Nearly 200 high-achieving sixth-graders from Burbank Unified’s three middle schools attended the second annual GATE Tech Academy on the campus of John Muir Middle School on Thursday, October 21. Students learned basics of animation and coding, along with robotics and 3D modeling and printing.
Assistant Principals James Mackey from David Starr Jordan Middle School, Wendy Vargas from John Muir Middle School and Laura Vinyard of Luther Burbank Middle School put together the GATE Tech Academy utilizing BUSD teachers and a California-based technology enrichment camp, Table Top Inventing.
Teachers Rebecca Southward and Corey Howard led classes with a focus on coding and programming Arduinos. Students broke into groups, Howard explained, each spending time working on human programming and computer programming. They had to direct fellow students, with closed eyes, to follow a taped path on the hallway floor.
“Learning how to give instructions and listen to those instructions, while only going two directions” was the human programming exercise, said Howard, who also heads Muir’s Inventors Club. Students then “make the jump to give specific instructions to computers.”
The students worked inside the classroom programming a light to flash in time to Michael Jackson’s song “Beat It.” Kids learned how to change the rate of the flashing light, connected to a computer, by changing the numerical value they programmed.
“I never really did programming before but I like it,” commented Jordan sixth-grader Angelina Ferrante. “I like how coding works and how the computer works.”
Adam Makarem, also from Jordan, thought his favorite activity was building the robots in the Table Top Inventing-led workshop.
So did Muir student Rodrigo Garcia, who said,”I really like all the technology we used today and making robots.”
Debby Kurti and Steve Kurti from Table Top Inventing headed up several activities, including using 3D software to produce figures which were then printed out on site. Students also learned how to make simple electronic connections to bring a robotic car to life and code in directions on a computer, such as spinning in circles or moving forward or backward, for the car to follow.
Teachers Chris Mitchell, Mozh Jamison and Lucas Gattuso led classes using graphics and Adobe programs to create animated greeting cards and animated fish with a scrolling background. Laughter was commonly heard as the students made their fish animate in occasionally unusual ways.
“It was wonderful to come and see the GATE students so engaged in these technology based activities today,” commented BUSD Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Tom Kissinger. “The success of this event really needs to be credited to the middle school assistant principals, teachers and parent volunteers, who did an outstanding job at introducing students to areas they may be interested in pursuing in the future.”
“Our Assistant Principals did an amazing job hosting the event,” added Director of Secondary Education John Paramo. “I could not be more pleased.”
The GATE Tech Academy was attended by students who have been identified as part of the Gifted And Talented Education program along with many high-achieving but not specifically GATE-identified students who have been placed in space-available GATE classes in BUSD middle schools.
BUSD eighth-graders will also attend a similarly-focused GATE Tech Academy during the 2015-16 school year, as they did not get a chance to participate in the previous year’s inaugural program for sixth-graders.