At a recent “Make-a-Thon” at a Redmond middle school, students, teachers and even a retired teacher’s father learned — and taught — together in a hands-on environment.

A group of 40 Obsidian and Elton Gregory middle school students joined with 40 teachers and community members to create alarm clocks, virtual pets and light shows using Chromebook laptops to program circuit boards. They then decorated the circuit boards with cardboard and other discarded items to make them look more like a typical dog or clock.

“The stuff they are doing is really out of this world considering they didn’t know any of this stuff this morning,” said Mike Nye, the Redmond School District coordinator of professional learning.

The event was the first of its kind in Redmond and second in the High Desert Education Service District. They’ve been held around Oregon for a couple years.

“It was actually a crazy idea of how do you create a learning environment for the whole community?” said Derek Runberg, a strategist with Colorado-based SparkFun Electronics. “Just the idea that I can learn alongside my teachers, not just from my teacher, and my teacher can learn from me.”

Runberg facilitated the April 4 event at Obsidian after some attendees at an event last fall at Sky View Middle School in Bend wanted the program brought to Redmond.

“Their excitement kind of helped to fire that rocket,” said Angie Mason-Smith, career and technical education specialist with the service district.

Runberg has worked on events in 10 school districts.

Along with showing news ways of learning, Make-a-Thons help people learn about electronics and coding as tools for use in everyday life, Runberg said. That’s a message that helps prepare the workforce.

“If something doesn’t exist, I can build it,” he said.

It was no mistake that the Make-a-Thon was held in Obsidian’s cafeteria, where other students and teachers passing by and eating lunch could see what is happening and ask questions about it, Nye said.

Eventually, schools could use the techniques from Make-a-Thon in everyday learning, Nye said.

“How can we bring this into language arts? How can we bring it into social studies? How can we do it in math class?” he asked.

The event served as much as a professional development opportunity for teacher as a learning experience for students, Nye said.

One all-female team of two teachers and two students tackled making their own alarm clock. They learned the project in the morning then had less than two hours to put it together in the afternoon.

It was a new experience for the students.

“I’ve done some type of coding, but not like this,” said Obsidian seventh grader Michaela Glenn, 12.

Working without boys in the group was also helpful.

“It’s less awkward and more comfortable,” said Obsidian seventh grader Brisa Ramirez, 12.

A few tables away, Keith Sime showed that anyone can learn. The 84-year-old retired Marine Corp aviator worked with his son Dave, who retired as Ridgeview High music instructor in 2016.

While he isn’t likely to make another light show after the Make-a-Thon, Keith Sime said the event was a learning experience.

“I’ve learned that the kids are a lot smarter than I am. I’m from back in the day when we used to program FORTRAN,” he said, referring to a coding system developed in the 1950s. “This is to help the kids — it’s a program to get adults and schoolkids together to make projects and learn how to work together.”

The next generation is in a good position, Sime said.

“Based on what I’ve seen here today, these kids are all very, very excited and very, very sharp,” he said. “It’s good for an older guy to see that the young ones are coming along.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com

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