Waukesha One conference highlights hands-on technology in the Waukesha school district

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Students had the day off, but looking at the parking lot and the hubbub of activity inside Waukesha West High School, it was clear something educational was going on inside.

It was the site of the Waukesha School District's annual One Conference on Jan. 23, a gathering meant to encourage exposure to new ideas such as different technology formats.

The mix included teachers, administrators and students of all ages, with plenty of educational elements to see and examine.

For instance, the school's library was full of young students showing teachers their video games, gadgets, and robots.

'Everyone is learning'

Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray commented how wonderful it is to have both students and educators at the conference.

"Everyone is learning. Many teachers are learning more from the students in terms of technology," Gray said.

Blair principal Aida Cruz-Farin was happy to see the students present on their day off.

"If this wasn't meaningful to them, they wouldn't have come," she said.

Cruz-Farin also expressed how technology tools allow students to lead in their own learning. It also allows teachers the ability to provide immediate feedback.

She remembers when she first started teaching and taking papers home to grade. Students would have to wait a week before knowing how they did.

"Now with technology, there is instant feedback," she said.

The hands-on learning space was brand new to the conference, noted Blair Elementary School Technology Integrator Laura Busch.

"We wanted to give teachers the opportunity to see these tools in action, (and to) play and explore with them," Busch said, explaining that the goal is for educators to think about how they can integrate the tools into their own classrooms.

Busch said the students at the conference were members of Blair’s student tech team. There are iPad consultants, newscast directors, a MakerSpace mentors and a cybersquad.

"The students all support each other and support technology integration mission of our school," Busch said.

Busch said having a MakerSpace or other technology on hand gives kids a larger variety of tools with which to engage as part of their education. She explained that can be a huge benefit is students who may not normally be as interested until the ideas of educational are expressed in a way they can appreciate.

"The creativity we have seen is outstanding," she said.

Sampling ideas

One example was students using Ozobots, which are little robots that follow a path. Students draw a path with multiple markers and the Ozobot responded to the different colors.

The third-grade class at Blair just finished up their history of Waukesha unit. An idea was the students creating a path to have the Ozobot stop at historical places in Waukesha.

"It is about shifting our thinking and providing more opportunities for project-based, hands-on design thinking for kids to show their understanding," Busch said.

AriAnna James and Kylee Jones, both fourth-graders at Blair, showed attendees how they used a 3-D printer combined with the use of an iPad. James and Jones both commented how much fun it is to work with the tools.

"It is very cool to have this opportunity, some schools don't have this," Jones said.

Jones hopes to one day create something which will help others.

Special help

In another room at the conference were teachers and students from Heyer Elementary School and Waukesha Transition Academy, a school for adults, ages 18-21, with special needs who are transitioning out of the traditional school system.

Teacher Kathy Miller explained the Heyer students mostly worked with Bloxel Builder, which are colorful blocks to help design a video game.

"They build the setting, the story, and interactions. It is theirs to create, Miller said.

Miller commented how the tools rebuild the fearlessness and enthusiasms for learning. She explained how new technologies assist students with special needs, such as voice typing if a student can't write.

"Some of our young adults used emojis for their reflections, such as a crinkled face or thumbs down on the first day. After a few times, they give a thumbs-up sign," she said.

Students Jared Tomas,19, and Devin McDonough,19, worked together on building a video game. Miller described McDonough as the storyteller who created all these twists and turns to the game. Miller noted that Tomas wants to challenge users and tries to make parts of the game difficult as they play.

"Both ways are right," Miller said.

Tomas remarked how making the game was fun for him, as he pointed out the different colored blocks he used to create it. (The pair's game mission is to eat the enemy's brain.)

McDonough expressed enthusiasm over creating different characters with the blocks and using animation.

"You can also create different levels. This is not as hard as it looks; you just have to get used to it," McDonough said.

In explaining the importance of learning technology, Miller noted how much it exercise problem-solving, creativity and generally connecting students with the world.

"They see themselves out there in the real world and as innovators. It changes the way they see themselves," Miller said.

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