Saturday, February 23, 2013

STEM Mom at Minnesota State Teacher Conference

I had the absolute pleasure today to speak to teachers from all parts of Minnesota at their state conference.  Their theme was "Putting the "E" in STEM, so my session was titled, "Putting the "TEM" into our Science teaching. 
MN Science Teacher Conference: Putting the E in STEM.


Oh man, I love being around science teachers. I've taught in varying size districts, and had varying number of teachers in my department, but nothing beats hundreds of science teachers geeking it out together. There's an immediate kinship and connection that is infectious.    

I was scheduled for  3-hour workshop from 9-12 and was determined to make the time go by quickly. So I organized the session to be six STEM challenges mixed in with some discussion and a bit of me talking. Here is the ppt presentation I had that helped organize our time together. 

Adding the "TEM" to our Science Teaching: STEM mom gives tips for inquiry and integrated learning from Illinois State University

Because we were addressing inquiry, I tried something new this workshop. I handed out empty folders! I know, right? Because I wanted workshop participants to experience the challenges as students, I didn't want them thinking too much like teachers in the beginning.  So, I didn't hand out the lesson plan until we were ready to talk about implementation ideas. I think it worked well! Those of you who came, I would love to hear your feedback on this in my comments section!

Free Download of Presentation Handouts


As I promised, here is a link to the Google doc so you can have your own copy of the 25 page document that contains the teacher lesson plans, as well as the varying level of inquiry in student handouts. The last page of the handout is a landscape data table page for the living-nonliving lab, and it uploaded as a separate link. (Sorry about that.) So here is the link to the last page. And don't forget to visit my Living-Nonliving-Dead posts that include all kinds of ideas for making the characteristics of life an inquiry lesson.

Workshop Agenda


While I had many little agendas today as I facilitated our time together, the biggest was to get across to main ideas:

  1. Failure is totally an option.
  2. Collaboration must be modeled and taught
I think too many kids are focused on getting the "right" answer. The attitude, "Just tell me what I need to know so I can pass the class/test" is pervasive-and in my opinion taking us down the wrong road. So today we focused on how to change our own perspectives about teaching and learning, along with how we can create classrooms that allow students to fail, so we can learn from our mistakes. While "failure" may sound like a harsh word, it doesn't have to be! Because the person next to us found three ways that "really don't work" helps push the entire class forward in their understanding of how things work and are constructed. As teachers we need to provide encouragement for the process, not just the destination! 

One of my favorite parts of the presentation are a few slides were we talk about the attitudes we want to foster in our classes. There are more, but here are the ones I've thought of for now:
  • Things don't always work out (and that's ok)
  • Failure helps us (re)think and learn
  • Talking out ideas helps us think
  • Trouble shooting is fun
  • Tinkering in learning
  • Playing first helps us know what we need to read
Then we brainstormed ideas on how to make these attitudes pervasive in our classrooms. So you'll see some slides in my powerpoint that talk about creating spaces for students to "tinker" called Homago, or Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out. These spaces allow students to take thing apart, glue things together, make art if they want. You may want to have an agenda, but its ok to just let kids be kids in this Homago space! 

We also spend some time evaluating what we say to students. We know how powerful words and encouragement is for kids. So if we value the process, we should be praising kids along in the process and not necessarily those who finish first, you catch what I'm saying here? 

I plan on posting individually about each of the activities in the future, but here is a sneak peak at what our workshop participants did. 

Gumdrop Structure Challenge


The first photos are of a gumdrop/toothpick challenge where they had to build a structure that would hold up a wonderful book (that you can purchase at NSTA Press bookstore-hint-hint). 

Gumdrop Challenge: 10 Gumdrops, 20 toothpicks; hold the weight of a book





Bricklaying Challenge



In this challenge participants had 8 dominos, and play dough and were to play with varying bricklaying patters to see which would be strongest. Since we were going for mid-level inquiry, each table determined the test that would be conducted to test the strength of their structures.  I was so impressed with the wide range of brick walls structures. 


In the photo below, teachers used a "rolling bottle" method of testing. Other methods of testing included "meteorite" (extra playdough) hitting the wall, earthquake (table shaking), tsunami (tunnel of water), and simply just pulling the wall up in the middle.     


Build an Elbow Model 


In this activity participants had craft sticks, bendy straws, rubber bands, and tools such as glue gun, scissors, and xacto knives. 





Paper Table Challenge

The paper table challenge is my favorite. Participants were given 8 sheets of newspaper, a cardboard table top, and limited amount of tape. The table had to be 8" off the table an hold a book. 

Paper Table Challenge: 8 sheets of newspaper and tape: must hold a book




I big thank you to MN State Science Teacher's Association for having me, I had a lot of fun! I would absolutely love to get some of you participants to provide comments below! Feedback helps me improve and make my workshops better. 

Thanks again, 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

STEM Themed Linky Party #3



STEM themed Linky Parties: 1st and 3rd Sat of each month: STEMmom.org

Welcome to the STEM Mom's third Linky Party! This linky party is open on Saturday February 16, 2013 and closes 8 days later, Saturday February 23, 2013.  The following week, I will choose two lucky winners who will be featured in a blog post at STEMmom.org, and will receive a special "STEM Mom Liked this Post" button that can be forever displayed on the winning post.  

In the spirit of STEM, any science, technology, engineering, or mathematics activities for ANY age are welcome to be entered in the STEM Mom Linkys. Note: Links that are not STEM related will be deleted.

However, special consideration (to be featured on my blog the following week) will be given to posts that:


  • Give detailed explanation of the activity so that others can do it with their students
  • Offer free handouts (if applicable)
  • Include math as a component to the science activity
  • Proudly display the "I linked up @ STEM Mom" button on the post they link up
  • Integrate multiple science content areas (for example: biology and chemistry or physics and earth science) 
  • Focus on engineering (the often forgotten vowel of STEM)
  • Integrate multiple science content areas (for example: biology and chemistry or physics and earth science) 
  • Include technology aspects into the other areas, science, engineering, and mathematics.
When you link up, grab a button and place it at the bottom of your post! Please be sure that you link to the specific post url, not your homepage. 

Thanks so much.  Looking forward seeing what you all have to share! If the linky is closed, check my linky page to see when the next party opens.

the STEM Mom





Saturday, February 9, 2013

Word Family: Free Sticker Templates

What I thought was simple rhyming ends up being associated with a bunch of hoity-toity educational lingo such as: "word families," "emerging reader," "cvc words- consonant - vowel - consonant," and "hfw- high frequency words." Remember, I'm more familiar with the secondary ed lingo, so this is all new stuff for me!


Plastic Egg Word Family Activity Tutorial: Free Sticker Printout from STEM Mom.org

My primary hesitation in homeschooling was having the be the sole instructor for teaching my kid to read. I understand the repercussions of this task, and it just seems overwhelming to me. But slowly I'm learning.

Caleb and I are now working on blending sounds to make words. We are using some of the manipulatives from Sonlight Core A, and the word ladders from Erica @ Confessions of a Homeschooler. But I also found this great idea from Nurture Creek on how to use plastic easter eggs to accomplish the same task. You place the beginning of the word on the left side of the egg, with a single ending on the right side of the egg. When the kids twist the egg they can visually see what part of the word stays the same, what changes. 

While most of you probably have wonderful handwriting and can use permanent marker to write the letters directly on the plastic egg, that's not really an option for me. Therefore, I typed up a variety of word families and formatted them so I could print them out on Avery 8160 Mailing Labels. Below is a description of how I assembled the eggs for use. 




Plastic Easter Egg Word Family Assembly Tutorial 


Gather materials:


  • Plastic Easter Eggs (I chose the bigger size eggs)
  • Avery 8160 Mailing Labels
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Word Family pdf file (available for download at the end of this post)
  • Scissors and/or paper cutter 
  • permanent marker


Materials needed for Plastic Egg Word Family Activity: STEMmom.org


  1. Print out Word Family file onto Avery 8160 stickers. (I printed mine on regular paper first, placed it behind a sticker sheet, held it up to the light, to make sure the letters were going to print out correctly.)
  2. Carefully cover the stickers with clear packing tape being sure to not wrinkle the tape.
Placing clear packing tape on Avery Stickers to protect them: STEMmom.org

I decided to use packing tape because it was quick, and easy to cut with my paper cutter. I could have just as easily laminated 2 of the sticker sheets back-to-back, with letters facing the outside. This would accomplish the same thing.   

Clear Packing tape can be used to protect mailing labels for schooling purposes: STEMmom.org

3.  Using a paper cutter or scissors, cut rows as close to the letter as possible (if the stickers are too big they won't curve well around your egg). Each row represents one family and should fit on one egg.

Use Paper Cutter to separate word families into rows: STEMmom.org

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tips for Student Research

I was asked by Dr. Desmond Murray, of Andrews University, to speak to his Chemistry Seminar class today. So via Adobe Connect, I am speaking to this group virtually.



Dr. Murray and "met" after I read his editorial for the JESS (Journal of Experimental Secondary Science). He talked about his BEST Early Program and I LOVED what I was reading. Once I saw this video on You Tube, I knew he and I had to collaborate somehow.  You'll see what I mean after watching this video! 



If you missed my webinar, you can view the slide show here. But much of the content you'll miss because I'm a strong believer in having graphics over text in Powerpoints, or else it is power-pointless! However, the webinar is being recorded, and if I can, I'll post the link so you can hear me speak as well!   


Let's Talk about Student Research


As a way to continue the discussion, and to add new participants to the discussion, I've posted some prompts below. I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on conducting student research projects.  Feel free to post a response to any of my prompts below, or other thoughts that are floating around in your head! 
  • Are high school students or undergraduates capable of conducting sound research projects? Why or why not?
  • What experience do you have as a student writing your own procedure? What was your biggest hurdle? How did you get over it?
  • What would you do, if your data didn't support your hypothesis?
  • How "messed up" is your experiment if you discovered that the methods you used to test your idea, didn't actually measure any changes? 
  • What is the best way to get an idea to start researching? 
  • What notetaking strategies do you have for large research projects?  
You may also enjoy reading my post on What Inquiry is NOT

Thanks so much for stopping by. And remember, I am giving away a signed copy of my book to someone who posts a comment here on my blog, or on my Facebook page. I will contact the winner on Wednesday February 13 so you have a week to get your responses posted! 


Saturday, February 2, 2013

STEM Themed Linky Party #2


STEM themed Linky Parties: 1st and 3rd Sat of each month: STEMmom.org

Welcome to the STEM Mom's second Linky Party! This linky party opens Saturday February 2, 2013 and closes 8 days later, Saturday February 9, 2013.  The following week, I will choose two lucky winners who will be featured in a blog post at STEMmom.org, and will receive a special "STEM Mom Liked this Post" button that can be forever displayed on the winning post.  

In the spirit of STEM, any science, technology, engineering, or mathematics activities for ANY age are welcome to be entered in the STEM Mom Linkys.

However, special consideration (to be featured on my blog the following week) will be given to posts that:


  • Give detailed explanation of the activity so that others can do it with their students
  • Offer free handouts (if applicable)
  • Include math as a component to the science activity
  • Proudly display the "I linked up @ STEM Mom" button on the post they link up
  • Integrate multiple science content areas (for example: biology and chemistry or physics and earth science) 
  • Focus on engineering (the often forgotten vowel of STEM)
  • Integrate multiple science content areas (for example: biology and chemistry or physics and earth science) 
  • Include technology aspects into the other areas, science, engineering, and mathematics.

When you link up, grab a button and place it at the bottom of your post! Please be sure that you link to the specific post url, not your homepage. 

Thanks so much.  Looking forward seeing what you all have to share!

the STEM Mom

STEM Mom

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