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Technology

On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, members of the community young and old had the chance to get outside and exercise their imagination at the third Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire. The popular event, hosted by the Port Jefferson Maritime Explorium June 10, saw demonstrations using robots, interactive activities, exhibits and performances from various “makers” at the Village Center and outside at Harborfront Park.

The Port Jeff maker faire is a scaled down version of the larger Maker Faire brand, which hosts worldwide events similar to the one in Port Jeff. According to the Maritime Explorium’s website, more than 100 makers and 2,000 participants attended the 2016 Mini Maker Faire, and even more were projected to show up this year, although final totals were not readily available.

Some of the makers on display included Funtown Studios, which brought an interactive fireball sculpture; robotics teams from the Sachem and Smithtown school districts; electricity and magnetism demonstrations by representatives from the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham; an underwater robotic demonstration by SeaPerch; representatives from Stony Brook iCREATE, an innovation facility designed to encourage “innovation and entrepreneurial nature” of the Stony Brook University campus community; and many more.

Before the 2016 faire, Stephanie Buffa, a volunteer board member at the Explorium, explained the importance of the message of the event and the museum as a whole.

“Everything is at our fingertips,” she said in a phone interview. “If you’re sitting at the dinner table and somebody asks a question, you ‘Google’ it. It’s so easy to get answers that way…it’s so easy to get caught up in all of these pre-packaged things that we forget to sort of, do it yourself. You can be creative in so many ways. You don’t have to be a good artist and be able to draw beautiful pictures to be creative and to make things.”

Lauren Hubbard, founding president and former executive director of The Maritime Explorium, who is listed as a producer of the faire, said the day was a success, though attendance numbers are not available as of yet. She said in a phone interview the goal of the event is to show local people of all ages they have the creativity to be makers.

“It’s really about highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for young people to see how that process happens, how to create something completely new.”

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields Central School District is looking to improve how teachers teach and students learn, with Tech 2.0, an education initiative meant to equip the district with technology-driven learning aids.

As soon as Superintendent Francesco Ianni took over at Harborfields, he said, he started to work with the administration to roll out this plan, which involves students and teachers using Chromebooks, lightweight laptops, with lesson plans.

“The nice thing about this plan is it’s a wonderful opportunity for the entire district,” Ianni said in a phone interview. “We’re not only providing Chromebooks, but a plan for teachers’ curriculum to revamp how we teach and learn here. We want to make sure these are meaningful changes, not just another machine we’re bringing in.”

Currently the district has a certain amount of Chromebooks teachers can sign out in advance for a class lesson. But Tech 2.0 would create a plan where every lesson has possibilities with Chromebooks to enhance the class. Ianni said the initiative is expected to begin in the 2018-19 school year, when every student and teacher in the high school will have a Chromebook, and right now the district is using a pilot program for selected teachers to get a jump-start on learning how to use the technology effectively with their students.

“We don’t know what the future will look like but we want to give the students every opportunity to learn and be prepared,” Ianni said.

Administrators have sat in on several classes involved in the pilot program, and said they have already noticed exciting new ways students are getting involved in lessons.

Jordan Cox, executive director of instructional services, said students have been able to go on virtual field trips, take polls on events and take quizzes attached to the end of a presentation.

“The students have the ability to look at 3-D objects and interact with classmates on Google Docs, which is especially helpful if a student is out sick and needs to work on a group assignment,” Cox said in a phone interview. “This changes the learning landscape.”

He sat in on a class of students learning about World War II and the Holocaust, and the kids were able to take a virtual reality tour of a concentration camp.

Ianni said he observed a lesson recently, in a class learning about applying to college and applying for financial aid. He said the students were able to use Google Earth to go on virtual tours of the campuses of schools they were interested in. He also said this plan will help teachers see what students are understanding in real time. In a math class he sat in on, the students were taking a quiz and the teacher was able to look at the grades right away, instead of taking them home to grade that night. She saw a majority of the class was struggling with a certain question, and she was able to go over it again with the class right then.

Rory Manning, assistant superintendent for administration and human resources, said another benefit of using the Chromebooks comes with the price tag.

“We used to have desktops in certain classrooms, but with these Chromebooks it’s cheaper,” he said in a phone interview. The district is now able to offer more resources than before, he said.

Administration is not the only supporter of Tech 2.0

The Harborfields Alumni and Community Educational Fund, a not-for-profit established to support educational programs in the district, made a $50,000 donation to the initiative, which is going to help purchase more Chromebooks for the classrooms.

In April HACEF hosted a Mardi Gras gala with members of the Greenlawn community, which raised $34,000 in a single night. HACEF then decided to donate $16,000 of its own funds to help bring the total to $50,000.

“It’s amazing the support from the community,” Karin Fey, vice president of HACEF, said in a phone interview. “This is the wave of the future, and we wanted to give something significant to show how important we think this is.”

R. C. Murphy Jr. High School. File photo

The Three Village Central School District implemented a new type of technology to help alert the community when a lockdown is underway at one of the schools.

In partnership with IntraLogic Solutions, blue strobe lights have been installed on the exterior of every school building. Should a lockdown be initiated in that school, these lights will flash on all sides of the building, serving as a signal that the facility is in lockdown and entry is prohibited. For security reasons, the district defines a lockdown as a time when a threat to the safety and security of students and staff exists within the school building. This differs from a lockout, when the threat exists externally, but in the vicinity of the school building, for example if a criminal on the run from law enforcement in the area.

The district advises the community and visitors to the schools that if they see the strobes activated, they should return to their vehicle at once and leave the scene, as a critical incident may be unfolding.

Although the majority of the details of the system are kept confidential, the district assures residents that once the system and its technology are activated, members of law enforcement will be notified immediately to respond. Additionally, as per the district’s emergency management plan, parents will be notified immediately upon activation of an actual lockdown and provided with instructions.

Residents with questions can contact the district’s security coordinator at 631-730-5089.

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The improved Port Jefferson Village website includes new features like paying parking tickets online. Image from village website

Port Jefferson Village is now accessible to residents and visitors in ways it never was before.

The village launched its upgraded website in June after countless hours of research, planning and development, and at this point the hard work seems to have paid off and then some.

“We just really wanted a much more vibrant [site], something that gives off the vibe of the village and we also felt that there was not a place where residents could get information that they really needed,” Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview last week.

A view of the website from a mobile device. Image from village website
A view of the website from a mobile device. Image from village website

Village officials interviewed half a dozen companies, Garant approximated, before settling on a collaboration between two that just happened to operate out of the same building on Main Street. The project cost the village about $40,000 all told, Garant said.

Kendra Beavis of Moka Graphics and Drew Linsalata of The Gotham Bus Company put their heads together to handle the data and design of the site. Garant said during the process she realized how much of an advantage it would be to have people who work right in the village working on a site that would serve as a gateway to Port Jefferson.

“We wanted a nice hometown look — they get us,” Garant said.

The new site has features tailored to residents. Information about recycling bins, leaf pickup, birth and death certificates, along with the ability to sign up for recreational events or pay for parking or even parking tickets were some of the highlights Garant mentioned which should serve to improve the residents overall web experience.

Though the list is much longer.

Garant said the village essentially crowdsourced ideas by asking various departments what they most frequently receive phone calls about on a daily basis. Now, most answers are a click away.

Another component had village employees like Jill Russell, who handles media relations for Port Jefferson, enthusiastic about the upgraded site’s features for visitors.

“I think one of the things that I really pushed with the site, the missing link was the visitors’ side,” Russell said in a phone interview Wednesday. Visitors can now get a feel for restaurants in the area, activities and other events before they even arrive in the village.

“I, for one, am very excited,” Russell said.

Garant and Russell both expressed excitement about another possibility that is still in the works for the site — information for prospective business owners about requirements and permits for opening a business, and eventually even listings of available spaces.

The site is not complete as more information and features are still being added.

Check out the new village website at portjeff.com on desktops or mobile devices.

Visitors at the Vanderbilt Museum navigate through one of the new custom-built kiosks. Photo courtesy of the Vanderbilt Museum

When visitors want to know about the intriguing wild-animal dioramas at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, they can now travel to the Arctic, the Kalahari, India and Central America with the tip of a finger.

Details, narration and images on the screens of the museum’s new, electronic Stoll Wing kiosks teach visitors about the animals, where they live and  what they eat — and show video images of them in their native habitats. The kiosks were custom built for the museum by Ninjaneer Studios of Winter Springs, Florida.

Just installed, the kiosks are part of the ongoing Stoll Wing restoration and modernization, made possible by recent gifts from Lynnda Speer through the Roy M. Speer Foundation that total $200,000. The gifts endow the future of the Stoll Wing animals and dioramas. Lynnda Speer is the granddaughter of museum trustee and benefactor Charles H. Stoll (1887-1988) of Long Island, a noted explorer, naturalist and big-game hunter.

Stoll financed the eight strikingly detailed dioramas that feature wild game he and his wife Merle brought back from around the world between 1922 and 1969.

“We wanted to attract a wider audience of visitors, including younger people who expect to interact with technology when they go to a museum,” said Chris Brown, a partner at Ninjaneer Studios.

“Here, it’s an interaction with history. We try to identify where technology can be used in an existing museum exhibit. Our goal is not to compromise, but to enhance what’s there and to make it engaging to all visitors,” he said.

Ninjaneer’s Heather Knott said they designed the kiosks specifically to fit the subject matter and the physical space: “This solution was customized for the Vanderbilt. We designed the technology to complement and to be unobtrusive.”

The kiosks have an intriguing feature. “Stoll’s family provided us with vintage on-location movie footage he and his wife shot on their safaris, when they collected these animals,” Brown said. “The film had been digitized and we were able to remaster some of it,” he said.

Knott said they create turn-key solutions. “Once the programs, video and narration were loaded into the kiosks and the system was tested, we turned it over to the Vanderbilt to operate,” she said. “Soon, visitors will be able to access the information on their mobile devices, and the museum will be able to manage the system online.”

The Stolls collected the exhibited animals in Africa, Alaska, the American West, the Arctic, British Honduras (now Belize), Canada, India and Nova Scotia. Specimens range from a blue wildebeest, polar bear, walrus and Cape buffalo, to a kudu, ostrich, jaguar, Bengal tiger and leopard.

Opened to the public in 1970, the Stoll Wing complements the natural history collections, Marine Museum and habitat animal dioramas built by William K. Vanderbilt II — all key elements of the museum’s education programs. Stoll was also a lawyer and Nassau County judge who financed and led the famous 1928 Stoll-McCracken Siberian Arctic Expedition, under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. He served as a Vanderbilt trustee and board president (1967-1975).

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. The musuem and mansion are open on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through April 12. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields Central School District is one step closer to technological improvements thanks to its utilization of New York State’s Smart Schools Bond Act.

At a school board meeting last week, Jordan Cox, executive director of institutional services, presented a $1 million investment plan that focuses on improving the district’s Internet connectivity operations by utilizing the bond.

“We’re looking for something that’s going to be long-term,” Cox said. “Something that we can make an investment in that’s going to last 10-plus years.”

The Smart Schools Bond Act, passed in 2014, authorized the issuance of $2 billion in general obligation bonds to finance improved education technology and infrastructure. Over the last two years, Cox said district officials have been meeting to determine what the highest priorities are for bond funds.

Once they narrowed in on Internet connectivity, a plan was created to update the “aging architecture to support high-speed traffic requirements for online productivity and assessment operations,” he said.

The entire plan included two projects — one $921,000 plan focusing on upgrading infrastructure and the other $177,000 plan on centralizing all district servers.

Cox said that Harborfields was using outdated equipment and upgrading it to support high-bandwidth and wireless devices would help the district support more devices at once.

“We’re talking about the bones that you don’t see behind the walls that allow us to keep the connectivity day-to-day within schools,” Cox said of the infrastructure.

The second part of the plan Cox pitched concentrated on centralizing all servers to help reduce the amount of data center equipment required, which he said would cut costs and negate the need of system downtime.

Cox said that fewer servers and less networking gear would mean less equipment would be required, lowering monthly power and cooling costs. Cox also said that the more programs and devices added to the district, the “more critical that our Internet connectivity does not have any down time.”

In his presentation, Cox said Harborfields would receive about $1.3 million from the state through the bond. These two projects should cost about $1 million, leaving $223,656 left over, he said.

Cox also said that the money from this bond does not expire and can be carried into the next school year. So if Harborfields does not use its full amount immediately, it does not lose the surplus.

Going forward, Cox said this plan needed to be approved by the board of education before the district can submit an online application. He also said the turnaround time from the state is unknown because Harborfields is one of the first districts to complete the process.

The school district did not confirm whether the board has approved the plan.

The LaunchPad Huntington STEAM Innovation Conference will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 17. File photo by Rohma Abbas

LaunchPad Huntington is sponsoring a conversation between technology companies, educators and students in the hopes that it will spark creative collaborations and future Long Island-based jobs.

The conference will be both a showcase of emerging technologies and services and an in-depth panel discussion with education and industry leaders working to prepare students and adults for new employment opportunities.

The event, dubbed a STEAM Innovation Conference will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at LaunchPad’s Huntington office from 3:30 to 8 p.m.

Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, said the conference is meant to combine science and the arts, to “merge two different parts of the brain.”

“My hope is to get a conversation started in media, education and business communities,” he said. “We need people to start thinking outside the box.”

The event starts with a 90-minute opening for public school students to browse exhibits set up by technology companies. A solar energy company and a virtual reality company are some of the businesses that will showcase exhibits at the conference.

“The really important question on Long Island is how do we get the students and the employers together,” Rugile said. He said that the skillsets of someone with a great sense of creativity and technology are really needed at a local level.

Originally this conference was designed to target professors and their curricula to produce more innovative thinkers.

Following the exhibits, there will be a networking hour, complete with dinner and music, where businesses and educators are encouraged to bounce ideas off each other.

The final part of the conference is a discussion by a panel of experts. Kenneth White, manager of Office of Educational Programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory, will moderate the talk. Panelists will include Victoria Hong, associate chairperson and assistant professor for the St. Joseph’s College Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Andrew Grefig, director of curriculum and content at Teq and Nancy Richner, museum education director at the Hofstra University Museum.

“We’re constantly losing kids to Brooklyn and New York City,” Rugile said. “Let’s change the conversation. We need to provide opportunities.”

Northport-East Northport school board members are looking into whether or not the district should buy iPads for trustees to be used at meetings instead of paper agendas. Stock photo

Northport-East Northport school board members earlier this month discussed whether the district should pay for iPads that trustees could use during meetings.

The idea was introduced by board member David Stein as a way to reduce costs of paper. The idea, however, was sharply denounced by the board’s Vice President David Badanes.

“I am really unhappy about any money being spent on board members for iPads,” Badanes said at the Oct. 8 board meeting. “I think it’s outrageous.”

Badanes, who was the lone naysayer, said he doesn’t have a problem with board members bringing their own iPads or electronic devices to meetings — he just doesn’t want the district to pay for them, he said.

According to District Clerk Beth Nystrom, there is currently no district policy that finances electronic devices for members of the school board’s use exclusively. She did say that board members are welcome to use district-owned electronic devices at board meetings, but presently none do.

Other board members said that while it may be fine for Badanes to have his own personal opinion, it’s not something he should hold everyone else to.

“Personal convictions are fine but each person should be given the right to decide,” Trustee Jennifer Thompson said. “It should not impugn the rest of us.”

Trustee Lori McCue said she felt it was unfair to tell board members who wanted to use an electronic device to bring one from home.

“I don’t know if it’s appropriate,” McCue said. “What if you don’t already own one of these devices?”

Stein claimed it’s more cost effective for the board to use electronic devices instead of getting paper agendas and other documents sent to their homes before each meeting.

“We spend nearly $800 worth of paper every year [on each board member],” Stein said. “If individuals want to embrace it, they’re saving $800 in taxpayer money.”

Stein said regular agendas are also not the only documents that are printed for board members every year.

“Based on 24 scheduled meetings per year, and an average of six specially called meetings plus the budget season, which can produce budget documents several times the size of a regular weekly package,” Stein said in an email. “The regular board member could receive anywhere from 22,000 pages during the course of a year.”

According to Nystrom, the cost is quite low to send board members paper agendas to their home annually.

“The approximate cost the district pays per board member to send printed copies of the agenda to their houses before meetings is approximately $35 per year,” Nystrom said in an email.

Board President Andrew Rapiejko encouraged board members to try and find the best way to serve the district.

“Everyone wants to do this job as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Rapiejko said. “They shouldn’t be criticized for trying to get the right tools. If the district can provide this tool, I think it should be discussed.”

Rapiejko also said that it is not for the board’s personal benefit to use these devices. “The district isn’t giving these out to board members,” Rapiejko said. “These are purchased for the district’s use.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani said she has been to other district board meetings where board members using electronic devices.

Rapiejko said the board could resume discussing this topic during budget season.

Teq CEO Damian Scarfo, and President Chris Hickey. Photo from Lisa Hendrickson

There’s been a lot of hubbub about the 21st century classroom, where interactive whiteboards replace chalk, and pencils and pens are subbed out for iPads and Chromebooks. Even our own governor has incentivized such reforms at our schools.

But let’s push pause and ask: Is all this technology helping or hurting? And what benefits are we missing out on in the real world beyond the bright screens?

This week, a Huntington Station company, Teq, announced it had partnered with Canadian company SMART Technologies — yes, the creators of the famous SMART Board that is a staple of today’s classrooms — to be the sole distributor of Smart products for grades K to 12 in New York. That’s a big deal and we applaud Teq’s success. The educational tech company, already projecting sales of $50 million this year, anticipates the partnership will boost its revenues 20 percent.

That’s not just chump change, and it’s a good deal for Long Island’s economy.

Yet how much of our new technologies are really needed for learning and how much are we just advancing for the sake of advancing? It feels like a lot of the new software and hardware is needed only to keep today’s student boredom at bay, as many kids are so used to having tech products in the home that they will not concentrate on paper.

A culture of distraction is one of the greatest setbacks of today’s overly technological society. We understand that it benefits our students to be familiar with today’s gadgets, so they will be prepared for tomorrow’s success. But it also benefits children to know what it feels like to hold a real book in their hands, to solve a difficult math problem using a pencil and loose-leaf notebook, to be able to tell time without a digital display, to play outside instead of staring at their phones.

Today’s kids are being handed iPads not long after retiring baby bottles.

Steve Jobs once told a New York Times reporter that he limited his own children’s tech time at home. Instead of rushing to live in a completely digital world, our educators, parents and political leaders should place importance on carving out some time for a little reality — some quiet time and disconnect to facilitate thinking and creativity.

Teq CEO Damian Scarfo, and President Chris Hickey. Photo from Lisa Hendrickson

Teq, a Huntington Station-based educational technology and professional development firm, has been named the official provider of SMART Technologies products for all K-12 districts in New York.

The company will also offer professional development for SMART products and technical support from SMART certified professionals. The official partnership will begin on Oct. 1.

SMART Technologies, a Canadian company, is best known for inventing the first interactive whiteboard in 1991. The company now offers interactive tables and pen displays, conferencing software, interactive learning software and more.    

“We are thrilled to be selected as SMART’s sole vendor for K-12 in New York,” Damian Scarfo, CEO of Teq said in a statement. “SMART offers the best interactive displays available, and we couldn’t be happier to align ourselves with the innovation SMART is bringing to classrooms around the world.”

The partnership is projected to increase Teq’s revenues by nearly 20 percent, and the company is projecting $50 million in sales for the year, according to Chris Hickey, president of Teq. The company used to be one of six companies reselling SMART products in the state.

SMART’s president touted the partnership and the Huntington Station company’s solid reputation for professional development.

“We are delighted to name Teq as our sole education partner in New York,” Greg Estell, president of SMART Education Solutions said in a statement. “Teq has an incredible reputation for professional development, enabling educators to deliver best-in-class learning. This, coupled with SMART’s world-leading education technology, makes for a powerful combination.”

As part of a strategy to get more SMART products into state schools, the company has submitted a bid to the New York State Office of General Services to try to negotiate a contract to be a listed vendor of classroom technology to New York. SMART is looking to set a maximum price point at which products can be sold to municipalities through this contract.

Like SMART, Teq will also be looking to further its relationship with schools, hoping to partner with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to get more technology into the districts. The company is hoping to benefit from $2 billion in funding offered to school districts through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) SMART Schools Bond Act by offering districts that seek funding delayed payment options.

The act is intended to bring about 21st century upgrades to educational technology and infrastructure in schools to ensure that students graduate with the skills they need to thrive in today’s economy. Voters approved the act in a November 2014 referendum.

Teq will be offering a complete range of SMART products and software, including SMART kapp iQ and Teq Unlimited.

SMART kapp iQ is an ultra HD interactive display that can multi-link student devices so that all participants can collaborate, contribute and see what is being written in real time. Teq Unlimited is a software package that teaches how to successfully integrate new technology into the classroom.

“Kapp iQ is not only specifically designed for the needs of teachers and students … it’s designed for how kids learn — using devices and naturally interacting with technology,” Hickey said.

Teq is offering a free trial period for districts in New York. The trial, which lasts 30 days, includes delivery, setup and two hours of professional development of whichever products the districts chose to try, according to a Teq statement.

Teq has been in the business since 1972, and was originally located in Oyster Bay out of a barn. According to the company, its mission is to support the continued evolution of the modern classroom by offering world-renowned professional development and providing service and equipment that enables student achievement.