My STEM Units

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Biology Boot Camp: Teachers Engaging in STEM

We all know summers are short. Summers are even shorter for teachers. Between summer school, meetings and preparing for a new set of students, teachers are lucky to get three weeks. That’s what makes 33 local teachers even more amazing.

Recently, teachers spent a week learning how to incorporate STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, into their classrooms. STEM education is an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning that engages students in critical thinking, problem solving, creative and collaborative skills through cross-disciplinary focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM integrated education ultimately establishes connections between the school, work place, community, and the global economy.
The weeklong “Biology Boot Camp” was a collaborative effort designed by the Navajo County Education Service Agency, Northland Pioneer College, White Mountain Nature Center, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Petrified Forest National Park and funded by a competitive grant by Arizona Department of Education.
Based on the real-world problem of protecting the endangered leopard frog, teachers engaged in hands-on, problem-based learning. In the mornings, teachers took water samples from Big Springs Environmental Study Area and made 3D models of plant and animal cells. In the afternoons, they worked in the lab at the college to analyze the samples in digital microscopes. 
“I love professional development. It gets me pumped up for the upcoming school year,” teacher Marie Caldwell said. “(We) learned a lot and had a great time learning with fellow teachers: collecting water samples, observing nature, checking pH, learning basic chemistry and measuring seedlings.”
Biology Boot Camp was just the start to what will be a yearlong focus on STEM in the classrooms. Future weekend workshops will focus on bio-mimicry, engineering and using digital probes to test aquatic environments.

For more photos and a better insight into Biology Boot Camp, search Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BiologyBootCamp.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Read Across America: Engineering Focus

Will you be celebrating Read Across America in your classroom?  Every year, thousands of classrooms (across the WORLD) celebrate reading on or around March 2nd.

ReadAcrossAmerica.org

In my fifteen years as an educator, I have seen a multitude of ways to celebrate Dr. Seuss and his contribution to reading.

  • Schools hold assemblies.  
  • Some show Dr. Seuss videos.  
  • Others have guest speakers read their favorite book to students.  
  • Many have parties.  
  • Students wear "Cat in the Hat" hats.  
  • Cafeterias serve green eggs and ham.  
  • I have seen DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) days with jammies and hot chocolate.  
  • I have even seen STEM.  STEM?  Yes, STEM.

Perhaps my favorite Dr. Seuss book to read on March 2nd is Bartholomew and the Oobleck. The book lends itself well to a STEM lesson on solids, liquids, and gases. I add a math component with the recipe (think fractions!). Students then engage in a Socratic Seminar on the properties of matter. We conclude the unit with an Engineering Design Challenge: design a spaceship that can land on a planet and stay upright for at least 10 seconds. Your initial reports show that the surface of the planet is a non-Newtonian solid. (Ellen's got nothing on us!)

Jack and Josh following a recipe to create a non-Newtonian solid, otherwise known as "oobleck".
If you want to integrate Read Across America with your science studies, there are numerous books on the market that not only give you (great) lesson plans, but they also pair picture books with nonfiction books. The popular Picture-Perfect Science Lessons series offers just that.  They have books for K-5 and books more narrowed down to grade level bands K-2 and 3-5.  Click here for a link.  The National Science Teachers Association has produced their own book on the subject as well.  Teaching Science Through Trade Books offers lessons for grade bands K-3 and 4-6 with lessons and student engagement strategies.


http://www.nsta.org/publications/press/picture.aspx 

This year, I wanted to focus on engineering. I love how Engineering is Elementary uses the first two lessons of each unit to teach students the difference between technology and engineering. All too often, students think engineering is merely building bridges and skyscrapers. (By the way, we do students no service by simply offering toothpick/marshmallow challenges. We need to go further!)  For instance, I recently created a STEM Family Challenge Gift Pack that focused on various engineering careers. As I was researching engineering degrees, I was amazed at the breadth of the discipline!

If you are confused as to the difference between science and engineering, you can read National Research Council's book A Framework for K-12 Science Education. (click here for a free download) The researchers did a wonderful job of spelling out the difference between science and engineering, and also, creating a case for engineering in our classrooms today. 
"Science begins with a question about a phenomenon, such as "Why is the sky blue?" or "What causes cancer?," and seeks to develop theories that can provide explanatory answers to such questions....Engineering begins with a problem, need, or desire that suggests an engineering problem that needs to be solved." (National Research Council, p. 50). 
Using the theme of engineering, I selected books at each grade level band (K-2nd, 3rd-5th, 6th-8th, and 9th-12th) that lent themselves to an Engineering Design Challenge. But, just telling teachers which books to read isn't enough. Teachers are already swamped with math lessons, reading tests, and indoor recess (!). Teachers need a go-to resource, where everything is a click away. Hence, my website: ReadAcrossAmerica2016.weebly.com 

The website (free for anyone to use) has a page devoted to each grade level band. Each page has a synopsis of the book, a teacher's guide, and an Engineering Design Challenge. Some books include an interactive online platform. For instance, Talk to Me is a National Science Foundation funded project. The project created a graphic novel, a "game", and an electronic journal. Some books have videos that accompany them, such as Rosie Revere, Engineer. The high school book launches a Star STEM War: the F=m(a) Awakens.

Each school in Navajo and Apache counties will receive their Read Across America book during Engineers Week, February 21st-27th. Each book comes with a QR code on the cover. The QR code links to the website, where the teachers (and students!) can quickly access their resources with their smartphones/devices.



I would love to hear how you are celebrating Read Across America or 
how you used the website: ReadAcrossAmerica2016.weebly.com for your festivities. 
Email me at: STEAMingAheadWithSusan@gmail.com 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Students Learn Programming During Worldwide Computer Science Education Week

In December, students across Navajo and Apache counties participated in Hour of Code.
Hour of Code was part of the worldwide Computer Science Education Week where students learned not only coding and programming but also spatial reasoning, computational thinking and determining angles.
“Coding teaches those skills that tend to be harder to teach in the classroom. Skills like resiliency, following directions and creating,” trainer Linda Angelo said.
Angeloff recently trained 18 teachers from Navajo and Apache counties on how to use coding and programming to help teach sequencing, following directions, communicating and collaborating.
Computers are everywhere, but fewer schools teach computer science than 10 years ago. With recent budget cuts, many of the computer classes at junior high and middle schools have diminished.
“We are excited to have teachers willing to take this coding experience into their classes and allow our students to have this great opportunity,” Blue Ridge Junior High School Principal Loren Webb shared.

One such school was Blue Ridge Middle School, where math interventionist Deena Jorgenson had her students coding.
“Students at Harvard and Berkeley (universities) are using these programs. They start with Blockly and move into JavaScript,” she said.
Students learned how to use Blockly to program Star Wars, Minecraft, Frozen, Angry Birds and Flappy Bird. Other instructors participating in Hour of Code at Blue Ridge Middle School included David Butterfield, Amy Schimmel, Michele Gagnon and Cathie Steele.
“And sure enough, the students coded with confidence. One theme that seemed to emanate from the room was resiliency. Not one student coded an entire program with 100 percent accuracy. Yet, time and again, the students went back to their program, identified the error and made corrections. Imagine if they learn to apply that resiliency to real-world problems,” a press release said.
“We can’t anticipate what problems our students will face 15 years in the future. We couldn’t have anticipated just five years ago what we would do today with smartphones,” Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Jalyn Gerlich said.

Gerlich supports the addition of coding in classrooms to support our students for success in the 21st century. She believes every child should have a chance to learn about algorithms, how to make an app or how the Internet works, just like they learn about photosynthesis, the digestive system or electricity.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

STEM Family Challenge: November


STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, is a term used by teachers to encompass lessons and projects which include these subjects.  STEM does not just happen at school. In fact, STEM can be very effective, engaging, and fun at home.  


STEM Family Challenge: November

November is Native American Heritage Month. Click here for the Native American Heritage Month website. Along with resources for teachers/families, they also have an interactive game where you can choose your own adventure and follow a Cheyenne tribe. (very, very cool!)




**Disclaimer: I have lived with, taught beside, learned from, loved deeply, cried alongside, and laughed with Native Americans for over 9 years. My own children have been raised and schooled on the reservation and know more Apache words than I do. I have seen many Native American "lessons" in the past, however I feel they denigrate Native American traditions and peoples. Let's move past the paper bag "leather vest" lessons.

My STEM Family Challenge for November is to honor Native American traditions and tradesmen. You might be wondering where you can go to get information on traditional trades. I have compiled a list of resources to inspire you and your children. You never know, you may find a new favorite author.

Books as Resources




I have used Michael Lacapa books in my classroom every year. Mr. Lacapa was a very talented Native American author/illustrator. Unfortunately, "Little Blue Bird" passed away too young, but, his books have become his legacy. Of all his books, The Flute Player is perhaps my favorite. I dare you not to cry.

For those who prefer novels, I suggest Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins or Elizabeth George Spear's Sign of the Beaver.

Challenge: make a flute, make a canoe, or make a bow and arrow.

Maker Sites as Resources


loom on instructables.com 

Use Maker Space websites, such as DIY.org to find a new engineering challenge. Want to learn how to bead? Look it up! Want to learn how to weave a dream catcher, find it here!

Another Maker site is Instructables.com There, you can learn everything from basket weaving to looms. You can even learn how to do the Hoop Dance.

If you wish to have your project displayed, email a pic of your project and the STEM Reflection Sheet to me at STEAMingAheadWithSusan@gmail.com .  With your permission, I will post your pic!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Architecture of Accomplished Teaching

The Architecture of Accomplished Teaching.  National Board candidates and teachers know this double helix well.  They are accustomed to using the upward spiral to impact student learning.  I would like to posit that National Board candidates use the highly reflective practice when reflecting on their own journey to certification.

http://boardcertifiedteachers.org/

When accomplished teachers look at the architecture for their students, they start with their students.  Who are they?  Where are they now?  

Then, said teachers set high goals that are appropriate to those students at that time.  As the teachers deliver instruction, they are constantly revisiting the goals and the student.  Is the student making progress?  If not, where is the breakdown?  

Through reflection, the accomplished teacher sets new goals and the upward spiral continues.  

But, what about using the architecture on yourself?  Is it not true that you, a National Board Candidate, looked yourself in the proverbial mirror one (or more) years ago and asked yourself, "Who am I?  Where am I now?  What are my goals?"

No doubt you had several conversations with yourself and maybe even with an advisor; a confidant.  You set worthwhile goals and you worked hard to achieve them.  Hard.  "National Board Certification is easy," said no teacher ever.

Through deep reflection, you honed your craft, tweaked your practice.  It is safe to say, you are not the same teacher you were a year ago.  And here's the beautiful thing: you never will be the same, just as the butterfly cannot become a caterpillar again.  You are transformed.  

And here we sit.  Waiting for "score release".  The day you thought would never come.  The wait will probably seem like an eternity.  Might I suggest you use this time to thank the people who helped you come so far?  Maybe your family really stepped it up and took over household chores while you typed. and typed. and typed.  Maybe it was a colleague who listened.  A mentor who guided.  No matter the scores tomorrow, you know you could not have come so far were it not for them.

But, what happens after score release?  For some, it will be the affirmation of a lifelong passion.  Certification.  How wonderful that must feel.  

For others, it will be the realization that there is still more mountain to climb.  The double helix continues upwards.

Advanced Candidates, don't look at your score as something that is "less than".  Look at it as "more than".  More than it was a year ago.  

What do we do as accomplished teachers?  We look at our students where they are now.  Look at yourself.  You have come so far.  Where are you now?  Where do you want to be?  Look at your scores.  Where is there room for improvement?  For me, it was Entry 4: Documented Accomplishments and two assessment center exercises.  Yes, I too, was an Advanced Candidate.

Set a worthwhile goal for yourself.  Work to achieve that goal and reflect on your practice as you continue to move up that double helix.  Continue climbing until you have reached that summit!  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Hexaflexagon Day!


flickr: J. Nathan Mathias

Happy Hexaflexagon Day!

What?! You didn't know it was Hexaflexagon Day?! You didn't see the commercials, hear the hexaflex music, and buy a card?!

I know. Not many people know about hexaflexagons, let alone Hexaflexagon Day. But, they will.

You are probably thinking, "hex-a-what-now?". Watch this video:


Ok, cool, but where is this talk of a day dedicated solely to hexaflexagons?

Watch this video:


Inspired? Intrigued? I am too!

I have to admit that I jumped on the hexaflexagon train a little late. I don't have any great lessons or pics. I do know this:
  • You can search for hexaflexagon templates. There are a bazillion. Some even in color. Find one you like, print it, and fold away!
  • You can search lesson plans for hexaflexagons. Although almost every lesson plan has these two videos in them.
  • You can let the students free-explore! Show these videos to your students. (have an unplanned indoor recess today? Show the videos!) Put out some scratch paper, scissors, and crayons. 
  • Post your students' pics/videos to social media. I would also LOVE to see what your kids discover! If you wish to have your pics displayed here, email them to me at STEAMingAheadWithSusan@gmail.com  .
Happy folding!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

National Farm to School Month

October is usually filled with thoughts of pumpkins, candy, and leaves changing colors.  But, did you know that October is also Farm to School Month?  Farm to School Month is "a time to celebrate the connections that are happening all over the country between schools and local food" (www.farmtoschool.org).  It doesn't get more local than a school garden.  



Why a School Garden

Classrooms are moving back to integrated studies.  This can be done in the classrooms (reading about science concepts, for example) and outside the classroom (measuring the heights of various corn stalks).  Much research has been been on the subject....of integrated subjects:

  • "Students who participated in garden-based learning programs showed higher test scores in science and increased food knowledge" (edutopia).
  • "Garden-based learning has been linked with higher levels of science achievement" (edutopia).

Our Garden



Last year, students and parents built a STREAM Garden at our school.  STREAM stands for Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math.  Students engineered the benches used for reading and writing in the garden.  Parents built the raised beds; one for each teacher.  Community members donated seedlings and seeds from their personal gardens.  The local farm sent a farmer to work with students weekly and teach them about soil, veggies, and the importance of healthy eating.  Teachers taught/enhanced math lessons in the garden.  Visitors scanned the QR codes on each bed to view videos about what is growing in the beds.  And grow they did.

In it's inaugural year, the STREAM Garden produced The Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), salsa (tomatoes, peppers, and onions), roots (carrots and radishes), and flowers (sunflowers and snapdragons).  And that's just the beginning.  Students are already planning what they want to plant next spring.  



How We Will Celebrate Farm to School Month

Our school has partnered with Food Corps (a division of Whole Foods Market) to:
  • Support indigenous foods knowledge, growth and re-introduction
  • Prevent hunger and food insecurity
  • Increase local food production, distribution and access
  • Promote healthy nutrition and fitness across the lifespan
To celebrate Farm to School Month, we will have a Garden Party with all 8 Food Corps Teachers across the state!  This isn't your grandma's garden party.  This Garden Party is going to be STEM-tastic!

  • Students will build an additional compost bin out of pallets and stakes.  
  • Students will build an additional raised bed as our ancillary teachers and resource teachers are wanting their own raised beds as well.
  • Students will harvest the above-ground produce (corn, squash, bean, peas, tomatoes, etc.).
  • Students will top off the raised beds with fresh topsoil and fill the new bed with topsoil.
  • Students will paint rocks to inspire hope for the future.
  • Students will go on a garden-themed scavenger hunt.


How You Can Celebrate Farm to School Month

There are as many ways to celebrate as there are farms and schools.  The National Farm to School Month website offers suggestions for those just getting started.  Arizona Department of Education also offers suggestions and resources.