My STEM Units

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

After-School STEM Club Resources

Ahh, Labor Day is behind us and a new school year awaits us. Time for teachers to label desks, folders, bins, and notebooks. Time for students to gear up for success. And, time for after-school clubs to commence.

The After-school Alliance recently released data on after-school STEM Clubs. 

Their report, titled "Full STEM Ahead", makes the following recommendations:

  • engaging & educating parents about the importance of afterschool STEM
  • increasing technology and engineering programming
  • strengthening & increasing STEM community partnerships 
  • improving assessment measures; and 
  • increasing investment in afterschool programs. (Full STEM Ahead)
This is great news for kids. But now, teachers are left to create STEM curriculum for their after-school clubs. This can be especially difficult for teachers who teach all day and don't have time to scour the internet for lessons. There are many great programs out there. Here are a few of my favorites:

Engineering is Elementary (EIE) has a mission to "support educators and children with curricula and professional development that develops engineering literacy" ( Personally, I have worked with EIE for years and have found it very user-friendly. In fact, I am honored to say I have been chosen by EIE to pilot a new unit this fall (available for download next year).

EIE offers many products, but specifically for this purpose, they have after-school curriculum. Engineering Adventures is a FREE after-school curriculum for grades 3-5. Engineering Everywhere is a FREE after-school curriculum for middle and high school students.

Students meet two characters, Indie and Jacob, and help them solve problems around the world. The curriculum has intro lessons if your students are new to engineering. Each lesson has an audio file (or the new ones have videos) that capture your students' attention and guide them through activities. Many of the lessons have optional online components. In addition to downloading the FREE teacher guide, you can also download a FREE student journal, where students are encouraged to diagram their designs and work through the engineering design process. The only cost you may incur is for supplies, but you will find that you have many of the supplies already lying around your classroom/school. If not, many are household items that the students can bring to school. is not an official after-school STEM curriculum. However, I have used their challenges for out-of-school learning.

I recently wrote a blog post on They have a bazillion challenges for students. Students choose which ones appeal to them and work towards those goals. When they complete the challenge, they can purchase a badge (yes, a real badge) for $4. also offers "camps". Camps cost about $10 each. However, if you can get $5 off when you use this link:

This type of curriculum is a more "maker space" type of curriculum. With, students are engaged in engineering solutions. Interestingly enough, EIE released an interesting article yesterday regarding science scores when students engineer. Click here to read the article.

Along the same lines as is Design Squad and Instructables.
Mystery Science is my new favorite. I could tell you about it, but Doug does a great job in this video: 

Right now, you can get into Mystery Science for FREE. I have used the magnetism lesson with my students and it was so easy to project the slide show.

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence (AzCASE) has links to many other FREE STEM Club resources. You do not need to be based in Arizona to take advantage of these opportunities.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. In fact, if you know of a great resource that should be added, please email me at and I will add it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Autumn: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year,
With the kids robot building
And everyone telling you "Fall Break is near"
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's the cool-coolest season of all,
With the leaves a-changing and lunar eclipsing
When elk start to call,
It's the cool-coolest season of all.

There'll be pumpkins for carving,
And butterflies larving,
And harvesting corn by the row.
There'll be no fires blazing
And late night star gazing
At galaxies long, long ago.

It's the most wonderful time of the year,
With the kids robot building
And everyone telling you "Fall Break is near"
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
            -Susan Rodriguez

Autumnal Equinox is practically a holiday for STEM teachers.

We not only have trees stopping their production of chlorophyll, but we also have a total lunar eclipse (!).

We have caterpillars fattening up and corn ready to harvest.

Lego robot leagues are ramping up for competitions and star gazers are looking at the Pleiades.

Fire Prevention Week reminds us to check our smoke detectors while we get ready to set fire to hollowed-out pumpkins (after we have counted each seed and diagrammed the pumpkin life cycle).

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

What lessons do you love to teach this time of year? Email me at .

Monday, September 7, 2015

Meet Up at the SciTech Festival Kickoff Event
When you think of STEM, do you imagine Silicone Valley? San Francisco and New York City even? But, Arizona?

Yes, Arizona. Arizona has been on the forefront of promoting STEM for students, families, educators, and communities.

In fact, my last Meet Up was in Arizona for the STEM Club Conference.

The popular TV show "STEM Journals" is filmed primarily in Arizona. Meteorite Man, Geoff Notkin, travels around, highlighting STEM careers. In fact, Geoff helped kickoff the SciTech Festival season last year.

Arizona is also home to the SciTech Festival.

"Spearheaded by the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Science Center, the Arizona Technology Council Foundation, Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, the Arizona SciTech Festival is a grass roots collaboration of over 450 organizations in industry, academia, arts, civic, community and K-12." (
This year, Arizona SciTech will kickoff the season with their Innovation Arizona Summit.

Want to attend sessions? There are over 20.
Sessions will be organized with the following tracks:

  • Innovation - Entrepreneurs and investors share best practices about developing your pitch, girls in technology, co-working spaces and more.
  • Festival & Events – Best practices to plan, promote and build partnerships for your event.
  • STEM & Education – Innovative ideas and practices to impact science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in and out of the classroom.
  • Pathways – Learn about key AZ industry sectors such as Cybersecurity, Sustainability and Materials Science through diverse perspectives from industry leaders, University research professors, PK20 educators and more.
  • AZ Makers – Experience Arizona’s “maker” landscape with interactive talks and hands-on activities in this one of a kind Maker Room.

Want to see the latest gadgets? There are over 50 exhibitors.

Want to network? There will be over 1,000 attendees. And me. And, hopefully you. I have been attending the Innovation Summit for years and have found it to be a great opportunity to meet up with STEM-minded individuals from around the state.

Let's meet up for lunch. If you will be there and are interested in talking all things STEM, email me at .

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

America's Greatest Classrooms: Free Annual Pass

Americans have been responsible for some amazing inventions. Electricity, the telegraph, the iPhone (just sayin'). Americans have also been credited with the invention of the national park system. A system which serves to protect natural wonders, culturally significant sites, and historic locations. National Park Service was created by an act signed by President Wilson on August 25, 1916.

Now, on the eve of it's centennial, our current president is opening the doors to national parks again. Through his "Every Kid in a Park" initiative, President Obama, along with National Park Service, is offering a free National Parks Pass to every 4th grader in America.  Fourth graders and their families will have free access to all national parks and federal lands for the entire 2015-2016 school year.  The initiative is intended to get students outside and "put down the smartphones".

Why Fourth Graders?

Fourth graders have been chosen for several reasons.

  • Typically, state standards focus on state history in fourth grade. Visiting a national park, be it a geological formation, a historical site, or a cultural center, is a wonderful way to bring history to life.
  • Along with state history, states commonly assess fourth graders on science standards. National parks exude science! (For more info on this see my National Parks: Treasure for Teachers section below). 
  • In 4th grade, students typically have just one teacher, as opposed to junior high school, where students have multiple teachers. Having one teacher simplifies the process for field trips.
What if our school doesn't have money for field trips?

The National Park Foundation along with National Park Service offers transportation grants to schools through the Ticket to Ride Program

How do we sign up?

Go to Every Kid in a Parks website: and click on "Get your pass".

I recently interviewed Lauren Carter, an Education Technician at Petrified Forest National Park. She provided important information for families and teachers:

"Getting a 4th grader pass is easy! Students visit the website, complete a short activity about things they can do in public lands, then they are able to print out a pass at home. They can use the paper pass to bring a carload or 3 additional adults with them to any federal recreation area depending on how the park charges fees. The passes work just like the current inter-agency annual passes. If they are visiting a non-staffed area such as Forest Service, the pass can be displayed on the dash of the car. 

The child has to be present with the pass for the adults to gain free entry. The passes are for 4th graders or kids who will be 10 years old anytime between September, 1st 2015 and August, 31st 2016. This allows for home schooled students and free choice learners to participate. The plan is to continue this for many years so each year a different set of fourth graders can benefit. 

Students can bring their paper pass to any park that issues inter-agency passes to exchange the paper pass for a plastic card pass. They don't have to do this though. The paper passes are good for the whole school year. If it gets lost or damaged, they can just go on the website again to get another pass. Paper passes must be presented by the student to exchange for a plastic pass. All passes for this year will have the same expiration date of August, 31st 2016.

Teachers can also go on the website and print off a batch of passes for their students. There is a lesson plan that can be used in conjunction with this. One of the things we can do in the park is have ranger guided education programs centered around the "Every Kid in a Park" lessons and then we can issue paper passes at the end of the program to a whole class. Due to staffing, these programs need to be arranged in advance. We are so excited to be part of the Every Kid in a Park program!" 

National Park Service celebrates their 100th anniversary in 2016.  To help celebrate, I have compiled a list of resources for teachers and parents.  My National Parks: Treasure for Teachers series offers a myriad of resources and opportunities for teachers and classrooms.

  • Teacher Workshops
  • Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  • Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  • Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  • Field Trips and Institutes

  • STEM Family Challenge: September

    STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, is a term used by teachers to encompass lessons and projects which include these subjects. STEM units usually start with a problem.  The teacher guides the students through discovery and experimenting to find solutions.  STEM does not just happen at school. In fact, STEM can be very effective, engaging, and fun at home.  

    At my school, I present a STEM Family Challenge each month.  Families take the challenge, complete a reflection sheet, and earn a $20 gift card to local businesses (bowling alley, movie theatre, miniature golf, etc.).  I would like to offer the STEM Family Challenge to you as well.  Although I can't offer you a gift card, I can put your name in lights HTML.  

    STEM Family Challenge: September

    September is prime county fair time.  Carnivals are making the fair circuit.  Chances are, your county fair is coming soon.  Why not use that excitement to launch your STEM Family Challenge?

    Using items around the house, create a ride at the fair.  

    See examples below for inspiration. Have FUN!

    flickr photo: Helen Cassidy cc

    eHow photo: Maggie Brooks
    If you wish to have your name in lights HTML, email a pic of your project and the STEM Reflection Sheet to me at .  With your permission, I will post your pic!

    Want to read more about STEM at the Fair?
    Iowa State Fair had a STEM day! 
    Minnesota State Fair
    Utah State Fair