The Times
  • At tech fair, teachers learn to ‘teach the way that they learn’

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  • You may have seen the French robot called NAO in a Youtube video, but chances are you haven’t seen it in the classroom.
    At the Mohawk Regional Information Center’s fifth annual Technology Showcase Wednesday at Vernon Downs, 150 teachers and administrators from 25 area school districts had the chance to see what the little guy can do — for education.
    The robot, complete with sonar and tactile sensors, cameras, speakers and microphones, can be programmed to help children with autism improve their communication skills and even teach them to be more body-aware, said John Crotty, a sales representative with Teq — one of 35 technology companies exhibiting at the fair.
    The robots are manufactured by Aldebaran Robotics of France, but Crotty’s company markets them to schools.
    “Obviously we want students with autism to speak to humans, not robots, but as they get more comfortable speaking to robots, it will translate to them speaking to humans,” he said. “Students with autism are already drawn to technology.”
    As for the programming, that can be done by students as well.
    “Having those high level students build those behaviors to have a positive impact on the learning environment, it’s just going to have a more profound impact on the learning community,” he said.
    That type of relevant application of STEM learning is a big part of the state’s new Common Core requirements, said Laurie Yager, an instructional computing specialist with the Mohawk Regional Information Center.
    That’s why the center located at Madison-Oneida BOCES in Verona purchased its own robot -- they run at around $16,000 — and has started bringing it on a tour of schools.
    The center’s robot, named NAOmi, wore a ribbon on its head Wednesday to distinguish it from Teq’s robot, named Otto after Otto the Orange, the Syracuse University mascot.
    “I have a personal mission to get more young women involved in STEM,” Yager said.
    For Jason Merrill, a social studies teacher at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School, the fair was a chance to discover apps he can use to “extend our learning beyond the classroom walls.”
    He learned about Remind 101 — a free app for sending text messages to students and staying in touch with parents that goes through a web site, “so it’s not a personal text,” he said.
    Many of his students have smart phones, he said.
    “It’s just more tools to use, not necessarily relying on them, but just additional tools for us to be able to teach the way that they learn,” he said.
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