Students Strut Ingenuity in Scholastic Tech Fair


The Technology & Innovation Fair was in May in Blue Ridge Community College’s Conference Hall/Technology Education Development Center. There were 60 stations, representing various schools and themes and showing new Google Chrome laptops.

Robot projects ranged from elementary to high school students. The county-wide Gorillas robotics team maneuvered an industrial robot in the hallway, outside the conference center’s main room. It is designed to sweep floors, such as in a school gym. The 60-pound square bot is three by three feet, with no exterior. Thus its components, wiring and gears are exposed.

Henry Fiantaca ran it most of the time at the fair, with an app on his smart phone. He is a rising West Henderson senior, and the station was a West-based one. Early College student Rebekah Saltz and West rising sophomore Shane Carter and others were on hand.


Henry Fiantaca of West Henderson operates a floor-sweeping robot. Watching are Rebekah Saltz, and Shane Carter. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Such students are intrigued by mechatronics — mechanical and electrical engineering, and computer science such as software design. A “toolbox on wheels” is among industrial applications, Fiantaca noted. Many of mechatronic robotic devices do not rely on manually control. Instead, they can “solve problems” on their own using sensors, processing signals into activity. Fiantaca is in a technically-oriented family. His father Mike co-owns and runs Accurate Technology in Fletcher, which makes precision digital measuring devices.

In the main area robot contest each team has six weeks to design, build and demonstrate a robot to fit specified functions. The last one was for a robot that climbs and transports gears. The Gorillas developed a nimble one that can move in multiple directions at once, such as reversing to the right. Carter is mystified by combat and other robots so maneuverable they can spin, roll and evade pursuers.

Artificial intelligence is on the uprise including in schools, such as dealing with voice recognition and machine translation of languages.

Also in the hall were elementary groups. Glenn C. Marlow Elementary unveiled a Snap Rover vehicle. Their theme was Discovering Electronics Through Snap Circuits. They studied “positive and negative circuits,” teacher Stephanie Patton said. “It’s amazing how easy it’s becoming to them” over time. “They’re developing a passion for science.”

Students learn technology and also “problem-solving, and collaborating as a team” from such projects, she said. She and Candace Young supervised the Marlow group.

Patton is Marlow’s STEM Club advisor. STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The club began last fall for grades 3-5, then in winter for K-2 pupils. While at Fletcher, Patton was honored two years ago as the area district’s top science teacher. She took her Marlow students to after-school training in computer programming and coding, 3-D printing, robotics and even game design.

In the main room various schools’ teachers explained some of the standard and burgeoning technical curriculum and educational tools to visitors.

North Henderson teachers Ian Selig, Dylan King and Sam Wellborn had a theme of Learning, Applying and Sharing in High School Science.

Selig, 24, is in his second year teaching earth and environmental science at NHHS. He is among young instructors who make science fun for students, with novel approaches and plenty of enthusiasm. He talked about using scientific finds to learn history, such as with glacier fossils.

East Henderson biology teachers Stuart Toler and Carly Allman (the county’s teacher of the year) showcased technology. Toler praised the Golden Leaf Foundation as catalyst in the schools’ Project Empower, to help with new laptops for individual and group learning.

Google Chromebooks is the hot new device. This laptop runs fast on the Google Chrome browser. It has no hard drive; students save data instead in the cyber “cloud” via Google apps.

Asst. Supt. for Instructional Services Dr. Jan King and tech officer Rick Fender said the school plan is $600,000 in county money annually for four years, each year to buy about 1,800 laptops. The county obliged for the first year, 2017-18. This triggered a $200,000 Golden Leaf grant for “professional development” largely to train instructors in classroom usage.

Fender oversees tech education, as senior director for Technology Service and Enterprise Programs. The first year netted laptops in 62 high school rooms, he said. Fender said the plan is to add Google Chromebooks to 56 more classrooms (at about 30 each) in 2017-18 — 32 in high school, and 24 middle school rooms.

Dr. King pointed to the laptops as a shift toward a more “paperless classroom.”

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