West Ada gears up for classes with Tech Expo

With the new school year on the horizon, Christine Lodal wanted to confront a problem.

Aug. 12 Robotics
Michael Brown of PCS Edventures demonstrates how students and teachers can use a tablet to control and manipulate a robot inside classrooms.

“I teach special ed at a middle school, and kids are bored with school,” said Lodal, who is in her second year of teaching in the West Ada school district.

Looking to generate lesson plans, liven up her classes and entice her students, Lodal was one of about 700 educators from 11 school districts who attended West Ada’s seventh annual Tech Expo on Tuesday.

The event featured hands-on lesson and curriculum building planning sessions, teachers modeling innovative instructional techniques, dozens of ed tech vendor booths and a chance for educators to try out the latest innovations.

Lodal attended a coding session in the morning, which got her fired up to attend another session dedicated to how robotics activities can build up science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

One of the challenges Lodal faces teaching math to special education students is often they have been exposed to similar lessons and skills time and again, but may struggle.

Boredom and fatigue set in.

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“I’m looking for a different way to teach concepts they’ve already heard, but be more engaging,” she said.

Jesse Bastian, a former South Junior High and Fresco Arts Academy math teacher, said robotics is one way that Lodal and other educators can combat boredom and fatigue.

Bastian, who now works with the Boise-based ed tech/ curriculum development company PCS Edventures, encouraged teachers to take notice of what students are distracted with when educators confiscate their smartphones or devices.

Often, he said, it’s some combination of robots and video games.

So why not meet the students where they are already at?

“Practicing robotics is the best way I know of taking the different core content of classes and applying them,” Bastian said. “These are never activities that you have to coax kids into doing. They’re waiting for this portion of the curriculum to come out.”

Linda Clark, West Ada’s superintendent, said teachers attend the expo on their own time. The idea is they can learn from each other and get fired up for the new academic year.

“There are a lot of innovative teachers and a lot of innovative things going on,” Clark said. “This is really a training session for teachers, and an opportunity for them to collaborate and share best practices.”

Lodal agreed, saying she hopes to implement many of the ideas and concepts she encountered at the Tech Expo.

“I’m going home tonight excited to plan for the year with things I have learned today,” Lodal said.