Living Life

Jesus, Me, and the Kitchen Table

My Robot Experience

When I first realized I wasn’t going to be able to attend a required meeting with some of my most favorite colleagues, I was a little bummed to say the least.  So much I would miss out on… seeing all my friends and colleagues in the field of visual impairment across the state, the new facility for Region 11 Education Service Center which is where the meeting was being held, and most importantly – the critical updates and knowledge in our field.

I let the person in charge of the meeting know that I couldn’t attend, but asked if I could possibly join in by conference call or Skype.  I’ve never used Skype so I was a little skeptical about that option.  And calls are okay, but you can’t see what’s going on — and I’m a very visual learner.

Some time went by and then I got some very good news.  The lady in charge has a son who has been fighting cancer for a little while now.  He’s in high school and during his treatments at M.D. Anderson, many miles from his home, he attended his classes with the assistance of a VGO robot.  So yes, you’ve guessed it!  Things were arranged for me to use the same kind of robot to attend this meeting!

Once an administrator set up my account and gave me a username and password, I downloaded the VGO app. It works on a laptop PC or MAC or even on an iPad.  Once logged in I just clicked on my robot’s name, REATA 3, and it connected a video call.  So the VGO was in Fort Worth and I was at my office three hours away.  I could see the room and everyone in it.  I could hear them – all of them.  The main speaker used a microphone, but I could hear everyone talking, even if they didn’t have a mic.  They could also see my face on the screen of the robot and hear my voice.  But that is not all. Using the mouse or the arrow keys I could make REATA 3 roll around. How cool is that?!

In the meeting our first assignment was to find 3 people at the meeting we did not know, then 3 people who work at Region 11 whom we did not know, and then locate 3 other meeting rooms.  This was to give us an opportunity to see the new building and meet new people.  I hooked up with one of the people at my table and off we went.  I followed my partner around the building, going down hallways, to the main reception desk, and finally back to the room. Introducing myself to new people was interesting! But everyone was very receptive.   It was a little challenging to drive REATA 3, but not too bad.  It was actually really fun.  It won’t let you drive it off of a step and it tells you if you are close to running into something.  It will display a message on the screen that says, “rear object” or “tall object”.  If you do bump into something, it will put a callout symbol with the word “BUMP!” in it!  Kind of funny!

During the two days of the meeting, I was able to work in a small group discussing various topics.  I was able to participate in the time when we used chart paper and shared activities we were doing in our part of the state.  Someone wrote my stuff down for me as I told it to them.  Then we took turns reading and explaining the activity on our charts.  I just talked and everyone in the room could hear me.

We took a selfie at the “Selfie Wall”.  I uploaded it below.

This is just so cool.  I had heard about it being used with children who are homebound due to illness or who can’t attend school for other reasons.  But I never thought I’d get to use it myself.  It is really easy to do and you don’t have to be “techy” to understand how to use a VGO.  But if you are “techy” you will love it!

VGo robot, REATA 3, with my picture on its screen.

VGo robot, REATA 3, with my picture on its screen.

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Ok, so the title could be confusing… is it think (about) camp, or is a camp about thinking? Well, it’s kind of both! For the last two weeks our Education Service Center (Region 8) where I work as an eduction specialist, has been hosting our first ever THINK CAMP.   The whole idea of the camp is for students to engage in activities and learning based on their interests.  For 2 weeks we have had about 130 students from 5th to 8th grades. give or take few,  to attend camp from 9-12 each day.  

Before the camp began these students took an interest survey to tell us which kinds of things they were interested in learning about.  Some of the areas that emerged were hunting and fishing, sports, culinary arts, fashion design, photography, and technology.  Students were placed into initial groups based on their selections.  Next, we as staff members chose a group to oversee according to these areas of interests.  We have a very talented staff! And some amazing students!  

Now you would think that we had all of our activities lined out for the 2 week period, right?   Wrong!  WE actually only planned the first day.  After that it was mostly in the students’ hands as to which direction the camp went for their group. This is kind of nerve-racking for me personally because I had no idea what we were going to do with these kids, and worst of all, what if they ended up being bored? I wasn’t afraid of losing control of the “class” or anything like that, I was afraid we just didn’t have enough planned to hold their interests. I surely didn’t have any clue what to do with fashion design, but it seemed like a neat thing to learn about and help with… so here we go! 

Day one the kids divided into their groups and everyone started getting to know each other a little better and we started finding out what they wanted to do, which direction they wanted to go.  I don’t think anyone came up with a day by plan.  Rather, one thing led to another, or you could say we just took it a day at a time.  

Image   The fashion design group adopted the name First Class Fashion Design and there are mostly girls and one guy in the group.  The staff leaders are Connie Rhymes and Nancy Folsom, two of the most fashionable ladies I know!  The girls were interested in clothing and modeling, while the young man’s interest was in art.  The community stepped in and we were able to borrow some beautiful formal dresses, scarves, purses, and other clothing items such as jackets and dresses.  A retired professional model came in and worked with the girls on posing in outfits and how to walk during a fashion show.  The girls tried on different attire and practiced posing and walking.  Not only that, but they kept a journal about their experiences.  In the journals they wrote a little about themselves, their families, which kind of fashion design career they may want to pursue, and added pictures of themselves modeling the various fashions.  The beautiful Region 8 facilities really gave them a place to “strut their stuff” so to speak! 

But what about the guy in the group? Well he is an artist in the full sense of the word.  From day one he stunned us with his talent for drawing people. He has captured the faces of all the girls in our group and has also drawn a picture of an abused child. It is captivating. I think he could capture just about anything with a little paint, a brush, and a canvas, or a pencil and sheet of paper for that matter! 

The class also designed cards using designer papers, die cuts, and embellishments.  This gave them another angle from which to explore fashion.  Other avenues they explored were various vocations related to fashion such as a career as a set designer, which several of them expressed an interest in doing.  They didn’t know about these careers until they had a chance to explore a website which tells about these various careers.  

Tomorrow, the last day of the camp, the students will have a real fashion show complete with lights, cameras, and action!  We have used a wing of our building and set it up with a runway with lights.  The girls will show off their style and modeling ability.  They will change clothes several times during the fashion show.  All of their work will be on display as well for the community to see.  The young man’s artwork is hanging on the walls for all to admire.  So he is not left out at all.  A video of the groups adventures while at Think Camp will be playing during the fashion sow as well.  

Another neat aspect of the camp has been the interaction between the groups.  The photography group, known as SnapHappy, has been learning about photography from one of our own staff members who is himself a photographer. They have been taking pictures of the other groups’ activities, and along with the technology groups are making a video of the whole camp.  That’s going to be neat to see too!

 So it has been a productive and fun past couple of weeks.  It’s been neat to see how the groups have explored their interests and have put together a final showcase.  Tomorrow each group will showcase their activities for the week.  Should be awesome to see!