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