My STEM Units

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

District goes all out with STEM, hands-on learning  has written an article about our own project-based STEM units, and they've  given us permission to post a link to the pdf of the article about the STEM units here:

 Below is the text from the article: Key points:
  • Support staff with lessons, modeling, tech help
  • Seek out ways for students to apply STEM knowledge
  • Expose students to technology, difficulty levels of CCSS tests
District goes all out with STEM, hands-on learning Second-graders map out a plan for a new playground that limits wind and water erosion. Eighth-graders apply Newton's laws of motion to their roller coaster designs.

 These units are part of Whiteriver (Ariz.) Unified School District'sTech Ready Grant that funds work at four of the district's five schools. The grant dollars were awarded by the state through School Improvement Grant rollover funds.

 Whiteriver USD is a public school district located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. All its schools receive Title I funds, and nearly 100 percent of students are Apache and qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The grant pays for four curriculum developers and four tech integration coaches, said Bruce Goode, WUSD's tech integration coordinator. The curriculum developers write units that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math, model lessons in classrooms, and support teachers' use of the units. The coaches help students and teachers learn to use the one-to-one mobile devices the grant helps fund. The grant also supports overall infrastructure upgrades for Common Core State Standards assessments.

Project-based learning

 The district's K-12 STEM units use project-based learning and also integrate reading and writing. The units include interactive digital test items that match the format, difficulty level, and technology skills needed for CCSS-aligned assessments.

 The web-based units include a teacher's guide and take students step-by-step through content with essential questions, videos to build background knowledge, vocabulary games, experiments and simulations, and pre- and post-assessments.

 "We weave all this into a project where they are actually getting out of the classroom," Goode said. "They're engineering or making something in the process."

 Goode and Susan Rodriguez, one of the district's curriculum developers, shared some tips with Title1Admin® about creating and implementing STEM units that emphasize project-based learning.
  • Make test prep fun. Ultimately, the district's underlying goal is to prepare students for the CCSS assessments, Rodriguez said. However, there's no reason to rely on traditional test prep that can squelch students' love for learning, they said. "Open the doors for teachers and students to be able to dream and think outside the box," she said. Many teachers are hungry for time to teach science more thoroughly using a project-based, multi-disciplinary approach, she added.
  • Ramp up teachers' interest. Before the grant launched, the district hosted a half-day tech expo at each school. Teachers selected from various mini tech classes. Later, an all-day training gave details about the grant, the STEM units, and the tech devices and how to use those effectively for instruction. An online summer class was also offered.
  • Use readily available resources. Start with resources that are already in your classrooms and community. For example, students read a story in their basal reader about a school that started a compost pile, and they wanted to do the same, Rodriguez said. A local farm taught students how to build and use a compost pile for their garden.
Related Story:

  Support teachers as they become STEM-savvy

 As part of a technology grant from the Arizona Department of Education, Whiteriver Unified School District is creating K-12 units that integrate science, technology, engineering and math along with reading and writing. The units, which are web-based, use a project-based learning approach and also prepare students with the technology skills they'll need and test items they'll see on assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

When designing such units, be realistic about time, said Susan Rodriguez, a STEM curriculum developer for WUSD. For example, she works to design units that front load the most important content. "If the teacher only taught the first section, the students would know the content to mastery," Rodriguez explained. "The rest of the unit is extension and delving deeper."

 Also make sure you provide ample supports for teachers, including training, and modeling of lessons.

 Provide training for any technology that students and teachers will use as part of the units, suggested Rodriguez and Bruce Goode, the district's tech integration coordinator.

 As you test out units and roll out related technology, gather feedback and use that information to improve the resources and supports you're providing for students and staff, they added.

Reprinted with permission from:® Copyright © 2014 by LRP Publications, 360 Hiatt Drive, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418. All rights reserved. For more information on this or other products published by LRP Publications, please call 1-800-341-7874 or visit our website at

STEM Club Field Trip

What do you get when you mix a hydrologist, geologist, ecologist, botanist, archaeologist, field tech, and 21 eager STEM Club students?

Best. field. trip. ever!

I confess.  This is a teaser blog post. My STEM Club kids are working hard to publish their website, but I wanted to share their field trip first.

All year, I have set a firm focus on the rural and water system project.  I knew that I wanted my STEM Club kiddos to produce a website and a 3D model of the pipeline as the performance tasks.  I backwards designed the entire STEM Club curriculum from those endpoints. 

What did the students learn?

  • simple machines (such as pulleys)
  • renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy
  • water cycle
  • electricity circuits

  • create a website (weebly)
  • scan QR codes
  • Internet research

  • historical structures
  • built structures
  • built pipeline

  • kept balance sheet for their "company" with cost of materials and accounts receivable
  • computed cost of materials
  • measured pipeline
Social Studies
  • bodies of water
  • reading topographical maps
  • orienteering

A little background:

A number of communities on the reservation have been experiencing problems with their water supply in the last few decades.  The water table has been dropping and those communities have no fresh drinking water.  The tribe applied for water rights to the river which runs through the reservation.  After 20 years of asking Washington for water rights, they were approved.  The tribe will be building a dam, pipeline, and water treatment plants.  The dam is due to be finished in 2021, which just so happens to be when my 5th graders will graduate high school and be ready for a career.

In STEM Club meetings, my students broke themselves into groups of interest to them; hydrology, ecology, and dam construction. After research on the Internet, they had more questions than they did before!  They asked to speak with the tribal hydrologist.  One 3rd grader took it upon himself to find her number and call her office for a phone interview. 

She came and answered their questions and taught them how to test water samples.  They used a pH scale and tested various samples of water, coffee, soda, milk, and vinegar. 

As they researched other dams, they generated more questions regarding the wildlife and cultural treasures.  They asked if we could go to the proposed dam site and speak with other specialists.  And so we did.

My STEM Club students are currently putting the finishing touches on their website.  Look for their official launch, coming soon. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

No Teacher Left Inside: Leaving Base Camp

Everyone in the education world is familiar with "No Child Left Behind".  With the abundance of testing, the inside joke became "No Child Left Untested".  Sad, but oh-so-true.

Yes, it is important to teach our children to read and do math, but does it always need to be inside?  I have championed "No Child Left Inside" for the last 10 years.  I looked at my classroom as our base camp.  We came together there, set our purpose, gathered resources, and then set outside.  

For Math, we went on Math Walks; looking for shapes on the playground.  Suddenly the bars on the monkey bars are now transformed into parallel lines!  That seam in the sidewalk is magically a perpendicular line!  With a simple line drawn with chalk, that line in the sidewalk became examples of acute angles or obtuse angles.  A walking field trip to the local grocery store was a Math lesson, as the students had to complete a PBL assignment while there.  

Although we didn't read as much I would have liked outside, our adventures always sparked new interests in informational texts when we returned to base camp the classroom.  I never had to coerce my students to read.  Students were so much more animated when reading about worms, dirt, wildfires, etc. after a trip outside.

Which is why I have started my new Professional Development Workshop "No Teacher Left Inside: Leaving Base Camp".  Most teachers who have joined the profession in the last 10 years, have been under the spell of NCLB.  Four hours of English-Language Arts and two hours of Math.  Textbooks, worksheets, tests, and lots and lots of seatwork.  Even if a teacher wanted to take their class outside, they might not have been "allowed" to do so.  Well, if you ask me, that's just plain boring for the students and teachers.  What standards have to be taught indoors, that you can't go outside to teach them and reinforce them?

That is exactly the premise behind my PD Workshop "No Teacher Left Inside".  We look very closely at our standards.  Very closely.  And then, with some guidance from me, we head outside.  After some time spent walking around and taking notes, we return inside to reflect and share out.

What grade levels/teachers can go outside?  

Well, just this last weekend, I had teachers from as far as 3 hours away attend a workshop.  The grades represented spanned preschool to junior high.  There were general education teachers, special education teachers, and ancillary teachers in attendance.  So, the answer to that question is: ALL TEACHERS!

What subjects can be taught outside?

ALL SUBJECTS!  Some examples include:

Reading: students are brought outside to find the letter of the week.  For instance, if the letter of the week is "B", students can look for bark and bushes.   

Writing: students add more detail and description to their writing after spending time outside.  Some even begin to personify the trees and write stories about "the giants on the playground".  

Math: students can use common core standards of measurement with appropriate tools to measure the circumference of trees or length of rocks.  Just standing on the playground can spark students to write their own word problems, using the trees, rocks, and equipment as subjects.  

Science: Next Generation Science Standards ask that students relate life cycles of plants to life cycles of animals.  A walk outside can provide real world examples of trees in various stages of their life cycles.  You might even spot some animals too!

Social Studies: lessons in barter and trade seem more exciting when students are standing on the playground and look at their surroundings as natural resources.  "I'll trade you one rock for two leaves."  

Foreign Language: show the students the real object, instead of a visual representation of the object.  For instance, "arbol" in Spanish class is now the tree on the playground, not a stick figure on a worksheet.  If your foreign language class also involves culture, students can go outside to learn the traditional dances.

Let's keep the conversation going.  What are your favorite lessons to take outside?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sleeping Giants

The giants lie sleeping. What wonders do they hold? SnapDRAGONS? SNEEZEWORT? I have heard stories of magical bean stalks, fantasy pumpkins, naughty cottontails, and very hungry caterpillars. I have heard legends of three sisters (corn, beans, and squash). Shh! I hear the giants awakening.

This year, as part of our STEM initiative, we are starting a STREAM Garden. STREAM stands for:


Wondering what types of plants and flowers would go into a STREAM garden? View the Prezi below for great ideas.

Today, over 50 students, parents, teachers, and community members came out to build the STREAM Garden at Cradleboard Elementary.  Lowe's awarded us the $5,000 to build the garden.  As if that wasn't enough, they sent three employees down today to help.  Perkins Cinders also sent two workers.  Toddlers used plastic rakes and sand buckets to transport topsoil.  Grandmas watched over the kids painting rocks for the garden.  Speaking with one grandma, she told me how she watched the men building the beds.  She said, "You know?  We're going to do that at home."  This grandma then went on to gather other women in attendance to help build the remainder of the raised beds.  The women spoke excitedly about making beds in the community this summer. And that's what it's all about.  Awakening the sleeping giants.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

I Learn So Much From Them

Do you learn from your students?  I'm sure you do.  I do too.

Early in the school year, I signed my class up for the Disney Planet Challenge.  In a class meeting, the kids decided they wanted to do their community service science project on the Burn Zone.  Disney even donated money towards supplies for the project.  We started in earnest and zeal.

And then October happened.  For those of you who don't know me or my family, in October, my husband was suddenly diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure.  The days I was at school, I was on auto-pilot. Our science project was not on my radar.

But, my kids were persistent.  We had done much of the work in September.  We continued to do a little in February and March.  Yet, the due date crept up on us.  In fact, it came and we were not done.  I told the kids, very solemnly, that we gave it a valiant effort, but we would not be able to finish.  I thought they would just be sad for a moment and then move on.  They didn't.  They wanted to finish what we had begun.  I tried to explain that the materials were due at midnight and they had to go home and had no way of getting the materials to me in time.  They were determined to finish.  What would it hurt, I thought.  I let them finish their reflections and turn them in the next day.

Then the magic happened.  Disney is in the business of magic, y'all.  I received an email telling me that they had extended my due date.  What!?  Well then, I just happen to have my student reflections right here.

Right after the contest ended, we got absorbed in state testing.  To be honest, I completely forgot about the Disney Planet Challenge.  Then, I got an email....and I opened it......and it said we had been awarded........

RUNNER UP!!!!!!!!!!!!  I was so proud of my students.  Not for earning runner up, although that did pop a few buttons.  More so because they did not give up.  Even with the deadline staring them in the face, they still finished, worked late at home, and FINISHED!

Through this process my students learned about the water cycle, weathering and erosion, and the life cycle of a plant.  I learned to never give up.  Never!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Going Places with STEM

Chances are high school students have heard about STEM.  Surely our university students have been exposed to the acronym which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  But what about Kindergartners?  Is there such a thing as STEM in the primary grades?

As you scroll through my previous blog posts, you will no doubt see that STEM is alive and well in elementary schools!  In fact, they do it very well.  They run into obstacles in their designs daily but never give up nor pout.  They simply return to the engineering process and modify their design.  I am amazed at their creativity and ability to "think outside the box". 

So, how to introduce STEM to elementary students?  In 4th and 5th grades, I like to start with a novel they have read or are going to read.  For instance, our current 4th grade STEM unit branches off The City of Ember book by Jeanne DuPrau to teach renewable forms of energy.  In 2nd and 3rd grades, I like to use their classroom reading book.  For instance, the informational text about students raising butterflies launched our Cycles of Life STEM unit in 3rd grade.  But for Kindergarten and 1st grade, I like to use picture books. 

One of my (new) favorite books to incorporate STEM is Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds.  These brother writers/illustrators tell a story of
"creative spirit, collaboration, and thinking-both figuratively and literally-outside the box."
Watch this short video:

The book is just as riveting.  Imagine yourself reading this book aloud to a room full of eager 1st graders.  Now, imagine their faces as you hand them a box.  A box full of what? you ask. Anything!  Legos, K'Nex, blocks, paperclips, tape, you name it!  If you order directly from the author, you also get access to teacher activities. 

STEM is not only for high schoolers and beyond.  STEM can be very successful in the early grades.  Start with picture books, give them some supplies, and get out of their way.  They are going places!

If you aren't quite sure how to link a STEM lesson to literature, there are many books on the market that come with lessons already scripted.  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.

Perhaps you already know which book you want to use for STEM and are just looking for a STEM lesson plan.  You can use 's website.  They have compiled lesson plans, searchable by book title.  Click here to go to the page.  When you select a title, you will be directed to a page with details.  After reading the synopsis, if you want to use that book, click "Go to Activity".  You can print the PDF file for use in the classroom.

Friday, April 18, 2014

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers - Field Trips and Institutes

What sort of Field Trips and Institutes are available?

Of course, you could take your class to a national park and guide them on your own.  Or........ you could choose from over 180 specific field trips.  Some field trips are self-guided, yet come with lesson plans and printables.  Some are ranger-led and you can benefit from the experience of an expert who knows the history of the park.

What are some examples of field trips available?
  • I Spy
  • CSI
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • STEM units
  • Cultural lessons
How much do the Field Trips and Institutes cost?
The fees vary for field trips, but all costs are minimal.  There are grants available to help with the cost of the trip and transportation. 
A limited number of travel grants are available for schools with restricted travel budgets. This offer applies to schools who are schedule to attend one of our education programs with at least 50% of their students on a free or reduced lunch program.

How can I request a Field Trip or Institute?

LearnNPS is the best place to start.  You can search all the available field trips.  However, if you know which park you want to visit, you can go directly to your parks website.  From there, click on the Teachers tab at the top.  Click on Parks as Classrooms on the left sidebar.  Click on Field Trips on the sidebar. 

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers is a five part series.  We will explore the resources for teachers (most of which are free!). Read on and experience your America in a new way.

  1. Teacher Workshops
  2. Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  3. Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  4. Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  5. Field Trips and Institutes
For field trip ideas in your community, read my post on free field trips.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers - Teacher Ranger Teacher: Updated for 2015

What is Teacher Ranger Teacher?

The Teacher Ranger Teacher (TRT) program is the centerpiece of the National Park Service's (NPS) Teacher Corps, a diverse collection of programs and opportunities for educators to partner and interact with the National Park Service. Teacher Ranger Teacher is a professional development opportunity for educators from K-12 schools to learn about National Park Service education resources and themes. Participants in the program shadow NPS staff working in natural and cultural resource management, environmental education, historical and scientific research or other career fields. Teacher Ranger Teachers also develop lesson plans based on NPS resources and produce a major education project during their experience.

What are the benefits?
Aside from the fun and learning, teachers benefit in a few other ways.   Most offer professional development hours for recertification.  And some even offer college credit. 

How do I find a park near me participating in the TRT program?

Teacher Ranger Teacher is a great place to start.  While not every national park offers TRT programs every year, they will be able to direct you to parks offering programs this coming summer. 

Click on the Apply tab and you will be directed to a list of parks offering Teacher Ranger Teacher programs this summer.

What are some examples of TRT programs?
  • Common Core State Standards projects
  • Applied STEM Education materials and activities
  • Educational podcasts
  • America’s Great Outdoors activities and programs
  • Healthy People/Healthy Parks projects
  • English Language Learner projects/activities
  • Applying/incorporating the arts into National Park Service education programs
  • Incorporating technology-based projects into National Park Service education programs
  • Service learning project identification and organization
  • Earth caching

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers is a five part series.  We will explore the resources for teachers (most of which are free!). Read on and experience your America in a new way.

  1. Teacher Workshops
  2. Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  3. Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  4. Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  5. Field Trips and Institutes

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Free Field Trips

Does your school have loads of money to send your students on fascinating field trips monthly?  No?  Mine neither.  If it weren't for free field trips, we wouldn't ever get out of the classroom.

Although I like to incorporate field trips throughout the year, the end of the year is the perfect time to step up my free field trips.  The students know the state testing is over.  They know I have already done the end-of-year assessments.  Some are even beginning to make poor choices.  To keep the calm, keep them at school, and keep the learning going, I go on free field trips.

Free?  How's that?  Visit local businesses and offices.  Let me explain. (click the links for specifics on those field trips)

  1. Public Library.  Your school probably has a library, but does your town/city?  Our little town does, but about 50% of my students have never been there.  I take my kiddos every year.  If you go towards the end of the school year, the librarian will probably talk to them about their upcoming summer reading program.
  2. Grocery Store.  I know a lot of schools do this field trip to see the back doors of the grocery store.  I have done this too, but I was never sure what the kids actually learned.  Now, I use a real-world scenario to make it engaging and reinforcing of Math concepts.
  3. Gym/Fitness Center.  Although the kids were not allowed to use the equipment (insurance requirements), the manager put on a power point presentation talking to them about the importance of exercise.  He then taught them a few exercises they could do at home with household items.
  4. Police Department.  Yes, you read that right.  I LOVE doing this field trip right before summer break.  They get to see the 911 call center and see how serious a 911 call is.  I actually show them the jail cell.  It's not pretty.  It's my last little reminder to make good choices over summer break.  
  5. Post Office.  We went in the back and saw the inner workings.  To make this field trip more pertinent to them, I wrote each child a letter and addressed it: Student Name, General Delivery, Name of Town, State, Zip Code.  At the end of the field trip, they stood in line and picked up their own mail!
  6. Fire Department.  Again, nothing new here.  Lots of schools do this.  We made thank you cards to our local fire department before we went there and were able to hand deliver them.
  7. Letterboxing.  One of my FAVE's!  I was able to incorporate research into this one.  If you haven't tried this yet (even just for personal fun), you have got to try it.  
  8. Hike.  We have a mountain behind our school.  We have used the hike for team building, science (weathering and erosion), and community service (replanting).  
  9. Parade.  Huh?  Parade?  Yes.  Your kids can make a banner for the theme.  Or, a co-worker got the last spot in the parade.  His students walked with trash bags and collected trash along the route and from the spectators.  
  10. T-Shirt Shop.  We have a small screenprinting shop nearby.  The kids got to see the whole process from design to printing.  

Bonus field trips for free: 
***#11.  Geocaching.  This is similar to Letterboxing (#7), but instead of a compass, you use a GPS.  I think any activity like this has so many benefits and can be cross-curricular.  Make it even more engaging by having the students make their own geocache.  
***#12.  Music.  Our local community (albeit small) has an orchestra.  They have formal concerts for a price, but they also offer a free concert once/year for local students.  They have done a wonderful job in the last few years of providing the teachers with lesson plans, websites, and a CD of the music that will be played for them.  It never fails, I always worry about my students being well-behaved in a formal setting.  Yet, they are always, ALWAYS, the best behaved in the auditorium.  They make me so proud every year.  In fact, last year, one of my students answered a question correctly, that he won the prize.  What was the prize?  His teacher, moi, got to go on stage and be the conductor for "The Stars and Stripes Forever".  I even got to keep the baton.  :)  Your local band/orchestra might be willing to do the same to keep the love of music alive in young children.

Where do you go for field trips?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The sun is shining and little green sprouts are shooting up from the ground. I don't know about you, but my mind drifts towards gardens this time of year.
This year, as part of our STEM initiative, we are starting a STREAM Garden. STREAM stands for:


Wondering what types of plants and flowers would go into a STREAM garden? View the Prezi below for great ideas.

What themes would you add?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April STEM Ideas

April is a great time in the classroom.  April is National Poetry Month.  April has Earth Day, Easter, and Arbor Day.  April is also the time when most schools are done with testing and teachers are a little more free to have fun teach STEAM.  

Earth Day and STEAM  

Instead of our normal Daily 5 rotations, we celebrated Earth Day in style.  We had 5  stations:

1.  Making our own paper (recycling):  

2.  Painting the planet Earth.  This was supposed to be marble painting, but the kids got creative and discovered that if you scrape the paint, it makes a "champ" design.

3.  Writing in response to "The Lorax".  

4.  Reading magazines and finding "fun facts for the Lorax".  (We reduced paper by using both sides)

5.  Reading Earth Day themed books and taking AR tests.  

National Education Association has done a great job of putting STEM activities together.  The activities are primarily for K-5 and are searchable.  They have lesson plans, printables, and games/activities.  Check them out here.  Comment which activities you plan to do with your students.

Poetry and STEAM

You might think that poetry and science are polar opposites.  But, you can integrate both of them.  Have students write a science-based haiku.  Our fifth graders wrote haikus about hot air balloons (STEM Unit).

Draw inspiration from some accomplished science and nature poets using resources from The Poetry Foundation and the American Academy of Poets. For starters, try:

Ten Poems to Get You Through Science Class This Year

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye  by Albert Goldbarth

Darwin’s Bestiary  by Philip Appleman

Haiku Journey by Kimberly Blaeser

Arbor Day and STEAM

I heart Shel Silverstein.  His poems are short enough to keep attention for little readers.  They are silly.  They are whimsical.  I like his short stories too.

Have you read The Giving Tree?  Watch this short animation to get the gist of the story. 

Reading this book will no doubt inspire young readers to plant their own giving trees.  In fact, if you plan ahead, you can put seeds into the pulp when making paper (see above).  The paper can then be planted (along with the seeds).

Students can play along with the book with a Maker Space of wooden blocks to make the house, boat, etc.

Imagine having your students finish the animation with technology, either via tablet apps or desktop programs.

Bring in writing with ideas in this blog devoted to Shel Silverstein.

Easter and STEAM

Check back in a few days for a blog post devoted entirely to Easter and STEM.