Students Shine at ISTE 2015
Without question, my favorite part of the country's largest annual ed-tech extravaganza is talking with students about the amazing projects they've worked on in the past year.
Here's a quick peek at three of my favorite projects from Tuesday's poster session at the 2015 conference of the International Society for Technology in Education being held here this week.
Helping local farmers with technology
In her three years on the Student Technology Leadership Club (pictured above) at Maurice Bowling Middle School in Kentucky's 1,800-student Owen County school system, 10-year-old Sydney Cobb has learned a lot: How to use iMovie, how to produce a newscast, how to build a database, how to work with QR codes.
But what Sydney really loves about all that technology is how it's been used to help her small rural community.
"I like to make things that help promote local farms," she said. "They really appreciate it, because they don't get much attention at all."
Along with several classmates, the club's first project was building a database that could be used to track the health history of cattle raised on local farms. The students then paired the database with an ingeniously practical tool: QR code tags that can be attached to the cows' ears, so any farmer with a smartphone can get an instant read on the medical history of any cow he or she comes across.
"They presented [the project] in front of the Kentucky Farm Bureau, and they thought it was wonderful," said Carrie Wilhoite, the Owen County district's technology director.
More recently, the group has produced short promotional videos for local farms, hoping to help promote the markets at which they sell their produce.
Sydney is hooked, in part because the benefits of her newfound interest in technology have been tangible.
"Originally, I just had a Kindle," she said. "Now, I have a computer and a phone."
Hacking, for a good cause
"We're like the Geek Squad," says 17-year old Caroline Espinal, a senior at In-Tech Academy in the Bronx, N.Y.
Espinal is referring to the MOUSE Corps, a multi-school after-school club that pulls together technology-minded students from all around the New York City area.
The program's focus is on applied design and technology. For Espinal and her peers, that has meant spending the past year creating assistive technologies to help adults with cerebral palsy.
The creation that the students showed off at ISTE:
A hacked joystick that is mapped to an-onscreen keyboard, allowing an adult with limited use of only her right hand, for whom the MOUSE Corps was specifically designing, to type and navigate a mouse with ease.
"She loved it," Espinal said.
To get there, the group ordered a video game joystick online, then hacked its software so it would work for their purposes. They also coded their own on-screen keyboard using Flash and Action Script.
Designing eco-friendly buildings and communities.
Maria Jose Aguilera has no shortage of ambition.
"We can change the world by using technology," she said.
In the 16-year-old's 10th grade Chemistry class at Mexico's private Centro Esocolar Los Altos, in Guadalajara, that has meant designing eco-friendly homes, schools, shopping centers, and farms to combat pollution.
At ISTE, Maria and her classmates walked a steady stream of onlookers through the 3-D computer renderings they created. Maria's farm was heavy on solar panels, technology to harvest and re-use rainwater, and an intricate composting system.
After extensive research, the students designed and drew the structures in two software design programs, Sketchup and Floorplanner.
Teacher Guillermina Molinar said she knows only the basics of those programs, but that's no barrier in her classroom.
"I give the idea and propose the tools," she said. "Then, their imagination creates."
Integrating technology throughout the project makes it "more real," Maria said. It's easier to share, and easier for people to understand.
And the earnest teen said she appreciates her teacher's willingness to let students use technology that the teacher herself is not expert with. It was great that Ms. Molinar provided the context for the project and helped her work through her ideas, she said.
But the teen was more than capable of picking up Sketchup on her own, she emphasized.
"I learned from Youtube."