Month: June 2013

The Difference between “Doing Projects” and Project Based Learning

When I talk to teachers and staff about STEM and what it is or isn’t, we often come around to how it is similar and different to Project-Based Learning.  STEM, at its very core, is Project-Based Learning (PBL) and connecting these dots helps to demystify what STEM education is and how to teach it.
Last week, I ran across this very helpful chart from FriEd Technology that differentiates “doing projects” with students from PBL…and these points hold true for STEM education as well.   Although this is not the full picture of STEM education, it helps to quickly clarify and set expectations for both student and teacher expectations.


Mars Rover Celebration Update

I have been working with the University of Houston to create a curriculum unit based around the Mars Rover Curiosity.   We’re working on polishing the last of the lessons and getting them posted on the UH Mars Rover Celebration web site.

The Mars Rover Celebration curriculum is an all-encompassing six week unit for students in grades 3-8 that can be used in the classroom or in informal education settings.  Throughout the unit, students learn about the solar system, focusing on Mars.  Using the information they have learned, students work collaboratively in teams of 4-5 to design their own mission to Mars and build their own rover (from found and low-cost objects).   Each lesson is aligned to National Standards (as well as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and contains an Essential Question, Vocabulary Cards, and a Science Notebook for student use.  There are also key literacy elements woven through the unit to make it a STEAM unit rather than a STEM unit.

Since this amazing project is funded by a NASA grant, the cost for using this curriculum unit with students is…FREE.  And, if you are in the great state of Texas, you can bring your students and their rovers to participate in the Mars Rover Celebration capstone event where students can show off their work and meet other students from around the state!

By the end of the summer, all 30 lessons (15 for grades 3-5 and 15 for grades 6-8) and all of their lesson components will be posted on the UH Mars Rover Celebration site.  Check them out and use them in the fall to get your students re-engaged in learning!

The Brown Bag STEM Challenge- 10 Projects for Engaging STEM

The Brown Bag STEM Challenge- 10 Projects for Engaging STEM

In the last ten weeks, I’ve shared some of my favorite “Brown Bag” STEM Challenges- activities and lessons that can easily be incorporated into a formal classroom or an informal learning setting.

All of these activities can be integrated for minimal cost, involve materials that can be found in almost any store and whose supplies are so simple that they fit in a brown bag (well, almost all of them…).

Here’s a recap of the project ideas shared in the past weeks:

Get the Brown Bag STEM Challenge I Bundle Pack with all of the Design Briefs and Interactive Notebook Pages!


The Brown Bag STEM Challenge- Lunar Landers

The Brown Bag STEM Challenge- Lunar Landers

Lunar Landers is a NASA lesson from the On the Moon Educator’s Guide and teaches students to design, build and test a lunar lander that will protect its astronauts. It is also one of my favorite activities for STEM professional development!

Lunar Landers allows students to experiment with the engineering design process while learning about force and motion.

Materials (per team):

  • 8 straws
  • 3 index cards (4×6)
  • 1 3oz cup
  • 3 rubber bands
  • 10 small marshmallows
  • 2 large marshmallows

“Astronauts” (large marshmallows)  are placed in their “cabin” (3oz cup) and are dropped from a pre-determined height.  Students must use the other provided supplies to cushion their landing and cause the astronauts to remain in the cabin. (Think about this as a version of an Egg Drop challenge.)

As students progress through the challenge, they test their designs and note the status of the astronauts.  Students should strive for a design in which both astronauts stay in the cup.

When it is time to test designs, students will drop their landers from a height of 2 feet. The drop height can be increased for any additional rounds to determine the best design.

So, what did we learn?
National Science Standards: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry, understanding about scientific inquiry, properties of objects and materials, position and motion of objects, motions and forces, transfer of energy, abilities of technological design, understanding science and technology, science as a human endeavor.

NCTM Standards:  Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements, Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them, develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data, build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving, Solve problems that arise in mathematics and other contexts, Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems, create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas.

Other STEM skills: Communication, critical thinking, problem solving, observation, collaboration, data recording, data analysis, teamwork

Get the Bundle Pack with 10 Design Challenges including the Lunar Landers Design Brief and Notebook Pages!


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