...opening pathways to academic enrichment and enabling possibilities for the future.

Keystone Explore

Grades 6 – 9

KEYSTONE EXPLORE workshops for middle school students offer high energy, hands-on activities not experienced in the usual school day. Students will realize their undiscovered strengths and abilities during a day when they concentrate on one topic while working with students from other school districts. Topics include science, math, writing, history, art, engineering and technology. In order for students to gain full benefit of the experience, workshops may require preliminary work to be completed before attending. Classes range from 20 to 24 students and are taught by subject matter experts and experienced mentors. All activities are aligned with Common Core and New York State Science Learning Standards.


Keystone Explore Steam Day workshops for middle school students will be offered beginning in Fall, 2018.  Students from different school districts will be divided into 5 teams, each emphasizing one aspect of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) while integrating two or more others into the activity.  For example, in science, students may observe insects, design experiments, collect and graph data, and then write concluding interpretations and judgments.  Students will produce posters to be shared with other teams at the end of the day and later with students at their home schools.  Teachers will be encouraged to take photos to support the student posters and student presentations to their classmates.  This will encourage the sharing of knowledge by teachers and students and the extension of the lesson when the participants return to their home schools.


Tandem workshops bring 48 students, 24 from two school districts, together to participate in two programs that share a common theme. Half the attendees participate in an in-depth study of a unit in science or social studies while their classmates develop fiction or non-fiction writing skills. Information and skills developed throughout the day are shared with their classmates when they return to their classrooms.

The Power of Courage combines the history program “Exploring the Underground Railroad” with the non-fiction writing program “Locked Up for Freedom.”
Whose DNA Was Left Behind? combines the science program “DNA Fingerprinting: Crime Scene Investigation” with the fiction writing program “Mystery Writing.”

Complete descriptions of these four programs are listed below.


Biotechnology – Yesterday, Today and into your Future!

Driven by the goal of providing students with that “aha!” moment, this workshop helps prepare the future biotechnology workforce and nurtures an awareness of the influence of biotechnology and genetics on the lives of community members. Participants will be involved in cell study with specific focus on the structure and function of DNA. They will produce a model of DNA and extract and visualize plant DNA all while using technical skills and current biotech equipment. Skills and proper use of equipment will be modeled and practiced. Principles and practices of gel electrophoresis will be included.

DNA Fingerprinting: Crime Scene Investigation

Go hands-on with DNA and explore basic principles of genetics and technology. Students are introduced to the experience of scientific discovery as they search for DNA evidence at a crime scene. Included in their exploration will be the correct method of evidence collection, prevention of contamination and accurate evidence reporting. Students will also consider what DNA can’t reveal and how it can be misinterpreted.

Outside Your Window

Can you tell the difference between an oak tree and a maple? Why are conifers so common in the Adirondack Mountains? Are all needles the same shape? Horticulturalists are able to identify a tree from a distance by as little as its silhouette, bark color or leaf shape and after this course you will too! The world outside our window is amazing. Every species of tree has its own telltale story whether viewed from a distance or up close. Students will sharpen their observational skills while honing their ability to identify trees and learn about the conditions that help them thrive. This workshop includes a walk outside, conditions permitting.


Coding is the interpretation of computerized data into an observable form such as a movement or sound and is the basis of computer games. In coding workshops students will learn to program and code using various drag-and-drop software that requires them to think critically and creatively, solve problems, communicate and collaborate. Coding workshops, described below, include Scratch, Makey Makey, Bloxels or Spheros, each sure to spark the NextGen of scientists. The specific coding class will be predetermined by Keystone mentors.


Almost everyone spends a little down time playing games, whether it be a simple card game or an adult war game. With Bloxels kits, students design their own video games. Youth will have to make judgments, solve multidisciplinary problems and collaborate. As the game progresses, they add animation, background art design and much more. It all starts with an idea. What will their hero look like? A mechanical creature, girl with pony tails or furry monster? What challenges will the hero encounter? This full day workshop allows students to gain empathy for others and build on their teamwork and communication skills through game design.


A sphero is a tennis ball sized robot that connects via bluetooth to a mobile device. It can roll at a speed of up to 7km/h in any direction, spin, flip, and change color. Using a range of coding Apps students can accurately direct the movement of the Sphero. Working collaboratively, they will program a sphero to run through a maze.

Lego We Do Robotics

Working with simple machines, gears, levers and pulleys, students will learn how to build and program a robot using LEGO WeDO kits. This program integrates technology, engineering, computing, mathematics and literacy. Students will work with a partner or a small group to solve simple engineering problems, engage in creative design and use problem solving techniques to create their own unique WeDo solutions.

Chess: A Universal Language

Chess is a universal game, but did you know that kids who learn to play chess develop critical thinking skills, increase their ability to communicate with others in an effective manner, develop important executive functioning skills, increase their ability to focus and improve many of their academic dynamics? This workshop includes a basic intro to the game of chess including its history and how it relates to math, history, trade, music and social interaction. Students will develop a basic understanding of the game board, pieces and strategy and will participate in individual and small group challenges as they work together on strategic and critical thinking skills, chess etiquette and the rules of chess. Students will also participate as live chess figures on a giant chess board.


Join the building team of thinkers and innovators as students build structures using the lightest of materials capable of supporting multiple times the material’s weight. Combining mathematics, principals of physics and creative thinking, students will build skyscrapers that can support a weight. Examples of some of the largest structures on earth will inspire and awe. Yes, your students and their collaborators may become the world’s most innovative design engineers starting with today’s activities! Let’s put on our hard hats and build!

Checks and Balances: Making Sense Out of $

Financial knowledge is key to lifetime learning. We will look at the role of money in students’ lives and how their understanding of finances can have major impacts on their future. Topics include, but are not limited to, income, education’s impact on lifelong earning, college and career finances, basic budgeting, consumerism/unit value versus actual cost, supply and demand, saving & borrowing, calculating simple interest, investing, how to properly use credit and others as may be applicable. The workshop encourages students to talk about money in a practical way and to take an interest in managing their own money, as well as respecting and understanding their household economics. Discussion focuses on personal understanding of money and finance–including key questions on what, how and why people spend. Students may work together to prioritize spending, develop a budget, consider the impact of “make or buy” decisions, discuss consumerism and shopping, learn how pennies can quickly grow to dollars and other activities as grade/age appropriate.


Exploring the Underground Railroad

The participants in this workshop will explore this powerful formative period of American history known as the Underground Railroad. Through music and story, students will look through the lens of fugitives, abolitionists, journalists and free citizens to collaboratively plot escape routes, write personal narratives and speeches, and compose an Underground code song. Using the cultural and historical context of the songs, secret codes and stories, students will work to assemble an abolitionist meeting as we all gather on board the Freedom Train. Lunch fare will add to the experience as a special menu of dishes, typical of those for a “holiday” meal will be served. This is a full day of interactive learning with relevance of past to present.

American Experiences in Civil Rights

The Modern American Civil Rights Movement began before the founding of the nation and continues in earnest, to our present day. Internationally known musician and artist/educator Reggie Harris will guide workshop participants on an interactive musical and creative journey to examine key historical moments that led to the March On Washington, the iconic world-changing gathering of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. Activities will include singing some of the key songs and doing some speech writing in the style of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At day’s end, students will have created a modern day Tree of Rights and Responsibilities and will have a better understanding of the key historical figures and issues of the movement.


Poetry Takes All: A Day of Adventure with Poetry

Every culture has its poetry. Poetry goes from the cradle to the grave, from lullabies and nursery rhymes to epic sagas, limericks, and eulogies. Poetry is meant to be an oral tradition, and we are meant to read it, to sing it, to act it out. Even if poetry isn’t your first choice of genre, today will be a day to experiment with it. You can take your stories into poetry forms, no matter what they are. There is poetry for protest, poetry for theatre, poetry for love, memoir and documentation — and poetry for fun! See how a poet from Wales, Owen Sheers, goes on a journey throughout Britain to visit the landscapes that inspired 6 great poets, A Poet’s Guide to Britain.

What a Character

A great story has an interesting lead character, someone we know as well as we know ourselves. Who is this character? Where does this person live? What is this person’s greatest strength, weakness or fear? The better the author knows this character, the more interesting the story. In this workshop, students will engage in a variety of activities that can be utilized in developing a memorable character for this day’s writing or for a future story. At the end of the day students will introduce their character to others in their class and critique their work.

Setting the Scene

A good story needs believable characters and an interesting theme but without the scenery in which the story takes place, the reader may lose interest. Favorite stories are not ones that tell everything up front but rather allow the reader to develop an image of the place where the story comes to life. These are stories in which the readers feel, smell and taste what the characters experience. There will be plenty of discussion in this workshop and time for writing and sharing stories.

Frightening Fiction

Everyone has fears, like falling or being chased by an evil person or having your deepest secret revealed. In this workshop students will learn the importance of developing an interesting character, a situation and a setting and how to tie these all together to make a story that builds tension on each page. Is the main character the victim or the perpetrator? Will the frightening event happen at school, at night in a strange house or in a favorite hangout? Students will examine their own fears to find inspiration and maybe learn a little bit about themselves as they begin their careers as writers.

Making Fantasy Real

As with all fiction when writing fantasy your characters need to be believable. Your setting also needs to seem real and, of course, you need a good plot. In this workshop students will focus on such questions as: what does my world look like? Does your story involve time travel, magic or human powers that are impossible? Who are the primary characters? Is this a story of good vs evil? Is there a message or lesson to your story? Topics may also include author’s message/theme, dialogue or narrator’s voice. At the conclusion of the day students critique, revise and share their work.

Locked Up for Freedom

What makes a nonfiction story worth telling? Overcoming incredible odds. Bravery in the face of danger. Unwavering dedication to a noble cause. These are the ingredients of a nonfiction story that begged to be told in the book Locked Up for Freedom, about a group of African-American teenage girls imprisoned for protesting during the Civil Rights Movement.

But other kinds of nonfiction stories are worth telling, too—even stories that might seem insignificant or boring at first glance. This workshop will focus on the importance of students’ own stories, exploring why they matter, how to choose a personal story to tell, and how to tell it.

The Improvisational Writer

In fiction, anything can happen. Kids can team up with dragons to save the world. Kitchen appliances can talk and sing. But no matter how outlandish the tale, the best fiction comes across as believable. There’s a reality within the story that readers can relate to—even when the story isn’t true. In this interactive workshop, students will use improv exercises and writing techniques to explore how nonfiction elements figure into creating amazing, believable fiction. For grades 6-8, maximum 30 students. Led by children’s author Heather E. Schwartz and The Mopco Improv Theatre, of Schenectady.

Mystery Writing

Most students love a good mystery but why? A mystery is a story where the smartest person wins and who does not want to be considered smart? This is a chance for your students to examine a different genre and what it takes to become a better writer.

But what does it take to write a good mystery? Examining a mystery is an effective way to introduce the skills of observation and critical thinking through writing. In this session, students will use their own deductive and inductive reasoning to develop a mystery. They will study a mystery up close to decipher what are the elements in a good mystery. Why is their vocabulary so important? What are the leads that can be constructed only to lead to a dead end?

If mysteries are what your students like to read, then this is a chance for students to hone in on their writing skills using a different genre.  This could be a ticket to a whole new adventure in writing for your students.

Costs of Life

Students will engage in a variety of lessons and activities to help begin preparing them for their future including career and financial goals that are based on personal talent and interests, education aspirations and a basic understanding of the reality of life’s challenges and expenses. Participants will gain a greater understanding of the correlation of education & future earnings, the difference between a “Job” and a “Career”, basic economic principles including budgeting, the difference between “Wants” and “Needs” and greater awareness of the utility of career planning and goal setting.  Several short career exploration activities will need to be completed beforehand.

Young Voices of New York

Young Voices of New York (yvnewyork.com) is the website created for a journalism program that provides an opportunity for students under the age of 14 to join a community of writers, have a forum, increase their writing and photography skills, review products, books and movies, and share ideas with other youth. Anyone is welcome to visit and read information on the site, but students who wish to post must register with us and provide us with written parental permission since this site is offered for age 14 and under. Contact information is used to provide writing assignments and in the editing process, as well as to keep reporters informed about YVNY activities and opportunities.


“I learned that making mistakes is just as important as not making mistakes.”

5th Grade Student
Abram Lansing Elem. School

“I loved watching today’s lessons.  Modeling the lessons was very helpful and valuable for me as a teacher…the lessons were engaging in all subject areas (math, science, ELA).”

Greenville Elem. School

“This conference does a phenomenal job preparing students for post-high school life.  Students are learning and practicing public speaking, critical thinking skills and taking a stance on key historical issues.  Their experience is unlike any other they will have in this realm.”

Fort Plain Jr./Sr. High School

“(Model United Nations) taught me more about how to formulate questions better and how to form better arguments.”

11th Grade Student
Greenville High School

“(In future writing) I will think about my story and really describe the characters I write about.”

5th Grade Student
Lake Ave. Elementary School

“Thank you Keystone for the awesome science day!”

5th Grade Student
Abram Lansing Elem. School

“I definitely felt more comfortable because I was in an environment where, if I made a mistake, it was not a big deal.  The teachers corrected my French and moved on. Through the teachers giving us mini-lessons mixed in with the activities, I was able to pick up on the grammar tricks that I had been unaware of.”

11th Grade student
Bolton Central School

“The exposure to native speakers (is most valuable).  I’m a gringa.  This gives students an idea of the mental energy needed to comprehend.  My own Spanish got some practice too.”  

Spanish Teacher
Schodack Central School

“The opportunity to speak French all day and to experience French speakers who come from la francophonic is invaluable.  Just wonderful.  This particular workshop is unique in that it introduces students to accents and cultures through la francophone in addition to France and Canada.”

French Teacher
Bolton Central School

“Some students spoke French very well and it was fun to be able to chat with them and learn interesting things about them.”

10th Grade student
Bolton Central School

“I learned that you really need to be specific with your details and that it will help you write more interesting stories.”

5th Grade Student
Forts Ferry Elem. School

I liked learning about the Underground Railroad. It was like you were there when it was happening.

7th Grade Student

I learned a lot about history and got to work with people I didn’t know.

7th Grade Student

I learned how to measure the height of things with a protractor and meter stick.

7th Grade Student

We heard stories from reporters and film makers who put themselves into situations dealing with current events.

9th Grade Student
Columbia High School

It has let me identify fake news an understand stories based on who they benefit.

9th Grade Student
Columbia High School

It was a fun way to write. It was risk free so it took the stress off. As a result, kids could enjoy the writing process rather than have it feel like work.