Pookie Background

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Time Fillers

Good Morning and Happy Tuesday!!!

This is a quick post about a few games I came across and have begun making to use as time fillers in my STEM classroom. 

Math Taboo
Roots of the Equation published an Algebra Math Taboo game that is perfect for a middle school or high school classroom!  Of course you can make your own cards to supplement this set.  This is so easy to print, cut, bag, and then pass out to early finishers or on days when there is extra time in class or a shortened class period.  I just finished printing my sets and plan on using this as early as next week with my students.

Quick Six
Ellen McHenry published a game called Quick Six that is played with the periodic table of elements.  I do not expect my students to know or understand the periodic table and they are not taught it until high school, but this is a great game to begin introducing them to it and how to find information about the elements.  I just printed out my game card set and a periodic table that is kid friendly (I have yet to use it to play the game to see if it will suit the needs of the game).  I can't wait to have all of the pieces laminated and play with my students!

I find games like these as well as Math 24, tangrams, math battleship, etc. are great to add to a sub binder or sub tub.  Once the games are explained to your students and they have had a class period to play, a sub can pass out the materials and allow the kids to play.  With a little one at home, I have fallen back on my emergency sub plans in my sub binder a number of times.  I will be adding these games to the other activities I have outlined in my sub binder.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Happy Wednesday Morning!!!

While searching for goodies to add to the Halloween bags I make for the neighborhood kids I stumbled across some INCREDIBLE STEM kits at Five Below!  In addition to K'NEX helicopter kits (for $5 each) they had solar robot kits and DIY motor kits (race cars and motorcycles) all for $5 each.  The solar kits are a bit complicated and appear to be more time consuming.  They have very small parts and will require significantly more focus and patience than the DIY motor kits.  The directions are also black and white pictures that are small and do not have any written instructions included.  What I love about the motor kits is that they come with all the pieces and tools!  I won't have to buy a class set of screwdrivers and wrenches for the students to use when building.  In addition, the parts list and directions are colored photos.  I feel as though written directions could be valuable and the screws could be better labeled, but all in all, the better quality photos make for easier to understand instructions.

These kits are low priced and perfect for after school clubs or enrichment activities.  Most parents are OK with contributing $5 towards a project the students will be able to keep.  These kits come in a lot cheaper than on-site field trips too.  Most on-site field trips do NOT allow you to keep the project either.  I plan on purchasing 10 to 12 of the DIY motor kits to use with my middle school gifted group later in October.

My husband and I started the DIY Race Car kit and the DIY Motorcycle kit last night.  My husband made it thorough step A before calling it quits and claiming his fingers were a bit too big.  I made it halfway through my project in about an hour before taking a break for the night.  I look forward to finishing it tonight (and then finishing his) so that I can race them at home and display them in my classroom to build interest in both at home educational activities and my gifted day.

All in all these were a great find for middle and high school students.  I can't wait to post how the projects turn out later in October! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Engineering is Elementary

I hope everyone is settling into the school year smoothly.  Despite returning after a long (7 month) maternity leave, I am transitioning smoothly.  This is just a quick post to share a wonderful resource!

EIE is another FANTASTIC resource for teachers trying to infuse STEM into their regular classroom as well as develop STEM-based after school programs.  While not every resource is free on this website, they do offer a number of units and lessons free for teachers to download.  Lessons and units are available for grades 1 through 8.  I just finished downloading (in exchange for my email and school information) the unit "Here Comes The Sun."  This is a unit that I hope to use pieces of during my Green Building and Sustainability unit.  My Discovery Education account expires in October and I will need to find an alternative activity to the "Keep it Cool" lab on the Discovery Education website.  Hopefully this packet helps.  Have a WONDERFUL Wednesday!!!

Friday, August 15, 2014

No More Boring Back to School Night

As I return to the classroom after over eight months off (maternity leave was WONDERFUL!) I am reevaluating my Back to School Night presentation.

For my 1st year teaching STEM I created a brochure and had example units I may do with the students.  I spent most of my time explaining the course and what STEM meant to parents and students.  After spending a GLORIOUS week in Washington D.C. with some awesome fellows at the Siemens STEM Institute, I was inspired to create a very exciting movie to show parents highlighting student projects from the previous year.  This year... I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  I knew I was done with the boring, done with the talking, and done with "the norm."

After a few weeks of tweaking my Back to School night handout and making sure all of my contact information and policies were updated, I decided that parents needed a real taste of my class.  So, with the 10 minutes I have with each parent group, I began planning a STEM activity.  Granted 10 minutes is not nearly enough time to use the Engineering Design Process or reflect on the results of the activity, it is just enough time to give parents and students a taste of what to expect in my class.

Without an activity in mind I began listing what I hoped to gain from this different Back to School Night experience.  First, I wanted to do something in groups since the students are always working in groups.  Next, I knew it had to be hands on.  Everyone loves to build and create so I made that a priority.  Lastly I determined I needed to make sure math was in the mix.  My class is technically called Applications of Mathematics, so I wanted parents (and students) to see that there is a bit of math in everything.



I know I can not do an entire challenge in 10 minutes or collect the data that would make this a valuable learning experience.  However, I felt that the paper airplane was an easy enough activity to complete in the limited time and allow for some data collection.  I am working under the assumption that my parents and students know how to fold a paper airplane.  My plan is to give parents and students about five minutes to create their planes and NOT fly them.  Groups will then line up at the bottom of my measuring tape and fly them one at a time.  On the board I will document the distance.  At the end of the night I will post outside of my classroom the name of the winning group with the winning paper airplane.   In theory, this should work.  I can not wait to attempt this activity with the parents and students on Tuesday night.  I will be sure to post an update as soon as I can about the results of my new approach to Back to School Night.

Elementary STEM Program

A teacher recently reached out to me asking for help in revamping their her after school STEM program for 4th and 5th grade above-average learners.  Her goal for this particular program is to create an environment that will extend thinking and promote a true STEM environment.  The budget for supplies appears to be minimal, but they have access to a computer lab.  At this time the students meet twice a week for about an hour.  Last year the students participated in projects that were based on real-world problems.  For example, one of the projects was to research a food additive and examine the harmful effects, find alternatives, and create a tri-fold sharing what they discovered.  To me it sounds like this school has the right idea and definitely headed in the right direction for creating authentic STEM experiences for their students.

So, moving forward, here were a few suggestions for projects that I came up with to help this teacher continue to extend her students' thinking through STEM-based projects.

Paper Plate Marble Track
This idea came from a project I saw on Pinterest and felt could be adapted for a STEM classroom.  My students LOVE to build stuff!  Anything!  As long as they get to create, they are happy.  So, when I am looking at projects for my own STEM classroom I try to incorporate as much hands-on building as possible.  

FrugalFun4Boys posted this idea as a fun and inexpensive activity to do inside during the looooooong winter months.  When I saw it I thought "WOW!  This looks like fun and I can definitely add some math and science to this to make it an authentic learning experience for students."  Let's break this down... The construction of the marble track itself covers the 'E' (engineering) and videos, articles, and simulations on roller coasters would cover the 'T' (technology).  After a three second Goggle search of "roller coast simulator" I found student friendly resources on PBSLearning and Eduplace.  The students can easily make marks on their roller coasters and measure distances to determine the speed of their marble at various points along their ride to cover the 'S' (science).  While that also covers the 'M' (math), I feel that more math could be added by having the students "purchase" their supplies from the teacher.  As the students bring in or select supplies from the classroom stock, they must complete a cost sheet.  When the students are finished with their roller coasters they would be able to present a total project cost analysis based on supplies used (and wasted) during construction.  The teacher could also challenge the students even more by giving them a budget.

Newspaper Construction
 This was an activity I had my long-term substitute recently do with my elementary and middle school gifted students.  My elementary students used newspaper and tape to create a table that could hold books.  My middle school students used newspaper and tape to construct a bridge spanning a predetermined distance and could hold a predetermined weight.  I am not sure how everything turned out (I did not receive any feedback from the students or substitute), but the activity was fun and easy to plan.

I adapted the elementary activity from the Design Squad's Paper Table activity and the middle school activity from the PBS Building Big Educator's Guide (the website was not the easiest to navigate, but if you spend enough time clicking links, you should find instructions and handouts.)  There are TONS of newspaper building challenges for students.  These were just the two that I chose to adapt for my classroom.

This activity is a great use of the Engineering Design Process (EDP).  As the students build, encounter problems, adapt, and build again, they are cycling through the EDP.  It is important that students in a STEM environment are familiar with the EDP.  So with this particular activity, the 'E' would be the introduction or use of the EDP as well as the construction of the table or bridge.  For the 'M' the students will need to know how much weight their structure can hold and whether or not it will span the measurement requirements.  To incorporate 'T' I use the application Bridge Builder on the iPads for students to experiment with how bridges work and what shapes are the strongest.  I am sure there are similar programs and simulations available online for students to use on a computer.  Lastly, for the 'S' the students are applying scientific principles, generating questions, and testing hypotheses.  Could the science be strengthened for this activity, Absolutely! Post any and all suggestion you have! 

Paper Airplanes
 What kid doesn't LOVE making (and flying) paper airplanes?!?!? I think this is fantastic project for a group of elementary school students.  If I were to use this activity with students I would start by having the students all make the same three airplanes.  These could be any three patterns selected by the teacher.  In addition, the teacher would provide the same paper to all of the students and do a brief presentation on how to fold paper and read the directions.  The student groups would take their three airplanes and test them.  All of the data (measurements) and observations should be recorded.  Next, the teacher could show a video on "professional" paper airplanes to inspire the students.  With this inspiration, the students would use the computers to research different styles of paper airplane, folding techniques, paper suggestions, etc. to determine what they feel would be the ultimate paper airplane.  Lastly, the students would create their paper airplane, test it privately and remake the same model again if need be (precision is everything, so students should have the opportunity to refold if necessary), and then fly them as a class.  With all of the collected data the students should be able to produce a graph and lab report explaining their findings.  I find (personally) that in cases like this there is always a group that "fails."  I explain to the group that it is NOT a failure to have a paper airplane that did not fly at all.  Something was still learned and data was still collected.

So, the STEM breakdown... 'S' for the lab report, 'T' for the video and research component (hey, why not introduce Google Docs and have the students compile their group research there), 'E' folding the paper airplanes, 'M' data, data, data, and graphing!

QR Codes
As an Instructional Technology Specialist, I could not let the opportunity pass to suggest a truly technology-based activity.  A teacher in a neighboring school district worked with a group of students recently to create QR codes to use around the school to help bilingual students and parents.  I thought this was an AMAZING use of technology!  HIGH FIVE!!!  So, my suggestion for the after school STEM club was to do the same, but for teachers, parents, and students to use.  QR codes could be generated for teacher websites, homework help websites, the school website, etc.  This could be a wonderful back-to-school night tool.  Parents (and students) could scan QR codes as they are entering teachers' classrooms for contact information and the course syllabus.  While this may be a little bit advanced for elementary students who do not have smart phones or are not permitted to use them at school, it could still be a fun project and great for teachers and parents.

These were just a few of the suggestions I had for relatively easy and low-cost STEM activities that could be used at the elementary level.   If you have any other suggested activities or resources, please post below!  I hope everyone has a FANTASTIC start to their school year!  Here's to 2014-2015!!!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Siemens STEM Academy: Guest Blogger

Sorry I have been MIA for the last year. I have had a lot on my plate. My husband and I found out we were expecting in May of 2013 and I was sick straight through until the end of my pregnancy. Mason Justin was born on January 17th and has been a wonderful handful. As summer starts and my maternity leave comes to an end in August, I am hoping to get back to my blog. In the mean time, check out my post at the Siemens STEM Academy where I am one of the guest bloggers!

STEM Centers: Allowing Students to Direct Their Learning

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Educational Applications in the Classroom

For this entire course we have spent a significant amount of time exploring and researching applications for mobile devices that can be used in the classroom in varying capacities. Our assignments for this week included selecting ten mobile learning applications for our students and the. Creating a lesson plan or presentation explaining how we would implement at least two applications in the classroom. After significant research I decided to create a lesson plan using the  application STEM Curiosity School and Google Drive. The idea is that I (the teacher) would supply the kids with the materials necessary for any of the seven lab assignments. The students would select which lab assignment they would like to complete in their small groups using the STEM Curiosity School application. As they work, they would all access a shared Jigsaw worksheet in Google Drive. In my classroom I like to give the students as much choice as possible so that they take   ownership of their learning. 

I have always been a supporter of an increase in the amount of technology integrated in the classroom. One way to increase technology use is to put the devices (mobile or otherwise) in the hands of students as often as possible. Through this class I have gained insight on different ways I can use my iPads on a more regular (and structured) basis with my students. I loved that the final project provided me with the opportunity to create a lesson plan that I can use in my classroom that will use my iPads in a more structured manner. If I were to tweak this course, it would be to add more assignments or discussions like the final project. While the application of the week discussion was valuable, it would be nice to know how everyone would use or could use some of the apps in the classroom. Same with the assignments of top applications. I would add a section for us to note how an application could be used in the classroom. All in all i found this to be a valuable course and I look forward to applying what I have learned in y classroom during the 2013-2014 school year. 

PS: This blog post was done on my phone from the BWI tarmac. My plane was SIGNIFICANTLY delayed and I figured what better use of my time and mobile device!  I apologize for any typos since they are hard to locate and correct.