For the fourth year in a row, I headed off to Texas Instruments T^3 International Conference this year, accompanied by Cemetech administrator and good friend Thomas "elfprince13" Dickerson. We spent three days in Orlando, Florida, learning about TI's latest technology, hearing inspirational talks, and telling people about Cemetech and programming. As announced last week, we were not only going as a TI news site and to teach sessions, but also to have a booth where we showed off some of Cemetech's endeavors to spread programming and engineering education via graphing calculators. Throughout the weekend, we manned the Cemetech booth, chatting with teachers who were curious about getting started with programming or who wanted to know why they should be using calculators as a programming platform. Let me tell you about the highlights our experiences this weekend.
The Conference Begins On Thursday night, Thomas and I met at Orlando International Airport after my originally-earlier flight was delayed three hours and his was a few minutes early. We got ground transportation and headed to the Orlando World Center Marriott hotel, where we were staying and where the conference was held. We ended the evening with a late dinner and bit of catching up. The conference kicked off bright and early with three events in quick succession: the opening session, setting up the Cemetech booth, and the session I was teaching. The opening session began with words from Dale Philbrick, Director of Professional Development, and Dr. Peter Balyta, President of TI Education, and continued with an engaging lecture by Dylan Wiliam about formative assessment. Dry as that topic might sound (and although it's a little distant from what we here at Cemetech focus on), he was a fun speaker, getting us to think about which jobs are being lost most quickly in the US, how to make students absorb what they learn, and how to bridge the gap between students who excel and those who trail behind. Right after the opening session, Thomas and I hurriedly began setting up our booth; I eventually had to head to my session.
Teaching Programming; Cemetech Booth This was my fourth year teaching teachers to teach programming with TI-BASIC, having previously covered the topic in Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Fort Worth. Each year, I've had more time for the talk, and yet each year I seem to have too much to say for the allotted time slot. This year, I filled up an hour and a half talking about how to integrate TI-BASIC programming in the classroom as enrichment material or a dedicated class, let teachers create a Hello, World program, and introduced them to TI-BASIC commands. I also showed them some programs to solve for the acceleration of a monorail, since Epcot near the hotel has a monorail, and walked them through how a guessing game shows a lot about programming control flow. About ten teachers attended my session, and they all seemed gratifyingly interested in the material. After the talk, Thomas and I took the calculators off our booth and headed to TI's Tweet-Up. This was the second year they held the event, thanking all who had been active on Twitter discussing TI and its products on Twitter in the past year. Like last year, there were giveaways, including tee shirts, Epcot tickets, TI-84 Plus CEs, and to my immeasurable envy, the only gold TI-84 Plus CE currently in existence. At the end of the lunch, we headed back to our booth for an afternoon talking to teachers about programming and electronics with calculators. We also maintained our booth throughout the day on Saturday.
We used a modified, abridged form of our Maker Faire booth, focusing more on Cemetech's educational tools than its hacker roots (remember, "hackers" positively explore creating useful and powerful tools, and "crackers" break things/into things!). Unfortunately, I couldn't fit our 6-foot-tall calculator banner into my suitcase, so the Cemetech banner flew alone behind a table laden with displays. We showed the MSP432 Launchpad-based Whack-a-Mole game we brought to Maker Faire 2015 for the first time, my books "Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus" and "Using the TI-84 Plus", the calculator+Arduino SimpleI/O demo that we showed off two weeks ago, a slideshow of Cemetech tools and features, and bookmarks and brochures about our educational endeavors. We told people why they should teach programming on calculators, why calculators are great for teaching Making as well, and about Cemetech, its forum, SourceCoder, the new Learn @ Cemetech section, and jsTIfied. We were happy with the number of teachers, educators, and even TIers who stopped by the booth on Friday and Saturday, and by the number of our visitors who felt positively about the value of programming on graphing calculators. We appreciate the opportunity to show off our work at T^3, and hope we'll get to repeat the experience in the future.
The TI-Innovator System TI was most prominently showing off their new TI-Innovator System at T^3 2016. Like our light-based calculator Whack-a-Mole game, it's built around an MSP432 Launchpad, a development board with tons of I/O ports. The TI-Innovator is encased in a durable plastic enclosure, with three 4-pin input ports and three 4-pin output ports (power, ground, data 1, and data 2, presumably) for peripherals. It communicates over USB-over-serial to the TI-84 Plus CE and TI-Nspire CX, which leads us to believe that we could use other USB-over-serial capable devices with the new TI-OS. Actually, the TI-84 Plus CEs in the TI-Innovator room were running the unreleased TI-OS 5.2; although there were three or four new features in the OS, including new ways to manipulate strings and have timed Pauses in the OS, we'll hold off discussing specific commands until we know that they'll definitely be in OS 5.2. TI has been developing lessons for the TI-Innovator in three areas: (1) Middle school science; (2) Ten Minutes of Code for older students; (3) Fundamentals of Making. We'll be writing a full news article focusing on the TI-Innovator System soon, and since it doesn't come out until the Fall, we'll certainly learn more about it in the future.
Leisure At the end of Friday night, we attended TI's always-fun reception, this one held near the hotel's pool. The evening was filled with tasty appetizers and drinks, teachers showing off their skills on the dance floor, and even the amusing "First Annual T^3 Volleyball Competition". We also got to visit Disney's Epcot park on Saturday night, along with Cemetech administrator Jon "Jonimus" Sturm and his girlfriend. They happened to be visiting Orlando for a family vacation at the same time the T^3 conference was happening, and stopped by our table to help talk to visitors while I was at meetings and to meet Thomas and I in person for the first time. It was a pleasure to meet them both, and to explore the nations, attractions, and food of Epcot with them.
Teachers dancing at the reception; at Epcot and the Cemetech booth with Jon and Thomas.
The End of T^3 2016 and Final Thoughts The conference closed on Sunday with Power Sessions and a closing session. Thomas and I attended a STEM panel entitled "STEM Education: The mISSion imaginaTIon Design Challenge", led by notables from Texas Instruments and NASA (and elsewhere). On the NASA side, astronaut Ricky Arnold was joined by Associate Administrator for Educational programs Donald James and Education Specialist Becky Kamas. On the TI side, the panelists were President Dr. Peter Balyta and Erick Archer. Although named after TI and NASA's new mISSion imaginaTIon project, the session focused on the panelists' experiences getting more students (including women) into STEM, engaging the students, and what convinces (and dissuades) students that a STEM future is for them. The conference's closing session was also led by Mr. James and Mr. Arnold. Mr. Arnold shared his inspirational experiences blasting off to the International Space Station and getting a perspective on life on Earth from high above the planet. Mr. James talked more about his experiences inspiring students to pursue STEM and ways that the teachers there could add exciting (including space-related) STEM topics into their classes. After the closing session, Thomas and I toasted the end of the conference and headed home.
Ricky Arnold and Donald James presenting in the closing session; holding a signed copy of my "Using the TI-84 Plus" with TI Education President Dr. Peter Balyta.
As always, we had a great time at the conference, although this year we focused primarily on talking to teachers about programming, hardware, and calculators. In past years, our focus has been much more on collecting news and attending sessions that we then reported about here on Cemetech. I think our time was well-spent: between programming together on Cemetech and calculator projects, Thomas and I (and Jon) talked to many attendees about the value of calculator programming as a simple, rewarding way to teach students programming concepts they can take to any language. We also had the opportunity to share Cemetech's resources, including the forum that you guys make as valuable as it is, with our visitors. We hope we have the opportunity to have a booth at future T^3 conferences, and continue to find new ways to get more teachers and students interested in programming.