Category: STEM

Happy Pi Day 2016!

Celebrating Pi Day is a great way to sing the praises of STEM.  Along with helping students have a better appreciation of math and , it makes math fun!
 Celebrating Pi Day is a great way to sing the praises of STEM.  Along with helping students have a better appreciation of math and grasping of the fundamentals, it makes math fun!

Here are some fun activities you can do with your students to help celebrate the mathiest day of the year:

Mathematical Pi– The chorus for this crafty little song will stick in your head all day and will teach your students Pi out to five digits.  Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean… (Note: Listen to this yourself first as there’s a questionable word choice around 1:40)

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi– A personal favorite that I used to read to my students.  Read it to your students yourself or let your students watch a reader’s theater version. This book tells an entertaining story about how Pi was possibly discovered.  (FYI, this is not an affiliate link)

Pi Day Bracelets– Have a little fun with Pi, some pony beads and some yarn to make Pi Day bracelets!


Infographics: A 21st Century Tool for STEM

I have to admit, I’ve been rather intrigued by infographics lately.  They are so sleek and shiny and share pertinent data and statistics in an aesthetic fashion.  Not to mention, they seem to be everywhere.  They seem so simple, but try putting one together.  They are complex little animals that force you to think about your audience, your relevant information… and your communication skills.  As a result, they are the perfect tool for use in a STEM education classroom.

By requiring students to create an infographic, students are required to use those higher level thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Students must consider which data to use and summarize it in a succinct way that will communicate effectively (Evaluation).  They must plan and organize the content (Synthesis) and prioritize and categorize it, allowing the user to make visual connections to the content (Analysis).

Infographics are a creative way to teach 21st century skills through STEM education by seamlessly integrating them into your curriculum.  There are many infographics creators to pick from, but my favorite right now is Picktochart.  It’s easy to use, allows for student creativity, provides a decent selection of themes, images and icons and best of all it’s free.  Students can also export their infographics to a standard format (PNG or JPG) for use in another program or medium. And, for creative minds or first timers, there are video tutorials that walk through the entire process as well as a comprehensive resource section.


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 Importance of STEM

STEM has become a huge buzz word in education as of late.  Companies, organizations and school districts alike are jumping on the bandwagon to go with the in-crowd and implement this “new” concept.   Coined by the National Science Foundation in the 1950’s (yes, you read that right!), it was just a basic idea- that science and math are important.  In the 1980’s, this concept grew earned a pithy acronym- SMET (and in some areas METS).  From there, it reinvented itself as all good methodologies do and we now know it as STEM.  But isn’t STEM what we would just call good teaching?

In it’s purest form, STEM is a carefully woven blend that together creates a memorable learning experience for students.

Effective Teaching
Who doesn’t want to be an effective teacher?  With so many strategies to use with students like flipping your classroom, teaching with multimedia, and encouraging students to be active learners, there are many ways to create effective lessons.  Because STEM is project-based, it helps students to be active learners and become involved in some self-directed learning, generally focused on researching technologies or other elements involved in the given challenge.

High-Interest/ Hands-On Activities
Engaging students is a best-practice strategy that’s practically as old as time.   Anytime students can get their hands dirty (literally or figuratively) the better they will remember and retain the concept. We’re constantly reminding our students to pay attention, participate more in class, and be more involved in their own learning, but how would you do sitting through what amounts to a 7 hour lecture?  Adding hands-on elements help keep students involved, alert and learning at full capacity.

Real World Problem Solving
I’m sure that you’ve never had a student ask, “Why do we need to learn that?”  Your energetic students, who are always striving for perfection, sit in front of you daily hanging on your every word of wisdom that you can impart upon them during the school day.  But, just in case you might ever get asked this question, with STEM education, you’ll have the perfect answer.  STEM’s roots are planted in the fact that they come from solving real-life problems.  People in STEM professions practice this every day, from designing and building an aircraft engine, to developing a strategy to send a rover to Mars, to creating a software apps for your trusty cell phone.

Solid Content Knowledge
Content knowledge is certainly an important component and not having an omniscient ability in this department throws a lot of teachers off their game.   With STEM education, as well as all best-practice teaching, it is not necessary (nor is it practical or realistic) for the teacher to know every iota of information about a particular concept.  In a STEM education model, researching these nuances and details rests with the students.  It is the job of the teacher to be the facilitator throughout the process and furnish the students with supplies, materials, tools, and resources, so that they can become more self-reliant learners.


STEM- Where do I Go For for Help?

For teachers who are new to STEM, or even for the STEM veterans who get stuck from time to time, the question becomes: Where can I go for help?

Maybe you work in a district that has a STEM Director (Don’t laugh.  Some actually do…SO jealous!) Or, maybe you are fortunate to work with a colleague who knows their way around and is willing to share.

For everyone else, it sometimes can be difficult to find help when all of your colleagues have a full plate and are struggling to keep their own heads above a sea of papers to grade.

So where do you go for help?  In this age of everything digital, Google is actually an excellent resource. By carefully selecting your keywords, you should be able to hunt down the information you are looking for.  If you’re still having trouble, try Google’s Advanced Search.  You can choose the keywords to include as well as exclude and even filter by filetype or region.

Another great search engine to try is NowRelevant.  NowRelevant is a automatically filters the results to things that were posted in the last two weeks.  So, no more reading old articles or research on a current topic.

What to explore a little differently?  If you’d rather watch a video than read an article, try a ClipBlast.  ClipBlast is a video search engine that searches professional video clips from top credible sources like CNN, NBC, CBS, BBC and others.

Trying other sites such as Scribd or Slideshare are a good bet too and usually yield some useable files like Word documents and PowerPoint presentations that you can easily reuse or rework (with attributions, or course). As always, be aware that these sites are not exclusive to education, so inappropriate content may exist.

When all else fails, you can always send me an email 🙂 but these resources should be able to help answer your STEM questions and provide you with additional supplemental resources for your STEM lessons.


Where can I get Quality STEM Resources?

Where can I get quality STEM Resources?  
Once we start thinking about this question, it actually unravels into two parts:
  • Where can I find resources?
  • Once I locate them, how do I know if they’re quality STEM lessons?
Where Can I Find Resources
This is the easy part! Resources are everywhere and a great place to start is with Google.  By searching some carefully selected keywords (such as STEM lessons, elementary STEM projects, STEM challenges for high school students) over 10+ million resources will reveal themselves.  If you don’t have time to wade through these resources, try my Quick List of STEM Resources for K-12 Students and Teachers.  This list is short on purpose and contains only vetted, worthwhile resources.
ALL Those Resources 
There are a lot of companies and organizations who have jumped on the STEM band wagon and there are many resources available.  The only problem is that the resources that they are identifying as STEM lessons, materials, etc. aren’t always true STEM resources.  So, once you’ve found a resource, how can you identify if it’s any good or not?  
Are you a Good STEM Resource or a Bad STEM Resource?
All STEM Resources have certain characteristics in common. Knowing these characteristics helps us to identify whether or not a STEM resource is a good one or not.  The resource should:
  • Provides a cross-curricular approach, incorporating your state standards and district curriculum for science, technology, engineering, and math?
  • Is a project-based challenge for students to solve
  • Promotes collaborative skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills
  • Contains a transparent technology component
  • Reinforces the Engineering Design Process in some way
Once these characteristics have been met, the resource should prove to be a valuable STEM resource to use in your classroom!


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.


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!


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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