Ulster BOCES holds a Tech Fest to introduce teachers to new technology

New Paltz Middle School teacher Laura Van Etten (on right) checks out an interactive Teq Smartboard shown by Francesca McCarron at last week's Ulster BOCES Tech Fest in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz Middle School teacher Laura Van Etten (on right) checks out an interactive Teq Smartboard shown by Francesca McCarron at last week’s Ulster BOCES Tech Fest in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

As technology continues to evolve, the very culture of learning in our schools keeps changing. Long gone are the days when technology was merely a supplement in the classroom; these days, it’s a form of literacy. And educators are called upon frequently to continue educating themselves about technology and all the possibilities it can bring to their students. So to that end, Ulster BOCES hosted its first ever Tech Fest on Tuesday, October 27 in the Jane Bullowa Conference Center.

“We wanted to have a fun event that would showcase all the technology being utilized in Ulster County classrooms,” said Allison Dodd, supervisor of instructional services at Ulster BOCES. She organized the event along with model schools coordinator Cynthia Farrell. They invited local teachers to participate, and brought in more than 20 different vendors of technology products to share the latest developments and offer information on how to implement the technology in a classroom. Among the companies represented were Dell, Schoology, Edgenuity, Discovery Education, Apex Learning, Lenovo, Teq and NYLearns.

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Tech Fest featured an interactive robotics playground, which showcased a 3D printer from MakerBot continuously in action creating small items in plastic. The printer is owned by Ulster BOCES and can be borrowed by teachers in local school districts to use in their classrooms. Also available to borrow are the five Scribbler robots demonstrated at Tech Fest and sets of Cubelets that can be snapped together magnetically to create robotic devices.

The Scribbler S2 is a small, fully programmable intelligent robot with multiple sensor systems — light-seeking, object detection and avoidance — and line-following ability, capable of auto navigation and interaction with its environment. Eileen Catasus-Chapman, of the model schools department at Ulster BOCES, was on hand to demonstrate how the Scribbler teaches project-based learning to kids. Once they learn how to program the device using a software program, she explained, kids can translate what they learned into other educational experiences. The name “Scribbler” comes from the “pen port” it has available to insert a Sharpie pen into that allows it to “scribble” as it drives.

Tech Fest was geared toward teachers, administrators, school staff and Board of Education members, but a few educators brought their children along. Joanna Arkans, librarian at New Paltz High School, brought her daughter, Rosie Savelson, 11, a student at New Paltz Middle School. Rosie was intrigued by the Cubelets; while they’re fun to play with as they’re snapped together to make a variety of robots, along the way they teach students about the behavior of complex systems. One project that can be done with the Cubelets is building a robot lighthouse that can detect the difference between light and dark and turn its light on at night.

Serving as demonstrator of how children learn to code (program a computer) was young Paige Brooks, 7, daughter of Karen Brooks, Ulster BOCES coordinator of instructional data analysis, technology and assessment. Karen was there to inform educators about the “Hour of Code” events coming during the global Computer Science Education Week, December 7-13. Educators are encouraged to sign up their students for special one-hour tutorial events that week on learning code, designed to demystify the process and show that anybody can learn the basics. The premise is that even an hour of learning can be enough to inspire the desire for more. (Additional information is available at hourofcode.org or through Ulster BOCES.)

Panel discussions led by local educators were held on topics that included “flipped learning,” which reverses the traditional order of classroom-lecture-followed-by-homework, so that students do the instructional activity outside of the classroom and then engage in discussion of the concepts in the classroom with the guidance of the teacher.

Another panel discussion was called “Making Math Visible,” led by Rondout Valley Central School District fifth-grade teachers who discussed how they utilize the ST Math software program that presents visual game puzzles, providing visual feedback that the student uses to analyze why their answer worked (or didn’t).

Tech Fest was free to attend for the hundreds of educators who took advantage of the opportunity. The event offered participants ten chances to win a raffle for technology products and light refreshments were served. There were even fun props to use for photo-taking opportunities (feather boas and hats along with technology jokes on placards to hold up for the camera (“I haven’t lost my mind… I have it backed up somewhere!)

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