Tom Norton inspires students intrigued by robots and colored plastic toy bricks to get them interested in the field of technology and creative learning. “You get ‘em hooked somehow,” said Norton, Lahaina Intermediate School’s technology coordinator. Norton exchanged his job as a math teacher a few years ago for his current role, taking charge of the campus’ technological needs and its teams of students competing in both robotics and the First Lego League competition. “It is something I enjoy,” he said. He said enrollment and interest in the elective technology class has increased from a dozen last year to about 17 students in just the first three days of this school year.
Norton said he’s received professional training and support through workshops sponsored by Maui Economic Development Board. Because of the MEDB training, Norton said he’s found confidence in his role as coach for the robotics and Lego League teams who have earned spots in state level competition. Norton has also been effective in providing technical assistance and guidance whenever his 6th, 7th and 8th graders find roadblocks in tasks such as building robots or competing with Lego pieces. “I think you’d have a greater dropout from the adults,” Norton said, had the technical support from MEDB been unavailable. He said Lahaina Intermediate also received money from MEDB to order the school’s first set of robotic equipment about five years ago, as well as funds to offset travel expenses for offisland competitions.
In his role as coach and teacher, Norton said he subscribes to the philosophy “to let the kids do the work.” He steps in whenever students need guidance or get stuck on a technical problem. “I give them a lot of leeway to succeed — and also make mistakes,” Norton said. He said while students gain a lot of skills in technology, they also learn how to work together and how to be creative on projects from designing contest T-shirts to outlining presentations for judges. “This is a perfect opportunity for them to explore.” Tickets for MEDB’s annual Ke Alahele Education Fund dinner are available by calling 875-2300 or go to: www.medb.org. The benefit dinner is set for August 18 at the Grand Wailea Resort.