By Brenna R. Kelly
Wearing a GoPro camera strapped to her head, Jessica Bryant roamed the vast sea of technology project displays covering the floor of Heritage Hall.
“I like to see everyone else’s stuff because they are so cool, they are all so different,” said Bryant, a junior at Eastside Technical Center (Fayette County).
Among the more than 500 projects at the Student Technology Leadership Program Championship were apps developed by elementary students; QR code-activated video book trailers acted out by middle schoolers to entice younger students to read; science experiments developed by high school students then videotaped for teachers’ use; and a seemingly endless array of inventions and applications developed by Kentucky students.
The 2015 STLP Championship brought more than 5,000 students and their coaches to Rupp Arena and Heritage Hall in Lexington for the annual competition which included 48 categories such as instructional, technical or community service projects, digital content creation and technical services.
Over the past 20 years, STLP has evolved from mainly an afterschool activity into part of the classroom experience, said Jeff Sebulsky, STLP program manager for the Kentucky Department of Education.
“STLP has a place for everything that’s already happening in the classrooms, students are making content, they are demonstrating learning and STLP gives them an avenue, a stage, or a platform to see what their peers are doing – and it has a competitive aspect, which is fun – but more importantly, students are proving what they have learned.”
After a year without an STLP team, Symsonia Elementary (Graves County) brought two teams to the state competition.
One team developed an app that gathers all of the websites students use in class into a student-friendly iPad display. The other team made an app for the school’s breakfast and lunch menus.
“They are teaching the teachers how to use the app,” said Alison Gregory, Symsonia’s principal. “Our kids want tech and they thrive on it. They use it outside of school now more than inside of school, but we are trying to change that.”
STLP allows students to create with the technology they are likely already using, she said. The students came up with the idea for the apps because they saw a need that wasn’t being met by the school’s traditional website, she said.
“This is a place where they can truly be innovative and the sky is the limit,” Gregory said. “They are in control as far as how far they take it. I think as adults we hinder them sometimes, so I have just been super pleased because they came up with every bit of this on their own.”
Beyond the technical skills, STLP also teaches students how to explain their creation in a presentation.
“Teaching them to be able to present their ideas and talk to people about it, I think, is really one of the biggest benefits,” she said.
Christian County Middle School students Daijah Leavell, Dakijah Walton and Jurnee Tandy used those skills to give a presentation to their school about how students can protect themselves on social media.
“People nowadays are getting hacked on their pages, so we are showing them ways to keep your page safe,” said Daijah Leavell, adding the girls got the idea from the MTV show “Catfish.”
The girls teamed up with another STLP team at the school to air their presentation on the school’s newscast, she said.
The idea for Charles Russell Elementary School’s project came from their coach Cynde Elkins forgetting her purse at her son’s house. It’s an app that display’s your driver’s license.
“Say you got pulled over by the police or something, you would just have it on your phone to pull up and show them your license,” Kaleb Kohut, a 6th grader at the Ashland Independent school.
Elkins, the school’s technology coordinator, has been coaching STLP for about 15 years.
“They learn teamwork and they build their self-confidence,” she said. “They get a chance to try all these different things that might influence their decisions about their future and what career they might choose.”
In the hall – set up like a science fair – students rehearsed their presentations waiting for the judges who were walking the aisles grading the projects. In addition to the three best in state winners, new this year was an award for best technical expertise which was won by Bryan Station High School (Fayette County). The students developed an AgendaBook app which lets students keep track of homework and class notes.
Next door on the floor of Rupp Arena there were competitions for Lego robots, slot car racing and sumo robots in which students program robots to knock each other off a black circle.
Rupp officials estimated that more than 8,000 students, teachers, parents and volunteers attended the event, Sebulsky said. To him that’s a good sign for the 2016 STLP Championships.
“Not only are the qualifying registrants coming to the event, but they are bringing their whole STLP teams to get ideas on what they can do next year,” he said. “We’re really hoping that by seeing and experiencing the best of what STLP has to offer that these STLP groups will go back to their schools and be even stronger next year.”
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Jeff Sebulsky firstname.lastname@example.org