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The Long Island Maker Festival debuts in Port Jeff

Spectators view demo of the Voxiebox which will be on display at the Long Island Maker Festival Sunday. Photo by Sean Kane

Opening my web browser the other day, I was dropped into the middle of an Apple “special event” product unveiling where an executive enthused about some app or service or the other. It was something to customize my newsfeed. Since I’m good with the way I currently get my news, I didn’t pay too much attention and moved on.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming — keeping up with apps, worrying about issues of privacy and multi-tasking — all of which can erode productivity and promise access to more content than we could ever properly consume. And yet, we can either be intimidated by technology or energized by it.

People who turn that energy into creativity — makers, doers — can be an inspiration to us all. That’s why this Sunday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson Village and KidOYO are hosting the Long Island Maker Festival.

The largest maker festival in Suffolk County, it will showcase the work of people who have seized technological innovations and turned them into opportunities to become innovators, says Cindy Morris, the event’s organizer.

As Cindy describes it, the maker movement stems from accessible innovation.

“Technology has changed so much, you can do almost everything from your own home,” she says.”

You don’t need millions of dollars or fancy hi-tech facilities to realize your ideas.

I have to admit that I love the word “maker.” People who create, contribute and value utility. It’s the opposite of consumption and requires grit and ingenuity. How could anyone not be excited by that?

Sunday’s family event will bring together 50 volunteers from ages 11 on up to the Port Jefferson Harborfront Park. There will be scientists from across the island wearing shirts saying, “I’m a scientist. Ask me a question.” They want to encourage those who attend to learn more about the science behind what they will be seeing.  And Cindy assures there will be lots of science — professional robotics, a children’s science exhibition, a demonstration of green screen technology and a hologram machine built in a garage — to name just a few offerings.

Festival participant takes in the Voxiebox 3D video consul. Photo by Sean Kane
Festival participant takes in the Voxiebox 3D video consul. Photo by Sean Kane

The maker movement encompasses more than just science and technology, Cindy says. There’s art, performing art and crafting, much of which will also be seen Sunday.

Stony Brook University’s theater department will demo theatrical make-up, while attendees can take sewing lessons, observe an African drumming circle, or take in other musical performances. Workshops from computer coding to organic gardening will also be offered.

“We always talk to our children about being imaginative, but as we get older, we stop doing it ourselves,” Cindy observes.

This event, this gathering of creators and entrepreneurs, is to show that “anybody can do this,” she says. “We want our children to know that they don’t have to be adults to be creative, and for adults to realize that they don’t have to be children to be creative.”

All of this came together in four months, which Cindy sees as a show of the community’s interest and desire for such an event.  There are close to 100 makers participating, and organizers expect the festival to draw some 3,000 attendees.

Cindy’s background as a strategic planner for non-profits — she owns The Benson Agency — definitely came in handy when gathering sponsors. Without them, the undertaking would have cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000, she estimates.

Port Jefferson Village is allowing the organizers to use the Harborfront Park rent free, while The Rinx, the roller rink at the Village Center, is offering all attendees free roller skating for the day. Stony Brook University College of Arts and Sciences and its department of technology and society, Stony Brook Medicine, Hofstra, The Science Academy Camp at Park Shore, Long Island Parent and PSEG are among the other sponsors.

If you are a mover and a maker, or you want to be one, head “down Port” this Sunday. Maybe something you see will spark your sense of invention!

Tickets: Purchased in advance $10/person or $40/family. Day of $15/person or $60 family. www.limakerfest.com

Kerrin Welch-Pollera, district executive director of instructional technology, outlines Three Village’s plans to upgrade its technological approach inside the classroom. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Though it may seem counterintuitive, administrators in Three Village are encouraging Ward Melville High School students to bring their smart phones, tablets and other digital devices to class.

It is part of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative designed to enhance students’ academic experience by allowing them to log into the district’s Wi-Fi network for educational resources.

In a comprehensive report to the Three Village school board last week, Kerrin Welch-Pollera, the district’s executive director of instructional technology, spoke of those and other technological initiatives now in play or soon to be introduced at the elementary and secondary levels. She also gave an update on the district’s use of technology to improve security at the school campuses.

Speaking specifically of the BYOD program, Welch-Pollera said that there are 3,336 devices currently connected to the district’s Wi-Fi network. They are all running Google Apps for Education. She explained that this special version of Google lets students do searches in an environment that “is pretty much closed off to the public” and has no advertising.

Also, she said, teachers can share documents with their students through Google Classroom.

For students who don’t bring their own devices, there are 23 Chromebooks available for check out from the high school library at the beginning of the day. There is usually a line for them, Welch-Pollera said.

Additional resources include access to Microsoft Office 365, which staff, students and parents can download to their home devices.  BYOD will be piloted at the junior high schools this fall.

Welch-Pollera also spoke about instructional technology helping to standardize curriculum across grades and managing the Destiny online library system. As an example, Destiny has eBooks that can be read by an entire grade at the same time. This tool has made the district-wide fifth grade Bull Run project possible and is facilitating a voluntary seventh grade summer reading assignment about cyber bullying.

Other instructional support has come with the purchase of seven Smart tables, which work like smart boards. Welch-Pollera told the board that two smart tables will be used in the new preschool program. Five are already being used in special education classrooms, she said. The district also has 150 iPads and 3D printers in the secondary schools and will receive an additional 123 Chromebooks from BOCES through Race to the Top funds, Welch-Pollera said.

This school year also saw a major upgrade of the district’s security technology with the addition of access cards, entryway cameras and driver’s license scanners. Welch-Pollera also noted upgrades to Infinite Campus, the district’s parent portal, and software training workshops for teachers. In July, the district will roll out a new website. A new, customizable district app will be introduced in the fall.

Additions to the curriculum will include an “hour of code” initiative to be led by the new elementary STEM teachers. The new program will introduce programming language to elementary school students. A computer science class will be offered at the high school in January and a technology class at each junior high.

Welch-Pollera will work with administrators and teachers to determine how to spend the district’s $3.39 million allocation of Smart Schools Bond money, state funds earmarked for prekindergarten facilities, security technology, Internet connectivity and technology for learning.

The district will develop a 3-to-5-year plan that outlines goals for instruction and how technology can support it, she said. There is no time limit for when the district can spend the money, but it cannot use the funds for professional development, technical support, software or subscription services.  Being considered are network and wireless infrastructure upgrades to make sure there are access points in every classroom, additional security cameras, upgraded phone systems and additional classroom projectors and displays, Welch-Pollera said.

A pumped-up crowd in the Centereach High School gymnasium cheered, clapped and clamored to see which of the district’s elementary schools would come out victorious at Monday night’s STEM Celebration.

The evening marked the district’s first celebration of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and administrators flooded the school to see students use their skills to build paper helicopters, newspaper tables and cup towers, and compete against each other to build a spaghetti tower. In addition, students from the district’s eight elementary schools presented their LEGO engineering creations to judges.

Superintendent Ken Bossert explains the difficulties of measuring how iPads affect student achievement in Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson schools will put more money toward using modern technology in the classroom next year.

Following a presentation from the staff technology committee at a board of education meeting Tuesday night, the trustees approved a request to spend about $17,000 on iPad tablets and Chromebook computers to assist instruction.

The district began using iPads in elementary classrooms in the 2013-14 school year on a pilot basis. After receiving a positive response to the tablets, the school board tripled the number of tablets in the current school year, to three carts of iPads for the teachers to rotate among their classrooms. The board’s approval will bring the number of carts next school year up to four, which officials said would be the program’s final expansion — moving forward, money would be spent on replacing iPads, not adding more to the supply.

According to Christine Austen, the district’s K-12 assistant principal and a technology committee member, each teacher could potentially have the iPads for five weeks of instructional use with those four carts.

The additional iPads will mean there will roughly be one for every five students, she said.

In classrooms where teachers are using the tablets, Austen said, students are more engaged and there are more opportunities for the kids to collaborate with one another, among other benefits.

Although the school board supported the iPad expansion, President Kathleen Brennan and Trustee Bob Ramus said they wanted to see more data on the technology’s effect on student performance. Ramus pointed out that the board had requested such information during previous presentations on the iPad program.

But Superintendent Ken Bossert said the matter is not so simple.

“When we talked about what a researcher would do to develop a model to measure that impact, it would be to give a class full-time use of the iPads for all initiatives and deny another class any use and then measure the achievement levels between the two. We weren’t comfortable with that model.”

He said the district would work to get more data on student performance, but there are ways to measure how much a student is learning within different educational applications on the iPads “and we saw student growth within the apps.”

There is also a staff development element — Austen said some teachers still need training to effectively use the tablets in their classrooms, as only about 69 percent of the staff is using them this year.

Another piece of the district technology program is using laptops with older students to access Google applications. Some teachers have incorporated those free applications — which are collectively known as Google Classroom and include functions like word processing, survey, slideshow and spreadsheet tools — into their lessons already.

According to the technology committee’s presentation, the Google system makes it easy to create assignments and grade them, encourages collaboration, organizes students’ class materials and reduces the use of paper. It also “provides students an opportunity to engage in an online learning environment prior to attending college.”

Austen said the district would like to start replacing “aging laptops” with Chromebooks, which run on Google software and have the applications built in. They are also less expensive than other laptops and run faster.

Roughly two-thirds of the cost for the Chromebooks, Bossert said, will be covered by state aid.

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library shows off its new gear. Photo from Robert Caroppoli

Setauket’s own Emma S. Clark Memorial Library made the most of $10,000 in state funding and is now celebrating a new state-of-the-art technology center.

Three new 55-inch smart televisions were only the beginning of the new technological enhancements made at the library this month, thanks to $10,000 in state funding from state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), which helped offset the cost of the refurbished center. It took a lot of work, but the library made sure to employ all the painting and wiring from in-house library employees in order to get the most out of the money.

“We are grateful to Sen. Flanagan for this generous award, which will help enhance the lives of our patrons, young and old,” said Ted Gutmann, library director. “Thanks to Sen. Flanagan and New York state, this new facility ensures that Emma Clark Library continues to offer its patrons the latest in technology, keeping it a modern library for today’s fast-paced world within its charming façade.”

Moving forward, Gutmann said the technology center will offer classes to the public on a wide variety of subjects, including those for beginners and others for more advanced learners. With this new software, the library will add to its existing selection of classes for teens by offering online video creation and editing.

Flanagan visited the library last week to meet with Gutmann and its employees to tour the new equipment and share in the success.

“The staff and leadership of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library has utilized this state funding to create a learning center that will enhance the lives of so many in the community. This new technology center has many different applications for young and old and is a great addition to this already impressive facility,” Flanagan said. “I am happy that we were able to work together for the benefit of the patrons.”

Among the equipment purchased as a result of the grant were three Vizio 55-inch wall-mounted smart televisions, which have the ability to mirror the display of the instructor’s machine, Apple TV and any other HDMI-capable hardware. This technology will allow participants to follow along with an instructor during any class. Each television is also equipped with a floor level HDMI port for easy access to gaming systems or other external input devices.

The Technology Center will also house 10 Dell computers with 23-inch LCD monitors, which are wall-mounted to allow for a clean appearance and functionality. These computers are designed in a way that enhances learning because they are fast, reliable and equipped with some of the latest technology available, including Intel i5 processors, 8GB of memory, and wireless keyboards and mouses, the library said.

The library also received a brand new Macbook Pro with an Intel i7 processor and 16GB of memory, which operates on Mac OSX Yosemite. The Macbook also has Microsoft Office 2014 and Final Cut Pro, which allows for video and photo editing.

All classes held in the Technology Center can be found in the printed newsletter or online at  /newsletters.

The library already offers adult classes on a broad range of topics, such as the Internet, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Facebook, Pinterest, smartphones and tablets. Children and teen programs include Minecraft and Wii U. Also offered are workshops and drop-in tech assistance for help with mobile devices in a small, personal setting.

The library even offers a Teen Tech Clinic on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, where teens volunteer to assist adults with their computers and mobile devices.

Evelyn Berezin is honored this month. Photo from Stony Brook University

A mere accident altered the life of Evelyn Berezin, and now, at almost 90 years old, she is being honored as one of the pioneers in the computer industry.

After 75 years since building her first computer, Berezin — a Poquott resident — is being honored and inducted into the Computer History Museum on April 25 in Mountain View, Calif., because of her impact on the ever-growing technology industry.

“Most people don’t know what a woman of great accomplishment she is,” said longtime friend Kathleen Mullinix, who will be traveling to the event with the woman she described as “a brilliant person of substance.”

Berezin said the best part about all of her success since logging into the computer field decades ago is the fact that she had no idea her life would turn out the way it did. She said she initially thought she would take the physics route at a young age, but it all changed for the best.

“I got into it by accident,” Berezin said. “It was so early in the game, I didn’t know what it was.”

But even though her life didn’t turn out exactly how she planned it, she said she has not looked back once since beginning her journey.

Berezin was born in the Bronx on April 12, 1925. At 15, she graduated high school and started at Hunter College, where she found an interest in physics, which was not an area of study at her all-girls school.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, her high school physics teacher knocked on her door and offered her a research job in the field she wanted.

“Every boy in the country was given a number to be drafted,” Berezin recalled on how she was able to get the job. “I happened to be there at the right time.”

At age of 16, Berezin lied about her age to get the job. She said her height helped her pass for 18, so she began working in the lab while attending college at night. She eventually studied math at Brooklyn Polytech, physics and chemistry at NYU and English at Hunter.

Four years later, she received a scholarship from NYU and accomplished her dream and received her degree in physics.

“It’s what I really wanted,” Berezin said.

After graduation, she received an Atomic Energy Commission fellowship while still working toward her Ph.D. Her dream shifted when she met her husband in 1951. Although the two did not have a steady salary, they decided to marry. So the search for a job began.

“I was told [there was] no way I would get a physics job in 1951 because of the Korean War,” Berezin said.

She then met someone who would forever change her life. A recruiter told her there were very few physics jobs in the government. So she decided to ask about computers, even though the industry was in its infancy.

“I had no idea why I asked,” Berezin said. “I never even heard of a computer.”

She landed her first job working for Electronic Computer Corporation for $4,500 a year — a huge increase from her previous $1,600 salary.

Before the company went bankrupt in 1957, she designed three or four different computers that were used by various companies. She then moved on to a job at Teleregister making computers that would distribute stock market information across the country.

After traveling all the way to Connecticut for her job, Berezin decided to switch jobs but stay in the computer business. She took a job with Digitronics and began designing computers with great complexity and speed.

After all her hard work, she still felt she wasn’t getting what she wanted.

“In 1969 I decided I would never get to be vice president because I was a woman,” Berezin said. “I decided to start my own company.”

It was then that Berezin’s company Redactron was born. From 1969 to 1975 she worked hard to build the company up with roughly 500 employees.

During the 1970s, the economy took a dip, when she said money was not coming in and interest rates were high. She decided to sell the company to the Burroughs Corporation for roughly $25 million.

She continued to work at Burroughs as part of the sale.

“At that time you didn’t work on the computer, you worked in them,” Berezin recalled of the large machines on which she worked.

After leaving Burroughs, Berezin spent the rest of her time getting involved in start-up companies and moved to Long Island.

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District wants more emphasis on science, math

The Middle Country school district is moving forward with plans to redesign science and math offerings in the middle schools to provide students with an enhanced education in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The three-year plan, which would begin in the 2014-15 school year, includes offering an additional math period every other day for seventh- and eighth-graders who are not taking living environment, and extended math offerings during the sixth-graders’ flex period.

“I think there will be a lot of support for it,” Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Francine McMahon said at a school board workshop on July 31. “There is more time for something we all feel is important.”

In order to make the change, band and orchestra will be offered every other day instead of daily, while health and home and careers classes, which are both required for middle school students, would be moved to sixth grade.

McMahon said the changes mark a major paradigm shift within the district, but it was important for class offerings like music to be maintained.

The change is suggested “not to destroy the music program, but yet to be able to maintain a quality program and at the same time increase the offerings that our youngsters would have in other areas so we end up with well-rounded students that perform well,” McMahon said.

According to McMahon, the program’s first year is projected to cost $598,000, as about nine additional staff members are needed, but the following school year, the district would save $104,000, as health classes will no longer be offered to seventh-graders as they would have already satisfied their health requirements.

By 2016-17 school year, McMahon said the district would be able to offer a science research lab, as declining enrollment at the elementary school-level would offset associated costs. Staff needed for the lab class would relocate to the middle school from the elementary school.

“We now have the ability because of the way we have reallocated and watched our funds to have a science research lab to be offered to all seventh- and eighth-grade and non-living environment students in grade eight for the first time,” McMahon said.

In addition to positively helping students, McMahon said the plan also acts as a professional development tool as seventh- and eighth-grade teachers will step in to assist sixth-grade teachers during flex periods when they aren’t teaching a double period of math to the seventh- and eighth-graders.

Superintendent Roberta Gerold said the plan would also help the district reach its long-term goal of requiring graduating seniors to complete a research project “that capitalizes on their interests, but uses the STEM underpinnings,” she said referring to science, technology, engineering and math courses.

While some board members raised concerns over the amount of available science lab space in the middle schools, Gerold said that because of declining enrollment, more space could become available.

“We didn’t want to stop the planning because we didn’t have the traditional lab space,” Gerold said.

Board of Education President Karen Lessler said she wouldn’t want the plans to be delayed either, but also asked her fellow board members to keep in mind of the need for lab space.

“We want to move to move through the obstacles,” she said.