2018 Back-To-School Code-A-Thon

This year's program was exciting, exhausting, and just all out fun.  Each year we challenge students to get out of their comfort zone by meeting new students, learning to work as a team, and solve global problems.  These are the same requests business owners today ask of their newly hired employees.  The Code-A-Thon program provides students an opportunity to explore real-world problems and gain an understanding of what life is like to work in a diverse team that must first learn together and then demonstrate their new-found skills as a team to solve a problem that they have determined will have global impact to society.

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Individually Strong, Collectively Powerful
We Connect Students, Teachers, Parents and Industry Experts to Create Amazing Learning Experiences

 

For many students participating in the program, coding is an entirely new and very foreign concept, one that they are confused about and in many cases, may have misconceptions of what life is like to code.  After 48 hours what was once foreign is now better understood and it is clear that coding is challenging, yet provides an amazing opportunity to solve real-world problems. For those first year students they still have a lot to learn, but they now know how to continue learning, what resources are available to them, and they value their team mates talents and skills that supported not only their success but the success of the entire team.

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Coding Teaches..

Problem solving, critical thinking, and synthesizing information.

Running a 48 hour Code-A-Thon is a challenge but it is so worth it.  This year two young engineers from Sandusky County OH decided to take on the challenge to disrupt the norm and show their community that by coming together they can provide their students an immersive learning experience.

"The Code-a-thon is a wonderful experience for both students and volunteers.  Yes, the students learned about a semester's worth of knowledge on how to program computers all within a 48 hour period, but they were also able to go out of their comfort zone and learn many other skills that are essential to today's work environment." said Doug Steinberger co-site lead for Sandusky County Code-A-Thon.

"The Code-a-thon is a wonderful experience for both students and volunteers.  Yes, the students learned about a semester's worth of knowledge on how to program computers all within a 48 hour period, but they were also able to go out of their comfort zone and learn many other skills that are essential to today's work environment." said Doug Steinberger co-site lead for Sandusky County Code-A-Thon.

"The Sandusky County, Ohio Code-a-Thon was hands-down a first-year success. Myself (a civil engineer) and the other site lead, Doug Steinberger (a biomedical engineer), share a passion of giving back to our hometown through STEAM promotion for youth. The Code a Thon event was a perfect fit for our mission. I was so impressed by the teens who showed up and shared their excitement and thirst for technical knowledge. When we first advertised the Code a Thon event to Sandusky County, it seemed so unlikely that we would get enough students interested, especially girls. In the end, we had 75% girls participation locally. Our sponsors were equally excited to meet with the teens and explain their need for local technical workers. Our local college even offered an extra incentive beyond the corporate prizes. The teens’ final projects blew me away—I had witnessed the time and effort it took for each participant, and during their presentations I got a bit emotional. The teens gained so much practical knowledge and experience in one short weekend."  said Elizabeth Royster co-site lead for Sandusky County Code-A-Thon.

"The Sandusky County, Ohio Code-a-Thon was hands-down a first-year success. Myself (a civil engineer) and the other site lead, Doug Steinberger (a biomedical engineer), share a passion of giving back to our hometown through STEAM promotion for youth. The Code a Thon event was a perfect fit for our mission. I was so impressed by the teens who showed up and shared their excitement and thirst for technical knowledge. When we first advertised the Code a Thon event to Sandusky County, it seemed so unlikely that we would get enough students interested, especially girls. In the end, we had 75% girls participation locally. Our sponsors were equally excited to meet with the teens and explain their need for local technical workers. Our local college even offered an extra incentive beyond the corporate prizes. The teens’ final projects blew me away—I had witnessed the time and effort it took for each participant, and during their presentations I got a bit emotional. The teens gained so much practical knowledge and experience in one short weekend."  said Elizabeth Royster co-site lead for Sandusky County Code-A-Thon.

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In order to support new host locations, we developed a scaling model to build capacity and offer our Community Ambassador Program (CAP) a leadership model for students to work towards.  Learning to teach is transformative. Anyone who has experienced having to learn content deeply so that you can help others understand through teaching knows this sense of reward well. This year we were able to provide the leadership opportunity to Vincent Occhiogrosso a Senior CAP student.  Vincent, who is now a freshman at Farmingdale University has been teaching and supporting our programs since his junior year in high school. This year Vincent supported Sandusky County and the team of volunteers to run their first Code-A-Thon. Other CAP students like Raffi Sanna, a Junior at Cold Spring Harbor High School,  was preparing for that same opportunity by teaching in our programs locally here in Long Island and in New York City. Raffi not only taught the first-year students in Westbury, but he helped shape the content that was utilized across all the Code-A-Thon sites this year.  Our CAP students are students looking for the opportunity to be challenged and to challenge themselves through these leadership experiences.   As our Community Ambassador Program grows in locations like PA, DC, OH and in NY Metro, our ability to support more communities becomes possible.

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In their third year working with WCTD the Darby, PA Community now has its own Community Ambassador Program, thanks in part to the support of the Pennwood Foundation.  We visited Darby this past December to train the CAP students on our Unlock the Box activity so that they could lead the activity during the Code-A-Thon this year. Not only does the CAP create leadership opportunities, it supports communities to bring programs that would otherwise not be available, disrupting the digital divide across communities.

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The Code-A-Thon is a community program. Our volunteers come from the local businesses looking to build a pipeline of future employees, local government supporting economic impact through workforce development, educators from surrounding schools seeking to learn and bring the knowledge back to their classrooms, parents who have seen the transformation in their child giving back to support our success, industry experts volunteering their entire weekend to teach and share their career experiences with students. Thank you to all our volunteers especially to Allison Bloom a volunteer who has been with us from the very beginning, who leads our Volunteer Management and is the first person volunteers hear from.  Without the support of our volunteers we would not be able to provide this program to students at no cost. 

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Thanks to the generosity of Insightour main sponsor of the Code-A-Thon this year, we were able to provide T-Shirts to the students and volunteers.  In seeking a company to work with to produce the T-Shirts we partnered with Spectrum Designs  for the Code-A-Thon. Spectrum provides gainful employment and meaningful work opportunities to individuals with autism within a social enterprise; in an effort to assist them in leading fuller, independent and productive lives. Spectrum is the ideal place for teenagers and young adults with autism to address possible employment barriers for the future.  Many students who participate in our programs are on the Autism spectrum, and we know first-hand how transforming learning to code can be for an Autistic student. We look forward to continuing to work with the Spectrum Design team.

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Our Industry Advisors: Meet the entire team

Thank you to John Wargo from Microsoft, Kerri Shotts from Adobe, Don Coleman from Chariot Solutions, and Chris Gomez from Medicity for giving so much time over the past year planning for the Code-A-Thon and shaping this year's curriculum for both our first years’ and our advanced web development for our alumni students. Our industry advisors are critical to our success and our ability to ensure what we are teaching can transcend into value for our students long term. Our goal is to spark an interest, and shape strong foundational skills that students can build upon to continue to learn either on their own, or through continued education in high school, college, and beyond.

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Thank you to our sponsors who supported feeding our students, providing t-shirts for the students and volunteers, prizes for the winning teams and transportation and supplies to support our host sites.  This program would not be possible without your investment and trust in our organization.

Our partnerships with industry, government and education are key to how we work together to transform education and ensure that every student has the opportunity to experience programs like the Code-A-Thon. We would like to thank the government organizations that game together to work with us this year, who supported the kick off and final presentations, as well as delivered presentations. Thank you to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, and Legislator Siela A. Bynoe for your support of our mission.  Thank you to Princess Young from the Department of Homeland Security for sharing with the students valuable information regarding free education and career opportunities in Cybersecurity.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, and Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, and Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman

A big shout out to this year's judges who came out on a Sunday afternoon to be a part of the program, volunteering their time to provide valuable feedback to the teams. Their role is the hardest role in the program, to make the difficult decision on the top three teams. Every student who participated came away with incredible value in the learning experience and investing in themselves for their future.

Check out this years projects  Winning Teams   

Check out this years projects Winning Teams  

Finally, a big thank you to my team, Maria Catenacci, Michael Teal, Allison Bloom, Maureen Sanchez, Jenny Adames, Cathy Monacella, Brigitte Apostolakos, Vincent Ochiogrosso, Raffi Sanna, Nicholas Paladino, Joseph Cassidy, Nate Eisenberg, Conor McCormack, and Thomas Carey.

Check out the Code-A-Thon Video Highlights, we hope you enjoy watching.  

Be a part of addressing the digital divide, DONATE to We Connect The Dots 

 

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

Reflecting on the past year

Reflection provides the opportunity to look within, to see how much you have changed, and the impact you have created.  This year stands out to have the greatest growth in volunteers we have had in our five years as an organization. Volunteers who want to be a part of transforming education, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be exposed to immersive STEAM programs. Volunteering at WCTD is more than just giving, it is also the opportunity to learn and be a part of an innovative community that works together to explore new technology, and learn together.

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Learning together

To create real change, it takes people who believe change is necessary, people who are committed to investing their time to create change, people that see the change first hand not only in those that they serve but those that are fulfilling the need for change. As a fully volunteer managed organization it is important that we learn to recruit, retain, train, and manage our volunteer community. 

This past year we looked at our talent pool of volunteers to seek out a lead to help us define our processes and learn from other volunteer led organizations.  The Volunteer Management team supported us by researching best practices and helping us to shape the volunteer recruitment process. Our teams are always a blend of our CAP students and industry experts. This model provides opportunities for students to gain real-world experience with industry mentors. Together we created a methodology that met our needs to support our organizational development and to support our program operations.

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Learning to fail fast when things did not always go according to plan was key to our success. After a yearlong development, adjusting when needed, we have vetted a process that is working for us. It will continue to need modifications as we grow, but the engagement model is supporting our needs to build capacity. Visit our website here http://we-connect-the-dots.org/volunteer to learn more about the volunteer opportunities, and how we support our volunteers in learning to utilize the latest productivity tools to support our organization.   

Strategic Partnerships and Measuring Impact

We have invested in alliances with many statewide organizations this year, partnerships with the NYS School Board AssociationNYS Superintendents Association, and the NYS Parent Teacher Association. Because of these partnerships we had a record number of school districts participate in our annual Discovery Day at Microsoft this past spring. Over 500 students, teachers, and school administrators came from across the state to experience a Day of Discovery at the Microsoft Office in Times Square. Our alignment with schools in economically disadvantaged communities continues to grow, this year of the 1000 students we impacted, 75% of our program participants came from these communities. With 43% of our participants young women learning about the possibilities for them in STEAM careers.

Our goal is to maintain a 50:50 gender ratio across all our programs.  Many of our programs have exceeded 50% of female participation.  Our average across all our programs this past year was 43% female to 57% male. 

Our goal is to maintain a 50:50 gender ratio across all our programs.  Many of our programs have exceeded 50% of female participation.  Our average across all our programs this past year was 43% female to 57% male. 

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We continue to measure our outcomes through pre- and post-assessments. This year through a partnership with Dr. Dean T. Spaulding, of Z Score Inc. we developed our DOTS STEAM Skills Inventory(DDSSI) measurement tool. Designed to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. This instrument consists of both close-ended “Likert” type items to gather quantitative data, as well as open-ended items to gather depth and breadth of information from participants. Overall, the DDSSI gathers information across four subareas for participants: Persistence, STEM Career Interest, Self-Esteem, and 21st Century Skill Development.  We look forward to sharing our research results from our DDSSI tool in the first quarter of 2018. This tool will provide our organization the ability to evaluate our program impacts through research data.

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IMPACT

Measuring change through research

Cybersecurity

Each year we develop new curriculum content and utilize our Discovery Day program to experiment with piloting new innovative pedagogy models. This year we introduced an additional activity to our Cybersecurity Curriculum called "Unlock The Box". This activity designed in a collaborative effort with students, teachers, and industry experts shaped a fun learning experience to teach digital literacy through the awareness of cyber-attack vectors. The learning outcomes designed to support an introduction to foundations in networking, and digital citizenship, also added a blend of career information in the field of Cybersecurity.  This newly created program was delivered to over 800 students across NY State within the first 6 months.

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Digital Literacy

This past summer "Unlock The Box" was also incorporated into our new Workforce Experience Program (WEP) delivered in partnership with Microsoft and the City of Charlotte North Carolina. In January 2018, the activity will be included in our 3rd annual Code-A-Thon. Informing students of the importance of digital citizenship and the opportunities in the field of Cybersecurity is a priority initiative for our organization. We are proud to exceed our goals this year in reaching over 1000 students, teaching key digital literacy concepts and informing students of the career opportunities that await them. We continue to align partnerships to expand our Cybersecurity programs and are excited to partner with the Department of Homeland Security this January at our 3rd annual Code-A-Thon.

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Developing Problem              Solvers

Workforce Development

Through the support of Microsoft, we continued expanding our presence in Charlotte, NC this year with the introduction of our Workforce Experience Program (WEP).  We will continue our growth in Charlotte in the summer of 2018 through the expansion of the WEP and follow with the Code-A-Thon in January of 2019. This investment in supporting Charlotte aligns with our long-term plans to build capacity in the Charlotte community through our Community Ambassador Program, creating organic growth and impact for the communities that need our support.

Video Journalist Waldo Cabrera Featured Interviews: Laurie Carey, Founder, We Connect The Dots Will Bertolotti, Manager, Community Ambassador Program Alyssa, Farmingdale High School Jibrael, Valley Stream South High School Mahan, Farmingdale High School Kaitlyn, Farmingdale High School Fatima Saleem, Community Ambassador, Adelphi University Maestro, Personal Trainer 

Coding to solve Global Challenges

As we prepare for our 3rd Annual Code-A-Thon we are excited to work with the community of Sandusky County, OH as they deliver their first Code-A-Thon in January. This new partnership is an opportunity to support the efforts of a community to bring awareness of the career opportunities in STEAM, and inform the diverse community of students how learning coding can empower positive change as well as support economic growth in manufacturing and engineering businesses. The Code-A-Thon is another example of how community engagement supports organic growth and impact for students, teachers, and the local businesses who support the program.  

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LEARNING TO CODE IS LEARNING TO SOLVE PROBLEMS

Organic Growth

Our model supports large scale impact in communities to bring awareness of the careers and the skills necessary for this next generation of our workforce. The organic growth comes from the combined efforts of the students that participate, our Community Ambassador Program (CAP), the volunteers who are leading the initiatives, and the businesses and industries that support funding of the programs.

Our CAP is expanding this year from NY Metro into PA and DC, providing the opportunity for students to collaborate across state lines for the first time as CAP participants. We are excited about this growth model. To create organic impact for these communities.  For PA, it is continued growth from our Code-A-Thon, and in DC it will be the beginning of our programs in this community.

This recipe for success continues to demonstrate what we can do together to ensure that every student can experience the careers that are in their future, and the skills needed to succeed. Our diversity model supports teaching young women what it is like to work in a diverse group to solve global problems. It teaches the value of diverse thinking in innovation, and how diversity across socioeconomic backgrounds enables us to be better problem solvers, to think critically, and work together towards a better future.

A Place to Call Home

We began 2017 with a new home in Westbury, NY at 1025 Old Country Road. Through the generosity of the building management we have been able to utilize the space to meet as an organization, build relationships, engage our volunteers, and to run our programs to support our mission. Over the next year we will be developing a state-of-the-art STREAM (science, technology, research, engineering, art, and math) Center at this location.

Our vision is to provide a cutting-edge resource center, with a digital lab environment, industry- leading technology for students and teachers throughout Long Island to experience. A center where you can experience STEAM workshops, the latest in professional development, providing a showcase for education and learning experiences that many school districts would not normally be able to provide.

To create long term change we must create parity between industry innovation and education needs for every child and every teacher. We must reduce spending and consolidate resources without sacrificing those that need it most. This center is an opportunity to create a model to replicate and bring about the change in education that is necessary to ensure we have greater diversity within STEAM careers, diversity not only in gender but in socioeconomic balances.

How can you be a part of the positive change?

We are an organization that has been primarily self-funded for the past 5 years.  We have maintained growth through the generous support of our industry partners, volunteers, and our sister organization Laurie Carey Consulting, LLC. Our sustainability model has served us well over the past 5 years.   We have impacted well over 1000 student’s year after year and growing, exceeding 5000 students in just 5 years, impacting communities in NY, NJ, PA, NC, OH, and DC.

Our organic growth model has demonstrated that we can build momentum in rural communities where exposure to the programs we offer is limited or nonexistent. Like any startup business we need investors to help us continue to create positive change to prepare the next generation to sustain in the careers of tomorrow. Be a part of our continued success by making a donationsponsoring our programs, or volunteering to mentor or support us operationally.  

Funding Outreach

We are a lean highly efficient organization that runs our organization through technology productivity tools that enable us to do more through a volunteer team.  A team that works full time jobs, or are students in High School and Universities. We place 100% of our funds into our programs, programs that are free to every student.  The only requirement to participate is the passion to want to learn and empower their own success. As we expand we are in need of developing a leadership model, one that can support our growth while ensuring our mission to empower and impact communities continues.

Kathy Bunce Fellowship – Executive Director Leadership Role

In 2018 we are seeking funding sources to expand and create a pipeline of leaders through a Fellowship program.  We are seeking funding to support a three term Fellowship pilot that supports a leadership opportunity for a graduate student studying in a field related to philanthropy leadership. This fellowship will provide an individual, leadership training, grant and funding training, with goals aligned to support WCTD over a 2-year commitment, providing a stipend for a half time contracted position. 

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Building Capacity

To Lead

This six-year pilot will create a repeatable leadership model, developing strong talent in the philanthropic community.  Building a strong leadership pipeline that will help to drive our organization to reach our goals, at the same time develop leaders in philanthropy that can support other organizations like ours.  Over time we believe this will transition into a fulltime 2-year term and even grow to multiple fellowships happening concurrently as the organization grows.

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This is an exciting opportunity to transform education.

STREAM Center 

Help be a part of shaping our future and the building of our STREAM Center space in Westbury, NY. This is an opportunity to be a part of investing in a model that will be replicated in communities across the nation. You can support this effort through donations, volunteering to design the space through our STREAM Center Advisory Board, or becoming a member as an Industry Partner, Education Member, or Individual Member.  To learn more, visit our STREAM Center information page where you can download the membership model draft documents.

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Thank you to our Volunteers and our Sponsors

We Connect The Dots Founder and Executive Director, Laurie Carey, recently joined journalist and innovative problem solver, Devin Thorpe, to discuss how we can be better communicators, thinkers, and professionals in a fast-paced, technology-dependent world. By disrupting the status quo and diversifying - not only in our professional workplace but also in our personal relationships - we can benefit from differing perspectives, fostering innovation, and positive change. 

In her endeavors in both the for-profit and nonprofit arenas, Laurie has taught students, teachers, administrators, and other working professionals strategies to work and communicate in brain-friendly ways that benefit their relationships, education, and businesses. 

Some of the methods for brain-friendly communications which Laurie shares in her interview are the foundations for her consulting practice and the pedagogical framework for We Connect The Dots' educational programs. 

Overcoming Brain Bias: Brain bias occurs without conscious thought and affects the decisions you make every day. It can be a blockage preventing you from making more positive relationships in your professional or personal life, or it can prevent you from learning something new. Laurie can often be heard using the words "getting uncomfortable to get comfortable" or encouraging people to stretch themselves. Though it can be difficult or uncomfortable at first, setting goals outside your comfort zone is a way to develop new skills and advance further than was previously thought possible. Though we create our biases over a long period of time, conscious thinking and actions can reshape the way we execute decisions and eliminate brain bias from our daily lives.

Diversity and Innovation: We live in a diverse world, where people of differing ethnicities, religions, and values shape our society. Companies and other professional workplaces spend huge sums of money in order to teach people how to work in a diverse environment because leaders have begun to realize that a blending of different perspectives, diverse mindsets, and ideas is a direct path to innovation. We can promote diversity by simply being open to the idea and creating a space in which to allow for the sharing of different values and ideas. 

Disruption is an Engine of Positive Change: Technology continues to disrupt our workplaces, schools, and communities in a myriad of ways, and the trend of late is that it happens more and more rapidly. Industries that cannot navigate or mitigate disruption to their systems are doomed, but the ones that can are the ones that create positive change. As Laurie likes to say, "You can either be disruptive, or be disrupted." What you choose can determine your future. 

We Connect The Dots is an organization that creates positive change for the next generation. You can be a part of that change by supporting WCTD and our students around the world. Click below to learn how you can support WCTD. 

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

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.