Hands-on with Lego robots in the Robotics Playground

Hands-on with Lego robots in the Robotics Playground

This past Saturday, Seguin ISD held our 11th annual technology fair. These are common events in school districts around the country. I’ve been helping organize them in Seguin or, previously, in Birdville for at least a decade. They have been, in my experience, opportunities for teachers and students to share how they are using technology to transform learning, Students present technology-infused class projects to audiences primarily of parents, sharing their feelings about the experiences. This is certainly a worthwhile format. It gives kids valuable opportunities to take on the role of presenters and speakers and reassures parents (and taxpayers) that their technology dollars are being wisely invested.

Learning programming concepts in the Coding Lab.

Learning programming concepts in the Coding Lab.

This year, though, I decided to tinker with the traditional model. Rather than simply showing off what was being done, I really wanted to make the experience more of an interactive learning experience for all attendees. To that end, I decided to include several opportunities for families to engage in fun, hands-on activities that would expose them to the opportunities afforded their children when focus shifts from the tools to authentic, 21st century skills. A few of the additions to this year’s event included:

  • Getting face-to-face with a real robot.

    Getting face-to-face with a real robot.

    Coding lab–parents worked alongside students to take on challenges using Code.org or Scratch.

  • MakeyMakey lab–families played and built computer input creations using MakeyMakeys.
  •  Robotics Playground–attendees tried their hands at programming Lego robots to do simple tasks.
  • Cardboard Challenge–teams of family members and/or friends designed and built cardboard dinosaurs.
  • Geekbus–the mobile maker space gave families experiences with 3D printing, robotics, Raspberry Pis, and more.
  • Guest speakers Nancy Giordano and William Hurley shared TED-style presentations with students about the importance technology and innovation would play in society’s future and inspired them to find ways to explore their own creative and inventive spirits.
Cardboard Challenge champions and their amazing dinosaur.

Cardboard Challenge champions and their amazing dinosaur.

The experience was richly rewarding for me as the event’s organizer, and there won’t be any turning back. Watching students and parents work through dinosaur designs, tackle the challenge of coding for the first time, playing banana piano keyboards, and hang out at the Geekbus well past the day’s “official” end was exciting and inspiring. Even hard-to-impress high school students’ faces gave away their approval and enjoyment. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that technology can be a source of joy and inspiration when we give students opportunities to express their imaginations, or when we challenge our kids to build, create, and invent. Too often we limit technology to old, tried-and-true activities that stop far short of the ideal. The next great inventor, engineer, programmer, or artist that will change the

Exploring the Geekbus mobile maker space.

Exploring the Geekbus mobile maker space.

world may very well be sitting in our classrooms. How rewarding would it be to know someday that we played a part in lighting the fire that sets them on their path to greatness?