More than 500 students, parents and family members crowded the Enid High School cafeteria Tuesday evening for the first Enid Public Schools Early Childhood Robotics Fair and iPad Share.

The event gave pre-kindergarten through second-grade students the opportunity to show their families what they’ve learned this year in programming robots and using iPads for classroom instruction.

Chris Smith, director of early childhood education for EPS, said the event drew “an incredible turnout” and “was a big success — way more than I anticipated.”

The path to Tuesday’s robotics fair began last year when Smith wrote a grant application to Oklahoma Natural Gas to fund technology initiatives in early childhood education.

“The grant was for a set of robots for every elementary school, to be used by pre-K through second-grade students,” Smith said. “As a part of that grant I included a suggestion that we might do an early childhood robotics fair.”

EPS received the $4,000 grant from ONG and purchased Dash & Dot robots for each of the district’s elementary schools. The robots are designed to teach young children basic robotic programming.

But, in order for the students to learn basic coding and programming, the teachers would first have to learn how to use the new robots.

Smith said the district’s early childhood education teachers and information technology department embraced the challenge.

“I was thrilled at the willingness of the early childhood teachers,” Smith said. “I think that says a lot for our early childhood teachers.”

She said implementation of the robotics program wouldn’t have been feasible without the assistance of EPS technology integration specialist Mendy Hayes.

Tuesday’s robotics fair was a good chance to show both families and ONG all the work was worthwhile, Smith said.

“We wanted to show ONG that the money they gave us in the grant would be used effectively, and I think the robotics fair showed that,” she said.

 It also showed parents how much young children can learn about using technology.

“I was standing at the door when they were leaving, and I was amazed at how many people thanked us and had no idea their kids could do all they do with the technology,” Smith said. “One of the parents does coding for a living, and he couldn’t believe the kids were doing what he does in his job.”

Smith said that’s the ultimate goal of the robotics program: to prepare kids for emerging technology-centric jobs.

“One of the pushes for the district is to teach children how to collaborate, how to have critical thinking, how to have conversations, and how to be creative,” Smith said. “Really, when you look at what employers want, that’s what they want when their employees come out of college.”

Smith already is working on plans for expanding the robotics program and fair.

“We would love to do it again and possibly add other grades,” Smith said. “We would like this to grow. It’s the perfect time for this because there is an incredible interest in technology for children. We are definitely creating learners for the future.”

Story by:  Enid News & Eagle

Written by:  James Neal