Category Archives: STEM Lessons

My lesson plans in STEM class.

Illinois Computing Educators Conference-Top Fives

Illinois Computing Educators Conference ( was held in St. Charles Illinois last week. Here are my top five learning opportunities.

5. Google Docs Rocks

It was sitting room only at the Google Docs sessions. Many teachers are finding easy and practical use of the Google Docs suite.

4. iPad Integration

Everywhere you ended up (and I was at the bar, of course),  the talk of the conference, were IPad Apps. “What is your favorite? What are you using and how?” “What new on ITunes U?” (My recent favorite? Aurasma, augmented reality as seen on TED.)

3. Moving from USING content from the internet to MAKING content for the internet. Nothing new actually, but Wesley Fryer, our excellent keynote speaker, showed us  Kid Blog ( and how adult comments are motivating kids as they produce content for the internet. His address hit my heart strings.

2. Flipping the Classroom

There were workshops and break outs with suggestions about how to “flip” a classroom. I found the application to STEM a perfect fit. I have begun the flipping process!

1. Mash Plant (

“Your Stage. Your Screen. Your Studio.” New on the scene, these are artists by trade looking to give educators a safe place to post work by students. They piloted in the Chicago Public Schools and look FANTASTIC!. I always look for a safe place to put the kids STEM work and I think I found it. All curricular areas are welcomed to sign up and I like how I can see what others are doing. I signed up on the spot and was given the opportunity to SKYPE with Bill Murray or other famous personalities. (They are all buddies in the acting circuits.) Yes, I get pulled in when I can Skype anyone, but I really like to have an authentic audience for the kids projects and I hope this turns out to be my place.


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STEM Not Just Why But HOW!

Teachers are inundated with “we-shoulds”. Connect Ed helps us determine HOW we can incorporate STEM and career concepts. Check out the California Center for College and Career site
This site has really useful stuff.

Look under the Curriculum tab for resources.
Tabs are divided into the user’s needs including
Work-Based Learning
Integrated Units

I integrate the math used with our math textbooks so I used the math curriculum ideas under Support Curriculum. These are not just lessons but ideas for teacher trainers and easy to understand “How to Guides.” Check it out, you may like it!

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Looking to Interest Girls?

There is an engineering toy for girls called GlodieBlox. A Forbes article in October introduced the business world to this great toy, invented by a female engineer. The education world has become hooked and now the toy is not only in production, but selling like mad. Check it out, you will not be disappointed!

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Just For the Fun Of It: Teacher Training Challenge

I was part of the Illinois Science Teacher Association teacher in-service recently. I have presented at ISTA conferences before but this time it was different. There were five of us, from all over the state of Illinois and we had never met! We were presenting Next Generation Science Standards in a three-hour teacher workshop. Sound daunting?

It was possible with Google Docs.

I use Google Docs with my students in STEM class. The beauty is real time collaboration. Each student can make changes to a document and everyone in the group can see the changes immediately. Every child is on their own computer, participating.

I created a presentation in Google Docs called ISTA Presentation. Google Docs saved the presentation with a designated URL. I shared the document with my four co-presenters. We then used Google Hangout (like Skype) to discuss our ideas together. I was at home on the couch. Talk about a happy hour!  Each of us volunteered to add slides to the document. It was collaborative and friendly.

We finally met one another the day of the conference. We briefly discussed the presentation, making small changes. I admitted I was nervous but confident. The beauty was I had one small part of one large presentation. I wasn’t freaking out, redoing the slides 5 minutes before the presentation. We all adopted a blind faith attitude.

The presentation went beautifully. Our participant surveys were positive and I met some really great teachers.  The experience opened up a whole new way of presenting.



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Biomimicry and Skype

Several years ago I was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where I watched a movie about how engineers are using a concept called biomimicry, using nature as an inspiration for design (think Valcro). I wrote down the names of two scientists with the intent of skyping them into my classroom. It finally happened and the experience was amazing for Dr. Frank Fish, my students, and myself. Dr. Fish works in Pennsylvania at West Chester University. His research includes designing high performance wind turbines. He used his research in water organism fin performance to design a wind turbine that stalls (no longer creates lift) at a much higher angle of attack. In addition he is designing a robot modeled after a sea ray. I cold-e-mailed Dr. Fish and he agreed to Skype with us. My students were transfixed. I asked the kids to develop questions but they were so interested in his research, we did not have time to cover the questions. He was in his office and pulled out models of rays, turbines, and a dusty whale fin piece. He was interesting, funny, and very informative. Later my students showed me two science projects inspired by his appearance in our classroom.
I then introduced the Biomimicry Student Challenge (see below). In two weeks the kids will start a design project choice. I can’t wait.


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I’ve Got the “Following Directions” Blues

How many times has this happened to you? You write a great lesson with what you know are succinct directions and after you hand out the directions and say, “Begin!” a line of kids, fifteen deep forms in front of you? Aghhhhhh! I have three solutions and a theory.

Solution #1
Ask the kids to read the directions carefully and when they are done, raise their hands. Quietly wait until all kids have finished. This allows time for everyone to read and digest. Then ask all the kids to explain the directions to their partner, table, best friend, ANYONE! This gives time for the all important social learning and takes a very short amount of time.

Solution #2
After handing out the paper with the directions, write on the board “C3B4Me”. This stands for “See three before me.” Allow the kids to ask one another questions before they begin. They can come to me only after they have seen three others.
Most kids have the same questions and can get answers from one another. If four or more kids do not know the answer, I need to change something! Typically the question is a confusing word or direction. I alert the class of the common misconception. Sometimes it is because I taught it poorly. I’ll stop class, teach again, then go on. Their questions direct my teaching.
On an aside, I do a five minute lesson I call, “Who is the smartest person in the room?” before writing C3B4Me. I ask who is the smartest in the room. In 7th grade they point to me, in 8th they point to the gifted kid in the class. Go figure. I then tell them to point to the person across from them and I say that this person is the smartest. Then point to the person next to them and I sat this person is the smartest, etc. I explain how learning is diverse and one person may understand something better so classmates are great resources. The kids may complain how this is cheating so if I have the time, we get into a discussion about controlling your own learning.

Solution #3
Do both of the above.

My theory

Although my human nature tells me the kids don’t know how to read and I’ll complain about their refusal to follow directions, I am wrong. My theory is kids are fiercely afraid to fail. They go to fight or flight mode emotionally after I tell them to start. They don’t need extra reading time! They need validation, positive reinforcement, and the simple sentence, “Yep, you got it right!” The problem is I have 30 kids and I get sick of validating what seems to be a million times. “Did you READ the directions?”, I scream. Of course they did, they simply need someone to say they understood it correctly. By allowing kids the chance to learn socially, they have one another and are not dependent upon me. Perhaps predictably, the only kids still needing me to validate them are the gifted kids. Anyone surprised?

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NATO Summit Chicago

I live near Chicago and the NATO Summit protests were all over the news a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to do a lesson so I decided  to discuss the summit under our theme of solving world problems. Typically my students and I discuss how engineers, scientists and inventors can use design to solve world problems. This time I decided to ask how NATO, as an organization,  could help solve world problems. Students read a BBC timeline of NATO and a Yahoo article entitled “NATO Summit Guide for Chicago Residents”. Typically I would not post this lesson but the answers from the kids were amazing and I want to share.

I asked students to respond to the question, “How could an organization like NATO help to solve the following World Problems: Violence, World Hunger, Jobs/Economy, and Corrupt Officials?”. The answers were brilliant and the intelligence of my 8th graders amazed me. The discussion afterwards opened up a world of insight paired with questions and misconceptions I found hard to answer. Here are some answers.

Violence: “They can intervene in wars to establish peace and security among the citizens.” Talya

“Negotiate problems with countries to avoid war.” Anna

World Hunger: “Come together with organizations and ask how they can help.” Victoria

“Use all the money they are wasting on security in Chicago and protection in Chicago and give it to countries who need it.” Lindsey

“Help distribute food.” Alexander

Jobs/Economy: “Trade with each other or share resources.”Aiden

“If one country has debt, the others can help them.” Bella

“Ask other countries what works well for them and tell the struggling countries.” Nick

“Create jobs by protecting world leaders.” Devin

Corrupt Officials: “NATO is made up of officials meeting and if the officials don’t work well, the other countries can work to change that.” Tommy

“Help establish democratic countries.” Gita

“Let them calm down with peace.” Claudia

“Take them down.” Several kids said this.

The discussion afterward centered around why decisions are so hard.  Students in the class brought up opposing ideas, I spoke only when I thought things were getting too heated or off topic. It was facinating to see how 8th graders see the world.

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I’m had another great day in Atlantic City. My 10:30 AM presentation went well. I was surprised by the numbers and I feel badly that I did not have enough handouts. The presentation explained how I use the theme of world problems to excite kid’s creative spirit and imagination by using the process of design. The feed back on my feedback form was wonderful. I feel especially good about the questions, “What will you take back to school?” and “What was your AHA moment?” The answers varied, “sustainability lessons”, “Asking the students to create the rubric.” and “Using the design process” were some of the repeated comments.
Teachers said they needed a step by step lesson plan. It is hard to explain how my lessons are a series of trial and error (mostly error) over time. Having said that, I created a power point that helps me structure the lessons. When I get home, I’ll post it, if I remember. 🙂
The best place to start daily STEM, is with two questions, “Think about how you can help solve a world problem with what you learn today.” and “How could what we do today help solve a world problem?”
From there structure the lesson plans using the design process. If you Google “design process” go to images, and find the steps you like best. Create a slide show, one step per page, and write your lesson.
STEM is a way of using design, backed up by science, math, and technology. Eventually as you work with the design process, the other content comes naturally.

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Finally Friday

Working on orthographic drawings, today. I am very excited about next week. The design process comes into full swing. The kids have a choice of designing…
1. A piece of furniture for a family whose home was destroyed in a hurricane.
2. Something to help solve a world problem (last year I had a group design a shower for handicapped people)
3. Design an instrument made of recycled materials,
4. Design a bike rack that will entice community members to want to ride bikes downtown.
My dream job is what I do for a living.

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This week In STEM

We moved back to the Project Lead the Way curriculum and discussed elements of design. The kids read about line, form, shadow, color, etc and thought about photos they could take to show the different design elements. We discussed how anything designed uses the elements, including my bling bell. The kids took photos in and out of the classroom, to explain the element of design they wanted to capture. It was great fun guessing what element they had intended and Isabelle loved seeing her photos on the huge Smart Board.

After discussing how engineers communicate via drawings, the kids practiced making one and two point perspective drawings and isometric drawings.  The one and two point perspective drawings were very popular because they made block letters from their names in perspective. They love the isometric graph paper and have been drawing cubes like crazy. Tomorrow we start the orthographic drawings.

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