Parallax Insider News

20 Years in Education: How stability, consistency and accessibility benefit educators and students who learn from Parallax

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 15 September, 2017 0 comments

Parallax has progressively focused on microcontroller educational programs for 20 years. When my teammate Jen [who was my first hire at Parallax] pointed this out to me last week, a number of thoughts came to my mind. The first of which was how we’re still working with the same customers that received a sample “Board of Education” from us back in 1997. In fact, many of our team has been with with Parallax for well over fifteen years. While the business and customers have grown, our niche in education has only become more well defined as we’ve accumulated this experience.

Parallax’s educational program is very consistent. To be a good supplier, we also need to be deliberate and steady to deliver a quality product and tutorials. We’ve visited well over a thousand schools and universities and seen firsthand how the storage rooms accumulate training products of the past. Our products aren’t found in those places; they’re being used! Yesterday I received an e-mail from a Virginia area teacher who wrote:

I attended my first Parallax Educator’s Course 15 years ago, which started me on the path. We have some folks in our school district that keep chasing after whatever STEM learning tools are new this month. They send samples to me to test. I keep saying that we aren’t a test facility for some grad student’s KickStarter. We should use tried and true platforms by following criteria: been around at least 10 years; at least 10K posts to a forum; there are well-established teaching materials sufficient for our purposes, including extensions and assessment; and the platform would be recognized by name at colleges.

It’s true that the number of choices for educational robotics is staggering. Teachers are often confused by the options available to them. Sometimes these suppliers are one-product startups, and their business interests may run counter to those of the customer. The only way for such a company to continue to exist is to have a product roadmap that obsoletes and replaces their first product with a second one, and a third one. This is what creates the back-room “STEM storage area” filled with products of the past. These older products may be impossible to get connected to a modern operating system because you can’t find the software or support to get started - only a salesperson who’s ready to “upgrade” you. Today, you can still download software and program Parallax’s original Scribbler robot! Did you know that the small metal robot chassis is the same design we bandsaw-cut one weekend 20 years ago? While the processors have improved 10,000x, the robot chassis simply didn’t need to change. We’ve been able to modernize fleets of robots around the world with new boards and motors. The small robot accessories still work across our robot lines.

Student success is the most important measure.

We’ve met thousands of students at the age of seven or eight who first spotted our products at a public event. At an early USA Science and Engineering Festival (~2010) I met a student who wanted to start a middle school robotics club. We quietly handed him a kit. He returned year after year to the same event, growing with our products. That same student has contributed hundreds of hours to our BlocklyProp system over the last couple of years. This afternoon I’m writing his letter of recommendation for his application to MIT and Stanford. Every single one of our team has a similar story to share about a student they’ve mentored through the years. Many of these students have worked at Parallax as interns and are now employed in aerospace, tech or computer-controlled manufacturing.

What do the students get out of these products and the fact you've shared them? They get inspired and develop career interests! Our products cover many disciplines: coding, electronics, competitions, mechanics, and problem solving. Motivated science professionals can often point to an event, teacher, or experience as a child that set their future course. 

While it’s true that “everything is on the web” sometimes it’s faster to pick up the phone and call us. Tell us about your classroom situation, students, and desired goals. We’re not interested in a quick sale, but supporting you and your program for the long term. Our Educator Hotline is (916) 625-6801 and e-mail education@parallax.com.

Just how does the ActivityBot measure up against some of the popular choices? We’ve built a chart to help you decide, based on what may be important for your class.

Ken Gracey, CEO

ActivityBot Comparison Chart