High Tech Night at MCC

March 31, 2014

Last week we attended the High Tech Night at MCC.  This Annual event is a great opportunity for students interested in Engineering and other high-tech fields to take a look at some local companies and see what they have to offer.  I attended with my high school freshman, who is a current participant in our high school’s Project Lead the Way program.  He was surprised at the many different ways companies used Engineers, and how different the jobs looked depending on what the company’s focus was.  It was eye opening to see the many opportunities there are in the Engineering and Technical fields.

One of the hands on demonstrations - plastic injection molding

One of the hands on demonstrations: plastic injection molding

Our region has many high-tech companies, and many of them were on-site to showcase who they are and what they do.  There were several booths that had video presentations, they all had staff willing to answer questions, and many of them had a hands-on component.  The hands-on displays were a huge hit, as evidenced by the crowds at these stations as teens lined up to participate.  We were able to see how contact lenses are made and the various stages they go through before being delivered to the consumer, how a 3-D printer works, and even learned how to operate a plastic injection mold to make a small screwdriver.

The RIT Racing Team's display was a big hit!

The RIT Racing Team’s display was a big hit!

In addition to the company displays, there were several colleges represented that had information on their Technology and Engineering programs.  MCC had multiple tables showcasing the many different options they currently offer, and there were also tables from Syracuse University and Rochester Institute of Technology.  RIT brought their student-made race car from their racing team, and that was a huge draw as well.

Group tours of MCC’s labs and buildings were also offered for anyone that wanted a close-up look at the facilities being used in their programs.  Between the tours and the displays, there were many ways to explore the field in an engaging manner, and my high-schooler left with a better grasp of what career paths could be in his future if he wanted to continue along the engineering path.

The Sky Op, a remote-controlled aerial videocamera

The Sky Op

My son’s favorite display was from a local company called SkyOp.  They build unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are basically a remote-controlled mini helicopter, that carries a video camera.  The staff were very engaging and were great at answering all the questions my son had about how long the battery life is (about 20 minutes), how much they cost (depends on size) and how durable they are (quite, and we got several stories of accidental landings and how well they fared).

The presenters were all very engaging and asked the students about themselves, what they wanted to study, and offered tips on course selection (take math and science, and lots of it!) as well as offering some information on internships and entry-level job opportunities.

If you have a student interested in the high tech fields, this is a great opportunity to learn more about what is available locally and to see recent developments in the field.  I would highly recommend going.  This event is run annually at MCC in the early Spring.

Building to Learn

March 27, 2014

At the RIT Center for MAGIC (Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity), we talk a lot about making things. Well, more correctly we make a lot of things and occasionally talk about them – we’re probably guilty of focusing more on making than on examining the how and why we do so.

A little while ago I was cleaning our house and I found a piece of homework debris my son had stuffed in a backpack. It looked like this:

My son's homework assignment

My son’s homework assignment

I was somewhat intrigued, because (a) I like to make things, (b) I was curious as to his intentions in making this, and (c) it was colorful. What I discovered was that he gets a sheet like this quite often, with three random words on it. He’s learning his letters, and his ‘job’ is to copy the word in the boxes below. The idea, one might suppose, is to spend enough time writing various letters and combinations that they become familiar and/or habit. It’s the 10,000 hours theory applied to letters.

So every day or two there’s another sheet, more words, more letters. OK. I asked him about the colors. He told me the colors are there to make it more fun and so it looks pretty. I asked him about the words and he stared at me blankly for a bit. I asked again “what do the words mean?” He knew all of the words, but had to stop and think about it – the frame he was operating in for that assignment, letters, didn’t have any context for the words. It wasn’t about words. It was about letters.

More ironically, I found a bunch of the other sheets and they are largely nonsensical as sentences. There’s clearly a program at work that randomly spits words across a page for students to copy, probably ensuring that every letter gets used so often or some such. I don’t know. What I do know is that this particular sheet, or this particular teacher, is either brilliant and subversive, or this is one a truly masterful piece of art arising from random chance.

You see, I know my son. I asked him whether he liked the letters assignment (he didn’t) and what he felt he was getting out of it (blank stare). About the same time, I caught him making letters out of Lego. “See, this side is slanted. This side is curved. This part connects these other parts.” He still struggles with the motor-dexterity of creating the letters, and probably will for a while. But he doesn’t struggle with the patterns of the letters themselves, or their meaning – he reads grade levels beyond his age. For him, thinking of letters as constructed objects with meaning was critical.

What if we learned about language not by learning a complex (and in American English somewhat arbitrary and convoluted) ruleset through memorization and practice, but by creating languages and studying patterns? We have the tools to do this at our fingertips – but we don’t.


Read the rest of this entry »

Why Integrate STEM and Project Based Learning?

March 19, 2014
Looking how to put all the STEM pieces together in the classroom?  Check our our new summer professional development program.

Looking how to put all the STEM pieces together in the classroom? The STEM Hub’s Summer Institute will show you how!

Educating students to become career and college ready requires not only providing students with core learning and 21st century skills, but also requires motivating students to delve deeply into the material, explore the material from different perspectives, and gain fluency in applying the material to new problems.

Research[1] shows that the key ingredients in generating student motivation are:

1. Having students believing that the lessons are purposeful (i.e., relevant and social)
2. Having elements of self-determination embedded in the learning (problem or project base learning)
3. Having an expectation of success (proximal difficulty and scaffolding)

The STEM Hub Summer Institute is designed to help teachers build on these ideas to develop lessons that support advanced learning. Critical to the institute’s program is to connect teachers through focused industry tours with engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and professionals that use the material a teacher wants to include in their lessons in real life, meaningful ways. In addition, the summer institute is also committed to bringing together teams of experts in curriculum writing, design of assessments, use of technology, and integration of scientific instrumentation into the lessons.

During the week of August 11, the Summer STEM Institute will bring together a critical mass of industry and instructional resources to help teachers move their instruction to new levels. The institute will be a success if teachers try new STEM learning in their classrooms, share their experiences with other teachers, and ultimately, if they excite and engage their students in STEM learning.
Information and applications can be found here.  Applications are due March 31, 2014.

[1] Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation | Video on TED.com, http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

Guest blog submitted by:

Dr. Bruce Capron
School Business Official
Livonia Central School
Director of Finance
Honeoye Falls – Lima Central School

Would you like to be a guest blog contributor?  Please contact the STEM blog:  tammybon@empirestem-fl.org

Pi Day is coming!

March 11, 2014
One of the tastiest ways to celebrate Pi Day

One of the tastiest ways to celebrate Pi Day!

March 14th (3/14) is also known as Pi Day, an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π.  Officially recognized by the US House of Representatives in 2009, Pi Day was first celebrated on a large scale in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium.  Pi is a symbol used to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.14159. Pi Day is a great way to break out of the winter doldrums by having fun with math!

Fun Fact:  Did you know that Pi Day is also Albert Einstein‘s birthday?

Math has escaped the classroom!  Check out the Pi Sightings page to see Pi everywhere.

Check out all these Pi Day activities:

Parents:  There are many math activities that can be done at home, but in talking with students and parents, the favorite way to celebrate Pi Day at home is by bringing some pi(e) to the dinner table.   Chicken pot pie, shephards pie and of course, pizza pie are all great choices for a pi-themed meal.   There are even more choices to finish off your meal with, as pie is definitely a family-favorite dessert.  Check out this great list of ideas for other edible (and non-edible) ways to celebrate Pi.

Other fun ways to celebrate at home include taking a family walk, jog or bike ride for 3.14 miles.  NY Weather not cooperating?  Hop in the car for a short 3.14 mile drive.  Locally, The Rochester Museum and Science Center has special Pi Day activities from  3:14 – 6:28 pm on Friday.  If you can’t make it on Friday, they will have the same activities on Saturday and Sunday from 12-4.

Teachers:  Find grade-specific activities at Education World.  Want to include some Pi Day fun into your ELA classes?  Try writing a Pi-ku,  a math version of the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic haiku. A Pi-ku of course, follows a 3-1-4 syllabic pattern.

Fun pi t-shirt from www.zazzle.com

Fun pi t-shirt from http://www.zazzle.com

For example:

Math is fun
Mixed with some pie

See this fun idea along with 4 others in the HOMEROOM (US Dept. of Ed blog).

A look ahead to next year: In the year 2015, Pi Day will have special significance on 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m., with the date and time representing the first 10 digits of pi.

Need more ideas?  Visit the Pi Day website and Teach Pi website  for many more ideas and resources.

Last 2 weeks for Math Midway!

March 3, 2014
Ride the square-wheeled tricycle in “Pedal on the Petals” and experience a surprisingly smooth ride.

Ride the square-wheeled tricycle in “Pedal on the Petals” and experience a surprisingly smooth ride.

If you haven’t checked out the new Math-related exhibit at the Rochester Museum and Science center, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. From carnival-inspired booths to brain-challenging activities, it all “adds up” to a load of fun!

The Math Midway exhibition celebrates the wonders of mathematics. More than 20 interactive, playful exhibits allow visitors to slip naturally into the world of pattern, shape and number.

The carnival theme adds to the fun and excitement of exploring this world. The Math Midway encourages direct physical investigation of the surprising breadth and variety of mathematics that can be experienced at many levels.  The age range is Pre-K and up.

See how mathematics can be an experimental science, how it can be a lens through which to view a situation, and perhaps most importantly, how math can be a fun activity accessible to everyone.

We checked out the exhibit this weekend during a Cub Scout overnight at the Museum, and it was a hit with kids and adults alike!

For more information about the exibit (which ends on March 17), click here.