Bedford Schools K-12 Technology Showcase: A Commentary by David Spencer

March 25, 2014
A four-year-old visitor was adept at 'driving' the Segway-like scooter built by BHS robotics students - Image (c) JMcCT, 2014
A four-year-old visitor was adept at ‘driving’ the Segway-like scooter built by BHS robotics students – Image (c) JMcCT, 2014

Submitted by David Spencer

The Bedford Public School’s K-12 Technology Showcase on March 19 was a wonderful open-house.  What can I say? WOW!!

There are many challenges in getting young kids, women and minority youngsters excited about engineering.  Very few minorities and women go into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) in part because it is hard, in part because the way it has been taught in the past — it can be boring, and frankly engineers have a reputation for being nerdy.

But the Bedford School System is changing all that:  They are working hard to make computers, robotics, computation and all forms of learning exciting and fun, with a large dose of technology in every aspect of their teaching programs.  We are so fortunate to have the leadership in our school system that sees the importance of exciting our kids about STEM.

What did I see to reach this conclusion?

  • A young boy and girl in the second grade who built a Ferris wheel out of Legos.  I did not get their names, but they were as cute as could be, and very talented.  They programmed their computers to control the Ferris wheel making it stop when they wanted to, go when they wanted it to, and do any number of other tasks that they could program using robotic software on their iPads.  How exciting.  And what was so great is you could see the excitement on their faces as they explained to me and to Jon Sills, our Bedford School Superintendent, standing next to me, [telling us] how it worked, how they programmed it.  They did the programming right in front of us as a demonstration.  Congratulations to Sarah Dorer who is leading the charge for this program at the earliest levels of our elementary schools.  What better time for kids to become knowledgeable and feel comfortable in working with their computers.
  • Then I saw some robots that were actually built by high school students in their Robotics classes and there was also a Segway-like device made from erector set materials and little motors and servos — sized for kids.  Wow.
  • Then I looked at the 3-Dimensional Printing demonstration where something like a special Xerox machine was being used to take a 3-dimensional drawing and produce a prototype, no hands no cutting or forming machines — by building up layers of plastic, one layer upon the other to produce a circular cone-like device about an inch high.  This is surely one of the latest technologies for building prototypes in the industrial world, and our kids are learning about it right here in our K-12 school system in Bedford, amazing.

Oh, and what about the combination of arts with science, the new revolution bringing STEM to STEAM.  Yes, they are doing that too.   Starting in elementary school and continuing into middle school.  Making pictures, writing reports, building engineering designs for new projects all with the latest production and editing computerized technology.  What was so much fun was that the kids were the ones doing the demonstrations, not the teachers.  And proud of it.

The new thing in education is making learning fun, more interactive and more social:  Yes, student-centered education, not teacher-centered education.  Kids of comparable ages working in groups to do fun and practical projects.  Teaching each other as a group of respected peers.  The teachers are mentors who encourage them to succeed; sort of what grandparents do for their grandchildren.  We don’t know what they are doing, but we are proud of them and encourage their success.  It works for us grandparents.  And that is what is happening in science in Bedford.  Just what we need, and so wonderful and forward thinking.

I feel badly for those of our town that were not able to attend, I am so pleased I was able to attend, and was just beaming with pride for our students who explained all this to me, including Dan (a senior at the door who lead me around and showed me what was on display) and Joe (don’t remember last names) who heads up much of our technology program.

And last, I noticed that we have a Bedford Education  Foundation. Terrific.  I need to learn more about  that and figure out I can support the wonderful things going on at Bedford Schools.

I could not be more pleased with what I saw.  Keep up the great work Bedford School System; and thanks for such great leadership!

David Spencer
David Spencer

Editor’s Note:  Bedford’s David Spencer is a Ph.D. scientist with an intense interest in advancing science and engineering education.  He works a great deal on advisory committees at the National Science Foundation, on K-12 and university advisory boards, and education foundations.  Education in Science is his passion.

He is the proud parent of two children who went to Bedford Schools, a son-in-law who teaches Art (Paul Harrington) in the middle school, and four grandchildren who attend Bedford’s elementary and middle schools.

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