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

Four years ago, CreatingSTEAM was a concept and an experiment. We knew education had to change. Could education evolve to a new form of meaningful student engagement and exploration? Our hypothesis was that through immersive hands- on project- based experiential learning, education could motivate, inspire, and transform students into independent life-long learners.

Every parent and every teacher's hope is that their child will be successful. Would their child be prepared to enter the world? Here’s what we saw: a generation that uses technology in their everyday lives, while having no understanding of how such technology works.  A generation unaware of the engineering, and computer science that is involved in everyday items they use, including their own cell phones, laptops, or computers. How could this situation be possible? What could we do to raise a generation of successful individuals? A key motivation for our organization was our belief that success is not given by parents or teachers but instead comes from within – that success is a mindset. We looked at classrooms and schools throughout the country and we felt it was time for education to leave behind traditional teaching pedagogies and shift to a new mindset where teachers facilitated learning, and students were empowered with the tools and resources to shape their own futures.

Students would work collaboratively with their peers, while being educated on leveraging 21st century technologies as resources for knowledge.  Our metrics would be simple: did the students enjoy the experience, did we leave them wanting more, and did our approach inspire and motivate them to seek new understandings? Or bluntly, did we empower? Did we inspire? Did we show that success is a path open to all?

With our mission and our hypothesis, we proceeded to redefine the classroom. First, we would redefine "curriculum" by weaving together the unique disciplines of neuroscience research led by Dweck, Lieberman, and Duckworth. Their research served as the foundation for all our activities and experiences. We would redefine "teaching." Our teachers would be coaches, supporting students using a new "pedagogy" of guiding students through how their brain processes information and how their brains were their ultimate tool for success. In this new curriculum, students would learn: 

  • how neurochemicals like dopamine, and norepinephrine support the hippocampus for long term memory.
  • how emotions play a part of our ability to learn and retain information. 
  • how to promote high performance in learning to obtain a greater success, and
  • how to build self-motivation, drive, and grit. 

The outcome would be a growth-mindset with perseverance, tenacity, and drive.

We got to work and four years later, our work continues. We provide students a living lab in which they can “open the hood of the car,” take a look inside, and to really understand and appreciate how the technology they take for granted actually works. Most of our students have seen a PC but few have built a computer from an empty metal case to a functioning gaming PC. This activity alone showed them how their efforts and learning could yield rewards both tangibly personal and occupationally promising.

We learn from our students, addressing their interests and aspirations as opportunities to engage them in learning. For instance, thirty years ago many students with a passion for the Arts (be it drawing, music, or theater) would have been discouraged by adults from pursuing their passion as a profession.  Even today, such students may be convinced by a parent, teacher or other influence in their life that the arts do not offer financial stability. We beg to differ – creativity and innovation drives the arts and these same skills shape our economic future. We expose our students to web-design and marketing, 3D animation, augmented reality, and mixed reality. We show our students how their mobile devices blend Art, Technology, Engineering, Science and Math into one beautiful piece of engineering at its best. CreatingSTEAM shows parents that art has a crucial place in the digital world and most importantly, educates students with artistic interests that they can thrive in the 21st century economy.

As a research organization we want to model for our students the value of constant learning and innovation. Through our research into emerging best practices, we continue to rethink, redesign, and reshape our educational programs. Two years ago we identified cyber-security as a crucial emerging skill and as a result, we introduced a novel two- hour activity to CreatingSTEAM which teaches digital citizenship while raising awareness to the fastest growing career opportunity in information technology. First introduced in our Discovery Day program this past spring, where over 500 students participated in our "Unlock The Box", this cyber-security experience took place in our online Yammer community where students engaged in a scavenger hunt to solve clues related to cyber-security. The students worked in teams to unlock four locks, each lock was tied to a scenario around teaching students about Attack Vectors, and the importance of good digital citizenship. With applications in law enforcement, defense, and business, our students gained an invaluable exposure to an exciting new field.

Designed as a journey through science and entrepreneurship, CreatingSTEAM challenges young adults to stretch outside their comfort zone, and motivates them to see the value of life-long learning. While our metrics reflect diversity in gender and ethnicity, and increases in interests in the sciences, there is nothing as valuable as the voice of our students. What is most illuminating and meaningful to us are the testimonialsof our students.

  • "Today was awesome, I had a very nice time meeting new people. I found out I had a lot in common with many people, which is rare. Brainstorming with my team was very fun. Together, we came up with many innovative ideas."
  • “Building a PC was interesting and fun and I will definitely think about using that in a future career."
  • "I enjoyed learning how to use WordPress and will definitely use it in the future."
  • "I really enjoyed the speakers we had today, they were charismatic and informative.  Speakers like that really help me get a better insight into what I want to do in my future."

Did the students enjoy the experience, did we leave them wanting more, and did our approach inspire and motivate them to seek a greater understanding of what we taught them? From our own eyes, and in their own words, the answer for this year’s CreatingSTEAM was a resounding yes. Our experiment has and will continue to deliver on its central motto: that individually we are strong, collectively we are powerful. Look at what we can accomplish when industry and education leverages its resources and efforts for the benefit of our children. As we enter our fifth year, our organization will continue to connect students, teachers, parents and industry experts to create amazing learning experiences.

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

 

2016, in our fourth year as an organization, WCTD celebrated our first official CAP Alumni student, Luis Tolosa.  

Luis teaching students Unity3D during WCTD CreatingIDEAS program in 2015.

Luis teaching students Unity3D during WCTD CreatingIDEAS program in 2015.

Luis came to us through a referral from another Long Island not for profit organization, who shared with him the opportunity to be a part of our student program. He was the second student to be invited to shape what is today our Community Ambassador Program. He was immersed in technology and leadership experiences beginning on a trip to Philadelphia, where Luis lead a program teaching 100 plus students how to design video games using XboxOne. This once shy student quickly demonstrated that he was a natural at teaching. Luis progressed from student to mentor and developed speaking and presentation skills as he facilitated panels and classes representing WCTD.  

Luis teaching Unity3D during WCTD CreatingIDEAS program in 2017.

Luis teaching Unity3D during WCTD CreatingIDEAS program in 2017.

This young student from Westbury School District came to us with an uncovered passion to learn and to give back to communities through volunteering and empowering other students. Over the past four years, Luis has donated hundreds of hours each year supporting WCTD.  He has designed curriculum, represented the organization at numerous programs, including ringing the bell to open the stock exchange in NYC alongside MSFT. He has taught students how to code, build PC's, design video games using Unity3D, and mentored students as a team lead at our annual CreatingSTEAM program. He has earned the highest honor from our organization to commit to our CAP program throughout his college years and is now a CAP Alumni, our very first to complete the CAP program from High School through College. Luis exemplifies the meaning of a Community Ambassador and we are honored as an organization to have him as our first CAP Alumni.

Near the end of his senior year of high school, Luis reached a milestone: he was accepted to college with a full scholarship to Columbia University. He would be the first to attend college from his family who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Luis graduated from Columbia University in May of 2016 with a degree in Computer Science. He now works as a software developer for a small startup company in his local community in Nassau County, NY. Luis was invited to speak as an honored alumnus to his high school's graduation. Luis continues to "pay it forward" as an Instructor and facilitator for We Connect the Dots, where he inspires students to discover their passion.  

Luis teaching PC Building in 2015

Luis teaching PC Building in 2015

Luis's trajectory from "inquiring student to mentor" represents the WCTD theory of change. WCTD aims to offer opportunity to underprivileged students and to students who cannot make a school to career connection on their own by partnering them with industry experts to mentor and immerse them in STEAM career related experiences. Afterwards, WCTD aims to develop those students to be able to share STEAM content, to choose an area in a STEAM/STEM field, and to commit to a path toward a career in innovation.

Community Ambassadors meet Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2016

Community Ambassadors meet Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2016

It is hoped that like Luis, more students will pay it forward and commit to a community of their choosing; to mentor, network, and share social capital. To facilitate that WCTD continues to work towards creating environments and opportunities for it to happen . WCTD is able to do so as a result of the work of LC Consulting, LLC, a for profit entity that works directly with schools, school districts, teachers and parents delivering programs, curriculum and professional development. A portion of its proceeds are used to support the opportunities that Luis and many others continue to be a part of.

Join us this fall at are our first annual Gala to celebrate STEAM education, where we will recognize Luis for his contribution as a WCTD Community Ambassador. Join our mailing list to stay informed regarding registration for this exciting first of its kind Gamified Gala in Westbury.

Posted
AuthorLaurie Carey

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. 

Today is Giving Tuesday a very important day for We Connect The Dots.  We hope you enjoy this next story and that it will inspire you to support our programs.  I look forward to acknowledging our donors across social media, let's make this the best Giving Tuesday possible for our students.  

Growing up I did not have many resources available to me. Coming from a low-income household and being a first-generation student, I was not able to stake advantages of many opportunities presented to me since money was always an issue. My schools growing up had a similar problem. They were not well funded and the district is pretty low-ranking when it comes to overall grades. I made the best of what I had. I was a top student in my class and graduated with a scholarship to Columbia University. It was not until I began school at Columbia that I realized how much my school district was lacking. Talking to other students from better schools, I realized my school district heavily lacked exposure. Exposure to different career paths and different areas of study. Exposure to different subjects that could really influence a student’s motivation to do better in class in general. Every year I returned to my high school and helped in tutoring and mentoring in hopes of giving students the knowledge that I acquired in college.  Through helping programs in my school district, I stumbled upon We Connect the Dots.

I began with We Connect the Dots in Summer of 2014, as I ended my sophomore year at Columbia. I was immediately attracted to the idea of being able to teach and mentor students about technology through programs offered by the organization. I am studying Computer Science and I am interested in most areas of technology with special interest in video games and robotics. One of my first projects with We Connect the Dots was to assist in teaching how to make games on XboxOne using a program called Project Spark. While I first thought I was going to be doing more One to One mentoring turned out to be teaching a session in front of others. Public speaking was never one of my strengths and quite frankly made me extremely nervous. I did my best to prepare for my teaching session, however, it fell a little flat.

In order to raise awareness for ourselves, We Connect the Dots wanted to interview and record me so I would be able to analyze and critique myself. I did an interview with Laurie Carey and later watched the recording. I have to say, it was pretty awkward! That experience, however, was extremely enlightening. I became more aware of my quirks when talking about myself or being asked a question that may not seem as professional when in an interview. After watching the recording, we did another interview which was also recorded. The second interview turned out so much better than the first! This, I did not know, would be my first steps into becoming a better public speaker.

By incredibly coincidence, shortly after this experience I was asked to do an interview that would appear on a commercial for JetBlue airlines. Carrying what I learned with Laurie’s interviews in my back pocket, I managed to impress the media people from JetBlue! They commented on how comfortable and natural I appeared to be when they were setting me up for and during the interview. Admittedly, that was definitely a confidence boost. Snippets from my interview were posted in the commercial which has been airing on every JetBlue flight since Fall of 2014 (and can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoGKWJOueKw. I figured, thousands of people watch me speak a day, public speaking is nothing compared to that.

Time and time again We Connect the Dots has put me outside of my comfort zone by having me speak in front of others. By being part of this organization I have really learned to “get uncomfortable to get comfortable”. This has ranged from teaching small sessions, talking about my experience in the organization at Microsoft’s Women Leadership Conference, and even leading my own week-long game-development conference for We Connect the Dots!

All the learning I have done as part of We Connect the Dots came full circle when I was given the opportunity to be the Keynote Speaker for my high school’s graduation. Since my time with We Connect the Dots I have broken out of my shell and had the courage to stand in front of an audience of parents, family, teachers, administrators, and the graduating class of 2015 giving advice and how, despite not being as well off as others, they can still accomplish their dreams just as all my experiences have put me on the path to accomplish mine. I spoke to accepting failure as an instrument to learn and to get uncomfortable to get comfortable, just as We Connect the Dots taught me. I have enjoyed my time with this incredible organization and love my role as a Student Ambassador, being able to share my knowledge and hopefully inspire others to follow their passions and not be afraid to break out of their shell. Keep up the amazing work WCTD!

I hope you enjoyed hearing how our organization is impacting students and will support our efforts to do more.  

Visit our donation page - http://tinyurl.com/CreatingSTEAM  

Giving Tuesday is TODAY we hope you will help us reach our goal.

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.