My STEM Units

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tutorials 101: Creating Student Tutorials

I love the 21st Century Classroom. The teacher is no longer the "sage on the stage", yet the "guide on the side". And that's true of the 21st Century Conference. Conferences now have interactive keynotes (awesome presentation, Nick!), smackdowns during lunch, and collaborative sessions. Don't even get me started on the concept of un-conferences! That will blow your mind!

This past weekend, I gathered with a bunch of like-minded individuals who want to learn more about the effective use of integrating educational technology. The end goal is always to maximize student success! The presentations are not about how much one person knows and how amazing they are. Although, there were PLENTY of amazing presenters doing amazing things, but that wasn't the focus. Many "presentations" became a space where "audience" members shared their successes and resources as well.  This was especially true in my session. 

I want to use this space to highlight some of the great apps/programs that fellow colleagues are using.  Wherever possible, I will pay homage to the colleague who shared the resource.

Videos used in presentation:

Additional videos and support on the following programs:

Snagit Chrome Extension

Suzanne Sallee shared this website. Did you know that you can use Snagit to create animated gifs? I didn't. Thanks Suzanne for the resource.

Peggy George shared uJam and vJam as a way to record yourself. Learn more about there here

Peggy also shared about WeVideo. Check them out here. (Peggy was very active in the backchannel). 

My thanks to everyone. I learned more from you than you probably learned from me. But, that's the 21st Century Classroom Conference. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Than a Ride: Why Educators Should See "Tomorrowland"

Today's post is a special guest post by famed Erik M. Francis, M. Ed, M.S. 

Don't dismiss Tomorrowland as another marketing ploy by Disney to buy merchandise or visit their parks by making a movie about one of its rides.  
Tomorrowland is not SPACE MOUNTAIN: THE MOVIE.  It's also not THE HAUNTED MANSION or PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.  There is no Jack Sparrow, and George Clooney's character is not cartoonish enough to turn into a character in the park or turn into an animatronic or hologram that will entertain park patrons as they wait to ride Space Mountain, Mission to Mars, or Star Tours.   The only thing this movie truly has in common and connection with Disney is that it was produced by the studio and its title is named after the futuristic corner of their Disney parks - that and the portal to Tomorrowland is through one of its rides that was featured in the 1964 World's Fair (well, they couldn't use the saucer pillars since MEN IN BLACK already established they were flying saucers :D).
Tomorrowland is actually a statement about education -- particularly, what does it truly mean to demonstrate higher level thinking and communicate deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness.  It talks about the demise of the dreamers, the innovators, the inventors, and the creative thinkers who are to look beyond factual knowledge and conventional wisdom and imagine and wonder what if.   In fact, the entire movie is an answer to what if questions.
What if the world and everything that is wrong or dysfunctional about it was able to be fixed?
What if the end of the world could be prevented or protected instead of perpetuated not only through our destructive actions and decisions but also our sensationalized and entertaining perspectives and points of view about how mankind and society will eventually self-destruct?
What if all this could happen because someone - in this case, an idealistic young girl who boldly attempts to ask her teachers who teach about the plight of mankind and society with their lessons about international conflicts, global warming, and even dystopian science fiction - was brave and bold enough to ask, "What can we do to fix it?"
Yes, all this in a Disney movie - or rather a movie produced and distributed by Disney.
However, this is not the typical Disney movie that portrays an idealistic, puritanical, and simplistic world in which everyone is animated - in appearance and action - and express themselves through song and dance.  There is also nothing insipid or pedantic about this movie.  It's not only a highly entertaining movie as well as one with a powerful message that says the following:
1) Girls are smart and wise!  Forget PITCH PERFECT 2.  This is the movie for girls this summer that is not only entertaining and enjoyable but also presents a powerful message about the potential of young ladies in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - better known as S.T.E.M.  The main character is an intelligent teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson) who has an edge not because she is rebelling against the norms and rules of society but rather because she won't settle for society to lie down and surrender.  She's a believer, a dreamer, and (gasp!) an optimist who believes the world's problems can be fixed.  In fact, her ideals and hopes are the catalyst that earns her the Tomorrowland pin and has her become identified by another young girl, Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy) to recognize and recruit her to come to Tomorrowland, a utopian society where all the residents are great dreamers and thinkers like her.  These two girls drive the film forward and establish the central ideas and themes of this movie - even when the world is at its darkest and most down, there is always hope driven by ideas and dreams that it could get better.
2) Learning Through S.T.E.M. is academic, authentic, and awesome!  Tomorrowland is more of a promotion for a S.T.E.M. education than an advertisement for a Disney education.  The movie expresses the importance of developing deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  However, it does not preach.  The message is subtle yet evident through the actions and attitudes of Casey.  For example, there is a scene in which her father (played by Tim McGraw), who is an engineer who is about to be laid off by NASA once the local Cape Canaveral rocket launchpad where he works is demolished, is in his workshop tinkering with a technical device that won't work.  Casey enters, suggests to "try this", clips one of the ends of the cable to another line, and it works.  She doesn't provide an elaborate explanation or spout scientific terminology.  She solves the problem simply by "trying this" - which is truly what is the intent and purpose of teaching and learning with S.T.E.M.  It's not about answering questions, addressing problems, and accomplishing tasks by knowing, understanding, and "doing" the math and science.  It's about thinking how and why math and science - and technology and engineering - can be used to answer questions, address problems, and accomplish tasks.  However, they do it in a way that is both educational and entertaining rather than academic and austere.
US Dept. of Education
3) Kids want to think and test their thinking, not be taught to think and take tests!  Interestingly, it's not the kids who frown or reject Casey for being smart.  It's her teachers who stand in front of the room teaching about nuclear war and world conflict, about the polar ice caps melting due to global warming, and the dystopian science fiction written by Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell that paint a bleak forecast of our future and profess their own ideas about the impossibility of utopias.  Casey raises her hand high in each class, which goes ignored until her English class when her teacher groans and rolls his eyes as he calls on her.  That's when she asks, "Can we fix it?" Unfortunately, the class ends before a response can be given, and Casey is left on her own to think deeply about how could she answer her own question (which she eventually does).  These are the scenes that truly gripped me not only as an educator but as a parent and a citizen of the world.  Our curriculum and the teaching we do can be very negative, focusing on what are or have been the problems, how were they fixed or attempted to be fixed, and how can we learn what those steps so we can handle those problems if they happen again.  Unfortunately, not every problem can be solved; however, they can be addressed, handled, resolved, or settled, and that's what we need to teach our kids - to think about how to solve problems but test whether their ideas, hypotheses, and predictions are valid and viable.  That's how kids not only learn but also demonstrate and communicate learning, and that's what this movie is advising.  Let kids think about and test their thinking, not be talked to and tested. 
4) The failures and flaws of the future can be fixed even before they happen.Even Tomorrowland, which was a utopian society, crumbles.  However, instead of being another story about the failures and flaws of the future as depicted in the printed and filmed texts of THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, the DIVERGENT books, and the MAZE RUNNER novels, Tomorrowland focuses on how can these failures and flaws be fixed without revolutionary uprisings against the powers that be.  In fact, this movie could be perceived as presenting the cause behind the dystopian futures of this film.  We were so consumed with, exposed to, and stressed about different ways doomsday will happen that we were actually inspired and informed how to cause and create the apocalypse.  Simply put - we provided ourselves with the tools of our own destruction by educating and entertaining ourselves about it rather than challenging and engaging ourselves to think deeply about how to avoid it.  Tomorrowland takes more of a design approach to addressing the problem by accepting and acknowledging, Here are the flaws, so what can we do to innovate or invent to improve the world rather than work toward avoiding it or even ignoring it?  The future does not have to be flawed or even fatal.  It can be fixed - and that's what Casey believes and sets out to do.
I won't tell you if she's successful though.  You'll have to see this movie for yourself.
 If you have children, take them.  I took my 12 year old daughter - who wanted to see the movie because of the Disney connection - and her 9 year old sister - who didn't want to see it because what she saw in the ads didn't interested her.  However, all three of us walked out of there blown away not only by how entertaining and enjoyable the movie was but also how it made us to enthused and encouraged.  The three of us walked out of there constantly saying, "WOW!" not because of the story or the special effect but because the meaning and message was so encouraging.  When I asked them what I thought the movie was about, their answers were the four items listed above, and the explanations were based on the conversation we had.
If you're a teacher, show this to your students - especially if you are implementing or attempting to implement a S.T.E.M. instructional focus at your school.  Ask your students, "What does this film infer and suggest about the following: girls learning science and math, learning for and through S.T.E.M., thinking to learn vs. learning to think, testing vs. taking tests, the future can be fixed?"  Then ask them, "How could you incorporate these ideas and themes to deepen your learning experience in and out of school?"  Make your goal for demonstrating and communicating not only to meet the performance objectives of academic standards but also to demonstrate and communicate deeper knowledge and thinking to earn that pin to Tomorrowland.
If you know an elected politician in your local community or who works in politics, show them this film.  Discuss with them what is the meaning and message of this film.  Then challenge them to consider how could they change and lead their community and constituents to fix the future by focusing on making the present a better place. Have them fulfill those promises they made in their campaigns.  Remind them what they promised and prompt them to follow through even in the face of doubt, discouragement, and disillusion.
That's what Casey did in Tomorrowland, that's what the movie teaches us, and that's why every educator, student, parent, and politician should see Tomorrowland- because it will challenge and engage you to think deeply about how to fix the future by focusing on today.

Erik is the lead professional education specialist and owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development, guidance, and support on teaching and learning for cognitive rigor.  His professional development seminars have been featured at national, state, and regional education conferences hosted by organizations such as ASCD, Learning Forward, and the College Board.  He has worked closely with K-12 schools nationwide on aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the cognitive rigor of college and career ready standards.  His book Now THAT’S a Good Question! Promoting Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning will be published by ASCD in November 2015.

For more information, you can visit

Friday, May 22, 2015

STEM Summer Reading: Transforming Schools

Summer is a time to catch up on reading, whether you are lounging poolside in an exotic location or lying on your couch. But, what to read? With a limited amount of time and limited amount of funds, which books are other STEM professionals reading right now?

Recently, I spoke with some STEM experts about what they are reading for summer.  Below is a list of what we are reading about school organization and how STEM fits into that.

Awakening Your STEM School by Dr. Aaron Smith

Educators and businesses alike might not know how to begin the process of creating a STEM school or more importantly developing their school into an elite magnet. This book is written by an educator for educators which provides a blue print guiding them through the process that will give students the skill-sets needed to be successful in the 21st Century workplace.  

This book is due to release on August 1st. Until then, I am reading the first two chapters available for free download here 

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

Have you ever heard one of Sir Ken's TedTalks? The man is amazing. So inspirational. Sir Ken has been involved in education for decades, across continents. He has been in the educational setting long enough to see the pendulum of "reform" swing back and forth, repeatedly. In his latest book, he "proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century." 

Here is Sir Ken speaking about his new book, but more importantly, speaking about transforming education. (Sorry, I can't seem to get my embed code to work properly today. Click "view fullscreen" to see the video)

Source link: 

Can't get enough of Sir Ken? (I know I can't). Here is a sound cloud of Sir Ken talking with Education Weekly.

Looking for other ideas for STEM Summer Reading?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

STEM Summer Reading: Engineering

Ask any teacher what they are reading this summer, and they are bound to give you a list.  Don't get me wrong.  Teachers read during the school year too.  They read Island of the Blue Dolphins for the tenth time or The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the hundredth time.  They still pause for predictions for what will happen to the caterpillar.  They still cry when Rontu dies (P.S. I have a great STEM unit on novels such as Island of the Blue Dolphins).

But summer....summer is for reading "how to" books.  "How to" implement Math Rotation Stations (Math Work Stations by Debbie Diller), "how to" use picture books to teach Science (Picture Perfect Science Lessons by Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan), and "how to" design your pathway to the Common Core (Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins et al.).

Recently, I spoke with some STEM experts about what they are reading for summer.  Below is a list of what we are reading about engineering. "Wait. What exactly is engineering?" you ask. Hint: it's a lot more than building bridges and skyscrapers. Watch this video to see how engineers solve problems:
Integrating Engineering and Science in Your Classroom edited by Eric Brunsell

"This practical compilation of models and examples of science and engineering in action is a great resource to help teachers build engineering into their everyday STEM teaching and learning. It begins with a practical guide and support for understanding the engineering design process and what that will look like in your classroom, to very specific content area activities for life, earth, and physical science. There’s even support to help teachers begin engineering opportunities outside the regular classroom day." Jen Guiterrez, K-12 STEM Specialist, Arizona Department of Education
Design, Invent, Create published by Start Engineering

This colorful book introduces children to the world of engineering. Each page is devoted to a different discipline of engineering. Even though the book is intended to be a children's book, I learned so much from reading the poetry on each page. My favorite was the fun fact on the edges of each page. Apparently others like the book too, as it was named an National Science Teachers Association Recommends Book. If you go to the website, you can get classroom ideas. Click here to order from the website.

Here is an example of one page:

So, what problems do you want to solve?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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 have ever been 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.  To keep the calm and keep the learning going, I go on free field trips.

Free?  How's that?  Visit local businesses and offices.  Let me explain.

  1. Public Library.  Your school probably has a library, but does your town/city?  Our little town does.  I used to 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.  So, I used Project-Based Learning to make it engaging and reinforcing of Math concepts.
  3. Gym/Fitness Center.  Although the kids are 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.  
  5. Post Office.  We go in the back and saw the inner workings.  To make this field trip more pertinent to them, I write each child a letter and address it: Student Name, General Delivery, Name of Town, State, Zip Code.  At the end of the field trip, they stand in line and pick up their own mail!
  6. Fire Department.  Again, nothing new here.  Lots of schools do this.  We make thank you cards to our local fire department before we go there and are 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.  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 get to see the whole process from design to printing.  
  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?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

STEM Summer Reading Series

The end of the school year approaches like an airplane, preparing for landing. You ask yourself, "Did I teach them enough?" "Did I expose them to other cultures?" "Did I inspire them?" Your journey is ending; it's been mapped out for you. 180 days. 7 hours per day. But you know the truth. The truth is, the journey of a lifelong learner is not over. Summer is merely a layover, until your students board another plane in September (or August) and take off on another adventure.

Summer reading programs exist all over the nation. Local libraries and online sources offer rewards and incentives for students to read over summer break. But, what about you? Chances are, you read over summer break too. You read "how to" improve your classroom. You read about the newest educational technology. You read novels and completely lose yourself in a fictional time and place.

Just as you prepare packets and programs for your students for summer break, you might be preparing your stack (or queue) of books. Maybe you are cashing in those Barnes and Noble gift cards. Maybe you are using your credits on Paper Back Swap. Maybe you are downloading books to your Kindle. Or, perhaps, you're not sure what to read this summer. You have heard about this concept of "STEM" or you want to do deeper with Engineering in your classroom. But, which book to read? I mean, we do have a limited amount of time and an even more limited amount of funds. 

Well, that's exactly why I have compiled this list of STEM Summer Reading. Last year, I spoke with STEM professionals around my state and they contributed what they were reading. You can click on the links below to read the posts last year. 

This year, I want to open the series to the entire nation world! Hint: that means you. So, what are you reading this summer? If you are interested, tell me which books you are reading and send me a quote (one sentence or so) of why teachers should read that book this summer. Send your information to my email at .  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

STEAMing Ahead to Stop the Summer Slide: Engineering Part 2

Summer slide is the phenomenon where students lose concepts learned the prior year.  Experts have estimated that teachers spend over one month reteaching those concepts when school does resume.  Summer slide has also been targeted as a major cause of achievement gap in students. (click on the infographic to the right)

Believe it or not, school will be out in a few short weeks.  Parents and teachers need to have a plan to help prevent summer slide.  Join me in the month of May as I share ideas for parents and teachers to minimize loss and maybe even promote growth! 

An article from RIFAccording to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association: "A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year.... It's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills."


In my first post about using engineering to help stop the summer slide, I mentioned "oldies but goodies" such as Legos and K'Nex, reading about engineering, and Maker Camp. Today's post will expand on the Maker Movement. What is this Maker Movement? I explain the Maker Movement in a blog post about libraries (click here to read the post).  ISTE has also done a GREAT job of writing about it (click here to read more). 

1.  Maker Camp

Google hosts a STEM hangout every summer.  From  July 6 to August 14, Google hosts a virtual camp on Google+.  Children are presented a problem or challenge to solve for the week.  They post videos and pics throughout the week of their creations.  At the end of the week, there is usually a virtual field trip or special visitor.  Last year, one such virtual field trip was with NASA.  Yeah, it's pretty cool.  If you are intimidated by wires and circuit boards, not to worry.  Duct tape and chicken wire are pretty typical building materials. 

This year, the weekly themes are:
Week 1: Fantasy
Week 2: Funkytown
Week 3: Farmstead
Week 4: Fun & Games
Week 5: Flight
Week 6: Far-Out Future

2.  National Geographic Engineering Exploration Challenge

"National Geographic wants you to solve up to three big challenges that explorers often face when they are out in the field by using your own robot-like design." (

This year, students can choose between 3 challenges: Animal Migrations, Tell the Story (of a place), and Extreme Environments. Students work on finding solutions to these real-world problems by using the Engineering Design Process. Students can collaborate on Google Hangouts. When students are satisfied with their solutions, they post on the website. For more information, click here

3. Week of Making (White House)  
This year, the White House is hosting a Week of Making to coincide with the National Maker Faire. The theme this year is #NationofMakers. The event will be held June 12-18.  

Although many of us will not be able to attend the free event at the White House, students are encouraged to submit projects on the website.  

4. DIY
Ahh, the age-old question. What do you want to be when you grow up? Today's kids are finding that question harder and harder to answer. Actually, studies show "65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet" (Cathy Davidson).  If our kids will be doing work that isn't invented yet, what can we do to prepare them today?


Click here to read the entire post about and how it can save your summer. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

STEAMing Ahead to Stop the Summer Slide: 2015 Edition

Summer slide is the phenomenon where students lose concepts learned the prior year.  Experts have estimated that teachers spend over one month reteaching those concepts when school does resume.  Summer slide has also been targeted as a major cause of achievement gap in students. (click on the infographic to the right)

Believe it or not, school will be out in a few short weeks.  Parents and teachers need to have a plan to help prevent summer slide.  Click the images below to be directed to GREAT ideas for parents and teachers to minimize loss and maybe even promote growth! 

An article from RIFAccording to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association: "A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year.... It's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills."


Reading Ideas


Science Ideas


Technology Ideas


Engineering Ideas


Activities Ideas


Math Ideas
More Math Ideas

This list is not meant to be exhaustive.  A quick search on Pinterest will yield hundreds of boards and pins dedicated to preventing summer slide.  Adventures in LiteracyLand has a great list of reading programs for readers.  Examples include RAZ Kids and Snap.  Keep the conversation going and post your favorite tips for preventing the summer slide in the comments below.