One might think the nation's top teacher wouldn't be easily impressed by cool gadgets and toys. Yet there he was on Friday afternoon, pulling out his camera to take pictures of practically every product, robot, and learning opportunity available at LEGO Education.
But then again, perhaps it isn't so hard to believe.
"My son turns 7 this weekend. His birthday gift list was literally LEGOs exclusive," said 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau. "This is where education really starts."
Charbonneau and Dyane Smokorowski, the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year from Andover, as well as 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year Finalist Jenny Nash, Paola, toured much of the educational highlights of Southeast Kansas on Friday. It was a chance to wind down a bit and see education landmarks after Charbonneau spoke at an educators training event at Greenbush's Eudora location earlier in the week.
"I work a lot with Dyane, and she pitched the idea in June. She said wouldn't it be nice if we could bring the national teacher of the year here. So we've been working since then to bring the National Teacher of the Year, the Kansas Teacher of the Year, and we found out the Department of Defense Teacher of the Year is also from Kansas. We just wanted to have a celebration for all teachers," said Tracy Rampy, Greenbush education technology director.
Unfortunately, the Department of Defense Teacher of the Year, Daniele Massey, could not attend the eastern Kansas swing on Friday, which crossed several counties. The day started at CAPS in Blue Valley, before making its way to Fort Scott's Lowell Milken Center for a ribbon cutting ceremony on their new addition. Later, the group headed to Greenbush (Southeast Kansas Education Center) before finishing up with a tour of LEGO Education in Pittsburg.
Charbonneau, who teaches chemistry, physics and engineering in Zillah, Wash., was particularly excited to visit LEGO Education. Many of the products, including robotics, are items Charbonneau has used or has considered using at his school.
The conversation between the trio of teachers and the LEGO Education staff went back and forth, with new products being introduced, described and demonstrated for the teachers, who in return provided insight about the difficulties and challenges they face in the classroom.
One issue that came up was some teachers being intimidated by using technology that their students may adopt and use faster.
"My kids get this for 60-70 minutes a day. Of course they're more of an expert than the teachers, because the teachers don't get that much time on it. People think I'm the robot expert, but if they want the robot expert, they should see my seniors," Charbonneau said.
Others, like Smokorowski, a language arts teacher, talked about the opportunities provided by projects, such as LEGO Education's Story Starters, that could be adopted by STEM and Common Core standards.
"We do STEM in the language arts class. I did a project on video game design. The problem was not with the students, it was with everyone else saying we shouldn't be doing this in a language arts class. But it's digital storytelling, just in a video game format," she said.
The teachers were given the opportunity to get hands-on with some products not yet on the market, as well as to check out LEGO Education's "R&D" division. The LEGO officials noted that even when superintendents get their hands on the classic LEGO materials, they get swept up in education without even knowing it. And that's kind of the point.
"Every one of us wants to have that childlike wonder. It doesn't matter if you're 85 or 14. If you can tap into that, that's what STEM is. That's how you learn," Smokorowski said.