The 3rd Annual App Fair Comes to Almaden Country School

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School augments STEM curriculum with coding and programming showcase

There were bunnies racing across screens, airplanes that blurted out different sounds and brightly colored shapes creating intricate patterns. This was the scene at the ACS 3rd annual App Fair.

The bunny racing game was written in JavaScript by Girls Who Code while the airplanes that changed sounds based on its flight vector was presented by members of the We Do Lego Robotics team.

The App Fair is designed to showcase elementary and middle school students’ latest creations using technology platforms such as Lego Mindstorms, Tynker, Minecraft, and more. Overseen by Mary Beth Gay, the school’s director of technology, this year’s App Fair focused on collaboration among groups, allowing students to team up with peers to tackle increasingly complex coding projects.

“The complexity of programming invites collaboration in a way that many other projects and activities might not,” said Ms. Gay. “Our collaborative focus allowed students to work side by side, explaining what they were working on, offering feedback and tips for solving problems, and mentoring younger students, not only during development, but even during the App Fair itself. The experience was reminiscent of a typical Maker's Group: informal with real-time exchanges of ideas and information. There was a constant stream of younger observers wanting to learn more from their older peers.”

Throughout the event, middle school and upper elementary students not only encouraged younger students to try out their creations, but also took time to show the actual script they had written to control a robot or to create something new in Minecraft, demonstrating a spirit of teamwork that Ms. Gay attributes in large part to the school’s Big Buddy mentorship program.

“The Big Buddies Program is an important part of the Character and Competence curriculum at ACS,” Ms. Gay said. “Fifth through eighth grade students mentor a Little Buddy through second grade, which provides both role modeling and leadership opportunities for everyone involved. It makes a tangible difference on campus. You can see it during events like this one.”

Even parents were invited to join in the fun and learning at the App Fair. Tracy Pingree, parent of Kyle, 4th grader, came away impressed with both the quality of the presentations, as well as the variety of different projects on display.

“I really enjoyed talking to the students and learning about their ideas and approaches,” Mrs. Pingree said. “I saw projects ranging from complex computer games to autonomous robots powered by student-created programs. Their imaginations and varying interests were inspiring to everyone.”

According to Ms. Gay, the school plans to continue this annual event in years to come, tailoring it to current trends in technology as well as the individual interests of student participants.

“Our students need opportunities for informal learning in authentic, student-led environments to supplement traditional STEM curriculum,” Ms. Gay said. “We plan to continue to afford our students, parents, and teachers as many opportunities as possible to extend and share their learning. The App Fair is only in its third year. I can only imagine where we’ll go from here.”

“It's amazing that people can come up with clever inventions using technology,” said Christopher McMurray, 5th grader. “It's all about the teamwork, the trial, and the error that makes the simplest gadgets to the most complex of machines.”

Almaden Country School is a nonsectarian south San Jose independent private school that offers programs for students from 4 years of age through 8th grade. This highly regarded school, which has nearly 400 students, believes that each child has unique capabilities and talents. In its 34th year of discovering the gifts in every child, ACS offers a Character & Competence program for developing strong, ethical leaders; small class sizes; a broad and challenging curriculum; and passionate teachers who share a genuine love of children.


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Cathy Shin
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