The ShoWare Center may have been crowded Feb. 3, but the crying cut through the noise like a knife.
It was a baby needing to be fed.
Only instead of food, this baby needed a touch to the lips by a “bottle” equipped with a computer chip.
Programmed to cry every few hours for sleep, food and having its nappies changed, this baby is a small part of a technological revolution taking hold in Kent schools and connecting with students on just about every learning topic.
In the case of the crying mechanical baby – a part of the Kent School District Technology Expo, as well as a tool in the district’s Exploring Childhood program – the lesson was about parenting.
Specifically as in – babies are hard work, especially when you’re balancing their needs with all your other school work.
“I never wanted a child at a young age, but this reassures me of that,” said Kent-Meridian High School student Keyana Angove, 15, in charge of placating the fussy infant at the expo exhibit.
Bree Devlin, K-M’s department chair said students are coming away with a powerful lesson from these programmable dolls.
“All the kids have absolutely said they’re not having babies until their 40s,” Devlin said with a grin, as crowds of parents and students moved past her table, some stopping to give the exhibit a look.
Babies were one of many facets at the Technology Expo, now in its second year at the ShoWare Center.
Designed to acquaint the community with the many ways Kent students are preparing for the 21st century, this year’s expo drew more than 3,000 visitors to the ShoWare Center.
Horizon Elementary teacher Vanessa Call was among the educators excitedly pointing out the role of technology in the classroom.
“They’re working on a program called Voice Thread,” said Call, referring to a neat row of first-graders lined up at computer terminals at the expo, headphones on and completely focused on the screens in front of them.
Voice Thread is a lot like what used to be known as a book report. Only now, the student can watch themselves give the report on the computer, reading from their own writing.
“They get a chance to hear themselves,” Call said, in addition to sharing their presentations with fellow classmates. Hearing themselves read, she said, ignites that spark to read out loud with emphasis – to really express what those written words on a page are saying. And the sharing part is a good thing, too.
“They’re listening to their friends read their books,” Call said. “They’re giving each other encouragement, too.”
Maia Caldwell, 6, said she liked the program because it’s fun.
“I like it because you can put your books on it, and comment on other people’s books,” she said.
Her favorite book to share?
“’The Pigeon Wants a Puppy’,” she said. “I think it’s really funny.”
Kent Schools Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas was among the many adults perusing the exhibits. Looking like a proud parent, Vargas stopped frequently to talk with students and other participants, offering encouraging words.
Asked what he saw, standing in the bustling event center, surrounded by students, local business people and technology, Vargas kept it succinct.
“I see the future,” he said.
As the Kent School District faces what could be another major financial setback, due to ongoing state budget cuts, Vargas said what he was seeing at the expo is a template for the district’s future success: continued collaboration between the area business community and the schools community.
“I see our kids, businesses and schools coming together,” Vargas said. “I see the community here, and our business partners.
“We just need to continue this. Those partnerships are our future.”
Jeff Thungc, the district’s program manager for Student Technology Educational Partnerships (or STEP), emphasized the key role of the business community in an event like the technology expo, noting approximately 30 businesses had exhibits at the event, and that a number of employers in the community – including the Boeing Co. – were deeply involved.
“We want businesses to invest in their community,” he said. “What they invest in the community in terms of their (future) workforce, they’re going to get back.”
Thungc said it became clear to him just how talented Kent’s students were when he was approached by someone who wanted to know who was the featured interviewer in a video being shown on the premises that evening.
“Somebody came to me and said, ‘who did you hire?’” Thungc said. “I said, ‘we didn’t hire anybody – that’s a student.’”