Each year, We Connect The Dots holds an event at the Microsoft offices in New York City that invites schools from around the NY Metro area to participate in a full day of immersive, experiential learning and 21st century career awareness. This year's program was one of the most successful Discovery Day events held since its inception, with a turnout of six different school districts, totaling at over 175 students, teachers, administrators, and professionals that joined us for this innovative program.

Executive Director Laurie Carey kicks off our Discovery Day 2016 program at Microsoft NYC

Executive Director Laurie Carey kicks off our Discovery Day 2016 program at Microsoft NYC

Why is it important to hold this program each year? Students and teachers need to be kept up to date and aware of how technology is disrupting industries every day and changing future careers along the way.

Mind mapping with We Connect The Dots

Mind mapping with We Connect The Dots

Each year, a student's understanding of possible career choices and the technology and resources they will use in the workforce of the 21st century shift and expand. A student without a working knowledge of software tools, development principles, digital citizenship, and the basics of computer science will find himself/herself graduating into a world with fewer opportunities across the job market. Our mission is to support school districts and students by bringing awareness to the career opportunities and the necessary skills to be successful, no matter what career path they choose, thereby providing students the opportunity to discover what might be possible in their future.

Students get busy creating their mind maps and learning some brainstorming techniques

Students get busy creating their mind maps and learning some brainstorming techniques

The name of our organization, "We Connect The Dots", has meaning to what we accomplish on a daily basis.  We connect students, teachers, industry experts, corporations, and government to create community impact by bringing resources and people together. We know from experience and our metrics the positive impact our programs create for communities. When you create the right blend of learning, fun, and novelty experience, learning outcomes are extremely positive. This is proven time and again in our programs, which place diversity, experience, and the sharing of ideas at the forefront of our pedagogy. By bringing different perspectives, experiences, and ideas to the table, we are able to create an environment that supports life-long learning for students and teachers.

Teachers and administrators from Plainview-Old Bethpage get involved in the day's activities.

Teachers and administrators from Plainview-Old Bethpage get involved in the day's activities.

At its heart, Discovery Day is a day-long demonstration of new technology and educational programs, but it also offers a fun opportunity for students to tour the Microsoft office, hear about different careers in STEAM fields, and participate in gamified learning experiences that demonstrate what professionals in those careers do and how they got to where they are.

Microsoft Operations and Community Manager, Antuan Santana, giving students some insight as to how STEAM learning and careers will shape their futures, and what Microsoft is doing to give students access to STEAM educational resources.

Microsoft Operations and Community Manager, Antuan Santana, giving students some insight as to how STEAM learning and careers will shape their futures, and what Microsoft is doing to give students access to STEAM educational resources.

Workshops at this year's Discovery Day included sessions on robotics, coding, microblogging and social networking, mind mapping, and cyber security. The robotics session demonstrated to students how modern robots function, how they are controlled, and how each component links together to make the robot work. Our particular robot is a Trossen Humanoid Robot called the HR0S1, which uses the Linux emulator PuTTy to allow the user to manipulate the limbs and make the robot move. The session was led by Michael Teal, STEAM Coach for WCTD, leading students through an introduction to robotics and how they continue to impact our lives. 

Michael Teal lines students up to exemplify the concept of a daisy chain, giving students a greater understanding of the electric configuration of our Trossen HR0S1 Humanoid robotics systems. 

Michael Teal lines students up to exemplify the concept of a daisy chain, giving students a greater understanding of the electric configuration of our Trossen HR0S1 Humanoid robotics systems. 

The session on Creative Coding through Games and Apps was delivered by two of our high school community ambassadors, Anthony Brigante and Conor McCormack, who led the students through a short, creative coding session using Touch Develop. The session provided students unfamiliar with coding an opportunity to get comfortable with new terms and new resources, and followed with students working in teams to design a game.

Community Ambassador, Anthony Brigante, configures a team's system before the robotics activity.

Community Ambassador, Anthony Brigante, configures a team's system before the robotics activity.

A signature part of Discovery Day each year is a tour of the Microsoft Technology Center and visiting the showcase Data Center. The high tech facility is a showcase of Microsoft technology, where Microsoft displays some of its emergent technology. Students had the opportunity to see a live broadcast studio and visit the Envisioning Center where Stephen Jeffries, Technology Architect, gave the students a demonstration of the Surface Hub, one of Microsoft's newest products that offers interactive display technology on a touchscreen surface the size of a big-screen television.

Students get an overview of the Surface Hub interactive display from Microsoft Technology Architect, Stephen Jeffries.

Students get an overview of the Surface Hub interactive display from Microsoft Technology Architect, Stephen Jeffries.

Each year, we integrate our new curriculum development into the Discovery Day program.  This provides our team an opportunity to see what resonates with students and if our content is engaging and age appropriate. WCTD is currently working on curriculum for a high school cyber security program.  This program design project is our first international collaboration, and it includes input from a PhD student at Oxford University who is studying cyber security Learning, a teacher from Australia who has mastered PBL in her classrooms, teachers from the US, students from Australia and the US, as well as industry experts in the field of cyber security. The design team worked together to create a 1-hour session for Discovery Day. This session was delivered by one of the design team leads, community ambassador Brittney Segura. Brittney took the students through an overview of what cyber security is and how careers are evolving in that area, from law enforcement to identity protection to social media. Brittney then did an activity with the students that showed them how with just a little information and some critical thinking, a person could use internet resources to track down a criminal, much like the way the FBI does on a regular basis.  The feedback from the teachers and students was very positive and helped to shape how the program will continue to evolve.

Community Ambassador, Brittney Segura, give students an overview of what cyber security means and how it affects daily life. 

Community Ambassador, Brittney Segura, give students an overview of what cyber security means and how it affects daily life. 

Visiting a Microsoft corporate office, or any hi-tech corporate office, is a novelty for many students and creates an excitement to want to learn more. We Connect The Dots would like to thank the Microsoft team in NYC for their continued support of the program and for energizing students and teachers about the possibilities in their future and for providing the free resources for students and educators to develop the 21st century skills for success.

All photos taken by WCTD Community Ambassador Conor McCormack

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

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.






Welcome back readers! Sorry to have been away so long, but we have been extremely busy and have accomplished a great deal over the past year and there is still so much more to come. I thought I would share with you some of our successes over the past year to showcase what we have learned and where this organization is headed. 

First and foremost, we launched our first fund raising campaign this month on GlobalGiving and we are aggressively applying our social marketing skills to bring awareness to our programs and or funding needs. Our team has invested a great deal of our personal time and funds in building the infrastructure needed to scale our organization. This will ensure healthy growth and consistent results for the students and communities with which we engage.  To date, everything we have accomplished we did without any fulltime staff or funding from outside resources. Those efforts allowed us to build an organization and prove our ability to sustain independently. The fundraising campaign will now (hopefully) be able take us to the next level and allow us to grow outwardly in addition to expanding our interior.

Next, several new programs have been executed across the New York Metro area, Long Island, and in NYC.  Our programs, including Microsoft Discovery Day, impacted 100’s of students from schools across Long Island.  With the help of a very dedicated visual team we have also produced a video that highlights our capabilities and how we will impact students, teachers and communities. Interested viewers can find this video here.

Focusing on community and collaboration has also inspired three new online communities that have attracted hundreds of members. The first community, We Connect The Dots is a social platform that reaches out to our public audience who are passionate about supporting our organization through volunteering, donating, and learning together. 

We differentiate ourselves from other not for profit organizations who are focused on education and awareness in STEM.  We include the A in STE(A)M and emphasis the need to engage students through the Arts.  Without Art we would have no innovation or creativity to think beyond what exists today.  We need to encourage failure through creative expression and help students understand how a vision can become reality and solve problems for our future.  I encourage you to actively participate in our community by letting us know how we can help you better understand the challenges we face if we do not take action and engage our students in STEAM careers.

The second, our Yammer Student Network, CreatingSTEAM is a social platform where students ages 13-18 can engage in our online programs. Sessions led by industry experts offer instruction on topics such as 3D animation and application development, just to name a few. Students can meet experts, ask questions and learn about how these topics apply to important STEAM careers and correlate to what they learn in the classroom.  To learn more about our programs visit our website here.

And finally the third Yammer Student Network, The Cool Pool is a social platform where students ages 18-25 can engage in our online programs as well as apply for internships and job shadowing opportunities. Here students work together to build a network that empowers them to build successful careers.  A network where they can be social in a way that engages them to learn and to build networks with industry experts and STEAM businesses where they can discover career opportunities, find mentors, and engage in career coaching conversations.  

In the interest of expanding our educational reach We Connect the Dots has also built a virtual internship program for high school and college students. As a part of the internship program students learn to be Yammer community leads and participate in projects that support the development of our organization.  The virtual internship program is for students aged 16-25.  Students are on boarded to the program and have the opportunity to shape their learning plan and engage in projects leveraging the latest cloud services and tools. Students learn about career opportunities, learn the skills needed for careers in STEAM, seek mentors, career coaching and apply for job-shadowing opportunities with our partner organizations.

Moving toward the ultimate level of professional and student engagement our online and in person events are building momentum at a geometric rate. The flagship of our experiential learning initiative, our 5-day CreatingSTEAM student conference, has attracted many members and industry leaders. The conference will focus on educating students in 21st century workforce skills and guiding them to the careers available today and in the future. The conference also engages communities to learn together, empowers teachers to integrate technology in the classroom, teaches our students pertinent skills for a competitive future employment market, and bridges these collectives with industry experts and businesses in need of students with the right career skills. Parents are a part of the learning together approach through participation in our Yammer community and as volunteers in our programs.  Students whose parents understand the learning path can better engage and support their students learning needs.

As a result of our programs’ successes we are now a part of the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative and we will be delivering the first of many to come events in Philadelphia on June 21st at the ExCITe Center at Drexel University. For more information about YouthSpark and you can visit the website  here. 

To date our programs have impacted over 500 students, teachers, and community partners and we look forward to scaling across the US, delivering these high quality programs to a community near you.  As we embark on our first fundraising campaign our ask is to help us do more by donating so that we can continue to expand our overall impact on students, teachers, and community members. If we can reach our current goal we will be offered a permanent spot on the GlobalGiving site, ensuring that we can continue to reach out for larger donations and leverage that capital to create better programs and attract more participation from the industry.

America is at a crossroads. Many of our young people are struggling to find work in our US labor force. Simultaneously, many open positions remain unoccupied as employers are unable to locate workers with the required skill set. Many of these unfilled jobs are in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – the industries that propel innovation, competition and economic growth.

We Connect The Dots was created to address the challenge with the opportunity divide we face as a country and for that matter the world.  There are many jobs available today yet our students are leaving college in debt and unemployed.  Our students are not prepared to take those jobs when they become available.   To make an impact we need to inspire, inform and educate students on what careers are growing and the skills necessary to be ready for those roles.  Our conference is about getting students excited and learning through fun engaging activities.  We mix the learning approach throughout the day to challenge students and get them thinking differently.  Our intention is to stretch the students and get them uncomfortable to get comfortable with new experiences that will spark their curiosity in positive ways. Join us in this important initiative to bring about positive change for the future for our students future.  Be a part of the solution by donating funds to support our organization, volunteering your time to support our programs, or engage in our Yammer community to learn about other ways to support We Connect The Dots.

We’ll be back with more information in the near future, so please check back frequently to see our progress! Thanks for reading!

Further Reading: Check out these very interesting articles that highlight the career opportunities and what our next generation work force values most.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monique-morrow/five-reasons-why-women-in-it_b_5198421.html

http://www.recruiter.com/i/meeting-the-demands-of-millennial-talent/