I did something this morning that was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in a long while: I was a judge for the Northwood Elementary (Roswell, Georgia) Tech Fair.  Along with veteran robotics judge Ben Bierbaum of NTI, we judged 6 projects created by 4th and 5th graders.  We judged not only on whether the student’s projects worked, but also on how solid a grasp of the programming the students had achieved.  I must say I was impressed.

Not to sound like an old geezer, but wow! I wsih we had these cool gizmos and toys when I was a kid.  In the ’70s, not only were robots the stuff of science fiction, but really so were computers; now elementary school students regularly tote notebook computers to school, perhaps even netbooks with live 3G/4G Internet access.  I did my share of programming back then on my brother’s TRS-80 color computer, then later on my best friend’s dad’s office computers, but these robots are just–no better word here–cool; and I thought programming Radio Shack color basic was cool when I was a kid.

A couple of the projects were Lego Mindstorms, pretty solid kits with a nice graphical interface for programming.  A few more of the projects were other types of programming environments, all with a graphical interface that would allow the child the opportunity to learn programming concepts from action commands with properties to basic looping (dragging and dropping command blocks, such as turn a motor on, in a logical sequence).  And then there was one that programmed not in a graphical interface but in a Basic variant, which impressed the heck out of me because the student obviously had to learn not only the functional command and control capabilities but also a language syntax, plus he had to deal more with testing and debugging than the other environments which provided a stricter framework.

I still dabble in programming from time to time, and I work in business strategy, sales, marketing, you name it.  I manage lots of people, partners, vendors, and customers, and I work on multi-million dollar deals.  I do all sorts of stuff, but judging this morning’s tech fair at Northwood Elementary was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in quite a few years.  Well done, students!

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