I presented again at the NSTA STEM Forum, this year held in St. Louis, Mo. I presented Examining World Problems: Creating Solutions Through Interdisciplinary STEM activities. I met more wonderful people and made new friends.


The NSTA STEM Forum begins with a choice of four expert panel discussions. This is a great learning structure. I attended a informative presentation of the STEM X network. Four state STEM directors discussed how their states were progressing towards integrating STEM education and business networks. It was fun listening to the individuals with the vision, helping us to understand how national movements support our efforts.

The panel agreed their biggest challenge was creating a cultural shift to STEM education.

When the culture begins to define itself, the STEM revolution will begin in full force.

I also attended a session highlighting STEM programs to watch. Although all programs (Illinois State University, New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, and Next Generation Science Standard Exemplar) were enlightening, I attended the NGSS Exemplar follow-up session.

A group of professors are piloting a teacher in-service training module for NGSS that seems promising. Based upon video and student work from existing work in Qwest, the teacher training is scheduled to be available in some format by the beginning of 2014. Although our session did not easily connect the training (over 30 hours) to  NGSS, it does look promising.

And Now A little Boring Background

I attended a Next Generation Science Standard workshop at the DuPage County Regional Office of Education, conducted by Carol Baker. Carol discussed the future of science testing. She suggested on-line experiment simulations will be used to assess student understanding of science. Her presentation sparked my interest in on-line simulations.

I participated in two simulation-science learning experiences.

At the NSTA STEM forum, I started with the exhibitor PhET. Educated by a young physics major, I began with the argument, “Why do a virtual lab if you can do a real lab?” He countered with “Why not do both?” His enthusiasm for the potential of learning in virtual environments was epidemic. He proceeded to show me a circuit simulation and a biology presentation. I was hooked…. line and sinker.

I also attended the Concord Consortium presentation regarding science simulations. Here I was “WOWed” with the architecture heat transfer simulation. I hope to go back to school and show the kids. We are just finishing heat transfer as it relates to architecture. Perfect


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Illinois Computing Educators Conference-Top Fives

Illinois Computing Educators Conference (www.iceberg.org) 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 (kidblog.org) 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 (www.mashplant.com)

“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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Finally January

Is there anyone else feeling like January is finally here? Despite the weather, January is when I can finally breathe. The transition of fall is over; I survived again. It was an eventful fall.

My First “Emergency” Landing

I was flying to Savannah, Illinois for a hike at Mississippi Palisades, a state park on the shore of the Mississippi River. The winds were calm and the air was smooth. I was prepared for the parachute jumping radio calls over Rochelle, Illinois, directly on my route. I radioed my position outside Rochelle and when I knew I was clear, I looked down at my engine controls. There were yellow lights flashing. This is not a good sign. The alternator, a main electrical component, was not functioning. I immediately said to my  co-pilot husband, “We have an hour.” Our emergency back up battery would last one hour, not enough time to get back home.

My husband immediately read the emergency checklist out loud. “Land as soon as practicable.”  Just south of us was Dixon, Illinois, home of the Embezzler Mayor. She stole millions of dollars over 20 years from this sleeply Illinois town, childhood home of Ronald Regan. The Dixon airport was not as close as Rochelle, but I did not have to avoid parachutes. I changed our flight plan and made an emergency landing at Dixon. On the ground we started to troubleshoot but could not recreate the problem. The alternator was working normally. I decided to try and fly home. The LaSalle-Peru airport, a 15- minute flight, was my back up airport. I took off, and headed home, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, within 10 minutes the alternator failed again. I headed to LaSalle-Peru and once again, radioed in an emergency landing. We landed safely. There is a great mechanic on the field who agreed to fix the problem. This was September. It is now January and the plane is still at the mechanics. It has been a no-fly fall, sadly.

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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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Solving World Problems

The focus of much of the STEM work I do with 8th graders revolves around solving world problems by designing solutions. I sincerely feel tweens and high-schoolers are an unused resource in our American society. Given the tools and training, the kids can come up with brilliant ideas to make the world a better place.

I have a lesson called World Problems that helps kids think outside of the classroom. I introduce the idea that scientists, engineers, and inventors work to make the world a better place. I encourage the students to think of an invention or discovery that did not help humans. They inevitably say the Atom Bomb. This leads to a lively discussion centered around the social sciences. Was the bomb good or bad for the Japanese? the Americans? Humans in general? I end the discussion with a homework assignment to discuss their ideas with their parents.

Inherent in the idea that scientists, inventors, and engineers are working to make the world a better place,  is the idea that the world is filled with problems. I point to my world map and ask them to think of a problem that is true in every country in the world. It is true in Africa, Europe, Brazil, and USA.  I give each table a pack of post it notes and ask them to write one world problem on the post it. I have a large chalk board where they post the  problems. Then I ask for one volunteer from each group to come up and collect commonalities.  The post-its have included problems like disease, pollution, no clean water, war,  poverty, and the energy crisis. I always have some great thinkers in class with ideas including racism, hate, lack of freedom, and political injustices.

The collection of the post it leads to great discussion about where a problem occurs. Does homelessness go with poverty or drug abuse? After we have agreed on the categorization of the problem, each table makes an electronic poster with the problem and I post it in the classroom.

Every time I offer a design choice, I ask the kids to go to the posters and see if they can use what they learned in class to design a mechanism to solve a world problem. I have had some brilliant designs. A couple of boys decided not to use AutoCad and instead used Sketch up to design a shower for a person in a wheel chair. I had groups of kids using VEX robotics design belt driven ramps to deliver food and water to the poor. I’ve had lots of trucks designed to move over sand in the desert to deliver fresh water. Kids have designed wind turbines and water turbines, testing them outside and at the sink.

Looking at World Problems has ignited curiosity and  innovation. Students learn how they can make a positive impact on the world with their hard work and their intelligence.

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Licensed Pilot/Math-STEM Integration

I made it. I am now a licensed pilot and so happy to be flying! I can’t wait to start telling the flying stories in class. I passed my check ride in flying colors. My stalls were all clean and the diversion to Aurora, IL went really well. The comment of my examiner was, ” You are very comfortable in the airplane.” So nice…so happy to have a dream come true.
I’m back at school ready for Math/STEM integration. We moved to 90 minute blocks and I share 45 minutes of the 90 minute block with the math teacher. We have been looking at the math lessons and working on ways to integrate the lesson in STEM. We’ve had some really cool ideas.

I went on Google Images and looked for how robots are used for society and found six of bar graphs and a line graph. The lesson included answering the following questions.

Directions: Each person at the table takes a different graph.

 Answer the following questions.

1. What kind of graph is this (bar, pie, etc.)?

2. Explain why is this type of graph the best way to represent the information.

3. What would be another way to represent this information?

4. Using numbers, explain information that may be interesting to you or any other person.

5. In one sentence for each set of data, make three inferences using the words, “It appears…”, and/or, “The data suggests..” .

6. In one sentence, explain what is surprising about the data.

I used questions I felt could be used for any graph. I was happy with the answers especially the inference question. The kids came up with ideas I never even noticed. The math teacher was happy with the analysis of the numbers. We co-taught the lesson about data tables and graphs and how they are used together. Anyone out there have a suggestion to make it better?

We are deep in robotics. Gear ratios and mechanical advantage have been discussed and kids are building the gears. I went total electronic this year and I am loving the applications. We are using Google Docs. Kids are share a presentation and upload pictures of their built gears. They answer specific questions (gear ratios, types of movement, etc.) about the following gears: Simple Drive Trains, Idler, Bevel, Worm and Wheel, Rack and Pinion, Differential, and Chain Drive. Mechanisms will be starting towards the end of the week.

Having a great time!







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Aviation and Engineering Habits of Mind

I had my pilot check ride last week. I’d like to say I passed, which I did, but not 100%. I passed the oral part of the test but the flight test was delayed due to low ceilings over the Chicago area.

The check ride is conducted by a FAA affiliated employee. It can be a nerve-wracking experience and every pilot has a check ride story. The information the candidate to required to know and understand feels like memorizing a dictionary. In addition to knowing the electrical, fuel and oil systems of the plane, you must explain the plane’s performance, or how it will act. The performance of the plane changes due to several variables including temperature, altitude, weather, and wind direction.  In addition, there are the dreaded MSL (mean sea level) vs AGL (above ground level) questions and navigation chart questions. I felt lucky because I have been in flights in which weather, plane performance, monster poles, and mechanical surprises have surprised my husband and myself. It was a relief to pass it (mostly because ground school is finally over). Whew!

As an aside, there are an amazing amount of huge poles installed all over the area. The most massive are outside Madison.  Something to think about when you are flying under an overcast sky! I have scheduled my test flight and hope to pass it soon, weather permitting.

In the mean time, I’m back at school, loving every minute of it. I’ve collected some great references and hope to share useful ideas as the weeks progress.  I read an interesting article about Engineering Habits of Mind from Engineering Your World.org. In order to give them to 8th graders, I made some changes. The habits of mind were great food for thought for myself.

Engineering Habits of Mind

Systems Thinking: Looking at a system as a whole and in its parts

Systems Understanding and Quantification: Modeling a system using research and data analysis techniques

Creativity: Applying different design approaches and idea gathering techniques

Verification: Making sure your ideas meet design constraints, requirements and especially, customer needs

Communication: Documenting and communicating work through engineering notebooks and formal reports

Collaboration: Experiencing teamwork, having FUN!

Common Engineering Tools and Techniques: Using software and technology tools as well as science and math knowledge to solve design challenges

Cool. Happy 2012-2013!

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