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Just About Anything Qualifies in 2024 as Prime Educational Material, a First-Timer in AASA’s Exhibit Hall Discovers

Visitors to the Liberty PCS booth take the BrainTap experience in the Exhibit Hall. Photo by Howard Lipin.

To a visitor wandering the colorful aisles of the AASA exhibit hall, the pillars of education might appear in 2024 to be reading, writing and – caffeine?

Liz Moore, standing at a booth for Apptegy that was cunningly disguised as an espresso stand, declared, “It’s been a very successful show so far.”

In real life, she works for Apptegy, an Arkansas company that markets apps and web sites to America’s schools.

But this is not quite real life. Instead, it’s what populated the sold-out exhibit hall of AASA’s conference in San Diego where some educational advancements take the form of smoothie vendors, dog kennels and video game shops.

This was not what I had expected from the AASA conference. In four decades as a journalist, I’ve done some odd and amazing things – flown with Chuck Yeager, brunched with Margaret Thatcher, drunk sake with geishas.

But this was the first time I’ve ever joined a crowd gawking at a glittering 2024 Lion D, the factory-fresh, high-tech, bright yellow, all-electric school bus.

“We’ll be getting nine of these next month,” said Walt Curry, my fellow gawker and director of operations for the Fairfield City School System in Alabama. “The amount of money we pay for fuel every month – it’s going to be amazing the amount of money we save.”

To be fair, many of the displays were exactly what you’d expect.

Online tutoring companies? Check.

High-tech attendance monitors? Double check.

The latest math programs? Check to the third power.

But then I stumbled upon the bicycle-powered smoothie-maker. And after peddling up a chilled strawberry delight, I met Felix, Quinn, Goose and Duck, the inhabitants of a dog-petting corral that was a popular attraction at the AASA wellness center aimed at promoting healthy habits by high-level leaders.

“It’s supposed to lower your stress,” one dog-petter explained.

Makes sense. But what explained the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps booths, all staffed by cheerful recruiting officers?

“It’s all about building relationships,” explained Greg Gilliam at the U.S. Marine Corps station. While not seeking superintendents and principals eager to sign up for boot camp, Gilliam was interested in talking to them about visiting schools to present information to their students about military careers.

Of course, just about everything can be transformed into prime educational material.

Food service firms? This way to the cafeteria.

Financial planning? “Employees can’t focus on work if they’re focused on their finances,” one booth representative said.

A company that markets video-style games – bowling, anyone? – that can be projected on walls or floors?

“You can use this for quizzes, math, science,” said Helen Sanchez of Smart & Active, which touts the teacher-friendly nature of its “Game Creator” tool.

As with any new technology, some of these tools have occasional hiccups.

At the Merlyn Mind booth, I was shown how this smart program can pull information from a variety of open source textbooks to print on a video screen answers to almost any question.

For instance …

“What’s algae?” a Merlyn employee asked the program.

“What is LGBTQ,” appeared on the screen.

Well, that wasn’t the question. But no judgment.

(Peter Rowe is a freelance journalist in San Diego and a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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