Students, bananas, coding combine at Geekend
Bi-weekly column in Savannah Morning News by Bea Wray.
“Why the red dress, mom?” my daughter asked a few weeks ago on our ride to school.
In case you don’t know, that is teen-speak for, “You look nice. What’s going on at work today?”
I proudly answered that I was making a presentation at the upcoming City Council meeting and planned to invite the mayor, city leadership and local citizens to attend the free Geekend Arcade where youth would be encouraged to learn to code computer games and explore electronics.
Her little brother from the backseat interrupts with, “Can I go?”
“Of course,” I replied.
“Yes!” he cheered, giving a big fist pump impossible to miss in the rearview mirror.
And so the excitement began to mount. I am happy to report the actual event this past weekend exceeded all expectations. The ties between the professional Geekend Conference and Savannah’s youth far outstretched the youth-targeted Geekend Arcade portion.
Clearly, Savannah has arrived as our citizens recognize that learning about innovation and building professional networks with creative leaders is an incredibly valuable investment of time, energy and money.
This year’s Geekend was teeming with educators and students alike. More than 40 people from Savannah-Chatham County public schools, including Jenkins, STEM Academy at Bartlett and Woodville Tompkins, as well as from private schools such as St. Andrew’s and Savannah Country Day, made a big effort to prioritize attending Geekend. Many of the educators are part of Kelley Waldron’s incredible Teach the Future Fellowship.
It was truly a thrill to see imaginations of adults and youth ignited by more than 50 presenters during powerful speeches, panels and workshops.
They contemplated the future of wearable technology and IOT (Internet of Things) after hearing Elva Jiang explain how embedding central processing units in jewelry and building algorithms will allow women to analyze all aspects of their golf game including hip rotation, calories burned and club speed.
Vasanthi Chandra, who leads the Harvard Business School IOT Investment Forum, provided entrepreneurs with incredible practical observations and advice regarding developing industries. Ajit Pai, nominated by President Obama to the Federal Communications Commission, inspired a packed house to push for broadband access for all Savannahians.
There was even plenty of quirky fun. Everyone explored the many SCAD campuses through virtual reality on the Google Cardboard goggles included in all the swag bags. And TapSnap provided a “phototainment” experience complete with green screen, the special effects technique for layering two images so we could appear to be anywhere.
Finally, Maven Makers introduced Geekend attendees to woodworking and a passion for the maker movement as they together completed the oversized Lite-Brite for Sustainativity’s Mattress Dash Fundraiser on Sunday in Forsyth Park.
It is embarrassing to admit that in my youth, I thought of education as one big stagnant body of knowledge through which we work, not play, our way. To the double contrary, these amazing students happily embrace how knowledge changes every day as innovation evolves.
They are developing the critical skills of enjoying questioning and exploring. High school students who enrolled in the email list and Geekend social media found great ways to attend the full Geekend conference. Anyone can do the same for 2016.
Hundreds of younger children, roughly 3 years and older, were also welcome at the Geekend Arcade. Saturday’s arcade featured 40 youth-developed computer games with the goal of demonstrating that computer content can be created, not just consumed.
In a fun twist this year, thanks to the Code Yeah! program at Savannah Technical College, we were able to hook up Makey Makey circuits so that the left, right, up and down controls to the games were each operated by hitting one of four bananas. Healthy minds and healthy food come together.
Geekend wrapped up with a free concert by the French Horn Rebellion, turning a great day into a long wonderful evening celebration.
Remember that fist-pumping 9-year-old? He barreled into my room early Sunday morning with an energetic wake up announcement: “I LOVED Geekend!” As I tried to negotiate procrastinating with the day on this one Sunday, my 9-year-old encouraged me with, “People who change the world do it now.”
I could only hope he wanted bruised bananas for breakfast.
Bea Wray is the executive director of The Creative Coast, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the creative and entrepreneurial community within the region.
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