My STEM Units

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bringing a Community Together Through STEM

"When teachers stop learning, so do students” writes famed author Jim Knight. Navajo County Education Service Agency (NCESA) provides training throughout the year for teachers, under the auspices of the Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Office. This past year, 33 local teachers from 5 school districts across Navajo and Apache counties invested over 100 hours of their personal time to continue learning, to stay abreast of the latest research, and to incorporate STEM into their classrooms. The program was made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Education.


Course designer, Susan Rodriguez of NCESA, and Gail Campbell of Mill Canyon Consulting, took a hard look at what teachers know and are able to do and used that information to shape the course. “After looking at the data, we found there were gaps in the science content knowledge (of the teachers) and there were elements missing in science lessons. We used that information to guide us as we designed the STEM course,” Rodriguez shares.


Their course began last summer when teachers attended a weeklong Biology Boot Camp put on by Northland Pioneer College using the meeting space at the White Mountain Nature Center. They took water samples from Big Springs Environmental Study Area and examined organisms under microscopes. Last September, local Wildlife Biologist Dan Groebner from Game and Fish explained the importance of ecosystem balance at the constructed wetlands in Pinetop. There, teachers used telemetry equipment and learned how to use real-life problems to engage students in classroom lessons. “I wish every student had the chance to experience outdoor science like we did,” states Show Low teacher Rachel Podoll.


The course continued on the journey monthly, moving the teachers from molecules to organisms. They even had a special lesson taught by the Education Ranger from Petrified Forest National Park. Every lesson was designed to increase teacher knowledge in science and help teachers take that new knowledge directly into their classrooms. In the end, the teachers created STEM units for grades Kindergarten through middle school. The STEM units are multi-lesson projects that are based on Arizona state standards. Teachers interested in using the STEM units in their classrooms can find the resources at


Teachers were observed before they started the course and again upon completion of the course. Their scores were then compared with teachers who had not taken the course. “The results are extremely statistically significant,” shares external evaluator Gail Campbell. The teachers who did not take the course saw an increase in their scores of 17% whereas the teachers who did complete the course increased their scores by 78%.


“The exciting part of the data is that the teachers increased their skills in the classroom. These skills don’t just apply to science lessons, but to all lessons. These thirty-three teachers have increased their skills and added strategies that they can use in all their lessons, every year,” Rodriguez emphasized.


In her final report to the US Department of Education, Campbell writes, “The takeaway for the community partners was to recognize the rewards of working together, to share resources, and to make real world opportunities available for students.”


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.

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!