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Bay Area Science Festival will offer robot building challenge and dinosaur workshop for students

on October 21, 2011

Fifty fifth graders from Martin Luther King and Lincoln Elementary schools crowded into the City Council chambers Wednesday morning with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan — and a robot.

“I hear I am turning this over to a robot,” said Quan, who seemed uncertain about the mayoral protocol involved, as she launched the East Bay kickoff of the first annual Bay Area Science Festival.

Students stood on their feet in excitement to watch the small mobile robot roll across the chamber floors. The top of the robot had a dustpan for a hand that held a pillow, and after the operator pressed a control, it would throw the pillow a short distance. Oakland public students participating in the UC Berkeley’s Pioneers in Engineering (PIE) mentorship program built the robot, which won second place in this year’s Pioneers in Engineering robotic competition.

The robot on display was part of a preview of the Bay Area Science Festival, a multi -city educational festival scheduled for October 29 to November 6.

“The whole idea is to get more youth excited and energized about science, technology and engineering,” said festival director Kishore Hari. “Those are the jobs of the future.”

“That’s why we’re here,” said Matt Lonner, Chevron’s manager of global partnerships and programs, as he reflected on the students’ excitement over the robot. “We recognize that public schools can’t do it alone. The private sector can’t do it alone.  But together nonprofits, schools, and the private sector — we can help prepare the kids today for 21st century careers.”

Cal State East Bay helps kick off the week with a science festival that will include hands-on activities, lecturers, exhibits, experiments, and games.   Among other events scheduled in and near Oakland is a “Dinosaurs vs. Robots” sort of contest at Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, that will let students try paleontology so they can learn new things about dinosaurs that scientists in the field are discovering today. Students will then get the chance to try engineering, and participate in a robot challenge, before voting to decide which discipline they favored.

The Chabot Space and Science Center will host a Moonlight Hike. Zellerbach Hall will host Radiolab: Live in the Dark, which will explore the realities of dark for Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the two hosts of the New York radio show.

After the Oakland City Hall press conference this week, students gathered outside the chambers to participate in hands on science activities presented by Techbridge, a program promoting girls to engage in science engineering and technology; Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), a program focusing on developing hands on education with teachers; and Pioneers for Engineering.

“We provide hands-on activities for kids, and our goal is to get them excited about science,” said Greg Brown, RAFT Director of Education.

Students were attaching rubber gloves to cardboard tubes. Then students would stick a straw into the rubber glove, to create what Brown calls a “glove-a-phone.” Each time a student would blow into the straw, a loud horn sound escaped through the cardboard tube.

Brown said that these type of activities are “inexpensive for teachers,” only costing about twenty cents per child, to create these type of hands-on activities.

“I appreciate the fact that they’re giving the opportunity for children to come out and learn the importance of science,” said Hazel Jay, a fifth grade teacher at MLK. “I really appreciate that a school from West Oakland is able to participate.”

Lincoln Elementary school officials said teachers were passing out fliers and encouraging families to attend the weeklong festival.

Oakland Unified School District Science Manager schoolteacher Caleb Cheung, a former science teacher, told the students they would be the ones to solve the “environmental, medical, and most challenging technological issues.”  He also said that nurturing science in and out of the classroom is necessary to foster the success of students.  Principals and teachers must “design high quality science programs,” Cheung said.

“Were trying to make sure that everyone has a chance to experience science the way we experience art or food or music,” Hari said. “It’s part of our cultural makeup here in the Bay Area and everybody deserves to have access to that.”

Quan, who also serves as chair of the board that runs Chabot Space and Science Center, said she was excited about the city’s participation in the festival.  She joked that next year’s finale event would have to take place at Oakland’s Coliseum instead of AT&T Park in San Francisco.

“We have a little bit of a rivalry here,” Quan said.

For a complete list of the Bay Area Science Festival’s events and locations, visit

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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