My STEM Units

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: 

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