Monday, March 2, 2009

Yahoo! Mobile in a Science Fair?

In March of 2009, I had the honor of serving as a Computer Science judge in the New York City Science and Engineering Fair. The fair was open to all New York city area high school students. I was tasked to judge several computer science related entries. All of the computer science entries showed a high level of thoughtfulness, creativity and preparedness. The entries included but were not limited to: Ideas for a Better Electronic Voting System, 2D to 3D Face Modeling Application and an Application which used Game Theory to help small businesses succeed. None of these mentioned projects were 100% complete but they showed excellent promise.

At this fair, I was surprised that there were zero web/internet related projects. What!?!?!? Yes, EHAM the Internet Guru said it… A Science Fair in 2009 had zero web/internet projects. There were plenty of plant science projects, animal science projects and biology projects. These entries were not that much different from when I participated in science fairs in the 1880s (just kidding, I mean 1980s, but this plant science stuff was from the 1880s). This is a direct reflection of the teachers and mentors who are guiding these children. There is nothing wrong with plant projects, but it’s 2009! It’s time to up their game!

Up Their Game:
There are so many different web/internet projects that can be done today. Companies like Yahoo! have made it incredibly easy to build robust applications on their APIs and development platforms. API stands for Application Programming Interface, and is a tool which allows developers an easier method to build applications. Normally APIs are used to seamlessly connect the developer to a remote resource.
Yahoo! has dozens of API platforms and development platforms such as:
Fire Eagle: location-aware application services
Maps: image API which allows embedding of rich interactive maps
Traffic: real-time traffic alert information
BOSS: (Build your Own Search Service) is Yahoo’s open search web services platform
Blueprint: Mobile development platform

Kids love using their mobile devices. Imagine a science project which used Yahoo! Fire Eagle and Yahoo! Blueprint to create a “super cool” mobile phone application that allowed friends to connect in a unique way. So, in 2010 EHAM the Internet Guru will be sponsoring a science fair team to build cool mobile applications using Yahoo! APIs… The science fair ain’t gonna know what hit them!


Anita B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anita B said...

I think you make several valid points. Young people are ready to use the technology they already know as well as learn new ones. Their teachers are the ones who need the most assistance, particularly overcoming their own personal fears and lack of basic tech skills.

How do you think educators and internet gurus like yourself can help overcome these obstacles? Personal responsibility to self educate is part of the answer,but believe me, most teachers don't have the time to plan for their very diverse students,grade papers, call parents, and raise their own children, let alone read books on technology. This is not a cop out but a harsh reality.

I am a personal proponent of creating schools that inherently integrate science and technology into its curriculum. I would also like to see more camps, summer and after school programs, competitions, etc. created that allow children to explore new technologies as well as those old 1800's plant projects...we will always need plants and people who understand them:-)

Good luck on your science fair! Sounds quite interesting...

Ericka said...

A. Bordeaux makes an excellent point. The technology gap between kids and their teachers is a wide one. I can't really fault the teachers for this (for the reasons stated by A and others you and I have already discussed), but it is a problem. These days, people who are passionate about technology tend to go into technology-based jobs, not teaching.

So what's the answer? Perhaps some sort of mentoring program by high tech firms (such as Yahoo!) is in order. And not just for high school kids, either. It would be nice to catch these kids early and get them interested in testing the boundaries of technology.

Also, I think the lack of creative programs in education these days is a real problem. I know most people don't believe there's any link between technology and the arts, but I do. When we were kids, we were encouraged to think outside the box in art class and music class. We were taught that things are open to interpretation. Kids aren't taught these things these days. Even if you're fortunate enough to attend private school, it's all about math and reading. Now, don't get me wrong. I believe math and reading are very important. But we haven't done a very good job encouraging a balance between analytical and creative thought. Perhaps we're doing more harm than good.

EHAM said...

Bordeaux, Ericka...
Thanks for the comments...
I agree with you both, accept for the comment about music and creativity in schools.
We have too many "fun" creative activities in school already. All kids want to paint and go to music class because it's easy and doesn't require real thought.

I was born and raised in Detroit... Motown... and in 2005 Martha Reeves from the 60's Motown group Vandellas was running for Detroit City Council on the platform of "bringing music back to the city of Detroit".... What? Are you kidding me? We've got enough "wanna be" rappers and she wants to add to this maddest? The worst part is Martha Reeves won and is a proud member of the dysfunctional Detroit City council. Meanwhile, countries like India are cranking out computer scientists by the millions but Detroit has Marva Reeves. While Martha Reeves was "Dancing in the Streets" in the 60s, India was investing heavily in science education and it's paying off big time.

Fantasia Barrino who won the American Idol competition is functionally illiterate. That's right, she can't read and admitted her problem in at least one interview. She got lucky by winning the American Idol competition in 2006. Too many kids think they can be the next Michael Jackson when they need to focus on being the next Michael Dell.

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