Year: 2012

NASA Wavelength

If you use NASA as a STEM resource like I do, then you can breathe a sign of relief that NASA has compiled all of their resources into one easy to use place- NASA Wavelength.

Designed specifically for teachers and students, this easy to use portal allows users to search by Audience or Topic.  To further refine results, users can filter by unique categories such as Instructional Strategies, Learning Time, and Materials Cost (always important to classroom teachers!) among others.

In addition to these features, NASA has added a social media aspect and has provided the ability to share content with sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn (as well as good old fashioned email).   This is a giant step to making these resources accessible to teachers and the K-12 audience.

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STEM and the Literature Connection

 STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but where does Reading and Literature fit in?  All of us know that a great lesson is multi-dimensional and cross-curricular but few of us have time to endlessly Google until we come up with the perfect book for to engage students or supplement a STEM lesson.

Fear not!  Here’s a rather comprehensive collection of picture books to enhance math and science concepts in your STEM lessons and to help bring concepts alive!

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Marshmallow Launcher STEM Challenge

Marshmallow Launcher STEM Challenge

Say those words to your students and you’re sure to get a reaction. Who doesn’t want to have a little fun by designing and building a marshmallow slingshot?  But this isn’t just a time-filler; it’s a great little STEM challenge for kids of all ages.  Using some basic supplies, students can review the Engineering Design Process and embark in this design, build, test project.

Start with some basic supplies for each team:

  • 2 toilet-paper tubes (or 1 paper-towel tube, cut in half)
  • Tape
  • Single-hole punch (optional)
  • Pencil pen or marker
  • 2 thin rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Marshmallow (Large)

Then, let the designing begin!  Challenge your students to design and create a marshmallow launcher (slingshot, trebuchet, or whatever) that will meet your design requirements.

What are your design requirements?  We’ve already outlined the required supplies (and you can modify these based on availability), so we just need to define the challenge.  Should we design a launcher that:

  • will launch a marshmallow the furthest? (distance)
  • will hit a designated target? (accuracy)
  • will keep the marshmallow aloft the longest? (time)

Or, work with students to design a challenge of your own. Whatever the challenge, students and teacher alike are sure to have an engaging STEM lesson.

For an inspirational video to introduce this lesson, visit the PBS Kids Design Squad page.  (There are also detailed instructions for building a specific kind of launcher, but that takes the fun out of the challenge!)

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How Does STEM Improve Student Learning?

Research shows us the implementing STEM education does indeed improve student learning.  The real question here is HOW?

STEM education is a very interesting blend of interpersonal skills, and content skills- both of which are needed and desired in the ever-growing STEM workforce regardless of if the level of education the job requires.

In addition to meeting grade level curriculum requirements, STEM helps students to grow in areas that aren’t necessarily measured by the state curriculum or even classroom assessments, but that are necessary skills that contribute to a student’s self-worth and confidence.

Some of those interpersonal skills that we often overlook due to all of the administrative pressures are communication, critical thinking skills collaboration, project management, decision making, problem solving, stress management, etc.  STEM naturally build these skills by placing students in real-life project situations that not only require their understanding, but also their application.  As a result, it makes STEM education a powerful tool for students and teachers.

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When do I “do” STEM and still Teach Everything Else?

Classroom teachers are so overwhelmed with administrative duties, curriculum demands, district assessments, NCLB, state testing, implementation of CCSS (and the list goes on).  So, when these folks ask this question, they are most likely asking partly out of desperation and partly out of sarcasm.

The good news is that once you’ve identified how to locate resources and implement STEM, this one is a piece of cake!  Locating resources that will fit into your curriculum will help you to consolidate and actually make your planning, implementation and assessment easier.

Here’s how its done using the Mars Rover Celebration Curriculum Module as an example:

Planning: Once you’ve identified the resource you’ll be using, flip to the curriculum section.  Curriculum developed by reputable people and organizations will have an entire section devoted to the standards alignment.  Most curriculum developers are in the midst of revising these tables to include CCSS, but the state for which the curriculum was developed for should be there as well as the National standards.  Then, go through the tables making note of which standards your state or district require you to teach.

Implementation: Once you’ve finished your coffee while looking over the curriculum section of your resource, you can begin to either consolidate skills with other lessons and projects or spiral them in a meaningful way to help students further develop these skills.

Assessment:  Teachers tell me that this one is the toughie with STEM projects.  When teachers talk about assessments, they generally mean tests, but in the real world, you don’t have to take an algebra test next week.  An assessment can be any piece of work that helps students to display competency and/or mastery.  Students who participate in this project will end up creating, writing and preparing numerous different artifacts that can easily be used as assessments- Science Notebooks, Rover Manual, Presentation Skit, Mars Rover Model….

Now that you know the basic steps, get started!  Your students will be excited to participate in class and will learn a wealth of real-world skills in addition to their grade-level curriculum.

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Mars Rover Celebration Curriculum

Our curriculum team has just wrapped up this year’s portion of the Mars Rover Celebration Curriculum.  We chose to write the tough lessons first and next year we’ll revise the lessons using teacher feedback, do a little polishing (because as we tell our students- you can always improve your writing and communication, right?) and tackle the remaining lesson plans.  Since Curiosity is now safely on Mars and getting ready to do some exploring, I suspect we’ll have a lot of teachers exploring this curriculum this upcoming school year.  All of the completed lessons to date are located here.  You’ll notice two different sets- one set for grades 3-5 and one set for grades 6-8.  For the most part, we tried to be as consistent as possible in presenting concepts in an inquiry-based fashion, but sometimes needed to deviate from that plan to solidify some skills and concepts.  If you use this curriculum or a portion of it in your classroom, drop me a note and let me know.  I’d love to hear your feedback!

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Creative Online Teaching Portfolios

It occurred to me the other day that there is  probably a better way to present myself to possible clients than to lug my presentation binders with me.  After all, I specialize in STEM, so why not take advantage of that?
Like the current battle between Kindle and books, I still like the paper aspect.  I like holding the product in my hands and I think others appreciate its simplicity.  Just whip out the portfolio and turn to the correct page.  Prospective clients/employers can pass it around and flip through it to their heart’s content.  With that said though, I don’t feel comfortable letting my portfolio out of my sight.  It contains originals of many artifacts and its loss would be detrimental.  So, I decided to see what online portfolios have to offer.  Here are two of my favorite ones:

I’ve sung the praises of Prezi before.  It’s not really what you would identify as a portfolio, but I like the way that it allows me to go to any page in any order and I can include images, videos, and even PowerPoint presentations in addition to text.  I also like that the templates allow me to put some graphic design (not my strong suit) into the Prezi giving it that added touch of professionalism.  Plus, I can have an educator account that allows me to have 500 MB (in comparison to the regular free account with 100 MB), a way to make my Prezis private and I can even hold an online meeting.

I also like Wikispaces as a unique solution.  I can use a free account (with additional benefits for educators) and if I get a little creative, I can password protect it giving access to only people who I want to see my personal information.  I have all of the usual bells and whistles at my fingertips like links, images, videos,  and even code.  Plus, I can create unlimited pages up to 2GB of content to make it a one-of-a-kind way to show off my skills.

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Using Google Earth…on Mars?

Using Google Earth…on Mars?

GoogleEarthMarsIn writing curriculum for the University of Houston/NASA Mars Rover Celebration, I had the opportunity to explore a little more in Google Earth…Mars.

What a great way to engage students and take a trip to Mars!  By activating the Google Earth Mars function, students can explore Mars freely on their own by spinning Mars to different locations and clicking icons that display facts and images.  Students can even visit specific locations on Mars by using the “Fly To” feature or chat with Meliza, Mars’ resident alien, to learn more about the red planet.
If free exploration isn’t for you, students can take a guided tour of Mars, narrated by Ira Flatow and Bill Nye. Or, if you’re feeling creative, record and narrate your own tour of Mars.
For an out-of-this-world experience, download Google Earth at: http://earth.google.com/mars/

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How do I implement STEM in my Classroom?

So, how do you implement STEM education in your classroom?  This is often the most perplexing question to teachers.  Implementing STEM education in your classroom isn’t difficult.  You might even already be doing it and not know it!

Build Knowledge
To successfully implement STEM education, build you own knowledge.  What makes an engaging STEM lesson? A STEM lesson is one that incorporates the four disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  It allows students to experience these disciplines as they would in the real world, not in segments of 45minutes, which is how they are taught in a traditional classroom.  Allowing students to experience these disciplines in an integrated form engages students in a real-world, meaningful experience.  A good STEM lesson also allows students to collaborate- with others in their own classroom or students around the world.  Providing collaboration helps to strengthen communication skills and aids students in working together to find a possible solution to a problem.


Seek Resources
Search the Internet, talk to colleagues, or consult with someone who specializes in the field of STEM education (like me!).  Be careful to look for the signs of a true STEM lesson.  An exemplary STEM education lesson/project should contain:

  • The integration of each of the four disciplines- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
  • A hands-on task – usually one that asks students to find a solution to a problem
  • A real-world connection
  • An opportunity for students to think creatively, work collaboratively, and solve problems
  • A natural tie to your curriculum- STEM projects are incredibly fluid and incorporate so many skills from each of the disciplines that, barring an appropriate grade level, it should fit seamlessly into your curriculum

Implement Challenges
Once you’ve found some great STEM lessons and projects, it’s time to implement!  Keep in mind that students are excited to engage in STEM projects, so setting ground rules, reviewing expectations and using your classroom management skills will be key.  As you work through the project with students, take the opportunity to facilitate and help each team by asking key questions.  Asking questions allows you to probe how deeply students understand the concepts and immediately clarify if any misconceptions arise.

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Why is STEM Education Important?

Many people think that STEM education is just another shiny object in the world of education, but it’s much more than that.  STEM education is a philosophy of teaching that teaches students timeless skills that can be applied to numerous disciplines.

These transferable skills are incredibly important.  Research and statistics say that our students are preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet (Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, Jeff Brenman), so its even more important for them to learn transferable skills- core skills that can be transferred to different disciplines.

So, why aren’t these in my curriculum standards?  Most math curriculums cite the importance of problem solving skills.  Unfortunately,  teachers interpret that as meaning that students should be able to solve 2+2.  While computation is certainly a worthwhile skill, problem solving is something entirely different.  Problem solving allows and encourages a student to think of creative and viable solutions to an existing problem .

Some other important transferable skills are:

  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Effective communication
  • Time Management
  • Research and observation skills
  • Technology literacy
  • Team Player

STEM education aims to develop and strengthen these skills through specially designed projects that allow students to experience these situations.  The more students use these skills,the better they will be come at applying them in the future, be that in tomorrow’s lesson or in their first job.

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