#NSTA15 at Reno

So, this post is a little long, and some parts may be of interest only to science teachers, and there’s no biking, but there are some tidbits about eating in Reno if you find yourself there, particularly for a conference.

In late October I traveled to Reno, Nevada to attend a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Area Conference. I’ve attended many of these conferences–including a previous one in Reno about a dozen years ago (and written about one in Long Beach last year). I always enjoy the learning opportunities, the fun new science teaching products, and most of all the enthusiasm of the teachers.

I started my trip with an RTD bus from Boulder, where we’ve been staying with Maureen’s brother and sister-in-law. Maureen took me to the bus station and waited for the bus to arrive. It turns out that this is a good practice, as the woman I met in line told me that sometimes the bus is full and may even skip this last stop in Boulder. She recommended boarding at the downtown Boulder station during busy travel times. The bus driver actually had a “spiel” that he gave before we boarded, something I’ve never heard before from a RTD driver. He talked about where the bus was going, stated the fare (a reasonable $13 from Boulder to DIA), and recommended you work out exact change with someone nearby if you hadn’t come prepared. The bus ride itself was uneventful, and much preferable to driving oneself to the airport.

I flew Southwest, my current favorite, since I can check a bag free of charge and they still provide complimentary snacks and sodas onboard. I even snagged an exit row seat!

My lodgings were at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, one of two conference hotels and the only one available when I made my travel plans. Luckily, they had a shuttle from the airport and I was able to catch it just as it was leaving, avoiding a 30-minute wait. I was efficiently checked in to the resort and took some time to relax in my room. It may be the largest hotel room I’ve stayed in over the past 15 months–and there have been many.

The NSTA shuttle was scheduled to run from 4:30 to 7:30 that evening, so that attendees could pick up registration materials at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center and visit the NSTA bookstore if so desired. I made a point to be outside waiting for the shuttle at 4:25. I should note here that I am generally not a fan of shuttles and almost always walk between venues, even if the distance is a mile or more. In Reno, however, the second hotel and convention center were over three miles apart (the first hotel was adjacent to the convention center) across busy and pedestrian-unfriendly streets. I met several educators waiting for the shuttle, several of whom had come long distances to attend this meeting. We waited, and waited. At the beginning of our wait, the airport shuttle driver had mentioned that we could come with him, and then pick up the shuttle to the Atlantis (conference hotel #1) from the airport, but we all initially declined. When he returned 30 minutes later, some people decided to go with him. One of the other people waiting with me had a car, and she asked if anyone wanted to ride over with her. I immediately volunteered for this option over the four-shuttle plan. It turns out she is a former engineer who volunteers at her son’s school, Living Wisdom School. We had a pleasant chat on the way to the Convention Center and back. While picking up registration materials, I had a chat with one of the conference organizers, who was unaware that the shuttle was MIA. They made plans to get shuttle runs started, and she noted that the service was being donated. Fortunately, the shuttles seemed much more consistent as the conference went on.

I had planned to dine that first evening at the Grand Sierra’s buffet, which had a Southwestern theme for Wednesday. Unfortunately, the queue was long from 4:30 until after 8 pm, so I ate an uninspired salad and some jalapeño popcorn from the resort’s carry out area. Sigh. I can report that the buffet’s breakfast spread was good–I ate there the next two mornings. They had many choices. I particularly enjoyed the cinnamon sugar donuts and the fruit selections. I recommend going with the made-to-order omelets over the other egg choices and hope that they will decide to offer a non-pork breakfast meat in the future, but they don’t yet.

With the shuttle and buffet both in “working order,” I made it to the conference in time to catch a couple sessions before meeting up with my co-presenter at the Purple Parrot in the Atlantis Casino. The Atlantis looks like a place that time forgot. Whereas in Las Vegas they knock down casinos as soon as they look slightly out of date (except Excalibur and Circus Circus, but that’s a story for another day), that is not the case in Reno. The fake grottos and low ceilings were classic. The Purple Parrot, on the other hand, was pretty good. We actually ate there twice over the course of the conference, as it was the only nearby eating establishment that opened for lunch before 11:30 and served something other than convention center fast “food.” If you’re at the Atlantis or the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, it’s a solid breakfast/lunch option.

I worked in the American Chemical Society (ACS) booth at the Exhibit Hall in the afternoon and caught another session before heading back to the hotel. A Colorado acquaintance had suggested I check out the Lawrence Hall of Science Amplify Science K-8 curriculum. It is a very cool digital product due out next fall that integrates simulations and interactive games to develop understanding consistent with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for dinner Thursday night, but luckily an ACS colleague called me in my hotel room and invited me to go to Laughing Planet Café with the ACS staff group. I was a little skeptical about going across town for what at first glance appeared to be a glorified Chipotle, but I was pleasantly surprised. This Oregon-based chain had a great variety of offerings for meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-avoiders. I chose the Autumn Bento Bowl with fall veggies, ginger-soy tofu, and yummy rice. And they had a blood orange cider on tap. Ahh. They also have toy dinosaurs on the tables, which signs inform you are washed twice daily…


Dinosaur hygiene notice


Day two of the conference was essentially more of the same. The highlight of my day was a featured session by particle physicist Helen Quinn. Dr. Quinn, in addition to being a spectacular scientist, chaired the committee that developed A Framework for K-12 Science Education, the (awesome) precursor to NGSS. Her talk focused on science practices, particularly modeling, and really helped me to understand some of the more unusual emphases in the Framework and NGSS (and why they sound like they were written from a physics perspective).

Friday night’s dinner was the large group gathering of ACS staff and contractors at SoDo (South Downtown) restaurant. Getting there was a little challenging, as there was some sort of party going on downtown, but the cab driver found an alternate route. The dinner was quite good and really filling, and the company was excellent, since the presenters of the high school portion of ACS’s Chemistry Day at NSTA were part of the group.

Saturday was the final half day of the conference and the day both of my sessions were scheduled. The 8 am session on Using Modeling Activities in the High School Chemistry Classroom was well attended by engaged participants. Some of these folks even came back for our 12:30 pm session on Science and Engineering Practices in the Chemistry Curriculum. As anticipated, this very late session was sparsely attended, but those who did show up asked questions and worked hard. Yay chemistry teachers! 

My next stop was the Reno airport. Sadly, I also got to experience the Las Vegas airport, as it is not possible to fly directly from Reno to Denver after about 3 pm. I arrived home late, tired but satisfied with a good few days’ work and learning!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s