My STEM Units

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Arbor Day, STEM (STEAM) Style

It has been over 135 years since J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day, and his simple idea of setting aside a special day for tree planting is now more important than ever. The Arbor Day Foundation asks for your help in replanting our national forests, so they'll be there, for us, for future generations, and for those with whom we share our planet. (
"Great. Sign me up," you say. But, how does this relate to STEM? What can I do in my classroom to contribute? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Teach your students how to identify trees. Take your students on a walk around your campus and give them an opportunity to use tree identification charts to determine the species. 
  • Plant a tree. By donating to Arbor Day, you will get free trees. Some local agencies also provide trees. Check your local forestry division and nurseries.


  • Use GPS technology to map the locations of the newly-planted trees. Engage students in creating a virtual map of the trees.


  • Provide engineering activities for students. Examples include woodcarving, tree rounds, and wreaths.

  • Write a play or have students act out a play about trees. Download the play devoted to Arbor Day
  • Provide cooking demonstrations that involve tree-inspired foods, such as apples, walnuts, etc.
  • Host a poster, poetry, musical contest. 

  • Organize a "Big Tree" search at your school. Estimate how tall the trees are based on shadows cast. (lesson plan)
  • Count tree rings on a tree stump.
Even more resources: The Arbor Day Foundation has done a GREAT job of providing curriculum materials for teachers. If you are interested in seeing more wonderful ideas, visit their Educational Resources page.

Arbor Day and History

Have you heard of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Project? Simply amazing. 

In commemoration of the (Cival War) sesquicentennial, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground is planting one tree in honor of each of the 620,000 soldiers that perished during the American Civil War.  Each tree is geo-tagged and electronically linked to the Honor Wall page of the soldier it is dedicated to. Through student assistance, JTHG is researching the stories of the fallen using primary source documents. (

Imagine this. Imagine students reading primary source documents to learn about the American Civil War. Imagine students then researching the stories of fallen soldiers and creating webpages devoted to them. Imagine geo-tags placed on freshly-planted trees; 620,000 trees, one for each fallen soldier. Imagine the power of taking a journey through hallowed ground. 

If you are interested in having your students participate in this historic service-learning project, go to the website. There are professional development opportunities for teachers. You can even request a map of the site (spans 4 states). "This is important."

Arbor Day and Shel Silverstein 

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 directions).  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.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Summer Camps (for Students AND Teachers)

What are you doing this summer? More importantly, what are your kids doing this summer? Why not send them to camp?

Tonto Creek Camp is where we take our 4th graders every year to prepare them for the Arizona Science Assessment (AIMS). Read about our classes here. This summer, Tonto Creek Camp is hosting two unique camp experiences. 

SEED Camp For youth high school age who want to learn first-hand about business!  This is a creative outdoor gathering like no other.  SEED CAMP is where aspiring youth meet and forge bonds with successful local professionals and higher education experts!  Not your typical camp, this is a four days that will inspire, increase innovation and cultivate collaboration.  Each day CAMPers  take part in creative product development, beta testing and interactive workshops like; realizing your dream & conscious capitalism, hear from inspirational speakers and have fun facing outdoor challenges during educational outdoor activities such as: hiking, low-ropes leadership challenges.   

SEED Camp is an experience that will open your mind, connect you to an amazing community of influencers and show how spending four days in the woods unplugged can help you plant the seeds  of your dreams!

There are 3 camp sessions available from June 4th-8th 

Fresh Air Camp An unforgettable experience that connects youth to an amazing natural environment beyond their day-to-day life.  No air pollution, noise pollution or light pollution and no automation pollution.  Fresh Air SUMMER CAMP is brimming with summer spirit! Providing nature immersion and educational adventure for boys & girls, ages 10-13 years.   Our well trained, experienced field instructors guide campers in hands-on, STEM centered activities, leadership activities, experiential knowledge of plants, animals and more. 

Activities include: Ecology Hike, STEM Photography, STEM Classes, Orienteering & Wilderness Survival, Archery, Engineering, Low-ropes Course Challenges, Gaga Ball, Volleyball, Team Building Games, Star Viewing and of course S’mores ‘round the campfire. 

There are 2 camp sessions available from July 25th-31st.

As you can imagine, bunks fill up fast for these camps. 
Please don't let cost be a factor, as scholarships are available
For more information, click the links or 
email the camp at   844-411-CAMP(2267).

But what about you? How about STEM Boot Camp?

Arizona Department of Education is hosting a 2-day STEM Boot Camp for teachers of grades 3-6.  

"STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) should not be viewed as curriculum, but rather a way of organizing, integrating, and delivering instruction through an intentional interdisciplinary mindset. There is an increasing need to better understand STEM and provide for more rigorous, relevant and engaging interdisciplinary STEM teaching and learning opportunities. This 2-day 'boot camp' will energize and motivate teachers by building background, providing tools and resources with support to successfully implement integrated STEM connections. 

Through this engaging, hands-on 2-day STEM Boot Camp participants will:• Develop a foundation for understanding the interdisciplinary nature of STEM teaching and learning• Build their own STEM teaching toolkit based on research and best practices• Create a framework to develop and sustain a STEM learning environment" (ADE)

Participants will receive the book, STEM Lesson Essentials - Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, by authors JoAnne Vasquez, Michael Comer, and Cary Sneider.

Teachers will be eligible for 13 hours of PD credit. Registration is only $50 and that includes the book. While this "camp" is located in Arizona, it is not restricted to Arizona teachers. All are welcome. Please note this "camp" does not provide lodging/meals. 

"This 2-day 'boot camp' will energize and motivate teachers by building background, providing tools and resources with support to successfully implement integrated STEM connections," Jen Gutierrez, Arizona Department of Education.

There will be two sessions, June 1-2 and July 7-8. Currently, there are only 20 seats remaining. Register soon (teams encouraged) to ensure your spot at the table! Click here to register today.

Want a truly unique adventure? Live at the Biosphere2 this summer! 

Yes, you read that correctly. You have the opportunity to live at the Biosphere2 (near Tucson) this summer. While there, you will be engaged in STEM professional development. The Summer Institute goes from June 8th-20th and is open to any Arizona-based active 1st-5th grade teacher. The cost of $100 covers your PD for the 13 days (including 130 hours credit), lodging, and all meals. Good meals. Seriously? How can you turn down this amazing opportunity? 

As you can imagine, spots are limited (I mean, there's only so much room in the Biosphere) and they fill fast! Talk it over with your family (because you won't see them for 13 days) and apply today

For more information, go directly to the site for Arizona Center for STEM Teachers

National Poetry Month, STEM Style

You might think that poetry and STEM are polar opposites.  But, you can integrate both of them.  

Read Poems about Science, Engineering, and Math

Draw inspiration from some accomplished science and nature poets using resources from your library. 
For a list of great resources, check out BookListOnline

Write Science-based Haikus has great resources to get you started. 
Don't worry if you aren't sure how to teach the crafting of poetry
ReadWriteThink has lesson plans, templates, examplars, etc. 

Create a Video Poem

 "Future engineers, it's our time and we got to own it.
If you've got the Force to go the Distance, than it's your moment."

Even if your students don't write/film their own video poem, analyzing this poem/song/spoken word video would be a great lesson. Did you catch all the engineering references?

Write a Science-inspired Parody

Recently, our students wrote parodies for their ROCK Concert. The concert focused on the Science concepts of landforms, weathering/erosion, and rock types. The students worked with the Music teacher (STEAM teacher) to replace the lyrics but keep the rhythm, meter, and rhyme schemes of the original songs. I am EXTREMELY proud of the creativity of the students. As you read some of the lyrics below, see if you can tell which song they parody.

"The lava glows red on the mountain tonight,
Not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation
And it looks like I'm the lava queen.


Let it flow, let it flow.
Can't hold it back anymore.
Let it flow, let if flow.
Let it go from it's core.
I don't care where it's going to stay.
Let the lava rage on,
The heat never bothered me anyway."

"It's a hard rock life for us.
It's a hard rock life for us.
'Stead of treated, we get tricked.
'Stead of paychecks, we get picks.
It's a hard rock life.

Metamorphic rocks we break,
It's the hard rock life they make.
It's a hard rock life."

I would love to showcase your STEM-inspired poetry here. Please email me at

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student

National Parks and STEM; a perfect match.  Wait.  What?

When you think of national parks, you probably see the connection with Science first.  Depending on which park you imagined, you might be making links to weathering and erosion or volcanoes and other other landforms.  Math probably comes next as you imagine students calculating the height of granite cliffs or estimating the number of bison in a square mile.  But, you probably don't think of Technology when it comes to national parks.

If you think about it, national parks have always had technology.  For instance, I'm pretty sure you don't carry your water in wicker baskets and wear wool clothing head to toe.  You use the power of technology in moisture-wicking fabric and specially-designed water containers that fit on your back.

National Park Service has done a great job lately of incorporating technology into their programs.  I have seen QR codes on interpretive signs, interactive displays in ranger stations, and Q?rius exhibits at Smithsonian museums.  NPS has an online WebRanger program for children.  I have facilitated virtual field trips from Glacier Bay in Alaska to Grand Canyon in Arizona.  To celebrate their centennial, NPS will even host a social media event entitled "Find Your Park" (more information to be announced on April 2, 2015).

When one thinks of national parks, most think of the big Western parks; Yosemite, Arches, Hawai'i Volcanoes, Grand Canyon, etc. But the National Park Service also includes historical parks. Parks such as Harper's Ferry and Gettysburg.

Enter the "Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student" initiative.
Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student (TM) is a program created, developed and sponsored by The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership at the request of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), in partnership with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and Harpers Ferry Middle School. 

Based on their hands-on experiences in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and analysis of primary source documents, approximately 70 Harpers Ferry Middle School students served as writers, editors, photographers, choreographers, set designers, videographers, and even public relations representatives to produce and promote six mini-documentaries, depicting their understanding of the famous John Brown Raid in Harpers Ferry, which set-off fighting in the American Civil War. (NPS

Common Core has brought the use of primary sources to the forefront of our instruction.  And STEM education along with 21st Century Skills has brought educational technology into focus. All these initiatives and programs excite the STEM teacher in me, but they don't really prompt students to create their own impression of the park by using technology.  Today's students are not content to be mere consumers of technology, but creators of it as well. Service Learning Projects, like the Harper's Ferry project, bring these worlds together.  Like the student says on the video, "With vodcast, I can learn what they were feeling."

So, I ask you, which historical sites do you have near your school?  What Service Learning Projects can your students embark on to not only produce videos for students far away, but also as a way to express their understanding of the importance of those events?  It's about making those connections.  With the past and with the future (students).

For more information on how you can use National Park Service resources in your classroom, read the series here: National Parks, Treasures for Teachers.