STEMCON Chicago was a wonderful experience for one and all. I presented my Business Partnerships Slideshow and stayed to learn more.


There is a lot of STEAM going on!

Teachers who have the opportunity to teach STEM, love it.

The Next Generation Science Standards have really matured with lots of great resources for teachers.

Lots of districts interpret STEM differently. It is wonderful is how STEM lessons are flexible. I met Industrial Technology teachers, Science teachers, and Computer Instruction teachers all teaching variations of the design process.

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CCSS Practical STEM Strategies

Strategy: Use research to refine design solutions.

The strategy starts with intentional frustration. I ask the students to draw four boxes on one sheet of graph paper. In the first box they label #1. This is the preliminary design. I ask them to sketch their idea in the first box. This is frustrating because they have little or no information. I insist they try despite not really knowing.

After the first sketch, I ask, “Can you create a solution effectively?” Most students will say, “No.” I ask them to create a list of questions they need to understand before they can make an effective solution. Students make 10 questions and collaborate. The purpose of the collaboration is to find the best way to word the questions. There are always questions that will contribute to the criteria of a design. For example, when asked to design an eco-friendly home, a common question is, “How many people live in the house?” The groups develop the criteria in the  discussion of  the questions. “The home should be designed for two adults and two children, on a lot that is 25′ x 150” “. This is powerful because the group is discussing how designs must follow criteria and the students develop the criteria for the design. I use the student-generated criteria as part of the grading rubric.

Once the class sifts through the criteria questions, it’s time to consider content questions. I’ll say, “You have to understand lift so add the question, ‘What is Bernoulli’s Principal? ‘” I plant my content into their research questions.

In STEM the purpose of the research is to develop a design solution. The students divvy up the questions to save time. I allow answers with images, video, and text explanations as long as they include the URL. The URL is a reference for the material. Later students will be citing references and can use URLs in a more formal citation.

I allow copying and pasting of text, URLs, and images. Why? My students are collecting information that may/may not be used in their design. (I hope the CCSS military will not tar and feather me for plagiarism.) Take a look at the example. The highlighted blue is the student-generated questions. The answers are copied and pasted and there is an image of Bernoulli’s Principal.


Not all of the student-generated questions are important to the design. Some of the answers may offer writing choices when the students begin to write a defense of their design. The defense of the design is a formal writing piece with citations, no plagiarism. We have simply put together a variety of potentially useful information.

Think about the science concepts. It’s just a picture, how do we know there is understanding? Once the students understand the necessity of the science concepts, I ask the question, “Will the design work without the science? Should this be part of the criteria for success? ” Overwhelmingly the students say the design criteria must include the science concept. It’s a couple days away but my rubric will reflect understanding of the science concept because it is a necessity.

Look at the strategy under the lens of the CCSS.

Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

This strategy offers a couple of really great ways to help student’s generate design ideas through the use of research.

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CCSS: Practical STEM Strategies

Strategy: Ask the question, “Why is this an Important Design Problem?” and help support Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The purpose of the Engineering Design Process is to solve a design problem. It is important for students to think about why their design problem is important.

After determining a design problem, I ask, “Why is this an important design problem?” To answer, students read a source, complete an advanced organizer as they read, and write a 3-5 sentence summary with citations. Below is an example of the advanced organizer and Molly’s submission.

Read the article and find out why designing a wind turbine is an important design problem. Use the following table to help organize your answers.

Quote/Fact Source


By Molly M

A wind turbine is an important design problem because it can solve society’s problem of relying on coal for our electricity.  Coal is a non renewable electricity source, so in about 100 to 180 years coal will run out. A wind turbine harnesses wind energy which is renewable, allowing it to always be in use for society.  Surprisingly, 93 percent of coal is used to generate electricity, so if society could slowly move to using a wind turbine, we wouldn’t be so dependent on just coal.   Coal is also very harmful towards the environment.  For example “When SO2 combines with moisture in the atmosphere, it produces acid rain that can harm forests and lakes,” (U.S. Energy Information Administration, pg 1).  Using a wind turbine would cause less pollution and not have toxic chemicals going into the atmosphere.  A wind turbine could be a solution to a future energy crisis.

“Coal Prices And Outlook.” – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <>

Look at Molly’s paragraph under the lens of CCSS. Analyze her work looking at some of the standards.

  • Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. 
  • Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6—8 texts and topics. 
  • Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text. 
  • By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6—8 text complexity band independently and proficiently. 
  • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
  • Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).


One of the benefits of using this strategy is the learning is so easy to assess. I give the students the article so I know what is in there. The advanced organizer has more than enough facts to support a claim. I can use it to formatively assess their reading. In the submission, the students have ownership of their claim because they choose the facts they feel best support the claim. If I want to differentiate, I ask the students to find a different article that will help them answer the question, “Why is this an important design problem.”

This is one easy strategy for using CCSS to help students understand the Engineering Design Process.


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Practical Strategies for Teaching STEM

Strategy: Use Common Core Standards (CCS) to Incorporate Reading, Writing, and Speaking in STEM activities.

Did you just want to stop reading? What is it about CCS that makes teachers want to shut down? Perhaps it is because we hear, “Everyone is supposed to teach reading, writing, and speaking.” The implication is that science teachers must “help” teach reading, writing, and speaking.

When CCS was first introduced at my school, the presenter demanded that Science teachers chose a topic, teach a lesson and bring a student sample of an argumentative five-paragraph essay. Dutifully, my department thought about an essay entitled, “How the Moon was Formed.” The plan included teachers presenting the different theories with references.  Students would use the references to write and support an argument. When all the essays were turned in, the teachers would present the latest theory about what scientists know about how the moon was formed. Our presenter, an ELA teacher, loved the idea. Hmm, so what is wrong?

Some of the students will have spent time supporting a theory and then find their ideas were incorrect. What do you think they will remember? Gratuitously writing an essay for the sake of writing an essay is foolish and a great way to build life long misconceptions.

Teachers can authentically practice the skills of reading, writing, and speaking when they develop STEM lesson plans. In the next couple of blogs, I’m going to examine the Common Core Strategies as they relate to practical strategies for teaching STEM.

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Practical Strategies for Teaching STEM

Strategy: They Should Do More Work than Me

My students are offered design challenges in the form of a question. For example, How do we design an eco friendly home? How do we design a nuclear waste facility? I said to myself, “I want them to do more work than me, so they own the project.”

This is a standard lesson plan framework, regardless of the design challenge.

  • Step 1: Ask them what they want to design.
  • Step 2: Make them sketch it.
  • Step 3: Make them determine important questions that need to be answered.
  • Step 4: Plant the content questions and pull out my tried and true investigations.
  • Step 5: Agonize because the schedule changed again for another bullying assembly and I may not get to the investigation by the time grades are due, right?


I ask students to take out a piece of graph paper and make four sections, using the entire sheet. I have them number the boxes. Box 1 is the preliminary design. After the initial discussion of the design problem, I say, “Sketch a design idea, by yourself in box one.”

This causes a lot of chatter. “But what should I sketch?” “How do I know?” I explain that they will be given the opportunity to change their ideas but having an idea is important to thinking about how the design will grow. After a few minutes I let them talk to their partners, mostly because I don’t want them to feel anxious about their ideas. I let them share ideas and talk about labels that can be used to make the sketches easy to understand. (BTW, I really like the cognitive dissonance in this section. You can feel their brains working.)

Box 1 is the preliminary design. As the design changes, they will draw subsequent designs in Boxes,2-3-4. This gives me a real easy visual to assess design changes.

I ask, “Who thinks they have the perfect design solution?” When no one admits to the perfect solution, I ask, “What do you need to know to help you solve this problem?” Okay, there is always one kid who says his is the best and is willing to tell everyone, right? I ask a one question. “What makes it the best?” That usually does the trick. Then, “Class let’s see if we can come up with a better design.”

I then give the students the opportunity to ask their own questions.   I say, “In partners write 5 research questions you need to research to help solve this design problem.” They have sketched a solution they think is incorrect and now are thinking about what they need to know to create a solution. Student ownership of the development of the solution is inherent.

The student questions are sometimes good and sometimes really bad. The good news is Google docs. They will all share their ideas with me. As a class we discuss what makes a good research question and we rewrite the questions together.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 5.36.47 PM

This is a great opportunity to make group decisions. In the eco-friendly animal shelter design challenge, the kids ask, “What kind of animals?” As we rewrite questions, the class can begin to determine the criteria of a design. The design is for cats and dogs only. There are 72 animals that can live here. We need a hospital and storage for Food, etc. Many decisions are made together about the building or the client. Students are curating their learning by determining the criteria for a successful design.

My job shifts from expert to coach. The students develop the activity, I help them with by coming up with activities that will help them solve the problem. My content standards are an important part of the design solution and I want to build in some labs. “Hmmm,“ I say, ”You will be much more successful if you understand heat transfers. Let’s add ‘What are the heat transfers conduction, radiation and conduction?’ I plant my content questions authentically because students will need to understand heat transfers to determine eco-friendly components of a building.

To add my scientific investigation, I say, “I have an awesome heat transfer experiment! I think you will really like it.” I pull out my tried and true content and heat transfer investigations. I’ve been doing them for years. This is easy.

Here it is the strategy in NGSS Speak

  1. Defining and delimiting engineering problems involves stating the problem to be solved as clearly as possible in terms of criteria for success, and constraints or limits.
  2. Designing solutions to engineering problems begins with generating a number of different possible solutions, and evaluating potential solutions to see which ones best meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  3. Optimizing the design solution involves a process in which solutions are systematically tested and refined and the final design is improved by trading off less important features for those that are more important

Keep Tuned for More Practical STEM strategies

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Practical STEM Strategies

After looking over the lesson plan framework, I thought about instructional strategies. My first questions was, “How do I develop an authentic design problem?” I saw a lot of building design strategies using marsh mellows and post cards but I wanted it to be AUTHENTIC!

Strategy: Teach World Problems

Have you thought about asking the kids to develop a list of world problems? If they come up with a list, you can tap their interests and make the lesson student led.  I wrote a lesson called Solving World Problems (see my September 2012 archives for the lesson). I printed a poster of the United Nations Millennium Goals  and asked students to compare their ideas with the United Nations.

With the lists of world problems,  I then asked the kids, “What problem do you want to solve?”  Their ideas were amazing. My job was to listen and think about the resources I had available. Below is my rough idea chart. My hope is that you will look it over and think, “But you forgot ___….!”

Problems Design Science Research Topics
What can we design to help stop burning fossil fuels? How can we design a nuclear waste shelter? How can we improve hydro- electric performance? Air foil/Wind Turbine

Water wheel

Solar heat panels

Energy Sources

Design a Train Cab

Principals of flight, energy transfer, heat transfer, Human/Earth relationship
How can we help make someone else’s life easier? Design wheel chair accessible projects.

Design carts/belts


Mechanical advantage

Small machines


How can we help improve regional transportation? Magnetic Levitation Trains Magnetic forces, Newton’s Laws of Gravity
How can we design structures to help others? Design rooftop gardens, greenhouses

Hurricane Proof homes

Weather, biomes, plant structure and function, eco-friendly design

Below are some of the lessons I either stole or wrote.

  • Design a Turbine Blade: Physical Science ( Kid Wind Project)
  • Design a Home/Safe House for a family after a natural disaster: Earth Science/Weather or Plate Tectonics/Large Scale systems, Weather and Climate
  • Design an Eco Friendly home: Global Warming
  • Design a Nuclear Waste Facility: Energy
  • Design a Solar Car: Global Warming
  • Design a Mechanism for cleaning the ocean;  Robotics

Many of these lessons are available for you to look over for on All of the lessons are free! You can even search for the NGSS Engineering Standards and find lots of lessons complete with downloadable worksheets/quizzes/exemplars. Look for the tab on the top from Browse Lessons. You can search Sydney Schuler and find some of the lessons above.

Many great organizations offer STEM lesson plans including NASA. I’ve looked at them but never taught them. I really like the lessons from Engineering, Go for It!, and The Futures Channel.



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Practical STEM Strategy #1 Part #3

Strategy #1 Use the Science Practices as a framework for lesson plans. Using this strategy I can assess how well students use science practices as well as the student understanding of science content.

Recap of Parts #1&2: Students completed research to help solve a design problem. They sketched their solutions and collaborated to find the best possible solution. Finally they completed investigations to gather data. With the additional information,  designs evolve.

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Day 11-12: Students have completed the research including science content questions. They have conducted an investigation and now have data to support a design solution. With all this new information, it’s time to make additional changes to the designs. I like to track the design changes by asking the students at this point to tell me what changes they made and why. They collaborate again and show one another design solutions. I use Revit Architecture and students create 3D designs. When the 3D design are completed, the class shows off their designs in a Gallery Walk, walking from computer to computer evaluating design solutions.

Finally students defend their design solutions using the data from the investigation and the research. Students write a formal report. I use Easy Bib because it is so easy to put in citations. Below is a student sample. The student design problem was, “How can we design an eco-friendly Animal Rehabilitation Center?”

Design Defense

The company EB Animal Rescue is pitching a design idea for the new Eco-Friendly Animal Rehabilitation Center that will be developed sometime within the coming years. There are many components to the design plan. The most vital of all the units involved with the arrangement is the Eco-Friendly factor. There will be a solar energy source hidden behind a forest in the animals’ makeshift environment. Solar panels will generate heat and energy for the whole building. There will also be big windows installed around the edge of the enclosure to promote radiation. The sunlight will make its way inside the building through the windows and then heat it up. The insulation built into the walls will keep the heat from escaping as a way of conduction. When experimenting on this design, we found that the temperature can rise 10 degrees fahrenheit or more when done to scale. There would also be an alternate heat and cooling source in case the environmentally sound plan develops problems. Consequently, these energy sources will give back to the Earth, and hopefully preserve our natural resources.

These animals are endangered, and to create an environment for them that is eco-friendly would help resolve problems created by oil spills and not recycling. This is the best possible situation because these animals have already been robbed the vast majority of their species. So the fact that it is eco-friendly would balance out the good and bad purposes of the habitat. In the end, it all winds up as a positive effect for the Earth.

The need for a sustainable energy source is one of the most important qualities of this building. Everyday, we are starting to evolve and move more into the future, where new technologies are invented to advocate for the Earth. “A continuous investment in technology and innovation is vital to meet the rising energy demands of the world. The innovation assists in developing long-term, low-cost and more competent energy solutions.” (Zacks 1) If we continue to use the Earth’s non renewable energy, then someday we will run out. To prevent this from happening, the article is stating that we find other ways to heat or cool a building along with other requirements for energy. Not only does this design of the rehabilitation center have a new energy source, but it also has many more interesting qualities. Included in the final design are a medical facility and a research lab. Also, the caretakers of the animals have space to relax and live. There are beds, a small kitchen, and some bathrooms in a small enclosure alongside a visitor center. The space has enough room for two animals, and it is specifically fitted to their natural environment. There are two very big freshwater lakes used as water sources and just regular places for the animals to relax. There are paths running throughout the jungle environment. There is a rehab center and a meeting room located on the left side of the enclosure. Unbelievably, the animals will disregard the human spaces and only roam the environment that they belong to.

In conclusion, Earth energy is the best solution because of many reasons. You can give back to the Earth, and help prevent global warming and other problems that we could have in the future. Also, you won’t strip the world of resources like coal or oil. Chose EB Animal Rescue for the most environmentally friendly design.


“Report: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Revisited 25 Years Later | Response.Restoration.Noaa.Gov.” Report: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Revisited 25 Years Later | N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. <;

“Statoil, GE Team Up To Develop Eco-Friendly Energy Solutions.” Zacks Investment Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2015. <;

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Practical STEM Strategy #1 Part2

Strategy #1: Use the Science Practices as a Lesson Framework. 

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Unpacking the Framework.

The student led component of the framework is evident as the kids developed their own research questions and with help, recorded answers to the questions. As the teacher, I embedded my content standard questions into their questions so I assess the answers. I look for quality sites and complete information. If there are holes, the kids go back and make it better.

Day 4-6:  With a blank sheet of graph paper folded into four boxes, ask students to use what they learned and complete four design ideas. Why four? I’m looking for preliminary conceptual sketches and using a smaller box helps make it more of a sketch and less of a drawing. The kids write a one sentence summary explaining the design. To help them use Science vocabulary, they must use a word list to explain their ideas. They use the reference research answers to explain their ideas. Kids use the word lists again and collaborate with others in the group. The purpose of the collaboration is to share ideas and repeat the science concepts necessary to defend the design in an effort to construct design solutions.

Day 7-8: A design problem my students developed is, “How can we design an eco-friendly building?” The research involves eco-friendly products as well as floor plans. After they have made changes to their preliminary design ideas, I offer them a scientific investigation. “I have a great activity that will help you understand how heat transfers!”

Day 9-11:  I introduce my tried and tested heat transfer labs. Students test convection, conduction, and radiation in an effort to understand how to design homes to reduce heat transfer (insulation) or encourage heat transfer (passive solar heating). Inherent in the investigation is the recording time and temperature. To evaluate their data, students respond to the question: “How can your results be used to design an eco-friendly home?” I assess the student’s formal conclusion.

Check out the writing from a student working on designing an eco-friendly safe house for families swept out of their homes by a natural disaster.


Days 11-13 Coming up Next.



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Practical STEM Strategy #1 Part #1

Strategy #1 Use the Science Practices as a framework for lesson plans.

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Unpacking the Lesson Plan Framework

Day 1: Introduce the design problem and ask kids, “What do you need to know to solve this problem?” Students develop their own research questions. To add your content standards, put in a science content standard as a question. For example,  in the design of a blade for a wind turbine, my students wanted to know, “Should the blades be curved?” I also used “What is the difference between Newton’s Laws of Motion?” and “What is Bernoulli’s Principle?”

Day 2: Evaluate the questions as a class. Start by  looking for question patterns. As you find repeated questions or words, develop the best way to revise the question so it is easier to search. My 8th graders need lots of scaffolding with this so I am helping them wordsmith by asking, “How would search that question?” Make a class list of research questions by using a shared document.

Next, partner up the students and divvy up the questions for answering.  Allow them to cut and paste answers & images. Demand that they include URL’s so they can go back to the site when they need it later in the unit.  The use of Google images and movies is important. Most people  learn better when it is in an image or a movie.  Make sure they have that URL so they can go back to the answer when they need it. The purpose of the document is a reference document. They will use it to develop design ideas and then to write about their design ideas.

Day 3: Use those Google images and ask students to evaluate the information. The image is a conceptual model. What did you learn from this image? How does it help solve the problem?

Below is a student sample.

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Think about all the Reading Common Core Skills tapped in two days!

Stay Tuned for  Practical STEM Strategy #1  Part #2

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Collaboration Strategies: What works for You?

I’ve been working on collaboration strategies all year. I have found that I use different strategies as I teach engineering design. Here are some strategies for developing design ideas:
Sharing strategies: Developing Design Ideas
1. Give One Get One: give one of your ideas to another, get one from another.
2. Stand Up and Share: One minute: share the science behind your idea
3. 6 Stations: 6 Stations around the room, kids go for two minutes at each station then rotate. As a Master Teacher for you can check out my movie of this strategy in action at
Blind Man’s Bluff: Place your design idea on your head facing out and find someone with a design like yours. Discuss how they are alike and why.

What are some of your favorite STEM strategies?

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