“This is a huge, huge opportunity for our students”
Highlands Elementary held its 5th grade parent night on Thursday, February 2. This year’s evening event had a new focus: 88 students from three classes demonstrated, competed with, or otherwise showed off their finished Lego Mindstorms robots, which they’ve spent the past four months designing, building, and programming in their daily TechStart School Day sessions.
After pizza and soda, Jonathan Howland, our TechStart co-teacher at Highlands, kicked off the three robot competitive events: tug-of-war, stair (actually, stacks of textbooks!) climbing, and speed racing. Between bouts on the floor, students presented their work “science fair” style, explaining to visitors how they developed their robots, what challenges they faced, and what they liked best about the project—the same demonstration skills required of professional scientists and engineers. As one of the 5th grade classroom teachers, Ms. Anderson, explained, “We really wanted the kids to be able to share the process they went through to build the robots, not to just present the finished project, to really talk about their thinking process.” Said Mr. Dunn, another 5th grade teacher, after the event, “there were a lot of nerves about whether the presentations would work. I’m very proud of [my students], I thought they did a wonderful job.”
Teamwork was evident in the student work displays: One pair, William and Jose from Ms. Gollob’s class, couldn’t help finishing each other’s sentences as they explained their work to a visitor: “The best part was—“ “—that we were having fun, and—“ “—building it really well!”
It was an exciting night not only for the TechStart students themselves. The multigenerational audience included parents, grandparents, younger and older siblings, and TAF staff. “This was one of the best turnouts we’ve had,” said Ms. Anderson. Earlier in the day, Ms. Gollob’s 5th graders had an opportunity to rehearse their presentations by using their 2nd grade “buddies” as a test audience. “They had their 2nd grade buddies come up, and they showed their buddies their robots and explained the process they went through: the steps they did, the challenges , and the best part of the project.” Hopefully, this preview helped the older students bond with their younger schoolmates, and got the young “buddies” looking forward to participation in TechStart in their coming school years.
Principal Janet Fawcett wrapped up the event with a heartfelt nod to TAF and TechStart in her speech to parents: “We are the second school to have this [TechStart in-school program], so we are very blessed. In Renton, all the other schools wanted to have this, and we were lucky to be selected. And it’s a huge gift to our students and to you, and our hope is that your kids will want to go to college….This is a huge, huge opportunity for our students.”