My STEM Units

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Most Popular of 2014

2014 has been a great year.

At our school alone, we built a garden, went to Science Camp, launched rockets with aeronautical students, held a STEM Festival, went on virtual field trips, had national park rangers visit us, were named Best STEM School in Rural Arizona, and secured funding to keep and expand our STEM program district-wide.

Personally, after two years of very hard work, I earned my National Board Certification.  I was honored with the Arizona Technology in Education Teacher of the Year award.  And, along with the daily STEM Curriculum Developer position, I have started a Tech Club at the local Boys and Girls Club, spoken at conferences around the country, consulted with teachers around the state, and have become a STEM Certified(TM) Trainer for

This blog has had a great year too.  What started out as a place to share some STEM ideas, has become a go-to resource for teachers nationwide.  Here is the top ten most popular posts for 2014 (in case you missed them):

10.  STEM After-School Enrichment Clubs
9.  Grandparents Day, STEM Style
8.  Innovation Nation STEM Festival
7.  Infographics for STEM
6.  Read Across America, STEM Style
5.  Going Places with STEM
4.  Arizona Sample Questions
3.  Finding Common Core Passages Online
2.  STEAMing Ahead to Stop the Summer Slide: Math
1.  How to Support Your Spouse When They Return to School

Looking into 2015, what do you want to read here?

Monday, December 29, 2014

What Do You Want?

In 2006, Time Magazine chose "you" as the Person of the Year.  It was all about how "you" can personalize and customize almost all aspects of your life.  It was a bold move and very apropos. 

In 2015, I would like to dedicate this blog to "you".  I don't need to blog to journal my curriculum.  I have disk space and the cloud to do that.  I blog to share ideas and breakthroughs.

So, my question to you is this: What do you want to read?  STEM units and curriculum?  STEM state of mind?  How to embed other subjects into STEM?  Ed Tech?  Digital Testing?  ???

Leave a comment below or email me at:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Finals Week in a STEM School: Part 1

It was Finals Week all across the country as quarters and semesters finished up.  Students were tested from Kindergarten to college.  Never fun, usually boring, mostly multiple choice, sometimes "constructed response", and always "the end" of the unit.

Unless you are a STEM school.

So, how does a STEM school do finals?

Well, to be perfectly honest, there are still the district mandated assessments.  You know the ones.  The multiple choice assessments that are quickly graded by the computer and give the teachers good data on how well the students learned the standards.  We also have the reading tests where teachers listen to students read to determine their reading level.  But I'm talking about the STEM finals.

Public Display of PowerPoint

Our 4th and 5th grade students have been learning PowerPoint.  Yes, I know.  So very 2005.  However, we feel that we can't progress to Prezi and Weebly until the students have a firm understanding of the basic office programs.  Love them or hate them, office programs are the basics for college and career life.

I have seen PowerPoint final projects titled "All About Me" or "The Year in Review", but who really gets to view those?  The student and the computer lab teacher?  If ISTE's standards have given us anything, it's a "global audience".  What's the point in putting in all that time and effort if no one will ever see your product?  Solution?  Give them an audience.  That's exactly what we did.

Yesterday was our Holiday Musical.  Parents, community members, and fellow students filled the gym, eager to hear our precious kindergartners and first graders sing Christmas songs.  Our theme this year was "Christmas Around the World" and each song was from a different country.  We wanted to share the customs and traditions from each country with the audience.  What better way than a slide show while the students took the stage?

Now, of course, the music teacher or the computer lab teacher could have made the slide shows for each country.  But, it's not about us.  I'm pretty sure the parents in the bleachers came to see the students, not the teachers.  So, as 21st century teachers, we get out of the way.  We let our students "take the stage".

All the slide shows were researched and created by the 4th and 5th grade students.  Our computer lab teacher didn't have to talk about "correct spelling" or "use of transitions" because the authentic nature of the project provided all the motivation they needed.  Who wants to have their name on a project with a spelling error!?  Horror!  You couldn't get those kids to STOP working on their projects.  They worked on them right up to the end.

Presentations and Rubrics

Teachers have long used presentations as a way of finishing up a unit.  However, what usually happens is that students stand in front of the class and talk, while the teacher is the only one grading them from the back of the room.

We took a different approach to our STEM finals.  First, we watched a video of a bad presentation.  By bad, I mean the speakers looked at the whiteboard instead of the audience, they spoke too fast, they spoke off topic, they had spelling errors, and they had weak support for their arguments.  We actually had to watch the video twice, as the students cracked up the first time.

After viewing the video, we had a class discussion about how it could be better.  I pulled out a rubric and we "graded the teacher" in the video.  (I usually have my class create rubrics together, but this was the first time this class had used a rubric so I provided one for them.)

We used the same rubric for their presentations.  And here's the thing, the students had access to the rubric while planning their presentations.  They knew what was expected of them and how to achieve the score they wanted.

After some time of creating PowerPoints and practicing in groups, we had our big Presentation Day.  Every group had a rubric and scored the presenters.  As I walked around, I heard conversations such as, "well, they only gave 2 reasons instead of 3 so I think they deserve a 2 in this category" and "yes, they talked about the engineering process but they missed a few steps".  In the end, the teacher had 5 completed rubrics for each group and interestingly enough, their scores were very similar.

Now, I would like to say that the presentations were great and all groups scored well.  However, that wasn't really the case.  The students were nervous about speaking in front of the class for the first time.  There was some confusion about who was supposed to talk about which slide and "where did my transitions go?!".

When we asked the class how they might improve next time, the class came alive with wonderful suggestions!  They begged to be able to do their presentations again.  This, two days before the end of the semester.  On a day when most classes were holding parties, 5th graders were working on their presentations.  The classroom teacher and I decided that we would use the first rubrics as their PRE scores and their rubrics after the second presentations as the POST scores.  

Speaking of PRE and POST scores, we collected data on this class.  When the class began two months ago, I gave them a multiple choice test.  Yes, sometimes multiple choice is the best way to get quick data.  I then gave them the same multiple choice test this week.  Giving the same test as a PRE and a POST is a great way to evaluate student growth and evaluate weaknesses in the STEM unit.

So, how did the students score?  The class average went from 22.5% to 69%!

I have not looked at the scores for the final, final presentation rubrics, but I am sure the scores increased.  To see more about our 5th grade STEM unit, click here (includes a WAY cool video of our rocket launch!).


Our 3rd graders took their STEM finals this week also.  They used STEM tubs for their engineering project.  What is a STEM tub?  Finals Week in a STEM School: Part 2

******We have a growth mindset at our school and are always looking for ways to improve.  How do you do STEM finals?  Comment below or email me at: 

Friday, December 19, 2014

STEM-tastic Holiday Musical

You have heard of Holiday musicals, but have you heard of a STEM-tastic Holiday Musical?

Next Generation Science Standards says that first grade "students will plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate" (1-PS4-1).  

That is exactly what launched our 1st grade STEM unit.  In the unit, students put salt on a paper plate on top of the classroom CD player.  As music played, students observed the rice vibrating.  They quickly diagrammed it in their STEM journals.  Then, they interacted with iPad apps to explore the inner ear and watch sound vibrate.  Students then engineered various instruments, including pan flutes, guitars, and drums.  After decorating their instruments, the students measured them with non-standard units (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.MD.A) to see the relationship between length and pitch.  

So, what does this have to do with Christmas?  When you are a STEM school, STEM is embedded into everything; including the holiday musical.

Our music teacher selected Christmas songs from around the globe.  As the kindergarten and first grade students learned the songs, they also learned how those countries celebrate Christmas.  

Our computer teacher directed the fourth and fifth graders in creating the slide show for the musical.  The students first researched the customs for each country.  They then created a slide show for each country represented at the musical.  The slide shows played while the students were walking on and off the stage.  

Our first grade teachers have been teaching the STEM lessons.  They have allowed their classrooms to become maker spaces as cereal boxes, coffee cans, and paper towel rolls piled up.  The students played the instruments while singing in the musical.  

Where did the students get the paper towel rolls and coffee cans?  Our cafeteria staff supplied us with the necessary cans.  Instead of throwing them away daily, they washed them and saved them for first grade.  Our custodians provided the paper towel rolls.  Again, instead of disposing of them, they saved them.  

Today is the culmination of months of work....and the students couldn't be happier.  

Merry Keshmish (Merry Christmas in Apache)!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Resources for Parents

Chances are, you live in a state that will be taking a digital test this coming spring.  While this news brings a smile to some faces, it strikes terror in others.  Namely parents.

Educational organizations are quick to claim "partnerships with all stakeholders", including parents.  Yet, the reality is, some parents are left in the dark when it comes to the Big Stakes Test.

Let's change that.

First, let's have a conversation.  

Teachers and administrators have access to email newsletters with current information.  Parents don't.  It is the responsibility of the educational institution to share that knowledge with the people who have a large influence on the students; the families.

The Arizona Department of Education has a section of their website dedicated to just this purpose.  Click here to be directed to Arizona's new assessment page: AzMERIT.

Second, let them see the test.  

Let them TAKE the test!  All three major assessments (PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and AzMERIT) have online sample tests.  They might not be an entire test, but the few questions they do have offer students (and parents) a glimpse of what the real test will look like.  For a list of resources for Arizona, click here.
Digital Testing Requires Digital Learning
Digital Learning Day, Every Day
The New Digital Assessment
PARCC Sample Test Answers and Rationale

Third, give them resources.  

Yes, parents can go online to these assessors (PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and AzMERIT) and read a FAQ page.  Some even have a flyer for parents.  But, I'm talking about real resources.  Resources that parents can start using today.  "How do I help my child at home?"  "What should we be doing to prep for this?"

I have prepared a "cheat sheet" for parents at my school.  I didn't want it to get lost in the mountain of paperwork, so I printed it on business cards.  I provided resources for Math on one side and resources for ELA on the other side.  Which resources did I include?


I also provided prompts that parents could use to ask their children about their work.  


  • What was your strategy?
  • Is there another way to solve that?
  • What evidence did you find?
  • How does that compare to ___ (another text)?

I selected these resources because this is what we use at our school.  What do you use at your school?  Use those resources on your "cheat sheet" for parents.  

I would love to hear how you are preparing students for the new digital assessment.  Comment below or contact me via the links on the sidebar.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Novels on Location

You can see the setting as clear as if you were right there.  You can smell their food as if it were cooking in your kitchen.  Your heart races during the climax as if you were the one being chased.  Novels draw you in.

Have you ever read a book and wanted to look up the location online?  Perhaps you used Google Maps or maybe even LitTrips.  What about having your students use Novels on Location?

I recently read about Novels on Location on Free Technology for Teachers.  If you are not receiving his feeds, you need to go there now and subscribe.  I'll wait.  Yes, it's that good.

Novels on location is basically a huge hyperlinked map.  Each feather on the map represents a novel linked to that location.  As of right now, there are approximately 600 books linked; hardly all the novels ever written, right?  So, have your students create a feather and pin it on the map!

It's a very simple process.  First, start by searching if your desired book is linked to the map by using the search bar at the top.  If it zooms into the ocean or a vast desert, then that book is not pinned.  Yet.

Teach your students how to pin a book to a place.  You might want to start by doing a few whole class first.  For instance, I pinned Island of the Blue Dolphins this morning.

Step 1: Enter a location in the first search bar.  For my example, I entered San Nicholas Island.

Step 2: Enter the book title.

Step 3: Add a summary.

That's it!  You now have a feather!  Click on the feather to see the pop-up.

I have long advocated for 21st century classrooms to use Amazon book reviews and Weebly blogs in exchange for the old-fashioned book report.  Now, teachers (and students) have a choice.

I love to hear new ideas.  Please comment if you have used Novels on Location!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Soaring to New Heights

The 4 C's of 21st Century Classrooms:

Critical Thinking
Good teachers have known this for years.  They have been embedding opportunities for the 4 C's before they were called "The 4 C's".  I recently read a great article explaining how STEM extends beyond beakers and microscopes.  STEM is great for all students because it incorporates the 4 C's.

You might be thinking this is great in theory but how does it look in the classroom.  Let's take a look at a 5th Grade STEM unit.  

Hot air balloons are very successful advertising vehicles, and are often used by major companies.  A good example is the ReMax balloon which is shown in almost all their TV commercials.  Some hot air balloons are even made in special shapes to represent the company's product, for example the Pepsi Soda Pop balloon. 

You are employed by Apache Air Industries, the leading manufacturer of ballooning supplies. You are a member of a materials engineering team. The company wants a new design to offer customers. You and your team must design, construct, and test a hot air balloon design.

It must meet the following criteria: The design must be durable yet offer high flying capabilities.
It must look good, either as a novel shape, or as a normal balloon with logo and slogans.
It must cost as little as possible, otherwise the company may withdraw support.
It must be accompanied by advertising materials, such as a TV commercial and/or website.

The STEM unit teaches:

  • TechnologyCreate original works as a means of personal or group expression (TV commercial and/or website).  ISTE-S 1.b 


ISTE standards for students ask that "students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others."

We see from the YouTube generation that students want to communicate with others.  They not only post content but spend hours reading and commenting on others' content.  As teachers, let's provide the tools, teach digital citizenship, and then get out of their way.  

Our 5th grade students were able to communicate with university students.  Not just any university students but Embry Riddle Aeronautical University students.  Watch this video:

In the video, you can see our students working on a hot air balloon.  They have designed and tested their balloon, yet it didn't get very high and it didn't stay aloft very long.  The elementary students are now preparing to communicate with the university students about possible design changes.  They are the experts, after all.


Not only are our students collaborating with aeronautical university students, but also with each other.  From the very first lesson, the students formed into groups.  In their groups, they decided on a design, used a Materials Cost Calculator (shown below) to stay within budget, and built the balloon.

Critical Thinking

The entire STEM unit has been filled with critical thinking.  The students had GREAT discussions as they were building their balloons.  Students went through several design paths as they attempted, failed, and altered the design.  On launch day, the students were verbalizing their critical thinking as their balloons did not meet expectations.  "Maybe the opening is too big", "I think the ratio is off", "Our balloon is too heavy.  We need to lose weight".  They have followed the engineering design process and used critical thinking to enhance their design.


The challenge specifically asked for creativity.  Students were to design their balloon either in a novel shape or to use a normal shape but add student-created logos.  Once again, I see the importance of teachers getting out of the way.  I had pre-conceived notions of what the balloons "should" have looked like.  Yet, I have learned after years in the classroom, to keep my opinions to myself and not to stifle their creativity.  Just look at this balloon:
Anyone else singing "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese"?

I love to see examples of the 4 C's in STEM lessons.  Please share your stories in the comments.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Arizona Department of Education has recently released information for parents and teachers regarding the transition to the new assessment, AzMERIT.

Click below to view the modules.  Each module is approximately 12 minutes in length.

Module Part 1: Review of the need for a new assessment and the selection process.

Module Part 2:  Explanation of how AzMERIT differs from past assessments.

Module Part 3:  Overview of the major shifts in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

ADE also released their blueprints.  Blueprints are a breakdown of the percentages on each test.  See the example below:
The example above is from the Mathematics blueprint for 4th Grade.  Notice the largest percentage will come from Number and Operations-Fractions.  Teachers will be sure to spiral fraction review throughout their curriculum.

Another thing to pay particular attention to is the shift to more informational reading.  See the blueprints below:
You can see that in 3rd Grade, the split is 35% and 35% for Literature and Informational Text.  However, by 11th Grade, the split is 30% and 40%.  Teachers are beginning to phase in more informational text, not to "prep for the test", but that's what we do as adults.  We tend to read more informational text.  Therefore, we are preparing our students for college and career.

Click below to view the blueprints for English Language Arts and Mathematics.



All teachers, students, and parents are encouraged to take the sample tests.  Click here to view the tutorial and be directed to the sample assessments for ELA and Math.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Best STEM School in Rural Arizona

Come late January/early February, Arizona will be buzzing about football....and STEM.
The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committe, in partnership with mining company, Freeport McMoran, hosted the STEM Superhero Awards.
The STEM Superhero Awards highlight excellence and innovation in STEM teaching throughout Arizona.  We will be selecting a team of 49 superheroes in the categories of Best STEM School, Most Innovative STEM Club, and Most Dedicated STEM Teacher. 
Cradleboard Elementary has been chosen as the Best STEM School!

Cradleboard Elementary has incorporated STEM into every grade level, from Kindergarten to 5th grade.  STEM is embedded into existing curriculum in the classroom.  Through professional development and collaboration, STEM is also being embedded into new curriculum outside the classroom, in the STREAM garden and on the trail.  We have inspired other reservation schools to use STEM as a way to better serve students and give them a hope for the future.

Cradleboard sent representatives to an awards ceremony held at the Arizona Science Center where we were awarded grant funding to keep our STEM program going.

This is a wonderful recognition of all our dedicated teachers.  They have all worked so hard to incorporate STEM into their Common Core curriculum.  Teachers often come to my office, animated about a science concept that they want to teach to their students.  The students sense that and the teacher's passion rubs off on the students.  Weekly, I have students (and parents) telling me about engineering projects they are doing at home.  Our library circulation rate has more than doubled, as students are feverishly reading to learn more about what they are studying.  Our teachers truly are Super Heroes!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Video-Based Questions

Is your "big stakes test" going digital?  Ours is.  Although we don't know everything about our new test yet, we do know that it will be digital and we have access to sample tests.

We also know that there will be video-based questions.  That just blows me away.  Our entire lives, we have read passages (on paper) and answered A, B, C, or D by filling in a bubble.  With the advent of the digital test, we now have alternative means for demonstrating understanding.  

Drag and drop. Calculators.  Typing.  Highlighting.  And viewing videos.  

If you can feel your heart racing and your blood pressure rising, it's okay.  We're here to help.

With a little guided instruction, your students will do just fine.  

But, what's a teacher to do?

View Your Sample Tests

If you are in Arizona, your sample tests can be found at the ADE website.  Click here.

If you are a PARCC state, click here.

If you are a Smarter Balanced state, click here.

There are usually sample tests for ELA and for Math.  I would also suggest taking the tests at the grade level under you and above you.

Make Note of the Prompts

What did you notice when you took the sample tests? How did they phrase questions?  Write down the testing vocabulary so you can embed that into your routines.  An example is, if you noticed they asked students to "justify their reasoning" on the Math test, you can use that phrase in class (often!).  Then, when the students take the Big Stakes Test, they will fully understand what that phrase means and they will be accustomed to answering it.  

If your test has video-based questions (AZ!), I have prepared a "cheat sheet" of prompts for you.  Click here to download and print.  Print on cardstock and cut in half.  Give one to a fellow teacher or stash one in your lesson plan book and one by your laptop.  

Embed Into Your Lessons

Chances are, you view videos with your students.  Maybe it's that video of how volcanoes form or maybe it's the cartoon edition of Aesop's Fables.  Start with something you already do.

Use the prompts on the cheat sheet to help you phrase your questions.

For more resources, click here.

Keep the conversation going.  How do you prepare students for video-based questions?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Using Project-Based STEM to Prep for the Digital Test

The first day jitters are over.  You know every student's name.  You also know who can't sit next to their friend and who will correct you every time you make a mistake on the board.  Your literature circles are humming along nicely and your Socratic seminars are lively yet respectful.  You are a Common Core ninja.  You got this.

And then your principal shows you the new digital assessment.

Oh, you weren't surprised to see the "cite your evidence from the text" ELA question.  You didn't bat an eyelash at the "justify your reasoning" prompt on the Math test.  But, "drag and drop", "highlight the phrase", and "align the protractor"!?  One principal asked, "is this testing them on the standards or testing them on their use of technology?"  The answer is, "yes".

In Arizona, we have renamed the Common Core State Standards to the Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards.  The name says it all.  We are preparing them for college and career.  Even at the base level, an application for Wal-Mart is completed online....with a time limit.  Big rig (18 wheeler) drivers  have to use handhelds when they deliver their loads.  Even college classes that meet in person, in a real room, still have components which students must complete online .  It stands to reason that if we are going to prepare our students for college and career, then we must bring technology into the classroom.  

Educational technology is not a new concept.  Teachers have been incorporating ed tech into classrooms for years.  But to what degree?  Is the only laptop in the room for teacher use?  Are the students merely viewing videos once as a "reward"?   It stands to reason that citizens of the 21st century will be taught to use technology, engage with technology, and then be tested on it.

To read more about Digital Learning and Digital Assessments, read these posts:
Digital Testing Requires Digital Learning
Digital Learning Day, Every Day
The New Digital Assessment
PARCC Sample Test Answers and Rationale

Connecting STEM to Digital Assessments

By now, everyone knows that the T in STEM stands for Technology.  But an iPad app here and a typed essay there is not sufficient for 21st century learners.  Digital natives crave to create technology, not merely consume it.  So, how do we do that in a way that is meaningful to them?  Enter Project-Based STEM units.

A new research report released last week notes the importance of project-based STEM units:
high-quality project-based curricula might be able to help narrow the science education achievement gap in children from low-income backgrounds or other groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields. (Ingfei Chen)

What Does This Look Like?

If you have not seen examples of the new digital assessments (PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or Arizona), I encourage you to do that.  Below, I will show some examples of digital skills on the assessments and how we are using STEM units to teach and foster those skills.

Charts and Grids
The chart above is a page from the 5th grade ELA assessment.  Notice that the students must be able to toggle back and forth between two texts and one video.  Students must also know how to use the scrolling bar to read the entire text.  Only after all that, will the students be ready to answer the question by filling in the chart.  Daunting?  Perhaps.  Impossible?  No.  Just take a look at how I incorporated the digital skill of charts/grids into 5th grade STEM.
After students engage with a simulation they enter data in a grid/chart.  There is a lot of Gradual Release of Responsibility in our STEM units, as we go through the stages of "I do, we do, you do".  This activity is done whole class.  For many students, this is their first experience with a digital chart.  But as we can see from the sample assessments, it won't be their last.

The screenshot above is from the 6th grade ELA assessment.  Showing videos in class is not new but referring to time stamps might be.  Another shift is the reference back to the video as "visual text".  Teachers are adept at asking students to refer back to their text yet rarely require students to refer directly back to a video.  Now, take a look at how I incorporated analyzing visual text into our 4th grade STEM unit.

On this page, you see that students are asked to take notes while viewing the video.  This is a "student page" of the online unit, so the students have control of the video.  They can pause to take notes, rewind to review sections, and fast forward to go directly to certain time stamps. On pages after this example, students are asked to respond to their visual text, citing evidence with time stamps.

Drag and Drop
The screenshot above is from the 3rd grade ELA assessment.  On this page, you see that students are asked to drag the blue boxes into the correct box.  You might think that drag and drop is so easy.  And it is.  When you have a mouse.  But many students will take the assessment on a touch screen tablet.  When the students attempt to drag the boxes, the entire screen moves.  It is important to practice drag and drop activities with the touch screen so the students know how to manipulate the boxes.  Now, look at the drag and drop activity in our 3rd grade STEM unit.

This screenshot from our 3rd grade STEM unit shows that the students will indeed get the practice of dragging and dropping.  The activity is not superficial, yet integral to the STEM unit.

There are many more digital tools that students must navigate in order to "show what they know" on the big digital assessment.  We have analyzed each grade level (ELA and Math) to embed those digital tools where appropriate.  Subscribe to this blog (on the right sidebar) to get a notification when I post the digital tools on the Math sample assessments that I have embedded into our STEM units.  I encourage you to use project-based STEM units to embed those digital tools to make the learning relevant.  "Relevance makes rigor possible" (Dr. Dagget).

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nature as Your Classroom

Imagine that learning is a journey through a landscape. Follow a trail to a rocky outcrop where fossil sea creatures erode out of a hillside. The fossils show that this place was once washed by an ancient ocean. Farther along, cicadas call from the trees, teaching you that sounds are vibrations rippling through the air.  All of nature is your classroom.
               At Cradleboard Elementary School on the Fort Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona, this kind of outdoor learning is becoming a reality, thanks to the energy and vision of people like STEM Coordinator, Susan Rodriguez and a Heritage Grant provided by Arizona Game and Fish. With this grant teachers, students, and community partners are revitalizing the Cradleboard Interpretive Trail adjacent to the school. The ½ mile trail had fallen into disrepair, but now it is a functioning outdoor classroom.
              The children have written text in English and in Apache for interpretive signs along the trail, and they are using computer technology to create an audio narration in both languages that visitors will be able to access electronically as they walk the trail. Future plans include expanding the trail to ¾ of a mile and opening it to the public.  The project, scheduled for completion this December, interweaves language, culture, science, history, technology, and teamwork.
              It is monsoon season in Arizona’s White Mountains. Thunder rumbles in the distance, cold raindrops splash down and mist rises from the ground, illustrating the water cycle.  “My slogan is ‘no child left inside’,” says Susan Rodriguez. (Liz Blaker)

In a time where teachers are doing all they can to increase test scores, it can be as easy as "taking a hike".  Literally.  "Research shows that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50%", cites Abigail Wise in her article in the Huffington Post.

In my ten years plus in education, I have found that the students who tend to struggle in the classroom, tend to excel outdoors.  Gardner posited that we have multiple intelligences, yet we continue to test only one or two types.  Through the use of our interpretive trail, we have been able to take our students outside for learning opportunities.  Our new trail signs (paid for by a grant from our state lottery funds), will incorporate the new Next Generation Science Standards. But it's not all science on the trail.  Teachers also use the trail for writing, reading, and math.

Interested in setting up your own trail, but don't know where to start?  Stay tuned (by subscribing to this blog on the right sidebar) for a post about how to establish your own interpretive trail.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grandparents Day, STEM Style

Flickr photo by Saint Francis Academy cc
National Grandparents Day falls each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. It's not a holiday invented to sell cards and flowers. It was initiated at the grassroots level by West Virginian Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade, with the behind-the-scenes support of her husband Joseph L. McQuade.

There are three purposes for National Grandparents Day:
  1. To honor grandparents.
  2. To give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children's children.
  3. To help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer. (
What a great opportunity to do fun STEAM activities with Nana and Papa!

Science: Visit a Museum

Many museums offer free admission for grandparents on Grandparents Day.  For instance, the Challenger Space Center in the Phoenix area has free admission for grandparents with the purchase of a child's ticket on September 6th.  They will have special presentations and activities throughout the day to help you celebrate the day.  

The Bay Area Discovery Museum has activities all day long!  Free admission for grandparents AND grandchildren!

Not sure if your local museum has activities for Grandparents Day?  Go to their website and click on either "events" or "calendar".

Technology and Engineering: Do a Project

Flickr photo by Angela cc
What have you always wanted to do with your grandchild?  Make a soapbox car?  Make a rocket?  Make your own hand scrubs?  Now's the time to learn.  

Don't know how to do those things?  Don't worry.  Your grandchild probably does.  Or, they at least know how to watch tutorials on YouTube.  Search DIY and whatever you want to make.  Then, set out to do the project together.  

Not sure what to make?  Check out Instructables and find a project together!

Art: Memory Box

Do you have a memory box? It doesn't have to be fancy.  My children's memory boxes are made from old cigar boxes, decorated with shells on top.  This Grandparent's Day, pull out those old trinkets (photos, ticket stubs, old baseball cards, lockets) and share their story with the kids.  Help them make their own Memory Box out of an old box, a mason jar, or even a shoe box.  (click here for a tutorial)

Math: Baking/Cooking

Flickr photo by Peta Hopkins cc
Does your family have an heirloom recipe?  Is there a dish that Grandpa is famous for?  Bake/cook it together this weekend.  To bring in an element of Math, use non-standard measurements.  For instance, instead of saying "I need 1 1/2 cups of sugar", ask "if I only had this quarter cup measuring cup, how many quarter cups would I need to equal 1 1/2 cups of sugar?".

Literacy: Read with Them

Flickr photo by Phil cc
Depending on the age of the grandchildren, this can take different forms.  Pre-readers will enjoy a book being read to them.  Go to your local library and check out a few of your favorite children's books.  Young readers and older readers might enjoy a new book of their own.  Take them to a library and let them pick out any book they want.

Now the fun starts.  Choosing a place to read.  Of course, you can go home and read on the couch, but what about taking some blankets outside and reading under a tree.  Or IN a tree!  What was your favorite place to read as a child?  Under a blanket fortress in the living room?  Share your favorites with them.  Remember, it's your day.

Additional Resources

Arizona Geographic Alliance has great lesson plans that are standards based.

Grandparents Around the World (grade 1)
In this lesson students will learn the names of grandparents around the world and share how they like to spend time with their own grandmother and/or grandfather.

Grandparent Names: What Do You Call Yours?
In this lesson students will learn that grandparents have different names in different cultures. They will discover that grandparents are all unique, but that all grandparents share some common characteristics. Students will also learn where some of the names for grandparents originated.

Looking for more ideas?  This website has great ideas including painting a portrait, quizzing each other, and interviews.  Have a great day.  Make it yours and make many memories!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Game and Fish as a Resource

When one thinks of resources for STEM, resources such as universities, museums, and STEM professionals come to mind.  But what about your Game and Fish Department?  They provide an amazing amount of resources.

Arizona Game and Fish Department
For this article, I will focus on the resources made available by Arizona Game and Fish.  All states are welcome to use the information, however, classroom visits would be a little out of the question if you were in, say, Maine.  I encourage you to go to your state's game and fish (or "fish and game" or "wildlife") website.

Lesson Plans

Arizona's wildlife education program, Focus Wild Arizona, has a searchable website for lesson plans.  You can search by grade level, by tag, or enter your own search term.  The lessons span kindergarten through high school.

Some lessons are intended for formal educational settings (i.e., the classroom) and some are for home use or family outings.

Click here to start searching lesson plans, with full-color images, worksheets, essential questions and teacher directions.

Classroom Programs

Depending on your region, you can request a specialist to visit your school and do a presentation with the students.  In some instances, they bring live animals.  Contact the Information and Education Program Manager in your regional office for a list of available programs.

For instance, in my region, a specialist will come in and talk about the Mexican wolf.  On the other side of the state, specialists talk about venomous critters and big horn sheep.  Our state tests 4th graders on Science knowledge, and the department offers programs on animal adaptations for 4th graders statewide.

Each region has their specialties, but they are open to more programs.  Call them up and tell them what you are interested in.  Chances are they have something that fits or can write a new program tailored to fit your needs.


Az Game and Fish offer various professional development opportunities for educators.

Scheduled Workshops
One example of a scheduled workshop is "Black-Footed Ferrets: Science, Management, and Education"
"In this engaging workshop, educators will learn about the history and management of one of the most endangered mammals in North America. Following a classroom session full of student-ready activities, participants will assist on an actual black-footed ferret spotlighting survey with Department biologists."
Scheduled workshops are VERY popular and have limited space available.  They almost always fill up well in advance.  If you can't make it to a scheduled workshop, you can view professional development on your own time in a webinar.

On-Demand Training
Archived webinars and presentations are available online, 24/7.  You can even earn your Continuing Ed Credits (this is huge!) by completing a short activity and emailing it to the department.  Did someone just say recertification requirements?

The current offerings include:
  • Using the Conservation Education Scope and Sequence - Learn about this powerful new tool that will guide you through sequential learning about fish and wildlife in relation to content standards and performance objectives. (1 hour)
  • America's Wildlife: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow - Learn about a free standards-based curriculum designed for high school science and social studies classrooms. (1 hour)
  • Bald Eagles of the Southwest - Learn about bald eagle biology, status and management as well as some unique ways to bring this content into your classroom. (1.5 hours)
  • Know No Boundaries: Amazing Wildlife Migrations - Learn about some of the amazing migrations that occur in and through Arizona and the struggles these journeys provide for wildlife managers. (1 hour) 
If you can get 10 teachers together, Game and Fish will come to you!

We can come to you! Whether it is a college class for preservice teachers or a district wide inservice, our workshops are hands-on and full of resources that you can take back to your classroom immediately. Workshops are offered in a variety of formats, can last from 1 to 16 hours, and cover single, multiple, or all grade levels. Popular workshops include:
  • On the Right Track - a focus on historical and modern tracking techniques and hands-on ways to bring these into your classroom to guide science instruction and inquiry. UpperElementary, Middle, and High School. Usually 1-8 hours.
  • It's a Bird, It's a Plane - using the Wright Brothers as a theme, we explore the nature of science and the ways in which nature provides models for our own technological development. Upper Elementary and Middle School. Usually 1-4 hours.
  • Wild Connections: Literacy - we explore ways to integrate language arts (reading and writing) with science instruction.Elementary and Middle School. Usually 2-8 hours.
  • W.H.I. Ask Why: Wildlife and Habitat Inquiry - we explore ways to bring inquiry and experimental design into your ecology and environmental science classes. Middle and High School. Usually 4-8 hours.
  • Geocaching in Education - learn how GPS and GIS are revolutionizing science and some basic techniques to introduce these technologies to your students using a very popular outdoor hobby. Upper Elementary, Middle, and High School. Usually 4-8 hours. (


As if all the above weren't enough resources, Game and Fish offers more.  Some resources are online and you can access directly through the website.  Examples of this type of resource include computer programs, digital books, fact sheets, map apps, and pictures (lots and LOTS of pictures).  Our game and fish department even has it's own YouTube channel.

However, some resources involve pelts, skeletons, posters, and books.  These can be picked up at your regional office.

Resource Trunks (aka, Bone Boxes)
These "trunks" (really they are huge plastic tubs) are free to educators in Arizona.  They include tactile items (skulls, molds of tracks, etc.), lesson plans for teachers, and videos/audio recordings.  Disclaimer: please be mindful of cultural taboos before presenting any animal artifacts.

So, what types of Resource Trunks do they have?  In my region, they have the following trunks:
  • General bone box (featuring AZ mammals)
  • Elk
  • Bighorn
  • Bear
  • Bats
  • Wild Felines
What's do you do with a trunk? Let's look at the Wild Felines trunk as an example:
Jaguars once roamed across Arizona but were extirpated nearly one hundred years ago. However, these wild cats have recently been photographed on Arizona soil, starting a flurry of activity and debate. In this unit, your students will get the opportunity to explore the issues surrounding jaguars and their conservation.
Lesson Summaries
Make sure to read through the lesson and determine what knowledge your students are expected to know before carrying it out with the students.
  • Day 1 - Students compare various wild cats and then learn how to identify their tracks
  • Day 2 - After being introduced to the biotic communities of Arizona, students must find areas within the state that would be suitable habitat for the jaguar
  • Day 3 - Students study the stories and myths surrounding the jaguar
  • Day 4 - Using historic and current aerial photos, students compare the changind landscapes and discuss how this would affect migratory corridors and jaguar habitat
  • Day 5 - Students look at the history effectiveness of conservation activities and the Endangered Species Act in the United States
  • Day 6 and 7 - Students do some more research and present their new knowledge in a variety of ways (
Just look at the standards (grades 5-8) that are covered:


How's $10 million per year sound to you?  I knew that would catch your ear eye.  
"The Heritage grants are supported by revenue from Arizona Lottery sales and are available to projects that focus on wildlife, including wildlife education, schoolyard habitats and wildlife conservation efforts. In addition, there is a grant category geared towards helping schools fund field trips that take students outside to learn about wildlife and outdoor recreation. Potential grant recipients must have a project that is either located in Arizona or involves research in which the wildlife or its habitat is located in Arizona."
The interpretive trail at my school was funded by a Heritage Grant.  We have been able to incorporate the trail into outdoor learning experiences for all subjects (Reading, Writing, Math, Social Studies, Technology, and of course Science).  Students take iPads on the trail to take pictures of wildlife.  Students journal and write on the trail.  In fact, our trail will be featured on a radio show later this week.  **Check back later this week for a post about how to establish your own interpretive trail**

If you are interested in the Heritage Grants, you might want to act fast.  The deadline for applications is September 30th.  If you want help, you will need to act even faster.  Arizona Game and Fish Department will host a Google Hangout on September 2nd to help with applications.  You are not required to attend the hangout, but it is suggested as you will have a chance to ask questions and get information in real-time.  To sign up for the Google Hangout, click here.