First, you are going to be spending time in an incredible city - Grand Rapids, Michigan. Yes, it's a sleepy city on the weekends and it's mostly business people during the day but at the same time that's an even better deal for those of us attending the conference. We, the New Techies, get the whole city to ourselves. Take advantage of that fact. Take some time to be a tourist. You can start by watching this video that was shot all around the conference hotel. You'll definitely get the lay of the land.
This next piece of advice is needed, only because I've seen teachers who don't listen to this advice. And that is to take it easy! You will be working your brain all day. You will want to be with your friends and faculty mates at night. And this can cause some long days.
There are some simple things to do to combat this fatigue. First get some rest and some exercise. There are plenty of places to walk to or you can go for a run. The paths along the river are well lit and I never felt uneasy while going out for a morning run. Second, go to breakfast early. There is plenty of time for breakfast and even if you aren't a breakfast eater there is time to talk with friends and set up your planning for the day. Speaking of planning here are the (2011) topics to be discussed at the conference. Another great thing about the conference is that breakfast and lunch are provided and the Amway Grand does a nice job with the catering.
Now, at night, there are going to be LOTS of opportunity to go out and have some fun. I have seen too many teachers arriving in the morning looking less than sprightly thanks to their escapades during the previous night. Pace yourself. The B.O.B. will still be there many years from now. And so will the piano bar. Really.
For those of you first year New Tech teachers, you will be apart from the rest of your faculty during the day. Take the time to meet other teachers who are new to this thing called PBL. Especially in your content area. Thanks to Google Apps, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ there are a number of ways to connect with these people after you leave the conference. Use these people to help you in your frustrations and share your successes with them during the school year.
For those of you who are returning teachers, get to know other teachers in the network. It is so tempting to spend every minute with your fellow teachers. Instead spend the day with people who, until the conference, were total strangers. Or, find someone who you follow on Twitter and get to know them F2F. And, with the passing of Betty Ford, there will be plenty to do across the river at the Ford Museum while we are there. Take time to see it. Admit it, more than once you have looked across there and said, "I need to go check that out sometime."
I'm so fired up about going this year that I've arranged to fly into Chicago and I'm driving to and from Grand Rapids. After the conference I'm taking some time to see some of the sights within a couple of hours drive. If they have the conference here again next year I'd suggest the same for you. Enjoy, collaborate, and learn. That's what we do at the New Tech Annual Conference.