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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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