Hour of Code: 5th Grade Edition

December 22, 2015

During Computer Science Week, we asked you what you were doing to celebrate the week, or to get in your Hour of Code.  We heard from the Fred W. Hill School, in Brockport.

The Hill school is a busy place.  “The Hill School Learning Community is comprised of wonderful families who send us over 560 magnificent children enrolled in grades 4 and 5. We employ the most dedicated and caring adults who have uncompromising commitment and passion towards educational excellence for our students.” (source:  BCSD website)  This commitment and passion is evident in the classrooms, and their attention to STEM education is just one example.

Heidi Squillante teaches a 5th Grade class at the Hill School.  Her students were excited to share what they have been doing.

An Hour of Code at the Hill School

An Hour of Code at the Hill School

Our class enjoyed doing the “hour of code”. One of my classmates, Matthew, and I had fun completing the Minecraft program. It was like a puzzle; we would connect the little puzzle pieces then hit “run”. We watched for mistakes and fixed them together. It was like video games, in school! – Brennan

Hill 2

hands on learning – prosthetic hands!

In addition to the Hour of Code activities, students in Squillante’s class participate in STEM activities on a regular basis. From Robotics to prosthetics, a variety of STEM topics have been covered already this year.

My 5th grade class participates in STEM twice a month. One thing that I found interesting was when we built prosthetic hands. We used plastic cups, straws, string and tape. I thought that the most interesting time was when we had to make it open and close without using our other hand. Then we added blue foam to make it look realistic, it made it feel more realistic too.       – Indigo

STEM learning goes throughout the Hill school.  School-wide and grade-level programming keep the kids excited about learning.Hill 3

The STEM session I found most interesting was when we created rockets. Our class made rockets out of cardboard, paper and tape. After we constructed our rockets, we launched them with an “air launcher” pressing down on an air pillow to make them go. It was lots of fun and our class hit the target the most of any 5th grade class, 21 times! – Jeffrey

The emphasis on STEM is a district-wide initiative.  Many of the STEM projects are guided by Mr. Coon, who is a technology teacher at Brockport High School.  Mr. Coon travels to the Hill school to give STEM lessons  to all of the 5th grade classrooms on a regular basis.Hill 4

Does your school participate in STEM programming that you would like to share?  We love sharing ideas and activities here at the Hub!  Please send details to our Website and Blog Coordinator, Tammy Bonisteel:  tammybon@empirestem-fl.org





The End of an Era: Dr. Silverstone to Retire as Finger Lakes STEM Hub Director

December 21, 2015

The Empire State STEM Learning Network (Empire STEM) officially launched its regional arm, the Finger Lakes STEM Hub at a press conference held during Science Exploration Day at St. John Fisher College on May 11th, 2012.

Dr. Sara Silverstone was instrumental in the founding of the Finger Lakes Regional Hub, and has led the Hub since it’s inception.  Dr. Silverstone will retire from her position as Director on December 31, 2015.

Dr. Sara Silverstone, Finger Lakes STEM Hub Founding Director

Dr. Sara Silverstone, Finger Lakes STEM Hub Founding Director

Dr. Silverstone holds a BS in Philosophy from SUNY Cortland and a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California at Davis. After 17 years of science teaching and research, Dr. Silverstone was appointed Director of the Rochester Area Colleges’ Center for Excellence in Math and Science in 2007, and in 2011 she began the process to connect this group, and our region, with Empire State STEM through the formation of a regional hub.

Empire STEM is a statewide, community‐led collaborative advancing STEM education to prepare all students across New York State for success in school, work and life.  The Regional Hub is our local network of STEM leaders from higher education, K-12, business, government and community organizations working together to leverage resources, create best practices and build awareness for and about STEM education efforts in our area.  The Finger Lakes Hub covers a nine-county area:  Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates Counties (source: www.empirestem-fl.org).  As the Hub has grown and developed, Silverstone has guided the hub through development of many programs, including the STEM Program Recognition Award program and Summer Professional Development training courses.

We asked Dr. Silverstone to reflect over her time as Director and to answer a few questions for us.

Why is the Hub important?

The STEM Hub is the only group whose purpose is to connect all of the fantastic efforts to promote STEM education in our region. It is a catalyst for collaboration and as such, contributes to efforts of those in K-12 education, higher ed, business and industry, government and community organizations. By collaborating we can avoid redundancy, cross-pollinate and share best practices across sectors.

Why did you want to be involved?

I first caught the bug when I was teaching Biology at SUNY Brockport in the 1990s. A group of us, including Ken Schlecht and Jose Maliekal, reached out to teachers and students in the Rochester City School District. We applied for, and received, a grant to bring them out to our campus for a couple of weeks for a summer science institute. My motivation was to share some of the resources of the college with our neighbors in the city who have higher needs and lower resources than we have. I thought maybe we could help. I have always been concerned about helping children out of poverty and into college and career opportunities.  

Over the years, I have found that approaches such as problem-based learning and contextualized learning have the power to engage students in the learning process, and literally change lives. Quality STEM education has the potential make the world a better place both by lifting up those who receive it, as well as by developing creative problem-solvers who know how to collaborate and communicate. Nothing is more rewarding than working towards these goals with like-minded, passionate colleagues, such a the members of the STEM Hub Steering Committee.

What is your favorite program that the hub has developed, and why?

I suppose if I had to choose just one, it would be the STEM Video Contest, where students created videos with the theme “What is STEM?” I loved how it involved so many different kinds of people.  We had teams of students from grades 3-12 from throughout our region, creating videos.  We had their parents and teachers who coached them and came to our awards banquet to celebrate with them.  We had volunteer musicians from ARC who serenaded us, corporate sponsors who enabled us to put on a wonderful event and raise some funds for the Hub,  STEM Hub members who gave many hours of their time and talents, and local celebrity judges and emcees. It had so many elements: students doing STEM and educating the public, engagement of every one of our constituencies, fund-raising and great PR, recognition of talented and hard-working youth, and a very rewarding culminating event. We still have those 19 videos on our website.

What are you most proud of over the years you were involved with the STEM Hub?

I am proud of the Steering Committee. We have been going strong since the first meeting, in 2010. For five years we have consistently had a big turnout at our monthly meetings, with representation from K-12, higher ed, community organizations, business and government. We have all gotten along without drama, operated on a consensus basis, and consistently attracted talented and passionate volunteers who get things done. We have stayed true to our mission and vision, and continuously attract new people who bring in new energy and perspectives to the group, but without rancor or divisiveness. I just think this is a terrific group of people I am proud to be a part of.

What are your hopes for the future with a new Director at the helm?

One of the areas for potential growth is increasing the involvement of business and industry. We are now poised to strengthen our relationship with some big companies whose resources can really help us achieve our goals.  I am hopeful that new partnerships with industry can help us achieve some sustainable funding and enable us to begin another cycle of strategic planning for the next several years. When I began, STEM was not a term most people had ever heard of. Now that it is a buzzword and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, I see the Hub as being poised for growth. It is a great time for the new leader to take us to the next level.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Hub Launch Meeting.pptA search committee has been organized, and the process of appointing a new Director is well underway.  Stay tuned for a big announcement in January 2016 as we announce the new Director of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub.

In 2013, Dr. Silverstone founded Brockport Research Institute (BRI) to provide expertise in grant writing, evaluations, training, and project management to industry, government and private organizations.  After her retirement as Director, she will continue to expand the offerings at BRI while continuing her advocacy for networking and collaboration in the STEM fields.  She will remain an active participant in the Finger Lakes STEM Hub as we transition to new leadership.


STEM Program Awards

December 18, 2015

The Finger Lakes STEM Hub is proud to announce the STEM Program Recognition Awards!

Many school programs around the Finger Lakes Region make STEM Education a priority. The Finger Lakes STEM Hub would like to recognize those programs as models for others in our region.  

STEM award ribbonWho should apply?

Classrooms, schools, districts, and afterschool programs that wish to be recognized for incorporating STEM education into their curriculum.

For full details, please visit the STEM Program Recognition Awards page on the STEM Hub Website.

The application is now open!

The Application Deadline has been extended!  The new deadline is Friday, April 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm.


iCanCode- Code your Way to Success!

December 18, 2015

iCanCode is a year-round computer programming club that offers an after-school academic enrichment program in Computer Science and programming, in addition to a series of programming-focused Holiday & Summer camps for Grades 1-8.  iCanCode also works with PTSAs (Parent Teacher Student Associations) from various school districts to offer custom programming courses at the schools in an effort to enrich STEM education as part of their after-school activities.

Playing Keyboard Ninja during Camp with 6-11 year old students

iCanCode’s mission is to jump-start lower grade school kids’ digital literacy and afford the youth in the Rochester community of different ages, genders and social classes the opportunity to unlock their tech future and learn about computing at an early age using self-guided practice and cooperative learning.

iCanCode uses a fun digital sandbox that includes the many fun coding platforms available such as Scratch, Minecraft, Wix, Unity, Java, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and more.  We work with parents and PTSAs to outline learning goals, and cater learning to meet student interests and support the development of real world computer programming skills that last a lifetime.

iCanCode was born out of a desire to expand coding opportunities for Rochester-area youth.  Farrah Sammour (iCanCode CEO) was inspired to develop the program after an interaction with her then-1st grade son.

“He asked me to teach him how to make his own game. A few hours later, he created his first game “Cupcake Eating Gorilla” and became my inspiration  to provide younger kids in the Rochester community a fun environment to learn how to code.  Now, my son is in 3rd grade and not only can  he play games, he  learned how to code and make his own games and websites, coding is the new literacy as every electronic device our kids interact with is governed by code.”

In addition to our after-school programming, we also have a variety of holiday and school closure camps.  Space is still available in some of our upcoming Winter Camps!

an iCanCode Classroom

Friday Coding Challenge

The iCanCode Center is located at 1425 Jefferson Road Rochester, NY 14623. Visit us online to see all that we have to offer.  Also, for our at-school courses, weekly classes, holiday and school closure camps, please visit our online schedule of events.

Farah Sammour is the CEO of  iCanCode.  She has been in the IT Consulting industry since 2002.  Sammour holds a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from McGill University in Montreal and is a strong advocate for women in computing and improving gender diversity in STEM fields. She is Certified in Information systems auditing (CISA) and in Risk and Information Systems Controls (CRISC), along with being an active BOD member at the Western New York Information Systems Audit and Control Association and a Key organizer of the Annual IT Security and Compliance Conference in Rochester, NY.  She  has a diverse IT background with more than 14 years of IT experience in Systems Development Life Cycle and programming, iOS mobile application development, applications security and internal controls, enterprise wide platforms Oracle and SAP, in addition to various operating system environments including UNIX, LINUX, IBM iSeries, and Windows.  


Do you work with a program that provides STEM activities in our area?  We’d love to highlight your program.  Please send details to our Website and Blog Coordinator, Tammy Bonisteel: tammybon@empirestem-fl.org



Computer Science Education Week: An Hour of Code

December 10, 2015

It’s Computer Science Education Week this week! What are you doing to celebrate?

During the week, there are many activities to promote coding.  The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to appeal to beginners and show that anyone can learn to code.

What is the Hour of Code?

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages. No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104. (source:  hourofcode.com)

Minecraft Coding Fun!

Computer Science Education Week has some great project ideas for Hour of Code, including projects featuring Star Wars, Minecraft, and the cast of Frozen!

Made with Code debuts their new coding tutorial featuring Pixar’s Inside Out!


Learn to code with the Inside Out crew!

What ever your kids are into, there’s an activity that will appeal to them and get them interested in the world of coding.

The Hour of Code website features many resources, including certificates for participation, tips on how to set up events or break them down into manageable activities that will work for any setting, and more.  They also have a full resources section to help you plan and promote your event! Whether you are a teacher or parent, there are lots of ideas for any setting, any age, and any level of expertise – from beginners on up!

Did you try out some great activities this week?  Let us know how they went!

WE@RIT: A Student’s Perspective

December 2, 2015

WE@RIT-logo2_0On November 9th, the Women In Engineering (WE@RIT) program, in conjunction with the Women in Computing (WiC) program, came together to host their inaugural WE@RIT/WiC Open House.  Geared to girls in grades 5-9, this was an experiential event with activities, demonstrations and displays that showcased the many different areas of engineering that are available to our future engineers.  We invited a local middle school student to share her experience at this event.  

A few weeks ago I attended a Women in Engineering and a Women in Computing open house at RIT. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was surprised to see so many varieties of engineering. There were Chemical, Computer, Mechanical and many more types of engineering. I didn’t realize there were so many girls, like me, who liked engineering. The place was packed.

One of the many hands-on stations at this event

One of the many hands-on stations at this event

There were a lot of activities that I admired and one of them was the electrical engineering:  robotics. There was a robot that was programed to do tricks like cartwheels and handstands. I was also very interested in a computer program. On the computer you make a robot that battles other robots. This was one of my personal favorites.

My sister also accompanied me and her favorite activity was a big surprise. It was mechanical engineering and materials in science. Really what it was, was playing in goo!

Hands-on gooey fun!

Hands-on gooey fun!

Programmable Robots!

Programmable Robots!














Overall I had a great time. There were a lot of activities that kept me engaged. It was a lot of fun. I would definitely do it again if they have another open house.

Alexandra Covert is a 7th grade student at the Oliver Middle School in Brockport, NY.

Are you a local student interested in writing about your experiences in local STEM activities?  We invite you to join us for our student guest blog series! Contact our Web Administrator at tammybon@EmpireSTEM-FL.org



Initial STEM Coach Goal Met

December 1, 2015

Earlier this month we featured the RES STEM Initiative and their call for volunteers to get more STEM coaches into area classrooms.  If you didn’t see the original blog post, you can read it here:  STEM Education is Important – and You Can Help!


The RES STEM Initiative has exceeded the 2015/16 school year starting goal to have 30 volunteer Coaches available to support STEM teachers in Upstate New York.  We filled the conference room the evening of Thursday November 5th, with STEM Coach candidates, Teachers, and School Administrators interested in building the connections that put technical people into classrooms.  Engineers, technicians, entrepreneurs, machinists or anyone with a STEM Related Background, will now begin to support hands-on STEM Delivery.  (The year-end goal is more than twice that number.)

November meeting was well attended

November meeting was well attended

The “magic” is that these people have the real-world application experience to make whatever STEM Topic their teacher/partner is pursuing, tangible, usable, and therefore worth remembering!  These Technical people not only bring concepts, but in particular, they bring the Hardware that supports STEM instruction, to the classroom.  We are offering volunteer STEM Coaches to all Rochester area school districts.  Six STEM Coaches are already working at Honeoye Falls-Lima Primary School.

Taking a closer look with Survey equipment

Taking a closer look with Survey equipment

If you have a Science Technology Engineering or Mathematics background, and are retired (or available during school hours), please consider joining this effort.

The RES is also providing Literacy Tutoring at the Dr. Walter Cooper Academy.  This is a Third-Grade volunteer initiative that also needs your support.

There is a BSA Explorer Troop run by the Rochester Engineering Society, where Teens get an eleven-week exposure to Area Engineering/Manufacturing Firms, and extensive Career-Path guidance from practicing Engineers.  We featured this Explorer Troop earlier this year on our blog.  Check out the blog post here.

For further information, please use the Contacts below:

STEM Coaching:  Jon Kriegel –  jkriegel@rochester.rr.com  or cell: 585 281-5216

Literacy Tutoring:  Lee Loomis – leeloomis46@gmail.com

RES Explorer Post 801 Staff or Tour Options:  Richard Repka – rrepka10@gmail.com

Jon Kriegel is a Director and Past President of the Rochester Engineering Society.  Jon began mentoring and volunteering as part of Eastman Kodak’s 21st Century Learning Challenge, and continues to volunteer today through his work as the Volunteer Coordinator at the RES.