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





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!

2015 STEM Holiday Wish List

November 25, 2015

Ready to start your holiday shopping? This year there are more STEM-inspired gifts than ever!wish-list

While there are far too many choices to provide a comprehensive list, we’ve tried to give an overview of what is new this year, and what parents we’ve spoken to are looking for.

Tight on space or have too many toys?  Some clutter-free ideas:

Spin off their current favorites:

  • Do your kids love the popular TV series Shark Tank as much as mine? STEM Center USA was the focus of a recent episode, a company that focuses exclusively on innovative STEM products.

    3D carving brings your ideas to life!

    3D carving brings your ideas to life!

  • Look around at what they play with the most.  Is there another level that will enhance their play?
  • Do they like carving?  Take it up a notch to 3D carving.  Inventables has a great selection for the makers on your list.

Great ideas for Girls:

Did you know that today’s elementary school girls are actually more interested in pursuing a STEM career than their male classmates are? (souce:  Fortune) And yet, there is still a great disparity in the field (see our recent blog on this topic).  Toy manufacturers are responding to this increase with STEM-inspired offerings specifically with girls in mind.  Some highlights:

Keeping girls engaged in STEM!

Keeping girls engaged in STEM!

  • The folks over at Mighty Girl always put together a great holiday list, and they didn’t disappoint this year.  Building Her Dreams:  Building and Engineering Toys for Mighty Girls focuses on classic building, construction and engineering toys, while the Holiday Gift Guide has a broader variety, with selections broken down by age group and category.
  • Goldiblox has a wide range again this year, from a line of real-life hero action figures to award-winning construction toys, this company focuses on maintaining the natural curiosity that many girls have, and giving them playthings that nurture their interest in building and engineering.
  • At Project MC², where “smart is the new cool” they have apps, videos, games and plenty of gear for girls of all ages.
  • Roominate is another girl-inspired, girl-led company focusing on inspiring and encouraging girls to pursue their interests in engineering by teaching girls through play.

Looking for lots of ideas to browse?

STEM Wish Lists:  Many major retailers have caught on to the STEM interest and now have their own guides available with tons of choices in every price range

The Classic Building Blocks:

No holiday STEM list would be complete without a Lego mention.  Legos are a holiday classic for many families.  While you are shopping for new sets or accessories to complement what you already have at home, take a few minutes and join the Lego Club (FREE!) which gives ideas and inspiration to your builders throughout the year.  Since most STEM-enthusiasts already have a healthy collection of Legos at home, we’re going to suggest our favorite accessories.

Just a dream for 2015, hopes are high for 2016!

Just a dream for 2015, hopes are high for 2016!

  • Brick Separator – these make great stocking stuffers!
  • Base Plates – you can never have enough of these
  • Lego Storage Systems – many ideas, for any size collection!
  • Lego Slippers – sadly these are only available in France this year, but this item is sure to be a hit among parents.  Who among us hasn’t felt the agony of a stray Lego underfoot? Hopefully our 2016 Wish List will be able to announce that they are available on our side of the pond.

Whether you are planning on battling the crowds on Black Friday, or going with the tech-friendly Cyber Monday, we hope we’ve given you a few new ideas.  Please share with us your own finds and suggestions!


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 Minute Gift Giving Ideas

December 16, 2011

Still have some last minute shopping to do?  We’ve research and compiled several websites for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focused gift giver.  These websites offer excellent gift giving ideas for everything from gadgets, “green” gifts, to educational toys and games for the kids.

Popular Science’s Top 12 new Gadgets for the Month of November – This site features the top 12 gadgets introduced in the month of November.  Perfect for finding a gift for the technology lover.


Treehugger.com’s Green Gift Guide –  Great ideas for the environmentally friendly people in your life.


Education.com Gift guide – Tons of educational games and toys to give the little ones in your life.


Radpid Refill’s Personal Technology and Gadget Round Up – This guide offers tons of cool new gadgets for everyone on your list.


Good Housekeeping’s Great Gadget’s for under $100 –   A gift giving guide for the techy person in your family. 


Tecca.com’s Holiday Gift Giving Guide – Offers ideas for every type of person in your life.  From the music lover to the gamer and even offers ideas on how to make your own gifts. 


Home Training Tools Gift Guide –  offers great ideas for the science lover in your family.


Informal Education is Given a “Thumbs-up”

January 30, 2009

museumA new National Study, published January 14th, indicates that informal science activities, such as trips to museums and zoos, viewing of television shows, and even discussions between parents and children, have the power to improve students’ learning.

Education Weekly reports that while it is difficult to assess informal learning, findings have shown that these out-of-school activities foster excitement in students. Not only are students becoming more excited about the curriculum, but the informal interactions seem to do a good job at reaching out to students from different backgrounds.

Looking to motivate your students? Upon discovering the positive outcomes of informal experiences, researchers have identified why these programs seem to draw kids in. Here’s what they found:

Informal learning experiences…

  • draw on learners’ experience and knowledge
  • use everyday language
  • refer to common cultural experiences
  • use familiar tools

Your own house may be the perfect starting point for informal learning. Children can find plenty of games, simulations, and information on the internet to answer their questions, and promote further learning. Check out the RAC-CEMS “Fun Stuff” page to get started today!