session at 11:00 Sunday morning, which was literally the last hour of the conference. The teachers who came were enthusiastic and had some useful feedback on how to get a foot in the door with their local school districts; watch for a major update on the teacher page soon. It was a good session.

The trip home included some unpleasant surprises. I had bought my ticket from US Air, but apparently they had subcontracted my return flight to American Airlines without notifying me. So there I was in the wrong terminal, carrying my luggage and guitar to the other side of the airport and REALLY glad I didn’t bring my own amplifier gear as well… then dealing with American, whose electronic kiosks had not got the news that I was booked on their flight. The humans fixed it, then tried to make me pay to check my guitar. Apparently, American’s policy on musical instruments is still in violation of the FAA Modernization Act of 2012, which (among many other things) requires that guitars be allowed as carry-ons on planes. The employees did not believe me when I explained this, so I looked up the law on my iPad and showed them. They reluctantly allowed me to carry my guitar. It isn’t the added fee that makes me reluctant to trust their baggage handlers with my guitar; it’s the way they (mis)handle it! I had a guitar broken by baggage handlers once, and I’d rather not repeat the experience.

The flight from Boston to Los Angeles was bouncy but on schedule, so I got home in time to teach my after-school 5th grade math group in La Canada. Needless to say, the kids were delighted by my impersonation of a jet-lagged zombie.

Overall, I would say the NSTA national conference was definitely worth doing once. Before I decide to commit the time, hassle, and money to do it all again I want to see how much web traffic and other results we get out of having done this one. Most of the people I made contact with were excited about fun, standards-based music as a tool for teaching science and other subjects, but with all the things going on at the conference I can’t say yet how many of those contacts will bear fruit. In any event, I had a good time and I am very grateful to the NSTA for the opportunity to share my vision with colleagues from around the United States.