Robots and Roosters: STEM Mentor Program Visits Springdale Farm

June 30, 2010

Big Sister Taylor and her Little Sister Shalese at Springdale Farm

On June 19 the STEM Mentor Program – an innovative partnership between   The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science (The Center) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester (BBBS)   – visited Springdale Farm in Ogden, New York. 

Springdale Farm provided a wealth of STEM education and activities for the Bigs and Littles in the program, which matches fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from the Rochester area with adult mentors who have a background or passion in STEM  fields.

Owned by Monroe County and operated by Heritage Christian Services, the 200 acre farm is a working agricultural education facility open to the public. It boosts a petting zoo, greenhouse, duck pond, nature trails, picnic area and playground. 

The farm is also home to Riedman Robotic Milking Center –  a working dairy that utilizes a robotic milking machine to milk sixty cows.  Springdale Farm was the first public demonstration farm in the Northeast to install this cutting-edge technology.   

STEM Mentor participants took a tour of the Riedman Robotic Milking Center and got to see this amazing technology first hand.    

Tour of the robotic milking barn

The tour elicited many questions–by the Bigs and Littles alike.  “I have a question,” said Little Brother Raajon as he watched a cow being milked and a nearby tank filling with the cow’s white milk, “Where are the cows that produce the chocolate milk?” The Springdale Farm tour guide proceeded to answer the question with great detail for the entire group.   

Little Brother Colton in the petting farm area

Raajon’s Big Brother Jim loved how the tour evoked many questions and provided great answers. “There were good questions coming from the mentors and the mentees,” Jim said. “It was really exciting to see.”    
Big Brother Ensley also enjoyed the dairy barn tour. “I found the robotic dairy barn fascinating,” said Ensley – an engineer. “There was so much I did not know. I will certainly encourage friends to come.”    

 In addition to the dairy barn tour, STEM Mentor pairs enjoyed lunch, a roundtable discussion about informal science learning, and a scavenger hunt around the farm for science prizes like kites, volcano making kits, and owl pellets to dissect.   

“It was a cool day,” said Little Brother Shamar. “I liked everything, but I liked petting the animals the most.”  

 If you are interested in learning more about or joining the STEM Mentor Program please email the program coordinator, Caurie Putnam, at  

All STEM Mentors are Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers foremost and must first go through the thorough background check and training the organization provides.  


Fun at Springdale Farm



President Obama Names McQuaid Teacher Tops in STEM Education

June 21, 2010

Ms. Jeanne Kaidy of McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, NY

Jeanne Kaidy – a science teacher at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester – has been named one of the top STEM educators in the nation by President Barack Obama. 

On June 7, Kaidy was one of 103 American teachers announced by President Obama as a recipient of the 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  Kaidy was only one of two teachers from New York State to win this prestigious honor.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is given annually to the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers in the nation. Recipients are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.  Winners receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony at the White House.  

In the official White House press release listing Kaidy as a recpient President Obama said: “Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s strength and competitiveness and the scientists and engineers who have led America on its remarkable path to success share something very precious: science and math teachers who brought these critical subjects to life.” 

Obama continued: “Today we honor some of the best of these teachers and thank them for their dedication. They are inspirations not just to their students, but to the Nation and the world.”

Kaidy was nominated for the award by an anonymous source at the Advanced Placement College Board – a testing organization she does consulting work for.  Following her nomination she had to write a 25 page essay on her philosophy of teaching.  When she found out she was one of President Obama’s choices for the award she was thrilled, but found her students were just as excited as she was.

Kaidy's students from McQuaid doing research at Mendon Ponds.

Kaidy has been teaching for twelve years.  All of her teaching – including student teaching – has been at McQuaid.  In addition to teaching biology and AP environmental science, she is also the chair of the science department.  She has a Bachelor of Science in biology with a concentration in aquatic ecology from State University of New York at Brockport, and Master of Science in education from Nazareth College of Rochester.

In speaking with Kaidy it was readily apparent what makes her unique as a STEM educator. “I am a scientist at heart,” Kaidy said, “That is how I see the world.”  Kaidy lives the subject she teaches and treats her students as scientists as well. “I am a purist,” Kaidy said, “I teach the scientific method and what scientists do in the real world. I treat my students like scientists and give them as much exposure to the real world as I can.”

When students enter Kaidy’s Advanced Placement environmental science course they quickly learn that Kaidy is not a teacher that confines her lesson plans to the classroom.  “The first thing we do is go white water rafting,” Kaidy said. “They learn the intrinsic value of nature and it brings the class together quickly.”

Some of the other unique experiences Kaidy gives her students are a mock wolf trial – where the class debates reintroducing wolves into the Adirondacks and field work at Mendon Ponds.  At Mendon Ponds her students must design their own experiments ahead of time. All of her lessons are problem solving and inquiry based.

Another trait that sets Kaidy apart is her willingness to fail in front of her students.  “I am not afraid to try new things in the classroom even if they [the experiments] fail,” Kaidy said, “If you model risk tasking in front of your students they won’t be afraid to take risks either.”

The teacher not afraid to fail has won the most prestigious teaching award in the county – there is a lesson to be learned in that.

Article by Caurie Miner Putnam, Coordinator of the STEM Mentor Program at the Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science.

Meet a STEM Mentor Pair: “Little” Gavin and “Big” Paul

June 11, 2010

Big Paul and Little Gavin with their completed greenhouse!

The STEM Blog will regularly be profiling pairs from the STEM Mentor Program – an innovative collaborative between The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science (RACCEMS) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester.

This program matches adults with a career, education, or interest in science, technology, education, or math (STEM)  with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from the Rochester area.  STEM Mentor pairs – also called “Bigs” and “Littles” –  meet once a month or every other month to engage in a STEM related activity or outing.  All STEM Mentors first go through the thorough background check and training process to become a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

“Big” Paul and “Little” Gavin shared a STEM activity they enjoyed doing together recently – building a miniature greenhouse. 

The idea behind their activity came from the STEM Mentor Volunteer Guide – which is full of optional science experiments and activities for the duos to complete together.  Big Paul chose the greenhouse activity, “Because it seemed like it was easy enough that I knew we could accomplish it, but hard enough that it wasn’t a cake walk.” 

Little Gavin and the greenhouse he built with his STEM Mentor Big Paul.

To start the project Big Paul and Little Gavin went shopping around the house and in a store for the following supplies:  an old shoebox, potting soil, seeds, wire clothes hangers, plastic wrap, plastic cups, and tape.   

A few weeks after completing the greenhouse - flowers are starting to grow!

 It took approximately two hours to complete the entire greenhouse project.  However, the impact of the greenhouse has gone well beyond a fun afternoon. 

Big Paul and Little Gavin have enjoyed watching their seeds grow and were excited to share some before and after photos.  “I learned where plants come from and that you can plant a seed and it will become a flower,” Little Gavin said.  Big Paul learned that plastic wrap can help keep moisture in a closed container.
Their greenhouse project has also given the pair an idea for a future STEM outing – visiting a real greenhouse.

Both Big Paul and Little Gavin recommend their STEM Mentor activity to others.  “It really isn’t too difficult to make,” said Big Paul, “but it’s still enough that you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment afterwards.”  Little Gavin agreed: “It was fun making it and cool putting together the house.” 

Here are some links with different ideas to build your own mini greenhouse: 

Article by Caurie Miner Putnam – Coordinator of the STEM Mentor Program. For more information on the program email Caurie at

Teachers & Mentors: Free Energy Workshops from NYSERDA

June 5, 2010

NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) is currently offering free workshops for all New York state educators and mentors called “Get Energy Smart”.  The workshops focus on energy forms and sources, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

While these workshops are free for all New York teachers, professors, pre-certification students, and adults that work with children in volunteer capacities – NYSERDA estimates only 12% of educators in the state have taken part thus far.

One reason this percentage could be so low is a misconception that the workshops are only for science teachers.  This is not the case. Teachers in all subject matters are invited to attend, as are adults who home school and/or interact with children on a volunteer basis – such as 4H Leaders, Scout Leaders, mentors, etc.

Three levels of workshops are offered in the “Get Energy Smart” Program:

The ABCs of Energy – Grades K-3

The 4Es of Energy – Grades 4-6

Energy Trilogy – Grades 7-12 

Attendees receive hands-on instruction, while earning six staff development hours. Each attendee will leave with lesson plans (correlated to the New York State Learning Standards), as well as student worksheets, posters, and classroom materials.

Workshops are held across the state year-round. Sessions are scheduled during the school day, on weekends, and after class. Teachers that attend during the school day are entitled to have their district receive a $125 substitute stipend (per teacher, per day, paid to the school district) 

Funding for these educational workshops comes from a fee all New Yorkers receive on their energy bills called the “Systems Benefit Charge.”

To find workshops in the Finger Lakes Region click here. 

Genesee Community College in Batavia is the closest site to Rochester currently offering workshops this summer. However, check the website often as new sites are frequently added.  

Funding for the workshops comes from a fee all New Yorkers receive on their energy bills called the “Systems Benefit Charge.”