Archive for the ‘PIC’ Category

What is Computational Thinking and Why Should You Care?

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Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Computational Thinking says that computational thinking is, “a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science,” and that “to flourish in today’s world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world.” But what does that really mean? Think of it this way: computational thinking is like a Swiss Army Knife for solving problems.

Programming as Problem Solving

Computational thinking may sound like it’s complex, but it’s a basic a problem-solving process that can be applied to any domain. This makes computational thinking an important skill for all students, and it’s why our curriculum is structured to teach students how to use computational thinking to be precise with their language, base their decisions on data, use a systematic way of thinking to recognize patterns and trends, and break down larger problems into smaller chunks that can be more easily solved.

Here’s a video from our Introduction to Programming for VEX IQ curriculum that explains the concept of breaking down problems and building them up, and then shows how to apply that concept to programming a robot.


Computational Thinking is Everywhere

Instead of simply consuming technology, computational thinking teaches students to use technology as a tool. With computational thinking, students learn a set of skills and a way of thinking that they can apply to technical and non-technical problems by:Girl Gears

  • Applying computational strategies such as divide and conquer in any domain
  • Matching computational tools and techniques to a problem
  • Applying or adapt a computational tool or technique to a new use
  • Recognizing an opportunity to use computation in a new way
  • Understanding the power and limitations of computational tools and techniques

Students who develop proficiency in computational thinking also develop:

  • Confidence in dealing with complexity
  • Persistence in working with difficult problems
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • The ability to deal with open-ended problems
  • The ability to communicate and work with others to achieve a common goal or solution

These dispositions and attitudes are all important for students interested in pursuing STEM careers, but they’re also important for any student who wants to be able to succeed in today’s digital, global economy.

If you’re still not sure how computational thinking is important to you or your students, consider this:

  • DSC_0185A math student trying to decide whether they need to multiply, divide, add, or subtract in order to solve a word problem
  • A writing student who is researching a topic and needs to take notes in an organized and structured way
  • A science student trying to draw conclusions about an experiment
  • A history student trying make comparisons between different historical periods
  • A writing student trying to organize supporting details for a topic sentence
  • A reading student trying to find evidence to support character traits within the text
  • A math student trying to find a new way to solve a problem
  • A music student trying to learn how read a new piece of music

These are all examples of how we apply computational thinking each day, whether it’s in math, science, the humanities, or the arts.

Computational Thinking in Your Classroom

If you’re looking for an easy way to add computational thinking to your classroom, both our VEX and LEGO curriculum include computational thinking as part of the students’ learning process. Our curriculum teaches computational thinking skills by:

  • Immersing students in the problem-solving process, both individually and collaboratively
  • Teaching students how to decompose problems and then apply that to larger tasks
  • Providing students with opportunities to seek or explore different solutions
  • Providing students with opportunities to apply computational thinking skills across different disciplines

Iterative Design

If you’re looking for a low-cost way to work computational thinking into your classroom, check out Robot Virtual Worlds, a robotics simulation environment that can help you extend your STEM classroom by teaching kids to program, even if they don’t have access to a physical robot. With the Robot Virtual Worlds Curriculum Companion, you can use both our LEGO and VEX curriculum in your classroom, even if you don’t have access to physical robots.

We also recommend checking out:

What is the STEM Problem and What is the Solution?

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Click here for the full size.

Did you know that three-quarters of the fastest growing occupations require significant mathematics or science preparation? And that by 2018, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the U.S? And did you know that twenty-eight percent of US companies say that at least half of their new entry-level hires lack basic STEM literacy?*

The bottom line is this: there are more and more STEM jobs out there, but fewer and fewer candidates who are qualified to fill them. This is what people mean when they talk about the “STEM Problem” or “STEM Crisis.”

We’ve created a new infographic that talks about the “STEM Problem” and some of the ways to address it. One of the best ways is to get more kids access to STEM education. That’s one of the main reasons Mayor Bill De Blassio announced a 10-year deadline to offer computer science to all students in New York City schools.

The Solution

But simply providing STEM education isn’t enough on its own. In order to make sure that our students are prepared for the emerging economy, kids need STEM education that:

  • Effectively motivates and engages students
  • Employs real world problem solving
  • Is easily adopted
  • Teaches critical 21st century career skills
  • And is cost effective 


Robots to the Rescue! 


This is why we love robots so much, and especially why we love virtual robotics. Not only are robots cool, they also:

  • Use real-world engineering projects to engage students and motivate them to learn
  • Provide a natural platform for engaging STEM learning
  • Promote 21st Century skills like teamwork, communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving
  • Are a fun way for students to learn foundational mathematics, engineering, programming, problem-solving, creative thinking, and computational thinking


And, with Robot Virtual Worlds, starting a STEM robotics program can be a cost-effective solution to the STEM Problem. Read our blog post from earlier this summer about how Robot Virtual Worlds can help you uncomplicate your classroom by:

  • Helping you teach more efficiently with fewer resources
  • Lowering the cost of staring a robotics classroom
  • Managing students working at different levels
  • Keeping students engaged
  • Capturing authentic assessment and tracking individual student progress

Need More Info?

If you’re interested in starting a STEM robotics program, but need more information, Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has a great resource for getting your robotics program started.

Already have a STEM robotics program but want to do more? Check out our blog post from a few weeks back that talks about how you can use virtual robotics to extend your STEM classroom.

We also recommend you check out our:

*Survey on CEOs Say Skills Gap Threatens U.S Economic Future, Dec 3, 2014 –

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 22nd, 2015 at 6:00 am

Sneak Peek: Atlantis Prime

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We’re excited to give you an early look at the newest installment in our Robot Virtual Worlds series, coming out later this month: Atlantis Prime!


Based around the legendary Atlantean civilization, Atlantis Prime is designed to make connections between STEM and computing, while fostering students’ ability to interpret information presented as charts, graphs, maps, word problems, and diagrams. These skills are important to students’ college and career success, and are crucial factors in standardized tests like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In Atlantis Prime, students experience all their learning activities through an avatar they select. The avatar is a futuristic explorer trapped in the recently discovered remains of the ancient society of Atlantis. Students must make their way through the challenges as they explore what remains and find their way out!

Here’s what teachers are saying about the game:

“I like the use of and interpretation of graphs exercises. I like the way that the complexity builds as you progress through the game. I teach robotics and science at a STEAM middle school. This is a great program that blends science, math, engineering and technology.”- Paul, Fisher Middle School, South Carolina

“While I was playing the game, I had a few 8th graders come in to help me and observe to see if they would be interested in something like this. They thought it was great and would really like to try something like this in their science, math, or computer classes.” – Maureen, Notre Dame Academy, New York

RVW Atlantis PrimeAtlantis Prime features:

  • Challenges based on programming logic, puzzles, and games
  • Player Customization and Online Badges
  • Instructional CS-STEM assessments with student reports
  • Introductory Programming with a drag-and-drop interface and interactive contextual help
  • A comprehensive user guide to help you get started in your classroom

Be on the lookout for more info on Atlantis Prime later this month!



Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 18th, 2015 at 6:30 am

Explore Robot Virtual Worlds with Free Access to Expedition Atlantis for the 2015 – 2016 School Year!

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming, even if they don’t have access to a physical robot. If you’re still not sure whether or not Robot Virtual Worlds is right for your classroom, give it a try with a free version of Expedition Atlantis!

Chapter-1We’re happy to announce that we’ve extended our free version of Expedition Atlantis until July 1, 2016! That means that you can have free access to this classroom tested robot math game for the entire 2015 – 2016 school year!

With Expedition Atlantis, you can use a game-like environment to motivate students to learn about math and teach kids important proportional reasoning skills.


Research Tested, Classroom Approved

Expedition Atlantis is part of the Robot Algebra Project, an ongoing research and development project conducted by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC). The goal of the Robot Algebra Project is to develop informal educational tools that effectively and significantly increase algebraic reasoning skills for middle-school age students.

Designed to enable teachers to foreground the mathematics in their robotics classrooms, Expedition Atlantis allows students to focus on learning mathematical strategies, without having to worry about the nuances of programming. You can learn more about the study that shows significant improvement in students’ proportional reasoning skills here.


Tools for Teachers and Their Classrooms

VRWe know that the majority of students guess and check their way through robot programming. Playing Expedition Atlantis is a classroom-proven method to teach kids the math that they need to program their robots! We are so convinced that it works that we include it in our free online VEX IQ and LEGO EV3 curriculum to help beginners learn behavior-based programming.

Expedition Atlantis includes an easy to follow Teacher’s Guide that guides step-by-step how to properly implement this game in your classroom.

You can download the latest version of Expedition Atlantis here:


Automatically Collect Students’ Progress  

BadgesYou can track your students’ progress in Expedition Atlantis (and all of our Robot Virtual Worlds) using CS2N’s Automated Assessment tools!

In Robot Virtual Worlds, students earn badges when they complete certain tasks or behaviors. By setting up a “group” in CS2N, teachers can setup courses and track all students’ progress as they work their way through a Robot Virtual World. To learn more about creating Groups and Generating Student accounts by going to: 


Your Next Classroom Adventure

Screenshot-2014-01-15_14.12.03Designed as a follow-up activity to Expedition Atlantis, Ruins of Atlantis reinforces behavior-based programming in a fun and meaningful way. While immersed in a scaffolded programming environment, students practice robot programming, using a full set of virtual motors and sensors on exciting new robots, 6000 meters below the surface of the ocean. Like Expedition Atlantis, Ruins of Atlantis also goes hand-in-hand, and is embedded within our free online VEX IQ and LEGO EV3 curriculum.


We Speak Your Language

Expedition Atlantis, Ruins of Atlantis, and all of our other Robot Virtual Worlds can be used directly with the ROBOTC programming environment. ROBOTC is a C-Based Programming Language with an easy-to-use development environment. It’s also the premiere robotics programming language for educational robotics and competitions.

Download a free, 14-day trial at:

Virtual-NXT-with-MenuUsing our Virtual Brick, you can also use Robot Virtual Worlds with the NXT-G, EV3, and LabVIEW software. NXT-G is a graphical, drag-and-drop style programming language that can be used with the LEGO NXT. EV3 is a graphical, drag-and-drop style programming language that can be used with the LEGO NXT
and EV3 robots.

To learn more about the Virtual Brick, visit:





Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 16th, 2015 at 6:00 am

Extend Your STEM Robotics Classroom with Robot Virtual Worlds

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Teacher Feedback

Whether you’re just starting a robotics program, or you’ve been teaching robotics for years, you’re probably on the lookout for new and interesting activities to keep your students engaged and learning. Robomatter’s Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming without a physical robot, is a great tool to help.

Palm Island GameThrough classroom environments, competitions environments, and game environments, Robot Virtual Worlds enables you to create a scaffold learning experience to teach students important math, programming, proportional reasoning, and computational thinking skills.

And, by combining Robot Virtual Worlds with our curriculum, you gain access to step-by-step tutorial videos that teach students how to program using motors, sensors and remote control, as well as practice challenges that allow students to apply what they’ve learned in either a virtual or physical robot environment.
Designed to complement a physical robot classroom, Robot Virtual Worlds is a natural fit for teachers who have limited budgets. But, not only does Robot Virtual Worlds help you do more with fewer resources, you can also use it to enhance your students’ STEM experience.

Here are just a few ideas:

Create an In-Class Robotics Competition: Robotics competitions are a great way to motivate students and keep them engaged. But, they also provide a great opportunity to teach important math, programming, proportional reasoning, and computational thinking skills. By using Robot Virtual Worlds in conjunction with our curriculum, you can create a scaffold learning experience for your students that’s both exciting and engaging. The schedule below is just one idea for how you can use an in-class Robot Virtual Worlds competition in your classroom:

RVW_Teaching_Calendar copy

RVW Info 03

Use it as a Pre-Assessment: When students return from summer break, some will have retained all or most of what they learned the previous year. Others will have retained far less. But how do you know? Most teachers work under the assumption that they need to review everything before moving on to a new concept. Using a pre-assessment can help you make intelligent instructional decision about what you need to review and when you can move on. Here’s one way you can use Robot Virtual Worlds as a pre-assessment to direct your instruction: Create a challenge in the Robot Virtual World Level Builder that asks students to utilize different programming concepts. You’ll be able to see what skills the students have retained and what skills you need to review, and that can be a tremendous time-saver.

RVW Info 05

Use it to Manage Students Working at Different Levels: One of the hardest things for a teacher to do is teach to each individual student’s current instructional level. Robot Virtual Worlds can help. Let’s say you have a student who is struggling to learn some of the beginning ROBOTC concepts and another that is breezing through the curriculum. With Robot Virtual Worlds, you can easily differentiate instruction by using the Robot Virtual World Level Builder to create a challenge for each student. Additionally, if students are working in Palm Island or Operation Reset, you can have one student program their robot to make turns while using timing, and have the other student use the Gyro Sensor. That means you can differentiate instruction within the SAME lesson.

RVW Info 02

Assign Robotics Homework: One of the problems with using physical robots alone is that there often aren’t enough robots for each student to have their own. And, even if there were, you might not want to have students take the robots home, for all sorts of reasons. With Robot Virtual Worlds and the Homework Pack, you can easily assign robotics homework without having to worry about managing the logistics of physical robots. The Homework Pack allows students to have their own individual licenses to use Robot Virtual Worlds at home. The Homework Packs also come in handy for students who have missed class and need to make up work.


Mathematize Solutions: With the Robot Virtual Worlds Measurement Toolkit, students don’t need to guess how far a robot needs to travel to solve programming problems. With intelligent path planning and navigation, you can have students do the math, show their work, and explain how they solved the problem.

RVW Info 04

Get New Students up to Speed: As teachers, your days are filled with the unexpected. One of the most challenging surprises is when you are told that you will have a new student in class because the student just moved to your district. Your class may be three or four months into the ROBOTC curriculum, and your new student may have no ROBOTC or programming experience. Here is where Robot Virtual Worlds came be a lifesaver. Instead of having the new student jump into whatever challenge your students are doing with physical robots, you can have the new student watch the lessons from the ROBOTC Curriculum and complete the challenges in the Curriculum Companion Pack. After the student begins to learn some ROBOTC basics, he or she can be introduced to the challenge that the rest of class is working on.

Go to to learn more and get started with a free, 10-day trial!

Featured Tools and Products:

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Written by Cara Friez

September 1st, 2015 at 6:15 am

ROBOTC 4.50 for VEX Robotics Available Today!!

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The ROBOTC Development Team is very excited to announce our latest update, ROBOTC 4.50. This update is for the VEX Robotics (VEX EDR CORTEX and VEX IQ) robotics systems and includes new features, functionality and a load of bug fixes.

Click here to download 4.50!

Important Setup Information for ROBOTC 4.50:

VEX IQ Users:

  • Run the “VEX IQ Firmware Update Utility” and update your VEX IQ Brain to firmware version 1.15.
  • Also update your VEX IQ Wireless Controller and any other VEX IQ Devices (sensors, motors).
  • After updating to the latest VEX IQ Brain firmware, install the latest ROBOTC firmware from inside of ROBOTC.

VEX Cortex Users (with Black VEXnet 1.0 Keys):

  • You will need to update your VEX Cortex and VEX Game Controllers with Master Firmware Version 4.25 from inside of ROBOTC.
  • After updating the master firmware, you will also have to update the VEX Cortex with the latest ROBOTC firmware.

VEX Cortex Users (with White VEXnet 2.0 Keys):

  • The new VEXnet 2.0 keys have a specific “radio firmware” that you will need to upgrade to enable “Download and Debugging” support. You can download the VEXnet Key 2.0 Firmware Upgrade Utility here.
    • Download the “VEXnet Key 2.0 Firmware Upgrade Utility” and insert your VEXnet 2.0 key to any free USB port on your computer. Follow the instructions on the utility to update each key individually. All VEXnet 2.0 keys must be running the same version in order to function properly.
  • After updating your VEXnet 2.0 keys, you will need to update your VEX Cortex and VEX Game Controllers with Master Firmware Version 4.25 from inside of ROBOTC.
  • After updating the master firmware, you will also have to update the VEX Cortex with the latest ROBOTC firmware.

ROBOTC 4.32 —> 4.50 Change Log:

General new features:

  • Graphical blocks can now be copied, cut and pasted

Copy Paste

  • Graphical actions, such as adding, deleting and moving a blocks, changing parameters and their values can be undone and redone.
  • The Graphical repeat and while blocks values can now be adjusted without a keyboard using spin buttons.

Number Scroll
Color Loop
VEX new features:

  • Added support for the new VEX IQ Smart Radio in ROBOTC Firmware (for use with iOS applications)
  • Added Smart Radio based User Messaging system (for use with iOS applications)

General fixes:

  • Large amounts of data in debug stream no longer causes debugger to hang.
  • Fixed issue when mixing PLTW building licenses with other license types.
  • When changing the motor type in the Motor and Sensor Setup utility, the additional parameters, such as PID, drive side, encoder type, are reset to their default values.
  • UAC prompt now appear only once for installing multiple RVW packages.

RVW Package Manager

  • The toolbar buttons are sized to the individual content, instead of the largest one.
  • Recursive pre-compiler statements are correctly identified and no longer crash the IDE.
  • The Graphical block library’s expansion/collapse state is now preserved when switching between files.
  • LineTrackLeft help text has been corrected.
  • Fixed issue of undefined entries in text libraries.
  • Hover over text for NL text commands no longer has artifacts.
  • Building licenses now check and update their local status whenever an active internet connection is available.
  • Fixed issue with the Advanced RBC file saving adding an additional “rbc” to the file name.
  • Opening RBC/RBG files with “download on open” no longer prompts for save and add a “00#” to the end of the file name.
  • Fixed issue where the “Advanced save as macro” feature did not load RVW options correctly.
  • Joystick issue with Graphical and Natural Language fixed;’ waitUntil(), displayButtonValues() and displayControllerValues() now function correctly.

VEX bug fixes:

  • Fixed issue where IQ Graphical playSound() block dropdown displayed internal values.
  • VEX IQ displayButtonValues does not display correct value in RVW.

Happy Programming!

Written by Cara Friez

August 27th, 2015 at 8:16 pm

You spoke, we listened!

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Webinar Series

We’re here to help you make the most of your school year. That’s why we’re making some small tweaks to our webinar schedule, based on your feedback. To help you guys gear up for the competition season, we’re making the following changes:

  • Wednesday, September 9: Using ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds to prepare for VEX Competitions
  • Tuesday, September 29: CS2N Automated Assessment Tools
  • Tuesday, October 21st: Using Robot Virtual Worlds in the Classroom

Read more about each webinars here!

Visit to join. In the meantime, if you have any questions, visit our forums for lots of great discussions and tips about Robot Virtual Worlds, ROBOTC, and competitions!

Written by Cara Friez

August 26th, 2015 at 11:02 am

5 Tips to Help You Streamline Your STEM Robotics Classroom

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Blog - 5 Tips STEM

Running a STEM robotics classroom can seem a little overwhelming, especially if resources are tight. How can you keep your classroom running smoothly if you don’t have a lot of resources? It’s easier than you might think. Here are a few tips to help:

Screenshot-2014-01-15_14.12.031. Use virtual robots. Virtual robots, like Robot Virtual Worlds, are a great way to add to your robotics classroom without adding to your costs. Designed to supplement physical robots, Robot Virtual Worlds allows you to teach robotics with fewer robots and more easily organize and keep track of your classroom.

You can also more easily mange students who are working at different levels, assign robotics homework, and use simulated fantasy worlds to capture students’ imaginations and make learning fun. Visit to get started with a free 10-day trial.


2. Explore grants and other funding options. Curious about grants but don’t know where to start? There are a lot of grants and funding for STEM teachers, if you only know where to look.

Project Lead The Way has a great list of grants, as well as some information on citizen philanthropy on its site.  And, Edutopia’s “Big List of Educational Grants and Resources” page is also worth a visit.


CMU RA copy3. Take advantage of free resources. While this one seems obvious, it’s not always obvious where to go for quality resources. STEM is a hot topic right now, which means there’s a lot to sort through on the internet. Here are just a few of the free resources we like:

There are a lot of great webinars, blogs, and forums as well. For example, you can check out our Back-to-School Webinar Series or join the discussion on our forums.


4. Invest in training. Investing in the right training will help you get the most out of your STEM classroom. Because STEM requires students to take a more active role in their learning process, look for training programs that provide practical, hands-on experience to help you manage your STEM classroom and maximize your resources.

By partnering with Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy, Robomatter is able to offer a full line of training for STEM robotics teachers. Click here to learn more about online and onsite training for VEX and LEGO platforms.


Uncomplicate 25. Take advantage of contests and giveaways. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get free stuff. There are lots of organizations who want to help STEM teachers and students. Take a look at these sites for some ideas:

Written by Cara Friez

August 25th, 2015 at 6:30 am

Join Us for the Back to School Webinar Series – UPDATED!

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Webinar Series 2

To make sure you’re ready to take on the school year, we’ll be hosting a series of webinars to help you get your robotics classroom up and running. Check out our webinar schedule below and visit to join!

If you can’t make a webinar, don’t worry! Each webinar will be recorded, post here, and posted on the following day. Check out the past webinars below …

  • Getting started with ROBOTC for PLTW: August 19 @ 7:00 pm EDT
  • Learn everything you need to know about getting your PLTW robotics classroom up and running with ROBOTC. This C-based programming language has an easy-to-use development environment and is the premier robotics programming language for educational robotics and competitions. 

(Starts at 1:56)

  • Using ROBOTC and Robot Virtual Worlds to prepare for VEX Competitions: September 9 @ 7:00 pm EDT

  • ROBOTC is the most used language for the VEX IQ Challenge, and for the VEX Robotics Competition. Robot Virtual Worlds provides a virtual environment for robotics teams to learn the program. Put the two together and you have a powerful combination that can help your team be competition-ready. And, you also have a great way to provide open-ended programming challenge for students of all abilities, whether those students will be competing or not. Learn more in this great webinar!

  • CS2N Assessment Tools: September 29 @ 7:00 pm EDT
  • We know that all teachers love grading, right? Computer Science Student Network’s (CS2N) Automated Assessment allows teachers to keep track of their students’ submissions, scores, and progress. Learn how to create a CS2N Group for your different classrooms, import student rosters, automatically track progress of Robot Virtual Worlds, and how to utilize some of the free courses offered through CS2N

  • You may have heard about Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming without a physical robot. But, how do you use it in the classroom? Join this webinar to learn the many ways Robot Virtual Worlds can help you simplify and extend your robotics classroom.


Written by Cara Friez

August 14th, 2015 at 10:43 am

Cool Project: VEX IQ Motorized Skateboard

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Burf SkateboardSimon Burfield (a.k.a. Burf …an amazing nickname!) designed and programmed a VEX IQ Motorized Skateboard! This VEX IQ skateboard uses  2 VEXIQ brains / batteries, and 16 motors connected to 8 omnidirectional wheels. It is also programmed in ROBOTC!


Check out Burf’s website here for more cool project!

Do you have a cool project you’d like to share? If so, send us an email at

Written by Cara Friez

August 13th, 2015 at 7:15 am