Parallax Insider News

USA Science and Engineering Festival 2018 - The process of discovery is of huge value to our students!

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 16 April, 2018 0 comments

Parallax has run workshops at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) for eight years now. This bi-annual event provides the perfect benchmark to compare progressin STEM education and students over a time continuum.

This time, most of our Parallax team was busy running the Professional Development for 500 Educators courses in Texas, Georgia and Washington D.C. so I decided to handle the Parallax three-day workshop on my own; seems that two years between festivals is just enough time to forget entirely how popular this event has become. The official numbers are somewhere north of 300,000 attendees.

Our workshop cycled through groups of students as they programmed ActivityBot 360s in BlocklyProp (the new offline version, which is coming out soon!). I provided a simple handout so they could build three projects:

  • Basic movement with distance and speed commands 
  • PING))) Ultrasonic Sensor for autonomous roaming and object avoidance 
  • Infrared remote control with a Sony TV remote control.

I made no effort to manage the age of students participating in the workshop. Kids as young as five years old were building circuits. Because we were so overwhelmed, I couldn’t manage the communication and they simply learned by doing. Students of all ages sat down and worked through the projects. They’d figure out the Propeller Activity Board power supply system, how to download programs to EEPROM, and building by schematic. Some students stayed for hours - building every circuit and code example I could provide only to be kicked out at show close. They’d get help from their parents, friends, and Parallax customers familiar with our system.

A few students stayed for hours and were waiting for the workshop to open on the next day so they could try the ideas they thought about overnight. These students are far more adept at programming, electronics and problem solving than they were in the past. Industry better get ready because these students will create a powerful STEM economy in the future!

Customer Whit Stodghill summed it up in a message to our Parallax team from observations of photos I posted on the Blockly for Microcontrollers Facebook Group:

I have loved following Ken’s posts and photos from the USA Science & Engineering Festival. The thing that made the biggest impression on me is the absolute joy in the children’s faces as that built circuits from schematics and programmed in BlocklyProp.

What is more, I recognized in those faces a glimpse of something in me. I feel that exact same joy as I discover and learn new things – as I built circuits from schematics, construct or hack robots, and program in BlocklyProp (Spin, PBASIC, or C). I feel inside what I see on their faces, read in Ken’s comments, and your posts, tutorials, and dedication to this work - using your gifts and talents. I am not the only one who feels this and benefits from it – I see this in Carol’s work, Eric’s work, Nikos work, Phil’s work – this list goes on and on!

Whether you know it or not – you are all creating joy and wonder in a world that desperately needs it. People who are inspired and filled with creativity do amazing, world-changing things. You support that important work with your joy, creativity, and dedication. Thank you!

As Whit pointed out, it’s really the process of discovery that is so exciting and that this is true for all of us! In education we talk about learning, but I’m beginning to think that it’s more about discovery - students who discover interests are motivated to turn them into careers.

Thankfully, I had the help of a few very generous people over this three-day workshop: Gary Mauler of RoboFest; ValeT, a university student I met at USASEF eight years ago; John Kauffman, a robotics instructor in the Washington D.C. area; and Wayne Greene, a Parallax educator for home school programs.

See you again at USASEF in 2020!

Ken Gracey, CEO, Parallax Inc.