Is Your Child Starting From Behind? Why Others Look to AC for Early STEM Education

Posted on October 26th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

A delegation of educators from Belarus, seeking ways to boost innovation and economic development and cultivate a competitive workforce, visited Allendale Columbia School because of its reputation as the best school to visit for its “bottom-up” approach to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), which formally begins in Kindergarten.

STEM-based education is a very new notion in Belarus, an Eastern European country bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Young people have limited access to STEM-based education due to lack of resources and trained teachers. The goal of this visit was to introduce Belarusian professionals to innovative practices of promoting and implementing STEM-based education programs for school-age children in the United States.

Even in the U.S., it’s estimated that 2.4 million STEM jobs are going unfilled. According to Pew Research, one of the biggest cross-national tests, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), placed the U.S. 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science, and out of the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science. In addition, 78% of high school graduates don’t meet benchmark readiness in math, science, or English. Also of concern is the disproportionately small number of girls/women and minorities in STEM fields.

The solution, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and many industry experts, is to begin STEM education at an earlier age. In that, AC is a known leader.

AC Lower School Director of STEM Sue Sorrentino and Lead STEM Teacher Donna Chaback, who have hosted dozens of these types of visits for U.S. and foreign schools, began with an overview of the Lower School program, which begins with basic concepts of navigation using colorful and friendly-looking Bee-Bots in Kindergarten (even Nursery and Pre-kindergarten students are introduced to them in the second half of the school year). They demonstrated a full progression of increasingly advanced concepts and, very importantly, hands-on, team-based problem-solving experiences with a variety of robotics systems, based on the students’ developmental stage through to fifth grade.

“We believe firmly in a bottom-up approach, starting at an early age with age-appropriate experiences,” said Sorrentino. “Children are naturally curious problem-solvers. We teach twenty-first century skills that they can build on, like innovation and collaboration. Students who go through our program are able to tackle much more complex problems when they get to Middle and Upper School.”

Eyes lit up as the delegates heard what young learners were able to do. Their questions ranged from structural issues like the amount of time students spend in STEM education to questions about the progression of programming and how learning is evaluated.

Maya Crosby, the Director of AC’s Invent Center for STEM and Innovation, and Kate Western, Interim Director of the AC Center for Global Engagement, then introduced the visitors to a panel of Middle School and Upper School students. The delegates wanted to know more about how these student’s experience in early STEM education helped them solve engineering problems. Next, the delegates visited with a Middle School physical science class doing a lab on mineral identification. These students were able to demonstrate how the focus of STEM education at Allendale Columbia School is on the “how” of science. Teacher Teresa Parsons explained to the delegates that the goal of the lab was on developing the skills used, not on memorization of content. Finally, the delegates toured the Middle School and the Upper School robotics design and building rooms to see the current space exploration themed challenges students are working on in their FIRST Robotics competition teams.

At the conclusion of their visit, Head of School Mick Gee talked about how Allendale Columbia prioritizes “can-do” versus “must-do”. “Instead of teaching more and more curriculum, we have to be intentional about providing opportunities throughout the curriculum for students to do their own projects, do their own research. We want to give students opportunities to be a scientist, to be an engineer, not just learn about science and engineering.”

Our local partner, Rochester Global Connections, provided some reactions from the group. Two of the delegates mentioned that AC is what they would like their schools to look like in the near future. Another delegate expressed how extremely impressed they were with Sue’s and Donna’s presentation. “The work they are doing is innovative and incredible, and the concepts discussed will be truly useful in helping to structure our own curriculum with children.” During the last action planning session, about half of the group highlighted AC as the best site visit they had throughout the Rochester portion of the program. They were thrilled to have the opportunity to observe a robotics activity and interact with the kids in a classroom setting.

A strong partner with the AC Center for Global Engagement, Rochester Global Connections, helped facilitate the Rochester portion of their tour. Rochester Global Connections is a non-profit organization that works with the U.S. Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and U.S. embassies abroad as a liaison between international visitors and their Rochester-area counterparts. The tour was sponsored by the Community Connections Program of USAID, and was funded through USAID’S Bureau of Education Growth and Trade (EGAT)/Office of Education. The broad public diplomacy goal of the Community Connections Program is to contribute to economic and democratic reform and to promote mutual understanding through exposure to U.S. society and personal connections with Americans and participant countries.

Photos by Zhanna Ivanova from Rochester Global Connections and John Palomaki.

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Posted in: Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Fifth Grade, First Grade, Fourth Grade, Global Engagement, Highlights, Invent, Kindergarten, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Partnerships, Second Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Third Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School

NASA Langley’s Deputy Director Encourages AC Students to Stay Curious

Posted on October 19th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Sure, you need to be smart and know some science and technology. But to succeed in landing on the moon, sending humans to Mars and back, or just about any goal, it takes a lot of curiosity, collaboration, communication, and the relentless pursuit of a dream. At least, that’s the message Clayton Turner conveyed to Allendale Columbia students from his 28 years of experience at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where he is Deputy Director.

“I have a strong belief that our future is right here in these classrooms.”

A Rochester native, Turner visited Allendale Columbia as part of a trip to meet with the President’s Roundtable at RIT, of which he’s a member. He never imagined he’d work for NASA at the time when he was a young boy and the first human walked on the moon. After attending McQuaid Jesuit High School, Monroe Community College, and enlisting in the Army, he still wasn’t sure. But he kept searching for the “passion in his heart” that ultimately landed him at his dream job at NASA, where he gets to help fulfill their mission to “Reach New Heights” and “Reveal the Unknown” to “Benefit All Mankind”. Now, he’s sharing that passion with others. He was connected to AC through Leslie Wilson, parent of 10th grader Myles Wilson and RIT’s Director of Alumni Relations.

Clayton Turner, Deputy Director of NASA’s Langley Research Center, met with a Middle School Robotics class.

He began the visit by ideas from the Middle School FIRST LEGO League Robotics class, coached by Teresa Parsons, on how to clean up and avoid space debris, which is the theme for this year’s robotics competition. “Remember, anything you shoot up into space to collect debris needs a big rocket to get it there, so that’s just going to add to the problem,” Turner said, challenging students to think about other methods, such as using equipment in orbit already or engineering items to degrade after their usefulness.

“Hands-on projects like robotics keep students enthusiastic about learning,” he asserted, having visited many schools across the country. We need to keep that curiosity flowing” if we’re to address the problems in the world today, he said. “And Robotics teams are actually a great exercise in teamwork and problem-solving” in addition to coding and technology. “After judging many competitions, I found that you can quickly see the groups that are working as a team and the groups that have one smart person directing everyone else.” “

AC 4th graders have been participating in a project based learning unit on space exploration. They impressed NASA’s Clayton Turner and his colleagues with their questions!

He then met with an enthusiastic group of fourth graders, who have been engaged in a multi-disciplinary project-based learning unit on space exploration since the beginning of the school year, led by Lower School STEM Lead Teacher Donna Chaback. They peppered him with questions, which he delightfully addressed, often with a question of his own to stimulate their thinking.

When asked if AC is succeeding on its core value to foster curiosity and creativity, he said, “I shared the questions that the 4th grade sent me with my colleagues back at Langley to show them how impressive they are. They were astounded when I told them ‘these are 4th graders!’, and they weren’t asking me about if aliens exist or any of that stuff, they were asking me about the Keiper system, black holes, trajectories for getting something to the moon from the earth. Things they’ve obviously heard in class and they are curious about and want to learn more.”

NASA’s Clayton Turner explained that communication, collaboration, and people skills are just as important as engineering and mathematics, and that NASA also needs psychologists, attorneys, accounts, and people from all professions in their quest to land humans on Mars.

He concluded his visit by talking to Upper School students in physics and 3D modeling classes. “No one can really be successful working alone any more. All of the work we do today involves interacting with teams of people from all over the world,” Turner told them. He related how his first job entailed working on a business-card-sized circuit board to aim lasers, but it was just a tiny part of a bus-sized satellite that so many other people worked on.

When asked by one student on what they needed to do to pursue a career at NASA, Turner noted that getting a college degree is only the starting point for a job at organizations like NASA. “That shows you can learn and know how to do some work,” he said. “Just as important is seeing evidence of teamwork, collaboration, and people skills.”

“When you think about sending people to Mars, you have a small group of people that will be in a space only this big,” he said, indicating a space about 12 feet square, “for eight months to get there, and another eight months getting back. We need scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, but we also need psychologists, people who have studied human behavior, to address these types of challenges. We also need accountants, lawyers, and people from all professions” in order to fulfill a quest like putting humans on Mars by the late 2030s.

Maya Crosby, Director of the AC Invent Center for STEM and Innovation who coordinated the visit, was especially pleased with that message. “One of the things we strive for in the Invent Center is to help broaden the appeal of STEM. We aim to help students understand that STEM is more than just hard technology, that these other fields are important to the success of technology-focused businesses.”

WHAM-13 covered Mr. Turner’s visit to AC. Click the image to see their video and recap.

NASA certainly explores some immense challenges. He said, “One thing I hope they take from this is the difference between hard and impossible, and sometimes replace one for the other, and that they get to know what’s just hard and requires work.”

Turner also warned against anyone who dismisses an idea with, “That’s not the way we’ve always done it.” He encouraged students to prize diverse thinking, to consider multiple perspectives, in order to solve problems. “It’s the wide range of thinking, that diversity of thought, that’s what’s going to help take on the challenges we have.”

“What I find most enjoyable is that I get to look into our future and see all the challenges that these students are going to overcome for us, all the amazing things that they are going to do.”

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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Fourth Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School

Fifth Graders Win Sportsmanship at VEX-IQ World Championships

Posted on April 27th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Updated May 4th, 2018

On Saturday, April 28th, Allendale Columbia School fifth graders Eric Roof and Carter Previte left to go to the VEX IQ Robotic World Championship Competition, Elementary School Division, in Louisville, Kentucky. They came back on May 2nd having won one of four coveted divisional Sportsmanship Awards out of 400 teams participating! (more…)

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Posted in: Fifth Grade, Highlights, Lower School, LS Birches, MS Birches, The Birches, US Birches

Students, Sorrentino Shine at Digital Rochester’s Women in Technology Breakfast

Posted on April 27th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Women are increasingly studying technology and moving into technology careers. Local organization Digital Rochester and their Women in Technology Special Interest Group (SIG) recognized several local women at a breakfast on April 26th, including Allendale Columbia’s Director of Lower School Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Sue Sorrentino as a nominee for their 20th annual Technology Woman of the Year award.

At the event, five young women from AC also received a lot of attention. Fifth graders Victoria Timpani, Ella Herberger, and Maya Sams and talked about their all-girl VEX-IQ Robotics team Girls With Gears, while Liza ’20 and Mary ’22 Cotter showcased robots used in FIRST LEGO League and FTC Robotics competitions and discussed their technology learning and experiences. Their tables were crowded with attendees from large and small businesses in the Rochester area interested in their technological savviness.

Sue Sorrentino left a career in corporate engineering to address the urgency of building STEM fluency in early elementary age children to build and sustain interest in STEM through middle and high school. She and her team at Vista Teach Instructional Services, a company she founded and serves as Executive Director, have developed comprehensive programs in engineering education and optics for grades K-8, both in school and in after-school and summer programs, primarily at AC but also available to other schools. She has trained hundreds of robotics coaches throughout the Greater Rochester Area.

Sorrentino is in great company, as other nominees for the Technology Woman of the Year and Emerging Technology Professional Woman of the Year included women from such organizations as Rochester Regional Health, ITX, Harris Corporation, Datto, Constellation Brands, CloudCheckr, Luminate, KLDiscovery, University of Rochester, RIT, MCC, and Girl Discover It.

Digital Rochester provides events and community services to strengthen and grow the region’s technology community through education and relationship development.

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Posted in: Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Fifth Grade, Fourth Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, LS Birches, Middle School, MS Birches, Ninth Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, The Birches, Twelfth Grade, Upper School, US Birches

AC Teams Get Trophies at VEX State Championships

Posted on March 9th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

On Sunday, March 4th, 2018, Allendale Columbia Schools hosted the Northern New York State VEX IQ Robotic Championships. Fourteen teams, with team members ranging in age from grade 4 to grade 8, from across Upstate New York participated. Ten trophies were presented at this robotics competition and the Allendale Columbia Lower School teams took home four of them.

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Posted in: Centers for Impact, Fifth Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, LS Birches, MS Birches, The Birches

AC Teams Win Awards at VEX Robotics Qualifiers

Posted on February 1st, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

Three of Allendale Columbia School’s 5th grade Robotics teams advanced to the Northern New York State Championship in the VEX-IQ Challenge Qualifier on Saturday, January 27th, in Buffalo. They also brought home several awards, for a total of eight awards for 5th grade teams over just the past three years.

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Posted in: Centers for Impact, Fifth Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, LS Birches, The Birches

AC Aces Robotics Team Featured as 13WHAM Bright Spot

Posted on January 24th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

13WHAM logo

Bright Spot: AC Aces

Channel 13 WHAM featured the AC Aces robotics team on their Bright Spot on January 23rd. The Aces placed second in the Excelsior District Finals, earned the Finalist Team Alliance Trophy, and was a finalist for the Promote Video Award.

(You can read more about the AC Aces in the blog post AC Aces Make Finals at Excelsior Championships by team member Matt Duver ’20.)

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Posted in: AC in the News, Centers for Impact, Eleventh Grade, Invent, Ninth Grade, Tenth Grade, The Birches, Twelfth Grade, Upper School, US Birches

AC Aces Make Finals at Excelsior Championships

Posted on January 18th, 2018 by Allendale Columbia School

by Matt Duver ’20

The Upper School Robotics team’s season came to a very successful finish this past weekend with the Excelsior Region FIRST Tech Challenge Championships at SUNY Polytechnic in Utica. There were 24 teams from all over Western, Southwestern, and Central New York, and our team, the AC Aces, earned the right to compete by being the alliance winners from the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Tech Challenge competition at St. John Fisher this past December.

In Utica, the AC Aces exceeded expectations and made it to the final match in an alliance with two other schools. Even though we did not win, we received two recognitions – the Finalist Team Alliance trophy, and a finalist for the Promote Video Award, where we made a 60-minute PSA to share with the world what we wanted people to know about FIRST Robotics Competitions. FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, and this is the second year that Allendale Columbia has had an FTC Team. After this past championship performance, the AC Aces ranked 368th out of 4,600 team performances on ftcstats.org. This is quite an accomplishment for a second year team, and we are all proud and grateful to our coaches (Dr. Jeff Lawlis, Mr. Andrew Perry, Mr. James Cotter, Ms. Maya Crosby, and Mr. Artie Cruz), sponsors (Sikorsky – A Lockheed Martin CompanyArconic, and ASP & Associates, Inc.), and Allendale Columbia School for helping us along the way.  (more…)

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Posted in: Centers for Impact, Eleventh Grade, Highlights, Invent, Ninth Grade, Tenth Grade, The Birches, Twelfth Grade, Upper School, US Birches