My STEM Units

Monday, June 29, 2015

Get Skills. Be Awesome.

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?


You have heard of the DIY movement, and you have probably heard of the Maker Movement, but have you heard of combines the DIY movement with the Maker Movement with gamification and badges (real badges!) with hackschooling and homeschooling

Co-founder of, Zach Klein, recently wrote an article for EdSurge. (click here to read the full article) Klein describes his childhood and pursuit of personal passions. 
"Whether it’s Minecraft or duct tape wallets, the childhood passions that seem like fads, if not totally unproductive, can alternatively be seen as mediums for experiencing the virtuous cycle of curiosity: discovering, trying, failing and growing. At DIY, we’ve created a way for kids to explore hundreds of skills and to understand the ways in which they can be creative through them."
What types of skills can kids work on? Everything from Angler to Zoologist, and EVERYTHING in between. Seriously. Take a look. I guarantee there is at least one skill you your kid is passionate about.
For instance, in my house, my boys have started with the Minecrafter skill. Since they have completed three tasks and uploaded pics/videos, they are eligible for a patch. 

I am using to keep my boys active and learning throughout summer. A family down the street is using it to supplement their homeschool curriculum. A local STEM Club is planning to use it to make their after-school projects more personal. 

Access to most of the skills is free and the patches are a mere $4. does offer memberships where kids get access to "camps" for only $10. But if you use this link, you can get $5 off! I think the new answer to the age-old question of "what do you want to be when you grow up?" is "Get skills. Be awesome." 

What skills do you have? How do you use in your house/classroom? Email me at . 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fun Websites for You and Your Students

Are you overwhelmed by the amount of websites/programs/software available? I used to be. I learned a long time ago that I could never keep up on ALL the websites and resources available. I would have to prioritize. And set goals.

Every year, I set a personal goal for Ed Tech. One year it was to improve my students' writing by using Ed Tech. I used In2Books, a wiki, and Weebly (student-created).  This year, I focused on productivity such as Prezi and Google Docs. Although it wasn't my goal for the year, after spending a frustrating day in the computer lab, I decided to learn more about tutorials and flipping the classroom. (psst, it transformed my teaching!)

This summer, I have already attended two wonderful conferences. The first was Arizona Technology in Education "Imagine, Inspire, Innovate Conference". The second was the Arizona STEM Network "STEM Clubs Conference". Below, I will share four of the "new" websites/programs and how they can be used in your classroom. Watch this short 20 second video:


I used Moovly to make that short video. From the video, you can see fancy animation techniques. For instance, I can't get enough of Sir Ken Robinson's video where the animator draws a mind map of the concepts discussed. Well, I can't afford a pro-animator, but I can use Moovly. With Moovly, you simply add the pic you want and choose animation, hand-drawing. You can also have the hand "write" your words. Fingers can push images in and spin existing clip-art. This program does take a bit of editing skill, but you can also just keep it simple. Try it. Make one today for your first day back to school or your parent night.


This is my new fave! Before I go any further, watch this video:

"Nearpod: a discussion setting where kids are interacting" from Nearpod on Vimeo.

The session I attended used NearPod with Kindergartners. When you search NearPod, you can see there are lessons for middle and high school too. This is a freemium site, where you can totally exist in the free realm, but you can also purchase lessons for as little as $0.99 or up to $2.99.  You can also create your own lessons for free. I like this site because it keeps everyone on the same page screen. I would suggest starting with the free lessons and then moving into creating your own. The lessons are designed to give objectives at the beginning and a pre-assessment. Throughout the lessons, there are times for "turn and talk" or "discuss". Some of the more elementary lessons have "stand up and do this movement". They usually end with a post-assessment. And yes, you can have that assessment sent to your email. Sign in and watch a lesson today. I highly suggest you take the tutorial and walk through a sample lesson.

I know. I know. Coding? Really? Getting them to learn how to type with all 10 fingers is a struggle. How are they going to learn to code? But, let me tell you....they do! I thought the same thing last year. does a great job of embedding support into their website. You can print the curriculum and start coding with your students with NO computer. NO computer! We did ours with plastic cups, pencils, and paper. They had to code how to stack the cups into a pyramid. They learned real quick that they had to break each move down into the separate steps. What grade level, you ask? Third, fourth, and fifth graders.

When they were successful with that, we moved into the computer lab. We gave them the website and they went to it! The lessons are set up like a video game. You can level up to progressively more complex coding after passing simpler coding instructions. After a few levels, a video pops up to give you encouragement or links your level to a real-world situation. pulled out all the stops and has many, many celebrities on their videos.

And what are the kids programming? They can choose between "Frozen", "Angry Birds", or "Plants vs. Zombies". Since then, has added Disney's "Infinity" and "Flappy Bird". I know, right?!


But, what does coding have to do with school? I mean, we have to help them pass the ELA and Math tests. Enter Scratch

Scratch Overview from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

As you can see from the video, Scratch uses drag and drop code just like I would suggest you start with and then move into Scratch, perhaps 2nd semester. Yeah, yeah, looks like fun, but how can I use it in the classroom?

I have seen several uses in the classroom. One basic use is to animate your vocabulary words. For instance, say your vocabulary word is "dance". Your students can animate the cat to dance across the stage. By the way, there are many different backgrounds to fit your needs.  Another use in the classroom is for digital storytelling. I would suggest doing this whole class first and then letting the students code digital stories. The presenter I watched showed us an example of when the whole class coded a digital story of Rainbow Fish, complete with speech bubbles and animation. In the process of "having fun", they were working on ELA skills of characters, setting, summary, and theme.

Next Steps

I realize that even my short list might be overwhelming. Don't feel you need to do all of it on the first day of school. In fact, you don't even need to do all of it! Set goals. What are your priorities this year for your students? What are your goals this year? I would love to hear from you. Drop me a line at .

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Meet Up in Phoenix

Summer is rife with educational conferences.  It only makes sense. Teachers don't have to worry about sub plans.  Districts either have to use up title monies or they have a new batch of title monies to spend.  In all my years in education, I have never had "the summer off".  Instead, my calendar is full of trainings, conferences, and expos.  This summer will be no different.

So, where is Susan heading off to this summer?  I will be attending the Science Foundation Arizona STEM Club Conference.

While in Phoenix, I would love to do a Meet-Up.  So if you are attending the STEM Club Conference, we should meet up and talk all things STEM.  Send me an email to and we can meet up at ASU Memorial Union.