"Into the Cloud" Shows How Far D401 Has Come, Where It's Going

"Into the Cloud" Shows How Far D401 Has Come, Where It's Going

PHOTO: An Elmwood student helper gets a Dash & Dot Wonder Robot ready for its next user. Scroll down for more "Into the Cloud" photos, or click here for a photo gallery.


Parents, students and community members filled the EPHS Gym on Thursday, April 5, to learn all about how District 401 is using technology to transform the classroom experience.

The event, "Into the Cloud," was organized by District Instructional Technology Coordinator Ms. Jessica Iovinelli and staffed by faculty and student volunteers. The District’s Technology Department, led by Mr. Tom Kinane, was also on hand to provide support throughout the evening. 

"What I was hoping for was reminiscent of districtwide events from the past such as the 'World's Largest Math Event' or the 'World's Largest Fine Arts Event,'" said Ms. Iovinelli. "These types of events are very important to a school because they reflect our social community and foster that sense of positive school spirit and a sense of belonging."


Into the Cloud

PHOTO: Younger students receive instructions on how to "bowl with bots," one of the activities at "Into the Cloud." D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).


An Event Based on Learning by Doing


Approximately 20 booths dotted the gym, and attendees had the opportunity to try out many of the innovations that have already been incorporated into D401’s curricula and afterschool activities thanks to the District Technology Initiative.


For 90 minutes, the gym bustled with activity as hundreds of visitors went from booth to booth, exploring displays and participating in hands-on demonstrations. For example:


► In the southwest corner, where the Elm Middle School Robotics Club welcomed all comers, elementary-age students eagerly commanded robots to pick up and stack plastic cones, just as Elm students do in robotics competitions.


► Near the middle of the gym, John Mills Elementary School students introduced visitors to "Bowling with Bots," where small robots could be commanded to knock down bowling pins, much to the delight of their drivers.

► Along the east side of the gym, other Mills students eagerly showed event-goers how to use the Seesaw app, which allows students to document their learning by creating their own digital portfolios.

► Not to be outdone, Elmwood Elementary School students occupied the northwest corner and instructed attendees on how to program Dash & Dot Wonder Robots to toss ping-pong balls. Other Elmwood students walked visitors through an array of coding apps.

► In an open area at the north of the gym, EPHS Science Club members took event-goers of all ages for rides on student-built hovercrafts. When they finished their rides, visitors could sample other Science Club offerings, such as a Van de Graaff generator that allowed users to feel and share an electrical charge.

► Tying it all together with a soundtrack that never quit was student DJ Justin Eigenbauer. The EPHS senior set up his gear along the north wall and proceeded to keep the beats pumping for the entire event. 

And those were just a few examples of the evening’s activities, displays and attractions!


A student guides a robot as a member of the Elm Robotics Club looks on.

PHOTO: A student guides a robot as a member of the Elm Robotics Club looks on. Robots were a popular item at "Into the Cloud." D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge). 


An Embarrassment of Riches


Other D401-manned booths aimed at students included Binary Bracelets, Colby the Coding Mouse and Google Earth.

Meanwhile, parents wanting to know more about changes inside the classroom could sample displays of educational apps, e-textbooks and interactive learning websites. They could also talk about technology issues with faculty members from Elm, Mills and Elmwood. 

For parents needing help with PowerSchool so they can keep track of their children’s grades and assignments, one of the District’s technology specialists was on hand for advice and trouble shooting.

The event also featured representatives from outside the District:

► The Elmwood Park Library brought along a 3D printer so visitors could see what’s possible when a printer can create three-dimensional objects.

► The virtual reality company zSpace set up a VR learning station complete with special glasses and stylus.

► The Civil Air Patrol featured a booth with information about the organization and its use of aerospace technology.

In addition, Ms. Iovinelli made sure that attendees could take a breather from more serious fare. 

A game truck outside the high school building accommodated 20 gamers at a time for 15-minute intervals. A photo booth with plenty of props gave visitors a fun way to remember the evening. And a raffle closed out the event with a number of lucky winners.


Into the Cloud students talk with their teachers.

PHOTO: John Mills students talk with their teachers as they prepare to demonstrate the Seesaw app for creating digital portfolios. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click to enlarge image).


Takeaways from the Evening


Ms. Iovinelli began receiving positive feedback about "Into the Cloud" almost as soon as the event began. Now that it's over, what does she hope visitors remember from the displays and activities? 

"I hope attendees were able to see all of the doors that technology opens and how it increases student engagement and learning in so many positive ways," she said. "The 21st century needs students who are full of imagination, creativity and innovation, and we do not know what the jobs of the future will look like. Technology can empower our students, and in Elmwood Park we are going to provide them with the opportunities to grow."

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nicolas Wade, architect of D401’s Technology Initiative, echoed those sentiments.

"I hope people take away from the event the possibilities of where we can go as a District because of this initiative," Dr. Wade said. "Seeing students perform various aspects of coding and engineering at all grade levels, and being excited about it, is nothing but a motivator to us as educators to provide those opportunities in a meaningful and articulated way. To say the least, I am excited to continue to move forward."


A student rides a hovercraft at "Into the Cloud."

PHOTO: Student-built hovercrafts were a big hit at "Into the Cloud." The EPHS Science Club also prepared other displays and activities that showed how the science curriculum uses technology to advance student learning. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click to enlarge image). 


More Comments About "Into the Cloud"


It's safe to say that "Into the Cloud" hit it out of the park! For more insights into the event, D401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca interviewed a number of participants via email. Here are their comments, including the full text of Dr. Wade's and Ms. Iovinelli's remarks.


Students guide robots at "Into the Cloud."

PHOTO: Younger students quickly learned how to maneuver their Dash & Dot Wonder Robots thanks to help from Elmwood teacher Morgan Freeck and her student volunteers. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge). For more pictures, click here for a photo gallery.


Teacher Morgan Freeck, Elmwood Elementary School


Ms. Freeck organized the "Dash & Dot Wonder Robots" booth.


Q: In general, what was your impression of the event?


A: The "Into the Cloud" event was a blast. I loved seeing all the different technology initiatives that are taking place in our District. The large number of families and students that attended the event was especially impressive! It was great to see students, young and old, interacting with the various technologies.


Q: In particular, what did you think of the response to Dash & Dot Wonder Robots?


A: I thought our robots received a lot of positive praise! Dash & Dot are so user-friendly that any child (or adult) could enjoy playing with them. I especially loved watching the children launch ping-pong balls at their parents. It was nice to see so many children engaged in the learning process and having fun.


Q: Your booth seemed like a big hit. Why did you decide on Dash & Dot Wonder Robots?


A: At Elmwood Elementary School, I manage the Wonder League Robotics Competition for 5th- and 6th-grade students. Through a series of story-based missions, the students use Dash & Dot to develop problem-solving, growth mindset and creativity skills through learning to code. We have participated in the global competition for the last two years and are looking forward to year three!


Q: You had several enthusiastic student helpers. What kind of feedback have you received from them about the experience?


A: Rose Craig and Marta Muzyka are two energetic members of the Wonder League Robotics Competition. They really enjoyed the experience of helping me manage Dash & Dot and were great at teaching the younger children how to use the iPads to control them. Rose and Marta were exhausted after the event! I really appreciated their support and help in running our booth. 


Q: Finally, what do you hope attendees took away from the event overall and from your booth in particular?


A: From this event, I hope parents and students learned about the vast technological resources that are available in our District. I especially hope that upcoming 5th and 6th graders from Elmwood Elementary were interested in the Dash & Dot robots and plan on joining the Wonder League Robotics Competition next year. We'd love to have them!


Students learn how to guide a robot at "Into the Cloud."

PHOTO: A member of the Elm Robotics Club gives instructions to several younger students before they take command of a robot. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).


Teacher Steve Mrkvicka, Elm Middle School


Mr. Mrkvicka helped organize the Elm Robotics Club's booth, along with fellow Elm teacher Mr. Christian Hartwig.


Q: What was your impression of the event?


A: There was a lot of interest mainly from elementary grade-level parents, lots of middle school students and some parents. I was mostly impressed with how our robotics students helped the younger kids drive the robots and explain how the robots worked to the kids.


Q: What did you think of the response to Elm Robotics in particular?


A: Great response. We had some questions about our program and how to get involved.


Q: Your booth had a lot of visitors. What do you hope attendees took away from having the chance to operate one of your robots? 


A: We need to draw more interest to keep the program relevant and thriving. We're always looking for good recruits.


Q: You had a number of student helpers. What kind of feedback have you received from them?


A: You'll have to ask them — I didn't get to chat about their experience. Sam Perez was awesome, helping other little kids to drive the robots.


Members of the EPHS Science Club demonstrate a Van De Graaff Generator.

PHOTO: Members of the Elmwood Park High School Science Club set up a Van de Graaff generator, one of the club's displays. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).


Teacher Christian Rosenzweig, EPHS


Mr. Rosenzweig helped organize the EPHS Science Club’s displays and activities, along with fellow science teacher Ms. Angela Andrews.


Q: Overall, what did you think of the event?


A: I feel the event was a great success. Everyone in attendance seemed to enjoy themselves and had some hands-on opportunities to learn about all the innovations happening in the District. 


Q: What about the response to the Science Club's displays and activities?


A: The response from students and families was very positive. All of the different tech demos we had to offer sparked a lot of imagination and interesting conversations with the attendees.


Q: The hovercrafts were a hit! What was involved in their construction, and why did you settle on hovercrafts?


A: The students in Science Club managed to refurbish and re-engineer pre-existing hover platforms. After many rolls of duct tape, several trips to the hardware store, a few hours here and there each week, we were able to get the platforms from nonfunctional air hockey pucks to fully functional standing hovercrafts which can hold 200-plus pounds. The team of students, led by Sebastian Macias and Philip Chmielowiec, included Ian Babelonia, Nelson DeJesus, James Coleman, Dom Pudlo and Rebekah Spathies, as well as the rest of the club. We felt that this would be a very fun and interactive demonstration for parents and kids and in the process show how science is learned in our District using a hands-on approach. 


Q: Science Club also had a number of other displays and activities for the public. What were they?


A: In addition to the hovercrafts, Science Club had several interactive demos set up — all of which are used in our science courses at EPHS. The demonstrations included a wave driver, which could generate impressive geometric figures by finding the resonant frequencies of a steel platform. (Google "cymatics" for more info.) 

There was a Van de Graaff generator, which allows students and parents to feel and share electrical charge. We had a lightbox and a glass prism, which gave attendees the chance to see how light behaves and bends in real time. A motion detector was set up and used to collect real-time data on the position, velocity and acceleration of the hovercrafts. We also had an electrified tank to help educate guests about voltage as well as a number of light bulbs wired together in a bit of a tricky circuit to help explain how the wiring in our homes works.


Q: What kind of feedback have you received, and what do you hope visitors take away from the event?


A: Many of the younger students expressed a desire to study science or to join Science Club, which was very cool. In general, we hope that people who got to come by our booth left feeling confident that this District offers opportunities to get a meaningful and deep education with respect to STEM.


A student looks closely at a Wonder Robot.

PHOTO: A student takes a closer look at a Wonder Robot, part of the Dash & Dot booth. D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).


More Comments from Jessica Iovinelli


Ms. Iovinelli is District 401's Instructional Technology Coordinator.


Q: As chief organizer of "Into the Cloud," how do you think the event went?


A: What I was hoping for was reminiscent of districtwide events from the past such as the "World's Largest Math Event" or the "World's Largest Fine Arts Event." "Into the Cloud" did just that by bringing in students of all ages and family, extended family and community members together while mixing in opportunities to learn from other students and staff from within the District as well as outside resources available to our students. 

These types of events are very important to a school because they reflect our social community and foster that sense of positive school spirit and a sense of belonging. One of my favorite parts was peeking my head into the game truck and witnessing a very diverse group of people sitting next to each other playing games. What can a toddler, a high school student, a 3rd-grade parent and a superintendent do all together at the same time? Play video games!


Q: How did the actual results compare to your expectations going in?


A: To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I tried to publicize the event in every way I knew possible — from email and phone blasts to individual school newsletters to Google Classrooms. Without a formal RSVP in place, the turnout was the only unknown. I was pleasantly surprised as there was a steady stream of people flowing in and out of the event for its duration. It was the fastest hour and a half ever.


Q: What kind of feedback have you received from attendees? 


A: All I heard was positive feedback — from volunteers to attendees, from students to staff, from parents to Board members. There were a variety of booths and activities to choose from, and due to the size of the gym you could easily participate in all the activities without more than a five-minute wait. The staff that volunteered said that their student volunteers really took charge and enjoyed having the opportunity to share their activities with all the parents and students, and the student volunteers were excited to be a part of such an amazing event and still have a chance to participate in some of the activities as well.


Q: For you, what were some of the highlights of the evening?


A: The whole event was a highlight of my year thus far, but the two things that stood out to me were at the Science Club booth and the student volunteers. The student volunteers went above and beyond, and many of them were students I had during my nine years as a music teacher at John Mills. It was humbling to see how much they had grown and the adults that they had become. The advantage of a community unit district is that ability to really create a strong school community, and I believe we do that well in Elmwood Park. The Science Club's homemade hovercrafts were not the highlight themselves, but watching the high school students carefully "fly" around ECC- and elementary-aged students and seeing the utter joy in the little ones' eyes was worth the whole event.


Q: Now that "Into the Cloud" is in the books as a major success, what do you hope attendees took away from the event?


A: I hope attendees were able to see all of the doors that technology opens and how it increases student engagement and learning in so many positive ways. Technology is often viewed in a negative light, especially in terms of social media, but we are taking steps to educate our students on the power of technology and make our community aware of how it can transform education as a whole. The 21st century needs students who are full of imagination, creativity and innovation, and we do not know what the jobs of the future will look like. Technology can empower our students, and in Elmwood Park we are going to provide them with the opportunities to grow.


Inside the game truck as students play video games.

PHOTO: Inside the game truck, which would have been Dr. Wade's favorite spot if Ms. Iovinelli had given him free rein! D401 photo by Dave Porreca (click image to enlarge).


More Comments from Dr. Nicolas Wade


Dr. Wade is District 401's Superintendent of Schools.


Q: In general, what was your impression of the event?


A: I think, first, I was taken aback at how significant of a turnout we had for the event. It shows how much the parents and the community want to know more about this initiative of ours and how it is impacting the classroom. Second, it was how excited the students and staff were to show what is happening in the buildings. For me, this was a significant moment to see our initiative approaching an intrinsic level for everyone.


Q: What kind of feedback have you received from attendees?


A: Aside from being absolutely positive, it was how far we have come with technology as a District. And, to add to that, how we went above "Here's a device, now use it," like the initial approach of early adopters of 1:1.


Q: What were some of the highlights for you? 


A: Well, it would have been the game truck if Ms. Iovinelli did not ban me from it. But in all seriousness the highlights for me were seeing the students show their parents and community members how they are using technology in the classroom and what they have learned from using it, in addition to everyone having an opportunity to experience our new interactive, browser-based curriculum programs. Also, Mr. Wildes [EPHS Principal Mr. Douglas Wildes] on a hoverboard was a good way to end the night."


Q: What do you hope visitors take away from the event?


A: I hope people take away from the event the possibilities of where we can go as a District because of this initiative [the District Technology Initiative]. Seeing students perform various aspects of coding and engineering at all grade levels, and being excited about it, is nothing but a motivator to us as educators to provide those opportunities in a meaningful and articulated way. To say the least, I am excited to continue to move forward.


Q: Any final comments?


A: It cannot be stressed enough how much Ms. Iovinelli put into the event, and it was equally wonderful to see her strongly supported by Mr. Kinane and his department, the staff and student volunteers, the clubs and teams, just everyone. "Into the Cloud" was delivered as a community event, and it felt like one.


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