When the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was scaled down in 2020 due to the pandemic, students at Brookside Elementary School created their own version of the parade using coding, designing and engineering. Now, three years later, the Brookside parade re-creation has become an annual tradition.
The students in kindergarten and second grade use what they learn in their science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, classes to recreate the renowned Thanksgiving event. On Nov. 20, the school hallways were transformed into the parade route of Central Park West, 7th Avenue and Macy’s Herald Square. The students decorated balloons with iconic characters including Minnie Mouse, Spider-Man, and more.
The students learned to control and move each balloon via a motorized ball that was placed underneath a cup with the balloon attached to it. The balls, called Spheros, were controlled by laptops using coding that the students learned. They were able to change the color, speed, lighting and direction of the balloons.
“We have a special app on our computers called Sphero.edu,” Lauren Maywald, a second-grade teacher at Brookside, explained. “Students were able to drive the Spheros along a route using just a joystick and a keyboard.”
The focus, Maywald said, was on nurturing “innovation, creativity and interdisciplinary learning.” That goes hand in hand with the Baldwin public schools’ 2035 initiative, which is all about being “future-focused.” According to Maywald, the initiative provided a platform to explore various facets of technology, history and design.
“As part of our curriculum, students not only delved into the intricacies of the design process and Sphero coding,” she said, “but also learned about the rich and meaningful history behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
The work of creating the parade was split up between the kindergartners and second-graders. The kindergartners created marionettes and puppets, larger versions of which were used in the Macy’s parade a century ago. The second-graders created balloons that represented the present-day balloons and floats.
“Throughout our classes, we had 12 balloons,” Maywald said. “And then the students made their own individual balloons that are attached to little paper towel rolls.”
Maywald said that she finds it “very meaningful” that the parade starts with the kindergartners and ends with the second-graders.
“This was full teamwork,” second-grade teacher Kristin Maldonado said. “Working together around the clock was really nice, and it felt like that Thanksgiving feel-good feeling.”
According to Maywald, the main purpose of the project was to reflect Baldwin schools’ slogan of “innovative and inclusive.”
“We just really pride ourselves on the fact that we try to let the kids be forward thinking, getting them ready for the future, getting them ready for the workplace, and just inspiring them to come up with ideas,” she said.
Christian Souffrant, who is in Maywald’s class, said that the event was “really fun,” and that his favorite part was incorporating arts and crafts by designing the balloons. Christian created a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles balloon.
“It was hard at first to drive the Spheros, but when you get used to it, it gets easy,” he said.
According to Brookside Principal Anne Marie Squicciarini, the students are always excited to take part in these projects. Their ability to work together, create the balloons, solve problems, and take pride in their work is what’s most important to her. She noted that she was extraordinarily proud of them, and added that the project was a nice way to begin the Thanksgiving season.
“The teachers have been doing a great job of making this project evolve,” Squicciarini said.” So last year, they only did the Sphero robots, and then this year they added the component of the marionettes. And hopefully next year, we can build on that and make the program even bigger.”