By Joan Goodchild, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Even though they are barely into their sixth-grade year, a group of students from Sherwood Middle School in Shrewsbury can now add both “public speaker” and “tech wizard” to their resumes. The eight students were recently presenters at the fall MassCUE (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators) and M.A.S.S. (Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents) annual Technology Conference Oct 21and 22 at Gillette Stadium. The theme of the conference this year was “Dare to Innovate” and challenged students to create tech-based projects and give a clear presentation to educators from all over New England.
Carol Virzi, a fifth-grade educator at Sherwood and Litza Rivera, an instructional technology support specialist, brought the students to the event. The students were all in Virzi’s class last year and had applied to be part of the conference in April. The three showcases that were accepted focused on digital portfolios, digital newsletters and a project called KidFit for the Future.
Students Dylan LeMay, Vidyut Veedgav, Madeline Duke, Kate Hitchcock, Megan Albertson, Ann Titus, Aishwarya Narayanan and Zaineb Irfan were eight out of just 20 selected to be part of the showcase.
“I didn’t realize we would be talking to so many teachers,” said Ann, who presented on digital portfolios. “I felt like I was talking for hours. Most of the questions had to do with what app we used and things like that.”
In an animated conversation about the experience, students dug into the details of their projects and shared what was challenging and interesting about each. Teammates Ann, Aishwarya and Zaineb worked on digital portfolios together, which, as the students explained, is a way to gather, order and present materials on a device. Each girl speaks a different language at home and decided to include a feature that can translate language from one portfolio to the next.
Madeline, Kate and Megan were on the team that produced a digital newsletter, which was a video emailed to parents regularly to communicate news from the classroom. The students started with a fairly simple format of reading news for their first newsletter but managed to progress to using green-screen technology for a much more sophisticated look by the time the year was ending, they noted.
Dylan and Vidyut worked on the KidFit for the Future project, which involved wearing a fitness tracker for six months to collect data on activity and sleep. Every student in the class wore one and Vidyut said he was surprised at how motivating it was to wear the device and check in on his activity level each day.
“Normally I might not want to move around as much, but then I look at the tracker and I want to beat my friends and get in more activity,” he said.
One thing the students were not expecting was to get the cold shoulder from some attendees. Many walked away in the middle of their presentations, which each said they took as a useful lesson in public speaking and tried to make their presentation more engaging as the day went on.
The highlight of the day took place at the end when the group was taken down to the field at Gillette and was allowed to walk on the turf and take photos. After going into detail about each tech project, the students were brief in their explanation of how it felt to go on down on the same field where the Patriots play.
“Very cool,” they said.