My STEM Units

Thursday, October 29, 2015

STEM Family Challenge: November

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 does not just happen at school. In fact, STEM can be very effective, engaging, and fun at home.  

STEM Family Challenge: November

November is Native American Heritage Month. Click here for the Native American Heritage Month website. Along with resources for teachers/families, they also have an interactive game where you can choose your own adventure and follow a Cheyenne tribe. (very, very cool!)

**Disclaimer: I have lived with, taught beside, learned from, loved deeply, cried alongside, and laughed with Native Americans for over 9 years. My own children have been raised and schooled on the reservation and know more Apache words than I do. I have seen many Native American "lessons" in the past, however I feel they denigrate Native American traditions and peoples. Let's move past the paper bag "leather vest" lessons.

My STEM Family Challenge for November is to honor Native American traditions and tradesmen. You might be wondering where you can go to get information on traditional trades. I have compiled a list of resources to inspire you and your children. You never know, you may find a new favorite author.

Books as Resources

I have used Michael Lacapa books in my classroom every year. Mr. Lacapa was a very talented Native American author/illustrator. Unfortunately, "Little Blue Bird" passed away too young, but, his books have become his legacy. Of all his books, The Flute Player is perhaps my favorite. I dare you not to cry.

For those who prefer novels, I suggest Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins or Elizabeth George Spear's Sign of the Beaver.

Challenge: make a flute, make a canoe, or make a bow and arrow.

Maker Sites as Resources

loom on 

Use Maker Space websites, such as to find a new engineering challenge. Want to learn how to bead? Look it up! Want to learn how to weave a dream catcher, find it here!

Another Maker site is There, you can learn everything from basket weaving to looms. You can even learn how to do the Hoop Dance.

If you wish to have your project displayed, email a pic of your project and the STEM Reflection Sheet to me at .  With your permission, I will post your pic!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Architecture of Accomplished Teaching

The Architecture of Accomplished Teaching.  National Board candidates and teachers know this double helix well.  They are accustomed to using the upward spiral to impact student learning.  I would like to posit that National Board candidates use the highly reflective practice when reflecting on their own journey to certification.

When accomplished teachers look at the architecture for their students, they start with their students.  Who are they?  Where are they now?  

Then, said teachers set high goals that are appropriate to those students at that time.  As the teachers deliver instruction, they are constantly revisiting the goals and the student.  Is the student making progress?  If not, where is the breakdown?  

Through reflection, the accomplished teacher sets new goals and the upward spiral continues.  

But, what about using the architecture on yourself?  Is it not true that you, a National Board Candidate, looked yourself in the proverbial mirror one (or more) years ago and asked yourself, "Who am I?  Where am I now?  What are my goals?"

No doubt you had several conversations with yourself and maybe even with an advisor; a confidant.  You set worthwhile goals and you worked hard to achieve them.  Hard.  "National Board Certification is easy," said no teacher ever.

Through deep reflection, you honed your craft, tweaked your practice.  It is safe to say, you are not the same teacher you were a year ago.  And here's the beautiful thing: you never will be the same, just as the butterfly cannot become a caterpillar again.  You are transformed.  

And here we sit.  Waiting for "score release".  The day you thought would never come.  The wait will probably seem like an eternity.  Might I suggest you use this time to thank the people who helped you come so far?  Maybe your family really stepped it up and took over household chores while you typed. and typed. and typed.  Maybe it was a colleague who listened.  A mentor who guided.  No matter the scores tomorrow, you know you could not have come so far were it not for them.

But, what happens after score release?  For some, it will be the affirmation of a lifelong passion.  Certification.  How wonderful that must feel.  

For others, it will be the realization that there is still more mountain to climb.  The double helix continues upwards.

Advanced Candidates, don't look at your score as something that is "less than".  Look at it as "more than".  More than it was a year ago.  

What do we do as accomplished teachers?  We look at our students where they are now.  Look at yourself.  You have come so far.  Where are you now?  Where do you want to be?  Look at your scores.  Where is there room for improvement?  For me, it was Entry 4: Documented Accomplishments and two assessment center exercises.  Yes, I too, was an Advanced Candidate.

Set a worthwhile goal for yourself.  Work to achieve that goal and reflect on your practice as you continue to move up that double helix.  Continue climbing until you have reached that summit!  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Hexaflexagon Day!

flickr: J. Nathan Mathias

Happy Hexaflexagon Day!

What?! You didn't know it was Hexaflexagon Day?! You didn't see the commercials, hear the hexaflex music, and buy a card?!

I know. Not many people know about hexaflexagons, let alone Hexaflexagon Day. But, they will.

You are probably thinking, "hex-a-what-now?". Watch this video:

Ok, cool, but where is this talk of a day dedicated solely to hexaflexagons?

Watch this video:

Inspired? Intrigued? I am too!

I have to admit that I jumped on the hexaflexagon train a little late. I don't have any great lessons or pics. I do know this:
  • You can search for hexaflexagon templates. There are a bazillion. Some even in color. Find one you like, print it, and fold away!
  • You can search lesson plans for hexaflexagons. Although almost every lesson plan has these two videos in them.
  • You can let the students free-explore! Show these videos to your students. (have an unplanned indoor recess today? Show the videos!) Put out some scratch paper, scissors, and crayons. 
  • Post your students' pics/videos to social media. I would also LOVE to see what your kids discover! If you wish to have your pics displayed here, email them to me at  .
Happy folding!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

National Farm to School Month

October is usually filled with thoughts of pumpkins, candy, and leaves changing colors.  But, did you know that October is also Farm to School Month?  Farm to School Month is "a time to celebrate the connections that are happening all over the country between schools and local food" (  It doesn't get more local than a school garden.  

Why a School Garden

Classrooms are moving back to integrated studies.  This can be done in the classrooms (reading about science concepts, for example) and outside the classroom (measuring the heights of various corn stalks).  Much research has been been on the subject....of integrated subjects:

  • "Students who participated in garden-based learning programs showed higher test scores in science and increased food knowledge" (edutopia).
  • "Garden-based learning has been linked with higher levels of science achievement" (edutopia).

Our Garden

Last year, students and parents built a STREAM Garden at our school.  STREAM stands for Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math.  Students engineered the benches used for reading and writing in the garden.  Parents built the raised beds; one for each teacher.  Community members donated seedlings and seeds from their personal gardens.  The local farm sent a farmer to work with students weekly and teach them about soil, veggies, and the importance of healthy eating.  Teachers taught/enhanced math lessons in the garden.  Visitors scanned the QR codes on each bed to view videos about what is growing in the beds.  And grow they did.

In it's inaugural year, the STREAM Garden produced The Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), salsa (tomatoes, peppers, and onions), roots (carrots and radishes), and flowers (sunflowers and snapdragons).  And that's just the beginning.  Students are already planning what they want to plant next spring.  

How We Will Celebrate Farm to School Month

Our school has partnered with Food Corps (a division of Whole Foods Market) to:
  • Support indigenous foods knowledge, growth and re-introduction
  • Prevent hunger and food insecurity
  • Increase local food production, distribution and access
  • Promote healthy nutrition and fitness across the lifespan
To celebrate Farm to School Month, we will have a Garden Party with all 8 Food Corps Teachers across the state!  This isn't your grandma's garden party.  This Garden Party is going to be STEM-tastic!

  • Students will build an additional compost bin out of pallets and stakes.  
  • Students will build an additional raised bed as our ancillary teachers and resource teachers are wanting their own raised beds as well.
  • Students will harvest the above-ground produce (corn, squash, bean, peas, tomatoes, etc.).
  • Students will top off the raised beds with fresh topsoil and fill the new bed with topsoil.
  • Students will paint rocks to inspire hope for the future.
  • Students will go on a garden-themed scavenger hunt.

How You Can Celebrate Farm to School Month

There are as many ways to celebrate as there are farms and schools.  The National Farm to School Month website offers suggestions for those just getting started.  Arizona Department of Education also offers suggestions and resources.  

STEM Family Challenge: October

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: October

Fire Prevention Week is October 4th-10th this year.  “Nearly 3,000 people continue to die in fires each year, with most of those deaths occurring in homes,” said Carli from the National Fire Prevention Association. “The vast majority of home fire deaths are preventable, and working smoke alarms play a big role in helping reduce those numbers.” 

"Smoke alarms can make a life-saving difference in a fire, but they need to be working,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “Unfortunately, many home fire deaths result from fires where a smoke alarm is present but does not operate." This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme focuses on putting a smoke alarm near every bedroom.

According to NFPA statistics:
  • Having a working smoke alarm in the home cuts the risk of dying in a fire in half.
  • On average each year, three out of five home fire deaths result in fires where there are either no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
  • In one-quarter (23 percent) of the home fire deaths, smoke alarms were present but did not sound.

What You Can Do: Engineer a Solution

Using items around the house, 

  • design a smoke detector, or
  • design a device that will remind people to check their smoke detectors

See example below for inspiration. Have FUN!

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 more info?

Info for Teachers

Info for Families