This week has been awesome. So, I am in Indiana right now, never been there before, although I have flown over it, and it is humid. Holy geekers, it is humid. Every evening I get to my room drenched, not in sweat but in air. I forgot how humid it gets out here in the east. I can tell you that I really miss the dry air of Idaho. Only a couple more days before I head back. Anyways, the reason that I am in Indiana is because I was able to go to a conference about computer programming.

Pathfinders and InfoSys are a program and company that provide professional development courses for teachers from around the country. I don’t know how many people apply for it, but it is very competitive to get in, and provides some amazing training. I would have a hard time saying that I have ever been to a better conference. The PD that I selected is called Making and Coding for Social Good, taught by the non-Profit organization Project Invent.

Project Invent seeks to take the new tech that students are getting and turn it towards making people’s lives and their communities better. Think about the latest tech, what is it that most kids do when they get tech? They use it to play, in fact a lot of the new tech is just more ways to play. Project Invent wants kids to invent.

The core of Project Invent is a teaching strategy that asks students to develop empathy for a person that has a problem. There is a lot of brainstorming that goes into selecting that person and determining the problem that needs to be overcome. Once a problem has been determined, research is done to see if anyone has tried to address the problem, and if they have tried to address it, what has happened that makes that solution unacceptable to the person with the problem.

Then students build prototypes and test out their solution. This involves a lot of peer review of their prototypes, building a functioning prototype that their client can test and critique, and going through that process a couple more times to make it better and better. By the end of the semester they have a working model of the solution, which may or may not contain tech (it probably will) that they can then present and gift to the client. They also will present to potential investors and interested community members that would make a panel and audience that will observe and question during the presentation.

To help us understand the process we were asked to do the same thing. Our client, Jimmy, is a real person who lives in California, who we were able to talk to via Skype. Jimmy is an airplane mechanic who had an accident 3 years ago and went blind. This was a great opportunity for me to apply some of the skills that I gained in my 3D printing class that I took about a month ago. At that time I had run into a guy who also happened to be blind and he had told me that his biggest difficulty was navigating around construction zones and maintenance vehicles as he walked to work. While Jimmy didn’t specify that he had a certain major problem, he did describe a similar problem to our class.

With our class divided into groups, my group decided to try and solve this problem. We came up with the idea that we should develop aWEARness (our products name). aWEARness is a radio signal that is attached to a cone topper (to be put on the top of cones at the end of construction zones), a vehicle, or anything where it might be found usable. These emitters then put out a radio frequency that is detectable by an app or smart watch that the client is wearing. As the client walks down the road, their device vibrates to notify them that a signal has been received. The client can then tap the device to have the notification read to them.

At this point the client can make an educated decision to avoid that road, signal for help, or otherwise make an informed decision about what to do instead of being unaware that their normal routine is blocked until they run into the new obstacle. While we weren’t able to present to Jimmy the final project or have him test our prototype, we were able to have a fully functional prototype that we programmed and were able to present that prototype to the head of Pathfinders, Project Invent, and one of the directors of InfoSys.

I am excited to introduce this program into our Robotics class this upcoming fall and see what problem my students want to solve, and the cool solutions that they come up with to make someone’s life better. Let’s just say that this conference was well worth the trip.

Charles Horikami is a Social Studies Teacher at BLMS, and the Legislative District 32 Chair for the Idaho State Republican Party. The views expressed are not representative of the BLSD or of the Idaho State Republican Party. He can be contacted at chorikami@gmail.com and welcomes all comments and critiques.