East Bay EdTech Symposium sees record-breaking 500 participants
By Lou Fancher
At Mt. Diablo Unified School District’s East Bay CUE’s STEM and EdTech Symposium Feb. 24, the energy of this year’s record-breaking 500 participants was palpable.
In the multi-use room on Valley View Middle School’s campus in Pleasant Hill, teachers, administrators and students heard at the third annual symposium a rousing keynote speech on Project Based Learning from CUE (Computer Using Educators) Interim Executive Director Jon Corippo. Branching out to classrooms to attend experiential workshops and presentations led by teachers and technology experts, the day-long symposium was dedicated to collaborative sharing about education technology integration and professional development.
Tantalizing titles like “Hacking the Mindful Mindset” and “Phenomena and Engineering: An Alarming Idea,” were just the tip of the iceberg. Topics included cybersecurity, becoming a certified Google trainer, a crash course in Raspberry Pi computing, 3D modeling, coding, virtual Google field trips, supporting ELLS learners through technology and more.
Most impressive was activity in a classroom that once housed drama classes and was used for storage. Repurposed and known as “The STEM Playroom,” Valley View technology teacher and East Bay CUE president Shauna Hawes and a crew of enthusiastic student “actors” modeled creativity in front of rows of computers, displaying operational robots and tech-based projects underway.
Hawes said tech conferences she attended before founding the symposium catered largely to private schools.
“They had more resources at a time our district didn’t,” she said. “Since then, the district upped the support because they knew STEM was coming. They put more devices into schools: empowering teachers to get excited; motivating curriculum customized to students’ interests; and achieving add-on-value learning.”
As examples of hands-on and expanded application, Hawes says a new laser cutter allowed her students to cast digital artwork, memes or messages onto plastic, cut it, and output a real product to take home. Beyond making physical objects, another project had two boys interested in mountain biking doing research on the impact of climate on trails, making a film and writing essays and photo captions. “These guys spent hours in my classroom, hanging out at night. You can feel the excitement.”
And it’s no longer just “guys.” Angela Le, 15, from College Park High School, said, “I’m not the only girl in the club at all.”
The elevator component of a robot the team will take to a competition in March lifts a roughly 12-inch square cube, taking it through a field of scales and depositing the cube according to game rules. The first 15 seconds are autonomous before remote control is used.
“I really got into cutting the bars, installing bearings and building,” said Le, who plans to become a mechanical engineer. “I had to dive right in and learn. I had fun working as a team.”
Principal Lisa Sullivan echoed Le’s comments in an interview. “Shauna has spearheaded bringing in hands-on tech. The tactile learning connects directly to kids’ brains at this age. They’re kept talking to each other because they need to work in teams to complete the projects. It’s not learning in isolation.”
Teamwork was also at the heart of Palo Alto Unified School District math and STEAM coach Joe Young. “I refer to the “c’s,” he said. “Coordination, cooperation, collaboration.”
And connections: students exploring “Pebbles, Sand and Silt” might design a retaining wall using math and data, write funding proposals, communicate with students and teachers in other districts. A West Coast class can take a virtual East Coast field trip to visit American Revolutionary War battlefields and landmarks.
“Within a school, there’s richness and increased longterm memory schemes are established. We’re not teaching in silos,” he said.
Which leads to the best feature of the symposium: shared learning sparks fresh energy and initiative. San Ramon Valley Unified School District special support teacher Erin Cicatelli said helping teachers to find funding — through partnerships — is a vital part of her work. Interest in learning more about teachers’ needs and getting ideas from beyond her district brought her to the symposium.
Rae Anne Crandall teaches tech at Danville’s Los Cerros Middle School and half-joking, said grant writing is her second full-time job. “We’re looking especially to build our female enrollment,” Crandall said. “We’ve learned that girls look for social and artistic aspects to STEM. They’re more likely to want to build a bridge if they get to paint it. Boys will build regardless.”
By the time girls get to high school, Crandall believes the drive for college eligibility is so high girls no longer take classes for exploration. “Middle school is the trailhead. That’s when we have to get them into STEM.”
Alison Wildy said the conference provides ideas to bring to her students at Diablo Vista Middle School, who ask for less stand-up lectures, more coding classes and flexibility to develop individual projects.
“Kids applied their algebra to make a robot coded to run around a floor mat that had a map of a city on it,” she said, describing one project.
Eventually, students wrote fiction stories about the robot’s journey: why it stopped or turned. A crash, Uber drop off, burglary—she said the students’ imaginations ran wild, with technology the engine for broad spectrum learning.
The teacher education symposium was sponsored by Andeavor, which has been the sole funding source for the past three years.