Tag Archives: STEM

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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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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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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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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Project Lead the Way Training

I am learning another Project Lead the Way (PLTW) unit called Green Architecture.

When you first hear about PLTW, teachers say the training is intense. “Intense” defines a degree.  Unless you are talking heat, I have no idea what intense means.

The PLTW training is not easy just because you learn so very much. I guess you can call it intense learning but the adjective is wrong. My brain hurts and I love it.  Monumental? No.  Thought provoking? Yes but with a more intense adjective. Tee-hee

Sunday we started with introductions. There are five “students” and ten support personnel. I did not just make a typo, really. I counted 4 tech support, 2 Master Teachers (our instructors), the regional associate, a University of Illinois professor, an administrator, and some random guy with long hair and a nice smile. He was the omniscient one most everyone looked at regularly.  He should have been wearing a white robe he was so ethereal.

On Sunday lessons included interesting topics, Greensburg, Kansas, architectural styles, LEED certification, and air quality. We learned until 5:30PM.

The next morning we hit the ground at 8AM sharp, absorbing architectural vocabulary, architectural scales, perimeter, area, floor coverings, paint estimates, and floor plans. I called it Math Day. After a working lunch, we kept going until 5:30PM. The homework? Measure your hotel room and make a scale model including all walls, furniture, and electrical.  Armed with a tape measure and a lovely bottle of white wine, I finished my homework by 10:30PM. Intense?

 The next day we worked on Revit, learning how to make a floor plan. We used our hotel room scale model as a guide and began to draw the room on Revit. We then dove into reading floor plans, room relationships and sizes, construction vocabulary, insulation, R-values, formulas for determining R-values and Q-values. I thought yesterday was Math Day! The Grand Finale was the construction of a shed model. We constructed the shed and tested the question, “Which material insulates best?”

Is that not just so cool?

I love it. I am FINALLY getting to pair my Chicago Architecture Foundation training and my science education experience together.  The homework? Design a disaster home using four recycled shipping containers as a base, due tomorrow at noon. I guess intense now has another definition for me. Loving every minute of it.

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Beyond the what to so what?

Sally sits at a table with Keesha, Juan, and Bobby. Bobby has a one-on-one aide because he is a gifted special education student. He has traveled all over the world and can do monetary conversions in his head. He has the propensity to question everything I say and will look up information to share with me. Juan lives with his parents, an aunt, and uncle. The adults all have different work shifts so he has to pick up his sister and cousins from school and is responsible for them until 5PM. He speaks Spanish at home and English at school. He is enrolled in an ELL class even though he was born in Chicago. He is smart, polite, and shy. Keesha lives with her grandmother and her big brother. She is hilarious, charming, and smart but does not get good grades. She is very social and can be counted on to help me out with anything. Sally, like Bobby, is a world traveler. She is enrolled in all gifted classes but she is not as smart as Keesha. Her mother e-mails me weekly because Sally comes home with an infraction from my class that must be addressed immediately. I was told by her father, who is an attorney for a important law firm (or so he told me), “I can tell why she is not doing well in your class because of your personality.”

The teachers reading this are smiling and thinking, “Yup.” Hyperbole? It really doesn’t matter.

What matters is what they take out of the class. All four of the kids have access to the Internet and can look up any information in which they are interested. While I am talking about a volcano in Hawaii they can find a web cam showing the smokers, and links to what famous scientists say about an impending blast.

What the heck am I doing there?

My job is to help them become curators of the information they feel is most vital for their lives. I look at 21st Century learning as a way to help kids wade through the muck of information. I have to help them find their own answers. How do I do this? I teach them vocabulary so they can learn the gift of clarity. When ideas are clearly expressed, ideas grow. I want them to intelligently defend their opinions and I teach them to write clearly and persuasively.

To reach a stronger understanding of content, I have to show them how to decode a myriad of facts and visual information, and to look at facts critically. The turn of the 20th century skills are moot. Everyone with web access has access to information. What will they do with the information? How can I empower my students to find a way to make the world a better place through their hard work? I want them to look at their experiences in the light of a “work in progress”, always improving and getting better. I need to allow them the time and space to find a way to take action in their world.

I have to integrate their learning so it is authentic and empowering. This is how my students can become curators of their learning and of their world. I have to teach beyond the what to…. so what?
Then they can start telling their own stories…

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Today In STEM

With the 20 minute periods (ISAT testing) we will be having quite a good time. My Curriculum Director asked me to present at a board meeting on March 20. I thought I’d have the kids do it. First volunteers will present the power point presentations they created for “What is STEM?” Then, we will present our zoo blast books, telling a story of the Design Process. Finally, we can show what we’ve designed. By the end of March I hope to have started AutoDesk Inventor Pro.

One of my pet peeves is when my students produce an amazing product, they earn 100%, and I see it in the trash bin or they ask, “Can I trash this?” The products must be more authentic. My first step is to bring in the parents to give the kids an authentic audience. I say, “Take it home. It is great!” but some 8th graders won’t take it home. I’m hoping QR codes will provide electronic “coolness”.

I put up a QR code today on a sign at the main door of the building that says “What’s this weird symbol?” It links to our school’s web site. I hope to generate some interest and curiosity. I put my name on it and am anxiously awaiting a question from a student, or an adult. I REALLY want to start a QR code revolution. Next week my students will build QR codes and take them home for the parents to view their works in progress or finished products.

Then I hope to have a really good story….

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