By Mary Spicer
The 21st annual Tech Fair and Student Showcase sponsored by Northwest Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications & Technology is going to the BOTS.
As RoboBOTS battle the day away in their custom-built bulletproof arena in the Meadville Area Senior High School gym, nearby rooms and hallways will be put to good use by an even younger generation of technology aficionados.
RoboBOTS, the annual mechanical engineering challenge for middle and high school students starts on Saturday at 9 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., elementary and middle school students and their teachers will come together from school districts throughout Crawford, Erie and Warren counties for the tech fair, an event its organizers describe as “a non-competitive celebration of the innovative and creative ways that students and teachers implement technology tools into learning.”
Open to students in the 17 school districts served by Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit 5, the tech fair has traditionally taken place in the Edinboro area. This time around, however, organizers decided that bringing together two popular celebrations of technology innovation and use in one location would provide a wider audience for students participating in both events, which are free and open to the public.
West End Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Sharon Godfrey, for example, will be accompanied by students Kristen Heflin and Matthew Linz, who will be showcasing robots they’ve built and programmed. Teaser: Legoes are heavily involved.
“They’ve learned how to make it talk and kick a ball on their own,” Godfrey said. “I gave them the basics — they take what they learn in the classroom and carry it further.”
For Meadville native Ann Noonen, Crawford Central School District’s multi-tasking director of elementary curriculum, technology and Title I programs, staging the tech fair in her hometown represents an idea whose time has come.
The idea of combining forces originated with Tami Adams of the Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, the industry trade group that has sponsored RoboBOTS for all of its seven years. “March is earlier than we have typically had it,” Noonen said, “but we thought it would be a great idea to connect with NTMA and the RoboBOTS.”
Teaching since 1981 and involved with the tech fair since its inception, Noonen is currently past president of NPAECT and president-elect of the organization’s state chapter. “The whole idea of the tech fair came about because there were always things happening on the eastern side of the state and we thought it would be great to showcase what was happening on the western side,” she recalled. “Especially the northwest.”
At the time, they thought a tech fair and showcase would be a great way to celebrate — and share — great things going on in the classroom. It still is. “Just walk up to one student and say, ‘Tell me about your project,’” she said with a smile. “Watch their face. That’s the exciting part.”
As for her own start on a high-tech path, “I just enjoyed it — I guess I had an aptitude for technology,” she recalled, adding that once she saw how students reacted when they used computers for teaching and learning, she was hooked. With a master’s degree under her belt and the support of her professors at Penn State, she went on to obtain her doctorate. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Noonen said with a smile.
Speaking of both the tech fair and her own experience, “It’s nice to be able to apply an interest in technology with teaching and learning,” Noonen said. “It doesn’t seem like we’ve been doing this for more than 20 years,” she added, noting that while Saturday’s tech fair will include many more Internet-based projects and a greater focus on collaboration than the early fairs, the displays continue to showcase classroom-based projects.
The seventh annual RoboBOTS competition, sponsored by the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, is scheduled for Saturday at Meadville Area Senior High School. Admission is free. Doors open at 8 a.m. with competition beginning at 9.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.