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Longstreth, Willow Dale Students Head to Hershey for Tech Expo

Fourth and fifth graders from the Centennial gifted program will present a project on alternative energy to hundreds of educators at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference.

Santa Claus has come up with a new way to save money by using wind power as an alternative revenue source for his flying reindeer. By using the natural air currents to fly to neighborhoods around the world, St. Nick won't have to worry about the cost of feeding and caring for Rudolph and the rest of the gang.

Kris Kringle makes his 30 second pitch for wind energy through a something called a Voki, an animated avatar created and voiced by Lily, a fourth grade student in gifted program. She and 20 other students from the Longstreth and gifted class will present their ideas for alternative energy later this afternoon as part of the student showcase day of the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

"There's only 35 tables available, and most of them are taken by high school students," said Michael Scancella, instructor for the gifted class at Willow Dale and Longstreth. "Besides a second grade class from a school in the Poconos, this is the youngest group presenting on Tuesday."

The students spent the past six weeks preparing a comprehensive research project that examines the pros and cons of energy sources, including geo-thermal, solar, wind and waves. Since they were paired off with counterparts from the other school, the only way the Longstreth and Willow Dale kids could communicate was through dedicated wiki-spaces.

"They would find information on other websites," said Scancella, "then post it on the discussion thread of the wikispace and decide together which facts to make live on the front page."

The project was a perfect opportunity for the students to familiarize themselves with the technology, but it wasn't without its drawbacks. When they get on the school bus this morning for the two-and-a-half hour ride, it will be the first time they meet their counterparts face-to-face.

"It would get frustrating sometimes when I posted an idea, but I wouldn't hear from my partner for a couple days," said Laura, a Longstreth fourth grader. 

When the students hit the showcase floor today at 12:30, they will be right in the middle of foot traffic as hundreds of educators and techonology vendors browse the project tables. The day before the conference, Scancella is doing a dry run of the kinds of questions that might come up during the two hour session. The thought of being put on the spot by curious adults is exciting and a little nerve-wracking for the kids.

"I think it will be fun to teach the teachers," said Charlie, a fifth grader at Longstreth who went to the Expo last year with the gifted program. "They usually teach you, but now we get to show them how we've learned about these topics."

As an added bonus, the Longstreth and Willow Dale delegation have also been one of two schools selected to participate in a web conference demonstration organized by Elluminate, an online video tool. Classrooms from around the world will be watching the presentations and sending in their own questions.

The three day conference is an opportunity for teachers and administrators from all over Pennsylvania to get exposed to the new and upcoming tech that is available for their districts. Hundreds of vendors will have their own booths set up for interactive product demos.

"The exhibitors like to pull the kids in to try out their products," said Scancella, who has attended the conference four times. "Members of our technology department follow them and see how the children use the technology. They can make recommendations based on how the students enjoy the products."

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