Techies Unite at Poly’s Afternoon of Tech

Fifth graders Livia C. ’29 and Mera S. ’29 were thrilled to successfully guide their drone through an obstacle course of plastic hoops.

Flying drones was just one part of Poly’s first Afternoon of Tech on Saturday, April 23. The Computer and Information Science Department had invited the community to a day of family-friendly and tech-focused activities and workshops. They also had the opportunity to meet our talented faculty who hosted the day’s events.

Hackathon Connects Peers with a Passion for Programming
Marisa Triola ’24

The day began with Poly’s first all-day hackathon, which was open to Grades 7-12 students, and had the theme of “search.” Problem-solvers ranging from those with absolutely no coding experience to advanced programmers were all welcome.  In a hackathon, students work together throughout the course of a day on a real-world issue. They might create a functioning piece of software or hardware, or present a well-crafted design. About 20 students participated on Saturday.

During the day, Marisa Triola ’24 worked on creating an app to facilitate creating study groups. “Jasmine Kaur ’22, Brianna Kwan ‘23, Hannah Crowley ’23, and I worked together to create an app that helps students find study groups of other students who share similar classes,” Triola said. “Right now, I am hosting it. I really enjoyed being a part of the hackathon because it allowed me to connect with my peers who are also passionate about programming. It was also really fun to see what other groups came up with surrounding our theme, which was ‘search.’”

Keynote Speaker Catie Cuan

An afternoon of workshops began at 2:00 PM with a keynote address in the Chapel by special guest Catie Cuan, a renowned dancer and mechanical engineer. Her artistic and research work focuses on dance and robotics. She spoke about the emerging field of choreorobotics—from dancing robots to novel programming interfaces—and explained why the intersection of these artistic and engineering fields is rapidly expanding.

“How the robot moves is incredibly important,” Cuan said. She stressed this by quoting Stanford Professor Emerita Barbara Tversky, “Humans have been moving and feeling much longer than they have been thinking, talking, and writing.” Cuan added, “Movement is a primary way we perceive and interact with robots.”

Catie Cuan

There was then time for a Q&A with the students. “I would definitely say that Catie Cuan’s presentation was the best part of the day,” said Kyle Williams ’23, a member of Poly’s new Robotics team. “Her intellectual and creative contributions to the field of robotics are awe-inspiring!”

After the keynote, Head of Technology Charles Polizano P’18 brought out a special guest, a robot dog named Aibo, that could respond to commands. They were joined by Chair of the Computer and Information Science Department Jean Belford P’24.

Something for Everyone: Hands-on Workshops

For the rest of the afternoon, workshops and displays for students and parents included unplugged and digital events. Wonder Workshop Robotics; 3D Printing; Laser Cutting; Flying Drones; Coding in Scratch, Python, and Java; Lego Robotics; eSports; Cryptography; NFT2; making bracelets in binary code; Circuitry with Makey Makey and Arduinos; and Oculus Virtual Reality, were among the offerings. Students were given a booklet denoting activities based on age range that served as a “passport” for the day; each activity/workshop attended earned a sticker. Attendees who completely filled their passports earned a prize.

Students had their choice of activities in three tents. Complimentary coffee and water and snacks were found in another tent.

Parents and children were eagerly learning how to control a small drone to send it airborne in Tent 1. Nearby was Game Design and Esports, where someone was in the middle of a chess game. In Tent 3, Director of Lower School Technology Stacy Hunter P’15 sat on the floor with a young student who was enjoying DASH robot bowling. The robin’s egg blue DASH robot consisted of three round balls with a fourth one on top with an eye. The friendly looking DASH robot rolled a ball into the pins.  Other children learned how to code to guide the DASH robot to navigate across the floor. Sixth grader Marchus K. ’28 said this was his first time coding.

In Tent 3, Jasmine Kaur ‘22 was guiding students in a Makey Makey STEM project in which they used a computer chip to replace the keyboard for a laptop. She showed Jessa M. ’32 how to complete the connections.  “As a volunteer,” Kaur said, “I was running a workshop that would teach younger students how to use Makey-Makeys. It was very fun to be able to play around with new tech such as the oculus and the drones as well as to meet other people who were interested in technology and to see their ideas. I especially liked to see a lot of younger kids and younger girls who showed up!”

Outside the tents, there was a game of human robots. One player would “program” a list of steps to move forward, right, or left, that another player, who was blindfolded, would follow to move from one end of a course to the other.

In Tent 2, members of Poly’s BlueBots Robotics team gathered around a short, rectangular corral in which a robot was being controlled to do simple tasks. Members of the team helped younger students to maneuver the robot to pick up a block and place it in a basket. Kyle Williams, who volunteered at the activity, explained that the robot was not built for the Afternoon of Tech, but for the team’s robotics competitions. In this its first year, the Robotics team made it to regional competitions. Williams was one of the student organizers of the event and also participated in the all-day hackathon.

At 3:30 PM and 4:30 PM in Tent 2, Polizano led the students in a cryptography scavenger hunt with prizes for those who found clues that were hidden in the other tents.

A Day of “Dynamic Learning and Creativity”

In reflecting upon the day, “The Afternoon of Tech and hackathon offered the Poly community an opportunity to have fun with tech in a carnivalesque atmosphere,” said Jean Belford. “And, while the day was both carefree and entertaining, each and every activity provided a glimpse into the dynamic learning and creativity that occur in the Computer and Information Science Department every day from Nursery through Grade 12. The events kicked off with our brilliant keynote speaker, Catie Cuan, whose talk was attended by students and families of all ages. It was wonderful to see our students show such interest in the complex nature of robotics in society. Catie struck the perfect balance between holding a true academic discussion of her work with sharing her love of dance and robotics. The lines were blurred because her passions are her work!”

“What I personally enjoyed the most about the day,” Belford continued, “was seeing parents engaging and competing with their children. Parents and families usually attend events at Poly as spectators, which is great, but it was so nice to see families getting to know others in the community through active play and learning. It was a wonderful day at school!”