Monthly Archives: March 2014

Learning to Expect the Unexpected

ImageDuring the Fall 2012 semester I received an unsolicited email from a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech asking me if there were any internship opportunities available at my agency.  I asked around the office and discovered that a few other people had received the same email.  I was intrigued because it’s not often that you see an engineer express a desire to come work for a state agency on outreach and communications types of programs.  Little did I know that hiring Ben Rainwater would open the door to introducing the Texas Instruments LaunchPad to schools in Arkansas like Sonora Elementary through our partnership with the @EASTInitiative.  

Rainwater, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, and graduate of the University of Arkansas’s College of Engineering, first learned about the EAST Initiative during his Spring 2013 #STEM internship with the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority’s ASSET Initiative, funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

After attending the 2013 EAST Conference in Hot Springs, February 27-March 1, 2013, Rainwater reached out to Texas Instruments where he had previously worked with the unit that produces the LaunchPad, a microcontroller development kit that helps you program every day kind of objects to perform a task.  Imagine being able to program a tiny computer to do something like turn off your stove remotely if you forgot to turn it off before leaving for your trip to The Grand Canyon.  After connecting the LaunchPad staff to the EAST staff, Rainwater was able to see one of his ideas take off as several EAST classrooms adopted the technology and put it to use with their 2013-2014 school year projects one of which won the prestigious Founder’s Award during the 2014 EAST Conference held in Hot Springs March 19-21, 2014.

Check out this video to see how 4th graders from #Arkansas Sonora Elementary EAST program use @TXInstruments #LaunchPad & more to solve real world problems!

Basking in the Afterglow of #EASTCON14

I’m back in the office catching up from one of the most STEM-tastic events of my year, the @EASTinitiative Conference.   For the past three years my project, the Arkansas ASSET Initiative, has partnered with Environmental and Spatial Technologies, Inc. (EAST) in what is always a delightfully geekalicious event.  This year’s theme was “Your Future is NOW” and over 2,000 students from across the nation gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to celebrate the achievements of their hands-on learning projects that leverage technology and innovation to solve real world problems.  This year, I wanted to up the ante and try something new, hence the piloting of the first ever “World of Tomorrow Workshop” wherein 6 students built 3D models of inventions they designed via our ASSET Solar Design Competition.  We took over the Grand Lobby of Summit Arena and packed the space with 3D printing stations, work benches, tools, circuit boards, materials and a lot of volunteers cheering on the design teams.  In the end I was once again blown away by these students and their ability to push projects through to completion with very little direction.

Team Eureka Springs HS EAST built two functioning models of solar ovens which have the potential for revolutionizing how we equip parks and rest areas with grills for those oh so important family outings and trips.

Team Beebe MS EAST completed an automatic solar powered traffic gate to help make traffic easier to control and improve safety around their campus.

This year’s first prize; however, went to Team Central HS from Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, who designed a cell phone case clip that connects a small solar cell directly to the back of a cell phone which can then be set solar panel side up to charge the phone.

I saw all of this happen with my own eyes and I am still in awe.

When I first dreamed this concept up a year ago, I didn’t have a large budget or a coalition of folks ready to dig in and make it happen.  However, thanks to some amazing partners who came on board throughout the year, we did it!  Partners like , and Gordon Fisher, T.A. Walton, @ARP3Center and @ARMathSciArts make it possible for our students to have life changing experiences like what we witnessed last week.  We all saw first hand the power of stepping back and giving students the space to create can do for their active engagement in learning.  The two runner up teams won full sized solar panel kits complete with tools to build for furthering their interest in solar energy and the first prize was a free 3D printer for the Central HS EAST classroom.

We have one more year before our grant ends and I’m hoping we’ll be able to find a partner who believes in facilitating this type of learning so that the competition can become a permanent fixture in the landscape of EAST and other similar efforts.  These types of efforts are not terribly expensive but they do require coordination and consistent funding from year to year.

To check out some of the tweets and photos from the competition, check out the Storify I did of the event.Image