My STEM Units

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Biology Boot Camp: Teachers Engaging in STEM

We all know summers are short. Summers are even shorter for teachers. Between summer school, meetings and preparing for a new set of students, teachers are lucky to get three weeks. That’s what makes 33 local teachers even more amazing.

Recently, teachers spent a week learning how to incorporate STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, into their classrooms. STEM education is an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to learning that engages students in critical thinking, problem solving, creative and collaborative skills through cross-disciplinary focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM integrated education ultimately establishes connections between the school, work place, community, and the global economy.
The weeklong “Biology Boot Camp” was a collaborative effort designed by the Navajo County Education Service Agency, Northland Pioneer College, White Mountain Nature Center, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Petrified Forest National Park and funded by a competitive grant by Arizona Department of Education.
Based on the real-world problem of protecting the endangered leopard frog, teachers engaged in hands-on, problem-based learning. In the mornings, teachers took water samples from Big Springs Environmental Study Area and made 3D models of plant and animal cells. In the afternoons, they worked in the lab at the college to analyze the samples in digital microscopes. 
“I love professional development. It gets me pumped up for the upcoming school year,” teacher Marie Caldwell said. “(We) learned a lot and had a great time learning with fellow teachers: collecting water samples, observing nature, checking pH, learning basic chemistry and measuring seedlings.”
Biology Boot Camp was just the start to what will be a yearlong focus on STEM in the classrooms. Future weekend workshops will focus on bio-mimicry, engineering and using digital probes to test aquatic environments.

For more photos and a better insight into Biology Boot Camp, search Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BiologyBootCamp.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Read Across America: Engineering Focus

Will you be celebrating Read Across America in your classroom?  Every year, thousands of classrooms (across the WORLD) celebrate reading on or around March 2nd.

In my fifteen years as an educator, I have seen a multitude of ways to celebrate Dr. Seuss and his contribution to reading.

  • Schools hold assemblies.  
  • Some show Dr. Seuss videos.  
  • Others have guest speakers read their favorite book to students.  
  • Many have parties.  
  • Students wear "Cat in the Hat" hats.  
  • Cafeterias serve green eggs and ham.  
  • I have seen DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) days with jammies and hot chocolate.  
  • I have even seen STEM.  STEM?  Yes, STEM.

Perhaps my favorite Dr. Seuss book to read on March 2nd is Bartholomew and the Oobleck. The book lends itself well to a STEM lesson on solids, liquids, and gases. I add a math component with the recipe (think fractions!). Students then engage in a Socratic Seminar on the properties of matter. We conclude the unit with an Engineering Design Challenge: design a spaceship that can land on a planet and stay upright for at least 10 seconds. Your initial reports show that the surface of the planet is a non-Newtonian solid. (Ellen's got nothing on us!)

Jack and Josh following a recipe to create a non-Newtonian solid, otherwise known as "oobleck".
If you want to integrate Read Across America with your science studies, there are numerous books on the market that not only give you (great) lesson plans, but they also pair picture books with nonfiction books. The popular Picture-Perfect Science Lessons series offers just that.  They have books for K-5 and books more narrowed down to grade level bands K-2 and 3-5.  Click here for a link.  The National Science Teachers Association has produced their own book on the subject as well.  Teaching Science Through Trade Books offers lessons for grade bands K-3 and 4-6 with lessons and student engagement strategies. 

This year, I wanted to focus on engineering. I love how Engineering is Elementary uses the first two lessons of each unit to teach students the difference between technology and engineering. All too often, students think engineering is merely building bridges and skyscrapers. (By the way, we do students no service by simply offering toothpick/marshmallow challenges. We need to go further!)  For instance, I recently created a STEM Family Challenge Gift Pack that focused on various engineering careers. As I was researching engineering degrees, I was amazed at the breadth of the discipline!

If you are confused as to the difference between science and engineering, you can read National Research Council's book A Framework for K-12 Science Education. (click here for a free download) The researchers did a wonderful job of spelling out the difference between science and engineering, and also, creating a case for engineering in our classrooms today. 
"Science begins with a question about a phenomenon, such as "Why is the sky blue?" or "What causes cancer?," and seeks to develop theories that can provide explanatory answers to such questions....Engineering begins with a problem, need, or desire that suggests an engineering problem that needs to be solved." (National Research Council, p. 50). 
Using the theme of engineering, I selected books at each grade level band (K-2nd, 3rd-5th, 6th-8th, and 9th-12th) that lent themselves to an Engineering Design Challenge. But, just telling teachers which books to read isn't enough. Teachers are already swamped with math lessons, reading tests, and indoor recess (!). Teachers need a go-to resource, where everything is a click away. Hence, my website: 

The website (free for anyone to use) has a page devoted to each grade level band. Each page has a synopsis of the book, a teacher's guide, and an Engineering Design Challenge. Some books include an interactive online platform. For instance, Talk to Me is a National Science Foundation funded project. The project created a graphic novel, a "game", and an electronic journal. Some books have videos that accompany them, such as Rosie Revere, Engineer. The high school book launches a Star STEM War: the F=m(a) Awakens.

Each school in Navajo and Apache counties will receive their Read Across America book during Engineers Week, February 21st-27th. Each book comes with a QR code on the cover. The QR code links to the website, where the teachers (and students!) can quickly access their resources with their smartphones/devices.

I would love to hear how you are celebrating Read Across America or 
how you used the website: for your festivities. 
Email me at: 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Students Learn Programming During Worldwide Computer Science Education Week

In December, students across Navajo and Apache counties participated in Hour of Code.
Hour of Code was part of the worldwide Computer Science Education Week where students learned not only coding and programming but also spatial reasoning, computational thinking and determining angles.
“Coding teaches those skills that tend to be harder to teach in the classroom. Skills like resiliency, following directions and creating,” trainer Linda Angelo said.
Angeloff recently trained 18 teachers from Navajo and Apache counties on how to use coding and programming to help teach sequencing, following directions, communicating and collaborating.
Computers are everywhere, but fewer schools teach computer science than 10 years ago. With recent budget cuts, many of the computer classes at junior high and middle schools have diminished.
“We are excited to have teachers willing to take this coding experience into their classes and allow our students to have this great opportunity,” Blue Ridge Junior High School Principal Loren Webb shared.

One such school was Blue Ridge Middle School, where math interventionist Deena Jorgenson had her students coding.
“Students at Harvard and Berkeley (universities) are using these programs. They start with Blockly and move into JavaScript,” she said.
Students learned how to use Blockly to program Star Wars, Minecraft, Frozen, Angry Birds and Flappy Bird. Other instructors participating in Hour of Code at Blue Ridge Middle School included David Butterfield, Amy Schimmel, Michele Gagnon and Cathie Steele.
“And sure enough, the students coded with confidence. One theme that seemed to emanate from the room was resiliency. Not one student coded an entire program with 100 percent accuracy. Yet, time and again, the students went back to their program, identified the error and made corrections. Imagine if they learn to apply that resiliency to real-world problems,” a press release said.
“We can’t anticipate what problems our students will face 15 years in the future. We couldn’t have anticipated just five years ago what we would do today with smartphones,” Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Jalyn Gerlich said.

Gerlich supports the addition of coding in classrooms to support our students for success in the 21st century. She believes every child should have a chance to learn about algorithms, how to make an app or how the Internet works, just like they learn about photosynthesis, the digestive system or electricity.