Learning to be a critical thinker is an integral part of any modern student's education. The necessity to think through a problem using logic, experience, and analysis is evident in how we are evolving as a society: problems rarely have one clear solution, needs can often be satisfied in more ways than one, and innovation lies along both of those lines.

Students learning to code in C# to develop a game in Unity 3D

Students learning to code in C# to develop a game in Unity 3D

If you ask five students "What is three times seven?" you would hope to get five very straightforward answers; it is a simple question. But if you ask five students "How should the U.S. address its dependency on foreign resources to satisfy its energy needs?" no one is going to take out their calculator and tap out an answer. The question itself demands a higher level of thinking, research into the issue, analysis of facts, and synthesis of information from multiple sources. This is where critical thinking becomes a necessity, and the reason why schools are trying more and more to integrate critical thinking skills into their curriculum.

We Connect the Dots teaches critical thinking and problem solving through experiential learning programs, providing students the opportunity to stretch outside their comfort zone by introducing students to new learning experiences with a brain based learning approach.  This past July, WCTD challenged students to get out of their comfort zone and build the mental muscle they will need to solve real world problems in their future. The summer program, called CreatingSTEAM, charged students to work collaboratively to design a business model that would serve a need for humanity, integrating a variety of different software tools, robotics, sciences, and technologies, all while giving them the space in which to think critically to address the challenge. 

Students began the 10-day program learning a variety of different tools that would assist them in their mission: Windows 8.1, OneNote, Yammer, Skype, App  Studio, Visual Studio, PuTTY (for the robotics segment), 3D Printing, website design and iMindMap. Combined with keynote sessions and panel discussions to bookend the days, this was the foundations period in which students were given the knowledge they would need to be successful in the rest of the activities. Each of the foundation skills and tools that were introduced are tools that students can use in real world scenarios after the program has ended. The mind mapping activity in particular was very important, as it was used for the students to introduce themselves to one another. Students created a map of their identity, and then explained themselves using the map so their teammates could get acquainted with one another. It was an excellent bonding experience for the teams. Teaching students the importance of getting to know their team members was integral to the success of their projects.

Students complete their hand-drawn mind mapping exercise to introduce themselves to one another.

Students complete their hand-drawn mind mapping exercise to introduce themselves to one another.

Student using iMindMap, a ThinkBuzan product.

Student using iMindMap, a ThinkBuzan product.

From there students were given time to learn to use their robot. Provided by Trossen Robotics, the HR-0S1 humanoid is a teaching tool that allows students to see how servo motors work, and how the movements of those servos can be built and mapped using computer language (PuTTY). Once the students could make the robot perform basic functions (wave, nod the head, flex certain joints and even stand from a face down position) they were ready to begin working on their business concept. This is where the critical thinking skills became more important. 

Students were asked to create a hypothetical company that provided a benefit for humanity and served a societal need. The business had to incorporate the robot as a centerpiece for the mission, and the students were required to create a website, application, and video (commercial) that detailed what their company would achieve. After giving students the parameters of the project, the conference organizers took a very hands-off approach, allowing students the space to develop their ideas. This was a very important step for the students, because it required them to brainstorm an idea for their company, decide what roles each member would play, and find a solution to an issue that had a multitude of different answers. 

The design of the conference served a twofold purpose. 1) By introducing students to a wide variety of tools, industries and professionals, students would be exposed to something they were passionate about, thereby gaining a greater understanding of what kinds of careers would be available in the future, and what they might like to do for a living. 2) By leaving their projects open-ended, but giving them a clear goal to achieve, students could access and develop their critical thinking skills to solve a problem or provide a solution to a societal need. The approach seemed successful in both respects, in that students not only left with a greater understanding of what they might like to do in the future, but also created seven unique and worthy projects.

Student prizewinners posing for a group photo on the last day of the conference

Student prizewinners posing for a group photo on the last day of the conference

Students celebrated the project results with their family members during our final program conclusion, but the best part is that all WCTD programs never really end.  Our students stay connected in our student Yammer network where they can continue to learn and stay engaged with the student community, and where industry experts from our programs participate to help support their continued learning experience through questions and postings. This community is a growing and thriving collection of students and experts who have a common goal in mind: to provide a safe learning environment for students everywhere.  

You can be part of our organizations community where you can connect with our team and stay informed about our programs and volunteer opportunities. Just go to www.yammer.com/weconnectthedots and request an invitation. 

 

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey
CategoriesSummer Programs

We started this journey over 19 months ago and here we are looking back on an amazing week called CreatingSTEAM, a five day experiential learning conference centered around STEAM careers.

Along the way we pivoted just a few times as any business getting started might do.  Each step in the journey created new relationships and new ideas that brought us closer to our vision.  That vision is to provide students, teachers and parents a look at what might be possible for a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM), and the 21st century workforce skills needed to be successful in these careers. 

Through our program students build a foundation of competencies. Creating confidence in stretching beyond their comfort zone, resulting in the desire to explore new possibilities.

  • Leadership skills
  • Collaboration skills - Both within and across teams
  • Self-regulation
  • Strong Communication Skills
  • ICT Learning
  • Knowledge Construction
  • Problem Solving

We create a passion to learn new and exciting things and weave the technology skills throughout the experiential learning program. 

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Day 1 - Science

The first day began with a focus on Science.  The goal is to get our teams, six in all, to learn to work together for the week ahead.  Like in any business, a successful team ensures the delivery of a successful product or service.  Our goal is to teach our students how important it is to work on a team and what it means to work in a diverse team of students with differing ages, cultures and genders.  This is truly what the professional world will bring for them in their future. 

Students first met online in our Yammer community before they even met in person.  Our team leads introduced themselves and helped start online conversations to break the ice and learn a bit about each other.   Getting the students comfortable with our online collaboration tool was important. They would spend many hours using the tool at the conference to collaborate, post ideas, questions and feedback. After the conference, through the use of Yammer students will stay engaged with new friends and continue their relationships they have created; building a network of industry experts, teachers, and students from around the world that they can leverage to support their career journey.   In addition, to help the teams run more cohesively, each student experienced an online personality assessment to learn about their values and the values of their team members. This enabled the students to work well together as a group.  The experience is priceless.

We began day one with understanding the technology tools that the students would utilize throughout the week.   Tools like mind mapping, digital note taking, IP conferencing, and how to use Microsoft's new Windows 8.1 operating system.  Through the generosity of ThinkBuzan each of our students would receive a free license to iMindMap. Our students experienced a fun team-building exercise where they introduce themselves to their team members through mind mapping.  They did this first by using whiteboards and markers to express with pen, color and the hand.  Many students demonstrated their artistic talent through the pictures that were drawn.  They demonstrated their creative side and they really enjoyed the experience.

Not everyone can express themselves well through drawing, it can be awkward and make them feel uncreative if they lack the drawing skills.  That all changed when immediately after drawing with marker they were asked to draw digitally through iMindMap, using the same exercise to introduce themselves but now with a tool to bring out their creativity.  The result was breathtaking; they did not want to stop.  Students would comment on how much this experience allowed them to truly show their creative side and express themselves with clarity. Bringing out creativity is key in innovating in science.  Working in teams also requires strong communication skills, learning to work and communicate within and across teams in today's competitive workforce is a must.  Many employers look for this quality when hiring and find this a rare quality in candidates for employment.  This is a core foundation of what we teach our students.

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Teaching students the communication tools of today and how communication skills translate into these tools empower students to be able to collaborate effectively within and across teams.  Our students engaged in a fun exercise in learning to utilize Microsoft Lync to collaborate in voice over IP conversations with video, IM, and digital whiteboards.  Learning to have confidence in leading a conversation over these tools is a critical necessity for students entering this workforce where 84% of company's today have some form of a mobile workforce.

 Students also learned how to use OneNote integrated into Lync to take meeting notes and share digital workbooks across their teams.

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Some students struggle with taking notes in class and understanding their own notes.  OneNote provides an opportunity for students to be more effective in taking notes and to organize their thinking as well as their assignments for school. Learning to utilize a tool like OneNote can be a factor in their success in high school and into college.  Our students learn strong time management and organization skills through activities throughout the week-long experience. 

Day one concluded with a team building activity where students learned how their values and personality impact their behavior under stress and time constraints.  Bringing awareness to behavior styles and how they differ across the team and how self-awareness can shift their thinking and their behavior in a positive way.

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Day 2 - Technology

Day two emphasized the "T" in Technology, and what it means to be in a career as an application developer.  Lead by Reema Patel, our very first WCTD intern, the workshop introduced the students to the world of Application Development.  This session was co-branded with one of our partners, SADA Systems.

Teams then engaged in a mock business meeting where each student would be given a random role to play as they experienced first-hand taking an idea from thought to creation and all the roles that are involved.  From the CEO, CFO, CIO, and I T Project Manager, to the service company hired to create the application and the Seller, Project Manager, and Developer hired to build the application.  They would learn to listen and to be present in understanding everyone's role and what each role values in the design, and delivery of a product.  Students learned how the importance of the foundational knowledge of coding is to every role on an application development project. Understanding how coding knowledge and experience provides a stronger opportunity for career advancement and the ability to speak intelligently in a planning, designing, and deployment project at all career stages.  It is the future of the foundation of reading and writing and that the knowledge creates a journey of success.

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Our team-building activities advanced each day to continue developing students' understanding of their strengths and the strengths of their team members.  Day two engaged the students on building straw towers to demonstrate the need to work as a team to be successful in completing their final projects.  They needed to learn to work together in planning and in execution.  Just as in the real world some people are stronger planners and some are stronger at more tactical execution, drawing out those strengths and learning to leverage them to be successful is key.  This was a fun competitive activity that the students really enjoyed.  As you can see from the photos below each team took a different approach to planning their design, some groups with paper and pen and some with digital drawing.

In the end it was not about the tools used to design the tower, but about the teamwork that drove the successful execution on the tallest most stable tower.

After building a tower the teams then learned about Littlebits, a way to learn and prototype with electronic components that are magnetized to help students discover fun ways to create functional projects like a music synthesizer.   Lead by our WCTD intern Luis Tolosa, the teams engaged in creating a synthesizer and then producing a song that was created and designed by each team.  This program like many other programs introduced to the students this week is a way to get students engaged in a fun learning experience.

Watch for future programs from WCTD leveraging Littlebits for afterschool and in the classroom.

The Technology day wrapped up with a session on Managing Devices and a career panel from industry technologists.  The Managing devices session designed to bring awareness to how to keep the students devices virus and malware free and educating on what a virus is and the difference between the many dangerous infections that a computer can experience from malicious intruders. 

Day 3 - Engineering

Leading us to E for Engineering where students learned about careers in engineering and the world of robots.  Teq kicked off the day by introducing the Nao Humanoid Robot created by  Aldebaran Robotics.  These robots are amazing and students are able to program the robot to do some pretty amazing things.  Just watch the video of the results in just under an hour what students were able to produce working with the visual software and this fun programmable Robot.  We look forward to delivering our programming workshops for schools with the Nao Humanoid Robot and teaching students how fun programming can be. 

As our team projects continued on day three students were introduced to Microsoft DreamSpark and Visual Studio a free set of application development tools offered to students. 

In the real world of business, once an idea has been crafted and the team has agreed on the design requirements and the feasibility they might create a proof of concept to demonstrate the application's value and features.  Our students took a journey with a tool from Microsoft called App Studio where they were given the task to build their prototype product and demonstrate as a team the application functioning, a video to market it, and a presentation to bring awareness to the value to the business.

They must decide on role assignments, execution and time management to complete the project within the deadline of three days.   The project time was weaved into other sessions over the three days and  pressure was put on the students to stay focused and to keep things simple. 

The Yammer social community was a buzz of students collaborating and working towards completing their projects.  We even noticed students working into the night to ensure their project was a success.  Hmmm sounds like the real world.

Day three wrapped up with a session on PC hardware and a packed panel on Engineering careers.  Unisys sponsored the session on hardware and building your own personal computer.  With the help from Julian Iarussi one of our WCTD interns the session provided an opportunity for students to share their experience with building gaming systems for video game development.

Each day our career panels and some of our workshop sessions were facilitated by students from our intern program.  These students engage as a team to learn how to be strong leaders, build their communications skills through real world application, learn to facilitate and strengthen their technology skills across many industry workloads like Microsoft Office 365.  It is exciting to see the students stretch themselves and get uncomfortable to get comfortable through teaching other students and facilitating engaging conversations with industry experts. 

Day 4 - Art

As we round the corner and began to close out the week long program, day four takes us to, in my opinion, the most import letter in STEAM,  A for art.   Without art and creativity we would not have the amazing products, devices, and engineering that saves lives every day.  We need to teach students to be creators not consumers.  Our programs at WCTD engage students to express their creativity through experiential learning.  Stretching into unknown areas of knowledge and getting students uncomfortable to get comfortable.

We start day four with a new form of art called 3D printing.  Sponsored by Creative 3D Printing, students learned about this new market that is disrupting existing markets and creating new markets at the same time.  Creating new career opportunities and engaging students to get creative.  

Our team projects continued to build momentum as the students crafted their marketing videos and their presentations ready for the final day of the program.  They have learned so much over the four days, in each session and team building activity layers on knowledge while creating a team bond and recipe for fun and success. 

Today's Art career panel takes us to California via a Lync call to a young gentleman involved in digital arts who shares his career story with the students and provides insight into how he ended up in his career designing robots.  A student with a music degree that led him into the technology industry through his own creative design passion.  Students see how easy it is to learn from others across the country leveraging the power of Lync voice,  a product they learned to utilize earlier in the week.

The afternoon continued with a presentation by Thomas Carey a WCTD junior intern sharing an introduction to Unity 3D.  Unity 3D is one of the leading industry video game physics engines that many video games are designed in.  Unity 3D was one of WCTD first online programs offered in partnership with Felix Rieseberg a Microsoft Evangelist.  We are excited to continue delivering Unity 3D education programs this year through online, after school and in the classroom programs.  

We wrapped the day with a guest speaker, Dave Voyles who shared his career story with the students.  Dave is a Microsoft Evangelist from the Developer Tools division.  Dave shared his story of his determination to do something great and how he self-taught programing video games, proved himself to the industry with hard work and determination which ultimately landed him a job at Microsoft.  Dave spent two days with the students teaching them how to use App Studio and inspiring them to get uncomfortable to get comfortable.  It was a theme among all our panelists and speakers to encourage students to go beyond their limits of knowledge to seek to learn more.  

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Day 5 - Math

Wow what an amazing week it has been and the students have been working hard to complete their projects and having so much fun getting creative and working collaboratively.  We started the day with a presentation from the Teq team on learning to solve math equations on flight angles of a hover craft.  Demonstrating to students how math is utilized in many engineering and robotics design and testing.

After lunch the students took a bit of a break from working on their projects to have some competitive fun playing a game of career Jeopardy sponsored by Newsday of Long Island.  This gave the students an opportunity to learn about many amazing career opportunities in STEAM and have some fun demonstrating their know of the careers. 

The day rounded out with our Math panel where we had a visit from a CFO, Larry Bloom who shared his 30 years of experience as a Chief Financial Officer and his role as a board member for WCTD.  Earlier in the week some students had the opportunity to experience how a CFO plays a role in the decision process of many application development projects in business.  

The day closed with the teams each presenting their final project videos and presentations.  Many parents joined in the program on Friday to observe the students working in their teams and to listen in on the days program.   As each team presented their final project it was impressive what they accomplished in such a short amount of time.  Each demonstrating a functioning Windows Modern Application, a video for marketing the application and a final presentation delivered by one or more of the team.   I am always impressed by the creativity and effort the students demonstrate and the comradery within and between teams.  As the students hugged each other to say good bye they knew that this was not the end of the program but the beginning of a journey that will lead them to amazing futures.  Our program is unique in how we stay engaged with our students through our CreatingSTEAM social network.  Our conference creates an opportunity for students to build a network of friends with like interests and to stay connected as they continue to learn together through our online programs and in our future programs.

Thank you to all of our team leads, volunteers, speakers, panelists, sponsors, donors from our Global Giving Campaign and an amazing team so passionate about changing the lives of students everywhere.

A special thanks to the WCTD interns,  each of you brought your very best to this conference.  You stretched yourselves to learn and to pivot at every corner to overcome challenges and create the most amazing experience for so many students.  You should be proud of your accomplishments and I am proud to have you on our team.

It was an amazing week but now it is time to pack it all up for next year…. You guys Rock!!

The team is already busy planning next year's conference leveraging a new product called DropTask (see image below of our conference planning project).  DropTask allows our virtual team to work together to plan another exciting program. We look forward to teaching students how to leverage DropTask for school projects and for managing their homework assignments.

Join our Yammer Community at www.yammer.com/weconnectthedots to learn more about our programs and to be one of the first to register for our 2015 CreatingSTEAM conference.