Tag Archive | "technology"

New York Ballots Will Include Proposal to Bond $2 Billion for Technology in Schools

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By Tessa Raebeck

At the polls November 4, New Yorkers will vote on whether or not to authorize the state to issue and sell $2 billion in bonds to support statewide technological improvements.

The proposal, the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, was brought up at the Sag Harbor School District’s Board of Education meeting on Monday, October 20, by board member Tommy John Schiavoni, the school board’s legislative liaison.

If approved, the money raised would be used for various projects related to purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as laptop computers, tablets and high-speed internet; constructing and modernizing facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs and replacing classroom trailers with permanent instructional space; and installing high-tech security features in school buildings.

The measure was proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and backed by members of both parties in the State Legislature, including local representatives Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle.

Supporters of the proposition argue students belong in classrooms rather than trailers and children are better prepared for modern careers when they learn in a setting that is technologically up-to-date. Opponents, however, say the measure would add to New York’s already substantial debt and that it is impractical for the state to borrow money to fund technology that will soon become obsolete in a rapidly changing industry.

Sag Harbor voters will have the opportunity to answer yes or no to the $2 billion bond in Proposal 3 on the November 4 ballot.

 

Videotaping Pilot

Also at Monday’s meeting, the school board discussed the progress of the six-month pilot program to videotape its meetings for online access.

“I understand that the videotape of the board meeting from September 29 is unavailable,” Noyac resident Elena Loreto said to the board.

Board of Education President Theresa Samot said the video was unable to be posted “due to technical issues.”

“It was all garbled,” explained Superintendent Katy Graves.

“There was a problem with the display and the video itself,” added Chris Tice, vice president of the school board.

School board member Sandi Kruel noted there have been fewer people in the audience at meetings since taping began, which was a concern of the board when the initiative was first considered. She added the district does not have control over LTV, the East Hampton television studio that airs the recordings, and cannot direct when those recordings are posted.

“It’s just kind of out there like we’re trying to hide something and it’s very offensive,” Ms. Kruel said of the missing September 29 video.

“This is a new process for all of us and that’s why we set this up as a pilot and we were very clear about that when we set forth,” added Director of Technology Scott Fisher, who is in charge of the program. “So, we’re trying to work out some of the technical issues associated with it.”

Mr. Fisher said he currently delivers the memory card of the recordings to LTV in person, which can result in delays in how quickly they are available online.

“They do a lot with a really small crew of people,” added Mr. Fisher of the LTV staff.

“The meeting that didn’t go up was a result of the video camera just not focusing,” he said, adding that at the last workshop they filmed the meeting from a different angle.

“It was still a problem but not as obvious, that’s why tonight I’m not using that video camera anymore and we switched to an iPad to see if we’ll have better results…we’re working all this out so I appreciate your patience,” Mr. Fisher continued.

“We proactively ask for your continued positive support even if there are some technical errors…our staff is doing the best we can having these new added responsibilities on their plate,” added Ms. Tice.

Members of the Pierson High School Student Council attended Monday’s meeting to thank the board for its service before School Board Recognition Week, which is October 27 to 31. Council President Colleen Samot, board President Theresa Samot’s daughter, Vice President Zoe Diskin, who is the daughter of board member David Diskin, and Secretary Claire Oppenheimer thanked the board for its “unending commitment, dedication and countless hours [spent] supporting the students of Sag Harbor School District.”

Technology Expands in Sag Harbor Classrooms

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An aerial photograph of Sag Harbor taken with the Pierson art department's drone. Courtesy of Peter Solow.

An aerial photograph of Sag Harbor taken with the Pierson art department’s drone. Courtesy of Peter Solow.

By Tessa Raebeck 

With iPads for eight-year-olds and a Chromebook for every middle school student, Sag Harbor teachers and administrators told the Board of Education Monday that technology is on target in the school district.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher and Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School teachers presented on “Technology to Support Student Learning,” updating the school board on what the budget buys.

“I prefer that the instruction drive the technology rather than the technology driving the instruction,” said Mr. Fisher, who admitted that although he loves his gadgets, he aims to present technology department budgets that are both cost-effective and in-line with instructional needs, not industry trends.

Technology is constantly changing and thus flexibility and regular reevaluation is required in determining which tools are used, how they are used, and in which classrooms they will work best, Mr. Fisher said.

While iPads “work very well” for young children in grades Kindergarten through second, Mr. Fisher said “as the students are getting older, we’re finding that the iPads may not be best suited for them…as we get into the older grades in the elementary school, we’ve started doing things like adding Chromebook computers to the mix.”

For the first time this school year, there is a Google Chromebook available for each Sag Harbor student in every fourth and fifth grade classroom. Chromebooks, a cheaper alternative to traditional laptops, are designed for use primarily in conjunction with the Internet.

“When we introduce new technology,” Mr. Fisher said, “we don’t simply discard the technology and toss it to the side.”

The Mac computers that were in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms are now being used by the second and third grades, and every third grade classroom now has its own full set of computers.

Seventy-five Chromebooks were also added to Pierson Middle/High School this year on three carts of 25 each that can be moved between classrooms. The library already has a set of 25.

Fourth grade teachers Jeff Reed and Liz Surozenski demonstrated how the new Chromebooks in their classrooms have helped students to collaborate with each other using Google apps and said students seem more excited and engaged with the content they’re learning.

Ms. Surozenski said in the past, her classes have only published one writing piece by this time of the school year. This year’s class is working on the third.

Mr. Reed shared a presentation on “women of war” shared on Google Drive by student Chiara Bedini. Although the fourth grader was only required to make one slide, she had instead made three: “women of the war,” “more women of the war” and “lots more women of the war.”

“You get an enthusiasm that leads to innovation where kids want to learn,” said Mr. Reed, adding that writing the content is not the end of the assignment. The end product “is the communication and collaboration of their discoveries.”

That collaboration extends far beyond the classroom. Using their new Chromebooks, Sag Harbor’s fourth graders are accessing worldwide databases such as the “World Water Monitoring Challenge,” a site that allows them to punch in data taken from Sag Harbor’s waters to be shared with scientists—and students—around the world.

Computer Lab teacher Jonathan Schwartz shared a sample lesson from Tynker, a computer programming course the district started this year. With different levels beginning in third grade, students can start by putting blocks together on a screen and grow to be typing code proficiently.

“It certainly challenges the students to create things on their own, rather than having everything told to them or handed to them,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Create something—show me what you did and tell me how you did it.”

Tynker, he said, aligns with the Common Core values of thinking, rather than reciting, and prepares students for modern jobs in growing fields.

“It’s absolutely their language and we know that that’s a huge career field,” Superintendent Katy Graves added.

Principal Matt Malone thanked the board, and especially Mr. Fisher and his team, for supporting the Sag Harbor Elementary School in implementing its new technology initiatives.

“I think we all have a sense of how lucky we are to get this technology in our hands and get to share that with the boys and girls, and it’s clear what it can do to enhance instruction and those 21st century skills,” he said.

Although some of the technological instruction are handed down to students by means of tools and software, other aspects come from directly their imaginations.

Pierson art teacher Peter Solow said although the “fundamental technology” used in the art department is still the pencil, the students and teachers are continually coming up with new ideas to integrate technology into creativity. Pierson students are using computers to convert sketches to picture books, taking aerial photographs with drones, and scanning, digitizing and archiving photographs and documents in collaboration with the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the John Jermain Memorial Library.

“The most important thing…is using technology as a tool that allows students to become self-directed in their own art making through guided, independent work,” said Mr. Solow.

Art Takes Over Apple in the Parrish Road Show

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"Spinning Beach Ball of Death," Evan Desmond Yee.

“Spinning Beach Ball of Death,” Evan Desmond Yee.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Parrish Road Show is coming to Sag Harbor this weekend, with artist Evan Desmond Yee taking over GeekHampton.

Now in its third year, the road show put on by the Parrish Art Museum brings the work of East End artists to places outside of the Water Mill museum—and off the beaten path.

“’Road Show” aims to broaden the traditional understanding of the function of an art museum by bringing art outside and into the community,” Parrish Curator of Special Projects Andrea Grover said in a press release.

For “The App Store,” Evan Desmond Yee has created a mock Apple computer retail space. The artist’s sculptural interpretations of iPhone apps and other digital icons will be on display in GeekHampton’s education room.

A video interpretation of the iPhone’s Siri will describe the artwork and the “Pinwheel of Death,” the rotating colorful circle that is synonymous with waiting for your computer to work, is replicated on stickers, magnets and other objects.

“With the tremendous popularity of the app, virtual environments have eclipsed ‘mechanical,’ utilitarian objects,” Mr. Yee said in a press release. “They blur the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds. ‘The App Store’ will motivate users to question our progress towards a ‘virtual utopia’ and to reevaluate our obsession with contemporary design as a panacea for the trials of modern life.”

“The App Store” will be on view at GeekHampton from Saturday, August 30, through Sunday, September 28. An opening reception for the public is Saturday, August 30, from 6 to 7 p.m. GeekHampton is located at 34 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Admission is free. For more information, visit parrishart.org or call (631) 283-2118.

Drone Spotted Flying Over Sag Harbor

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An aerial view of Sag Harbor taken by Pierson Middle/High School students with the school's new drone, donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust. Photo courtesy Peter Solow.

An aerial view of Sag Harbor taken by Pierson Middle/High School students with the school’s new drone, donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust. Courtesy Peter Solow.

By Tessa Raebeck 

At the signal from Theo Gray, Isabella di Russa sprinted down Pierson Hill, a streak of pink and red as a long Chinese dragon kite trailed behind her. Darting among a triangle of bright beach umbrellas held by classmates at the bottom of the hill, she weaved the dragon between them.

From Theo’s view at the top of the hill, the colorful umbrella tops were hardly visible, but he had a better vantage point. A drone, hardly noticeable except for the humming of its engine, whirred above Isabella’s head, capturing the scene below.

A small, remote-controlled aircraft with a camera attached to its base, the drone is the latest instrument of Sag Harbor’s student artists. Donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust, a privately funded art program created by Sag Harbor resident and architect Hobart “Hobie” Betts, the drone is being piloted in a weeklong workshop at Pierson High School.

On Wednesday, August 6, five students, Theo, Isabella, Danielle Schoenfeld, Joy Tagliasachhi and Zoe Vatash, two visiting artists, Francine Fleischer and Scott Sandell, both from Sag Harbor, and art teacher Peter Solow experimented with their new tool.

Mr. Sandell manned a remote control that operated the white drone, an alien-like aircraft with four propellers that move simultaneously in different directions. To capture photos and videos, students took turns controlling an iPhone connected simply by Wifi to the drone’s camera.

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Sag Harbor students took photos with their new drone on Pierson Hill on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Theo Gray.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, were until recently used primarily for military operations and by the occasional pioneering photographer. The technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, with the once pricey gadgets (some of which still cost as much as $30,000) now available from vendors like Amazon for less than $75.

As with most new technology, drones are proliferating too fast for laws and regulations to keep up. On Sunday, August 3, Senator Charles Schumer urged the Federal Aviation Association and the U.S. Commerce Department to regulate the use of drones for both commercial and hobby purposes. New York City, the senator said, is the “Wild West for drones,” with multiple instances of the devices crashing into trees, apartment terraces and hovering outside windows reported this summer.

But on Pierson Hill Wednesday, the need was not for regulations nor drone policy, but for a way to master the new technology while also figuring out how to create art that is unique, inspiring and innovative, despite the gadgets’ soaring popularity.

“When people initially started to use computers to make artwork, they didn’t know what to do and everything they did was bad,” said Mr. Sandell, an artist and printmaker, who, like Ms. Fleischer, has worked with Sag Harbor students for years doing site-specific artwork and photography projects through the Reutershan Trust. “But now, people have learned how to use it and control it and software has caught up to the ideas and so, now you can create beautiful things with your computer.”

“So,” he added, “this is just another tool and that’s what’s really important here—taking that experience and putting it into your school of thought, your sensibilities, in terms of what’s possible.”

Pierson's new drone hovers over student Zoe Vatash on Wednesday, August 6. Courtesy Peter Solow.

Pierson’s new drone hovers over student Zoe Vatash on Wednesday, August 6. Courtesy Peter Solow.

“There’s a wow factor to the technology,” added Mr. Solow. “And this is the essential question that we’ve challenged the kids with and the thing that’s really tough—how do you take this technology and make art?”

Now that most people have cell phones with strong camera capabilities, everyone is constantly taking snapshots, Mr. Solow said, “so what’s the difference between a really great photograph and a snapshot? Everybody is going to have drones, what is the difference between what everybody will do with a drone and having some sort of artistic merit to what we’re doing?”

With just three days of drone experimentation under their belt, on Wednesday, the students appeared to have risen to the challenge. They had dozens of photographs and videos, including aerial shots of Sag Harbor Village with the harbor and North Haven in the distance, videos looking down on Zoe doing cartwheels and Isabella dribbling a soccer ball, and even a video of the drone crashing into a tree.

The drone, Theo said, allows the young artists to “do things that we really can’t do with a normal camera, with angles and views…it’s interesting just to see what we can do with photography.”

In one video, Zoe worked the camera while Danielle, Isabella, Joy and Theo rolled down the hill.

In a “self-portrait,” as Mr. Solow called it, the drone captured its own shadow reflected on the hill, a slightly eerie shot for anyone familiar with movies featuring rebellious robots.

“It’s awesome,” said Ms. Fleischer, a portrait, landscape and fine art photographer, “because you can use the ground as your canvas. So, with that in mind, it just gives you another perspective.”

A video taken in the Pierson gymnasium looks directly down onto the lines of the basketball court, with Mr. Solow and the students standing around a circle juggling and passing a soccer ball. As the drone hovers, figures move in and out of the shot. As Theo does a header, the ball comes dangerously close to the camera.

Pierson student Theo Gray and visiting artist Scott Sandell have a flight consultation on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Peter Solow.

Pierson student Theo Gray and visiting artist Scott Sandell have a flight consultation on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Peter Solow.

Filming indoors poses an additional challenge, as “the drone is so powerful that the propellers create a great deal of turbulence,” said Mr. Sandell. “When you’re inside, the turbulence bounces off the walls and comes back at the drone so you create a wind shear.”

When inside, the drone can be knocked around by the reflection of its own turbulence and harder to control. Outside, a gust of wind or an ill-advised bird could send it whirring away.

Despite the turbulence, the camera is generally still and focused, which is a good thing, as the students’ ideas of how to push the boundaries—and thus create innovative art—keep coming.

While brainstorming for new means of experimentation with the drone, Zoe asked, “Could we fill water balloons with paint and drop them from it?” No one denied the request.

 

More photos taken with Sag Harbor’s new drone:

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Bridgehampton Local Jake Patterson Making a Name for Himself in the Art World—and the Rap World, too

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A still shot of Bridgehampton native and up-and-coming performance artist Yung Jake, from his latest music video, "Look."

A still shot of Bridgehampton native and up-and-coming performance artist Yung Jake, from his latest music video, “Look.”

By Genevieve Kotz

Yung Jake, an up-and-coming artist/rapper from Bridgehampton, having recently had an exhibition of his work at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles, is quickly gaining recognition for his contributions to both the art and rap music worlds.

Yung Jake, also known as Jake Patterson from Bridgehampton High School’s class of 2008, received his BFA from CalArts in Los Angeles.

At the Steve Turner Gallery, Jake showed “Drawings,” a series of screen installations with a lone computer mouse moving on each screen.

Yung Jake also premiered his iPhone-filmed music video “Look” at the exhibition, which ran until May 31 and was featured in the Huffington Post.

In a similar theme to his visual art, Yung Jake’s music videos are internet-inspired, featuring HTML code, YouTube clips and colorful pixels.

“The young artist speaks and lives in the language of the net, telling stories as complex, multivalent, frivolous and raw as infinite material lurking in your browser,” said the Huffington Post. “Sometimes it feels like Yung Jake wasn’t born on the internet, he is the internet.”

To see more of Yung Jake’s work and videos, visit his website at yungjake.tumblr.com.

Pierson Places 49th out of 100 in Division at FIRST Robotics Championship

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Member of the Pierson Robotics Team on their way to the closing ceremony of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri Saturday, April 26. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Member of the Pierson Robotics Team on their way to the closing ceremony of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri Saturday, April 26. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

After months of preparation and four days of intense competition, the Pierson Robotics Team placed 49th among the 100 teams in its division at the finals of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Saturday.

The Pierson Robotics Team arrives in St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team arrives in St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Pierson’s Robotics Team, also known as FRC Team 28 and the “Beasts from the East,” spent six weeks designing, building and programming a robot—among myriad other competition-related tasks such as networking, marketing and fundraising—starting in January.

At the end of March, the team competed in the Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University, earning second place and the Engineering Inspiration Award, which qualified it for the national competition.

The successful season culminated Saturday with Sag Harbor earning a position among the top teams in the world—and lots of ammo for next year.

“Everyone seems very motivated to have a great off-season,” said Liam Rothwell-Pessino, a junior at Pierson in his second year on the team. “Plus, everyone had a lot of fun,” he added.

After arriving in St. Louis on April 23, the team kept busy attending conferences, meetings and matches—and enjoying some special celebrity appearances. A total of 400 teams from across the world competed in four divisions: Pierson competed in the Curie Division.

Pierson Robotics teammates at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Pierson Robotics teammates at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Team captains Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen, who are both seniors at Pierson and have led the team for the past two years, are passing on the “reins of leadership,” as Liam called them, to junior Kevin Spolarich, who started on the team in 2012 as a freshman.

Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“I’m happy about where I’m leaving the team, but I’m not quite done yet,” Lucas said Sunday. “We’ve got a lot of plans for the rest of the year to prepare for next season. I’m really glad Kevin is here to take the team over. I know for sure that it’s in good hands.”

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill, but I’m determined to keep our momentum going,” Kevin said of his new position. “We’re going to be recruiting, learning and practicing all through the off-season so we can do even better next year.”

“It was a really great learning experience for us to see all of the amazing robots sponsored by companies like Boeing and NASA and now we know what to expect from competition at that level, which will help us next year,” he continued. “We also were inspired by a lot of interesting designs [at the championship] and we’re planning to experiment with some new systems during the off-season, like the ability to switch between two types of wheels during a match.”

The Engineering Inspiration Award that qualified Pierson for the international championship was given to the team for its work to expand the team’s role in the community. Team 28 did robotics-related charitable work around town, brought in students from East Hampton High School, showed the robot to students at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and taught Costa Rican children about robotics, among other initiatives.

Such awards demonstrate the FIRST competition’s commitment to not just robotics and technology, but also to using the camaraderie and innovation required by a robotics program to further altruistic initiatives and enhance education.

The arena of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

The arena of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“FIRST really tries to put focus on spreading the message and helping others outside the competition,” Lucas said. “The Hall of Fame is made up of the Chairman’s [Award] winners, which shows that the most important part of FIRST is actually about teamwork and helping others, rather than just robots.”

“When NASA paid for our entry fee to St. Louis because we won the Engineering Inspiration Award—something they didn’t do for competition winners—it showed us how much focus there is on going outside the robot to spread the message of FIRST,” he added.

In the closing ceremony Saturday, the 2014 Chairman’s Award was presented to Team 27, from Clarkston High School in Clarkston, Michigan, for its work helping to advance education. The team flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for legislation involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for underprivileged children.

“It made me really want to give back to a community that’s been so supportive of us,” Lucas said of the inspirational closing ceremonies.

Robotics mentor Clint Schulman and team leaders Lucas Pickering, Kevin Spolarich and Alex Cohen prepare for competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Robotics mentor Clint Schulman and team leaders Lucas Pickering, Kevin Spolarich and Alex Cohen prepare for competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

The closing ceremonies also involved a guest performance by musician and seven-time Grammy Award winner will.i.am, famed as the front man for the Black Eyed Peas and his music videos supporting President Obama’s 2008 run for office.

Throughout the competitive season, in addition to the networking and the fundraising, the technological innovation and community outreach, the lobbying at school board meetings and celebrating at their parade, Team 28 has always appeared dedicated first and foremost to one key component: having fun.

“The closing ceremonies were very fun,” said Liam. “Will.i.am played, but he was pretty mediocre. We had fun throwing paper airplanes from six stories up down at the president of FIRST. One almost hit him.”

The Pierson Robotics Team at the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Pierson Robotics Team at the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Pierson Robotics Team Heading to Nationals

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Students cheer on the Pierson Robotics Team at the Long Island Regional competition last weekend. Photo courtesy of Rob Coe.

Students cheer on the Pierson Robotics Team at the Long Island Regional competition last weekend. Photo courtesy of Rob Coe.

By Tessa Raebeck

The referee made the call—it was arguably questionable—and there was nothing they could do about it.

For the second year in a row, members of the Pierson Robotics team, FRC Team 28, thought they had just missed qualifying for the national championship of the FIRST Robotics Competition after finishing in second place at the Long Island Regional contest at Hofstra University last weekend.

The hopes of senior team leaders Alex Cohen and Lucas Pickering, who had fostered a team that had grown bigger, better and more united each year, had been dashed—or so they thought.

But Pierson wound up securing an automatic invitation to the national championship competition, which will be held in St. Louis from April 23 to 26, when it won the Engineering Inspiration Award, which, according to FIRST, “celebrates outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school, as well as their community.”

The Pierson Robotics Team celebrated their spot at nationals with a parade down Main Street on Monday. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Pierson Robotics Team celebrated their spot at nationals with a parade down Main Street on Monday. Photo by Michael Heller.

“It’s mostly due to our focus this year on expanding the team and doing work outside of just building the robot,” explained Kevin Spolarich, a Pierson junior on the team’s driving squad. “We are bringing in students from East Hampton, teaching kids in Costa Rica, and showing the robot to the children at the elementary school.”

Pierson collaborates with East Hampton High School, which supplies four of the team’s student engineers and one of its mentors, shop teacher Trevor Gregory.

“We also have done some charitable work in the off-season fixing up old broken down electric scooters for people at the VFW,” Kevin added.

At last weekend’s competition, three of the FRC Team 28 members, Abi Gianis, Alex Cohen and Tiger Britt, talked to the judges, explaining their program and presenting a video they made featuring Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, talking about the district’s robotics program to further demonstrate community outreach.

“The kids were so phenomenal, I’m so proud of them,” said Gayle Pickering, Lucas’s mom, who mentors the team with her husband Rick, Mr. Gregory, Rob Coe and Clint Schulman.

“The way they talked about the team and knew the robot” helped secure the award, Ms. Pickering said.

The judges also recognized the team’s innovation, honoring the engineering behind the robot that may not have been able to overcome a bad call, but did turn some very important heads.

Kevin controls the robot’s arm, which picks up, puts down and throws the ball in the competition’s game, Aerial Assist. The game requires alliances of three teams that compete against another team in a game that requires the robot to throw balls that are 2 feet in diameter.

“We use two Xbox controllers hooked up to a laptop to control the robot,” Kevin explained.

Each the approximately 30 students on the team has a distinct role on one of several squads. Captain Lucas Pickering does the driving.

“Our shooting mechanism didn’t work as intended, “said Liam Rothwell-Pessino, a junior who is in his second year on the team. “We had to switch to an entirely different strategy, one where we played midfield/defense. Lucas’s insane driving skills were a big reason our entire strategy didn’t fall apart.”

“Everybody was a real important member of the team and everybody has their different jobs,” said Ms. Pickering. “It was truly teamwork at its best.”

The leader of the scouting team, Pierson junior Shane Hennessy, was tasked with leading the crew in finding teams to complete their alliance last weekend.

“Essentially,” said Liam, “we did really well in the preliminary stage. I think we placed seventh with an 8-1 record. We ended up picking two really great teams for our alliance and made it to the grand finals undefeated. In the final series, we lost 2-1 over a really stupid ref call, but hey, I don’t want to sound like a bad sport, it was still incredibly fun.”

“We were really annoyed and depressed,” he added, “but happy when we won an award that apparently qualifies us for nationals, so in a month, we’re off to St. Louis.”

The game remains the same, but the stakes are much higher.

Using their original robots, the teams compete in the same competition, Aerial Assist, but rather than one field of competition, there are five, filling the Edward Jones Dome, where the St. Louis Rams play.

“Now,” explained Ms. Pickering, “there’ll be 192 teams to scout instead of 49, so Shane Hennessy’s going to be very busy.”

Pierson traveled to the national championship, at the time in Atlanta, about 15 years ago, when the FIRST Robotics Competition was still a small, relatively unknown event. There are now over 2,000 teams competing worldwide, with regional competitions from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“The kids are so excited,” said Ms. Pickering. “I’m so proud of all of them, they put this together. There’s so many of them that are enthusiastic and it was really teamwork. They worked together on the scouting during the competition—that was a huge part of it. They worked together programming…the fact is that it’s teamwork and they really worked together.”

“Overall,” reflected Liam, “it was a great experience. And I’m glad Lucas and Alex get to finally go to nationals for the first time in their last year on the team.”

“It feels fantastic,” said Lucas. “We’re especially looking forward to being able to participate in a group of elite teams and talking to people from those teams.”

“It’ll also be interesting for us to see teams that are older than us for the first time,” he added of the more experienced teams. Pierson’s team was established in 1995 and thus has seniority at the Long Island regional competition.

In addition to securing a spot at the national championship, earning the Engineering Innovation Award secures the team funding—by none other than NASA, which will give Pierson $5,000 to attend the competition.

The team still needs to raise more money, though. With airfare costs high this close to the trip, Ms. Pickering said she is looking to raise $500 per student, with the overall budget close to $25,000 for the entire trip, adding, “That’s a high number, I hope.”

Although the team is hopeful for some large corporate sponsors, every donation counts.

To donate to the Pierson Robotics Team’s trip to nationals, send a check with a note that indicates it is for the Pierson Robotics Team to Pierson Middle/High School, 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. For more information on the team, visit frcteam28.com.

Pierson Robotics Team Heads to FIRST Competition with Confidence

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The 2013-2014 Pierson Whalers Robotics team. Photo courtesy of Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team placed second at the Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition Saturday and will head to the national championship in St. Louis in April. Photo courtesy of Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

After coming in second place last year—and losing the championship on a technicality—the Pierson High School Robotics Team is returning to the FIRST Robotics Competition this year with a vengeance—and a “very fast robot,” according to Shane Hennessy, a junior who is in his fourth season with the team.

This weekend, the 30 members of the Pierson Whalers team will attend the 2014 Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University. An international program, FIRST challenges student teams, aided by mentors, to build a 130-pound robot in six weeks using a standard “kit of parts” and common guidelines.

This year’s game, Aerial Assist, is similar to basketball. The robot must be able to lift, throw and catch a “yoga ball,” 2 feet in diameter.  Compared to previous competitions, Aerial Assist has a catch: The team must form an alliance with two other competitors, resulting in two teams of three robots each competing against each other on the court.

The competition is more challenging this year, said Abi Gianis, a junior who is in her second year on the team.

“We have to build a robot that is capable of not only completing the task, but also can cooperate and work with other robots that we will have had never worked with before,” she said. “Teamwork between different teams is really focused on this year.”

The Whalers' robot poses in the Pierson gymnasium. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Whalers’ robot poses in the Pierson gymnasium. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Abi said the Whalers have scouted other team’s websites and YouTube pages, but cannot form official alliances until they arrive at the competition today, Thursday, March 27

As leader of the team’s scouting division for the second year in a row, Shane is finding his role has become “much more important because of that focus.”

“Last year,” he said, “it was more to figure out strategy, but this year it is integral to our success.”

At the competition, Shane must “know everything about every team there.” He will coordinate with the 12 members of the scouting division to find out information on their opponents and potential allies.

“Since we all have to work together as teams, we need to know which teams work well with us,” Shane said. “Also, we want to be able to prep for the matches where we don’t get to choose our alliance. If we have data on them, we can work together more efficiently.”

Pierson’s robot is fast this year because it has a mecanum wheel drive train, a way the motors are connected to the wheels that allows the robot to quickly go in any direction with ease.

“But our speed also means that we can be pushed around easily,” Shane said. “This means that a good teammate would be one that could block the opposing team for us.”

The robot has pincers that enable it to pick up and throw the ball, using pneumatics to open and close the mechanical arms, which were designed by programmers Liam Rothwell-Pessino and Ben Klinghoffer, with help from Rob Coe, a former electrical engineer—a team mentor—and Lucas Pickering, who captains the team along with Alex Cohen.

Liam, who joined the team last year as a sophomore, said, “Last year, I was kind of lost—as is everyone else I’m told, their first year—but then the second year, you get the hang of it and you really start to contribute. Then it really starts to get interesting and you feel like you’re part of the team.”

“I’d say that the struggling in the first year and being taught by the seniority on the team definitely helps bring the team closer together,” he added.

“We have received a lot more community support in the last few years, and the program has become more than just building a robot, in the sense that we’re really a team and robotics has become an enriching learning experience,” said Shane. “We worked really hard this year, and I think we’ll do well.”

The Pierson Robotics Team's robot and the balls it must throw in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University this weekend. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team’s robot and the balls it must throw in the FIRST Robotics Competition at Hofstra University this weekend. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Hampton Library Showcases New 3D Printer for Bridgehampton

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Hampton Library Director Kelly Harris uses the library's new 3D printer on February 24. Photo by Michael Heller.

Hampton Library Director Kelly Harris uses the library’s new 3D printer on February 24. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After setting his beloved model train set aside years ago when a vital piece disappeared, an elderly Bridgehampton man was finally able to return to his hobby, thanks to a new 3D printer at the Hampton Library.

Delivered just before Christmas, the new Makerbot 3D printer will enable the library to offer more programs to kids and teenagers, teach other libraries about the innovative technology and provide the community with a practical, useful tool.

“There’s a variety of different things you can really come out and do with your 3D printer,” said Kelly Harris, the library’s director. “If you just have the thought, the imagination, to come up with something to do with it, but also the ability to come up with practical uses for it, too—it’s not just a wow factor thing, it’s not just a cool thing to have—it can be really helpful.”

3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the last five years that the technology became widely available for commercial use. Designs can be self-created using computer software or by chosing a model from Thingiverse, a global community in which people share designs for use on any Makerbot printer, to make three-dimensional solid objects in any color and virtually any shape.

“Right now we’re printing a heart, which is made out of different movable gears, and we’re printing that in sparkly, translucent red,” Ms. Harris said.

With funds raised by the Friends of the Hampton Library, the library purchased a 3D printer, a digitizer, which scans objects to turn them into designs to then be printed, and some plastic filament, “which is sort of the ink for the printer,” said Ms. Harris, who estimates the total cost at around $3,500.

After the printer arrived, librarians spent January becoming familiar with the new technology. The Bridgehampton Association provided the library with a $750 grant to send Ms. Harris and four librarians to classes at the Makerbot store in New York City and to purchase more plastic filament. In March, the librarians are taking a class on the Replicator 2, the Makerbot model the library owns. Ms. Harris attended a 3D design class last Sunday.

“We learned how to do some basic 3D design stuff which would be to take something called a primitive shape, which are your basic shapes—your circles, your spheres, your cylinders, cones, things of that nature—and merge them together to build different things. So, you can actually merge them together to build like a little robot or design a sculpture,” she said.

The Hampton Library started its promotional push for the printer this month, printing parts for people to “sort of see it in action, see what we can do,” Ms. Harris said. In early March, the library will host the monthly Technology Information Forum meeting for the Suffolk County Library Association’s Computer and Technical Services Division to show other libraries what the printer is capable of, discuss different online printing programs and demonstrate how the technology works.

3D Design classes for kids and teenagers will start at the library in the spring. “It’s something new, it’s something different, it’s something where they can try and design something on their own. And then we can print it for them in whatever color they like, or if they need it to be two-toned, we can actually print two colors. It’s actually a cool thing,” Ms. Harris said.

In addition to being “cool,” the printer has countless practical uses for the community. One patron is planning on printing a plastic washer to fix a leaking washing machine. The librarians started their training by printing out nuts and bolts. If a family loses a game piece, they can come to the library and print out a new one. Ms. Harris is currently working on a Parcheesi piece, but the possibilities are endless.

“You get those great big Lego sets and all you need is to lose one tiny piece and you can’t put together the battleship you’re making or the airplane,” she said. “Well, now you can really take a piece that’s like it, we can scan it, digitize it and we can print you a whole new working piece for that.”

Hopeful the Makerbot will be open for public printing by the fall, Ms. Harris first wants to ensure the librarians are well versed in the machine and prepared to troubleshoot the printer and professionally assist patrons with ease.

“At this point,” she said, “if somebody came in tomorrow and said, ‘Hey, look I just lost the symbol for my Monopoly game,’ we would find a way to print that for them and we would. It really is fun and the sky’s the limit. You’re only limited by your familiarity with the 3D design software—which we are getting better with every day—and then also, your imagination.”

Sag Harbor School District Presents Budget Draft on PPS, Transportation and Technology

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the third budget presentation before the Sag Harbor Board of Education this school year, district administrators outlined their respective draft budgets for Pupil Personnel Services, technology and transportation.

In addition to the 2-percent tax levy cap, the district must contend with state-mandated instructional training, data reporting and technology equipment to meet new educational standards.

PPS Director Barbara Bekermus presented her department budget to the board on Monday. Ms. Bekermus has included an increase of 20 percent, or $5,000, under “instructional salary tutor” because she feels the demand for at home tutoring is growing.

Overall, the PPS department asked the board to increase its funding by 3.83 percent or $184,337 for a total of  $4.81 million.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher presented his portion of the budget, saying that many of his requests stemmed from direct conversations he had with the teachers and administrators at both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle and High School “to try and better understand what the instructional needs of the students are.”

“By and large,” Mr. Fisher told the small crowd, “what I heard from the teachers was everything’s running really well, but we need to have more computers.”

Technology equipment expenses are projected to increase by 15.63 percent, representing an increase of $125,904 from last year’s budget for a proposed total of $931,640.

The transportation budget, prepared by Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and presented to the board by School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, asks for a 0.98 percent increase, or $7,300. If accepted, the department’s total budget would be $750,992.

During the 2014-2015 school year, with payments spread between July 2014 and June 2015, the district will pay $1.44 million in debt service for bonds issued in 2006, 2009 and 2011.