Monday, April 30, 2012

Airplane Lab to Teach Scientific Method

Who doesn't love flying paper airplanes? And as a teacher with few resources, it also fits the budget! Students make three airplanes and construct the planes with one small gradual modification. Then they test how far each plane travels, compare the results, and then determine whether or not their modification did in fact make the plane go further! 

This lab has several goals:
  • reinforce scientific method (including the accompanying vocabulary)
  • calculating several central tendencies; mean, median, mode, & range--and then determining which best describes the data
  • conducting trials and controlling extraneous variables
  • Dependent and independent variables
  • improving analysis-making skills; admitting possible method error & discussion of confidence of the results     

  • computer paper
  • tape
  • scissors
  • paperclips
  • tape measure
  • yard/meter stick or any straight stick (to use if the plane doesn't land close to the tape measure)
  • colored pencils (to decorate: optional)

I allowed my students to chose any type of airplane model they wanted to do this lab (although I do include the basic direction in the student handout "Best Flying Paper Airplane.") The purpose of the first prelab question is to get students thinking about variations of a paper airplane they could make to get the plane to go further. Many student have ideas such as, add weight to the nose (which is why I suggest having pennies and paperclips on hand), change the size of the nose (like the photo above), change the width of the wings, but there are many other adaptations students may come up with. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

ISU Research Symposium

The ISU (Illinois State University) High School Research Symposium was Friday, April 27th. And it it an event I have attended for 10 years.  In the beginning I was a biology teacher who brought students to this competition and now I am at the the Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology helping put on the event and supporting teachers who do research with students. We had 14 teachers and over 200 posters this year. I am always impressed by the teachers and students who come. I completely understand the significance of this day as it is a time to showcase the hard work it takes to engage in projects of this magnitude. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Battleship Game as a Teaching Tool

Talk about manipulatives for learning! Battleship has proven to be a strong motivator for my son to learn letter recognition (A-J at least!). Counting is not problem. And then add in the idea of coordinates and a bit of strategy and you're talking 5 hours of fun. I'm not kidding FIVE hours.

Caleb first learned about the concept of battleship by a free app I downloaded for our iTouch. From the app he learned the general principles of hitting another player's ships and being hit. What is missing in the app, is the verbal coordinate commands and then marking hits & misses with pegs. So when he got it into his head that he wanted to play the real battleship, we borrowed Grandpa's copy, which also happened to be my husband's game growing up. Don't you love the "retro" 1978 box?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bread on the Rise Lab

Its lab time again! And this time we're doing microbiology using supplies you have in your kitchen and pantry. I did this lab with boys ages 13-18, but it can easily be adapted for younger students. Here is the STUDENT HANDOUT.

Overview of the Bread on the Rise Lab

Questions students try to answer in the lab: (Inquiry level = 1)  
  • What ingredient in bread makes it rise?
  • Can you increase the speed at which bread can rise?

Each student (or groups of students) has four small bread dough balls to manipulate an independent variable.  Some choose amount of water, sugar, flour, or yeast. Others see if artificial sweeteners work differently than sugar. What the student changes is up to them, They just need to be sure to keep everything else the same.

Teacher Preparation Notes

Make some dough ahead of time. 

I made mine approximately 2 hours before the beginning of my first lab. (It may be possible to use thawed Rhodes frozen dough, but I'm not sure whether the proportions of yeast will work. If someone tries this, let us know if students observe noticeable changes between their groups.) Directions for making dough from scratch:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I shouldn't be doing this. You'll love [hate] me for doing this. This is the best cookie ever! However, I like being the one everyone seeks out to ask, "What did you put in these cookies to make them so good?" I don't want them complimenting you, I want them complimenting me! But since this recipe was given to me by someone I sought out to ask them that very question, it is only proper for me to pass it on to you! 

Everyone may disagree on what the BEST cookie is: Peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, or oatmeal cookies. Well, the reason these are so good is because its ALL of those in one perfect little round morsel of greatness! 

Boogie Wipes

I'm the type of mom who likes to save money, not spend it on cute kid products. But I have to tell you that Boogie Wipes, if you've had a kid with a REALLY bad cold, is not a frivolous purchase. Our son has had a cold that is so bad that his nose became raw. Warning, gross photos below...

Boogie Wipes are gentle saline wipes that absolutely saved the day (week really) when our son would start screaming at the sight of a dry tissue.  We bought the green package, which is the fresh scent, and while my baby (1 year old) does not love having his nose wiped, this is way better than regular tissues. 

Looking into the Boogie Wipes company, its a two-Mom company, that now has 17 employees. Their marketing strategy is so cool. Some of their slogans are "Save the Sleeve!"& "Snot your average wipe!" and they have a really nice website, with their full story, and videos of their kids helping market the product. My favorite (from a STEM perspective) is the Booger Facts page so you can learn funny tid-bits about the purpose of boogers, which animals sneeze the most, and why picking your nose is poor hygiene. 

If you're reading this and thinking, "Really, why would I pay more for a scented-saline wipe when I could just use regular tissues, then you've never had to run after a kid every 4 minutes whose nose looks like this...[warning...gross photo below!]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Art in Nature-Leaf Rubbings

Taking Notice of Art in Nature 

I've received several comments about art being added to STEM, to make it STEAM. I appreciate art, and feel that principles of science and art overlap. Therefore, when I was approached by a former biology student of mine, about writing lessons that explicitly address art and science simultaneously, I knew we had to do it! Kory Carter, is an art education major, and so I had her write a lesson for early childhood from the perspective of an art teacher. Once she passed it off to me, I tweaked it and added the science teachers' touch. I hope you'll agree that its a nice blend of the two. 

Science & Art Lesson Goals:

·            Observation of (artistic) patterns in nature
·            Observation of colors in nature
·            Recording nature’s pattern: if your students keep lab notebooks, these leaf rubbings can be placed in there 
·            As much science as you want; plant structures etc.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Make a Difference: H2O for Life

While at NSTA, in Indy, as I was pushing my way through the crowded aisle in the exhibit hall, I stopped by the H2O for Life booth. I have a personal connection to third world countries as I spent a summer in Cameroon, Africa through Teen Missions International.  To say it was life-changing would be an understatement. I came home more passionate about life, thankful for toilets (we used "squatty-potties" for 3 months), clean water (we filtered all of our own water using a hand pump), washing machines (we hand-washed all of our own clothes in the local river), and more likely to raise my hands as a form of worship (Africans know how to involve their entire bodies while they sing!) 

Consider watching this video that was featured on "The Today Show" in 2010 as it showcases the strong connections that can be made between American and third-world county classrooms!     

So when I saw this booth, I stopped and talked with Steve Hall the Director of School Programs at Water for Life. He reiterated for me, an important social issue. Young girls in communities that lack clean water,  often do not attend school because they must fetch water, walking miles a day, so their families have drinking water.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is Inquiry?

Defining Inquiry 

Since I've already discussed What Inquiry is NOT, let's talk about the the characteristics of inquiry. In a nutshell, the process of inquiry is when learning is focused on using data and information in context to find answers to curious questions that a child may have.  

"Inquiry" is defined as "a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge -- seeking information by questioning. The process of inquiring begins with gathering information and data through applying the human senses -- seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. 
Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. A complex process is involved when individuals attempt to convert information and data into useful knowledge. Useful application of inquiry learning involves several factors: a context for questions, a framework for questions, a focus for questions, and different levels of questions. " - Quoted from Thirteen Ed Online 
There are several models that help us determine whether an activity is inquiry, and then at which  inquiry level it may fall. But it all comes down to asking yourself three essential questions; see the first column: Who poses the question? Who plans the procedure? And who formulates the results? 

Inquiry (0)
Demo (nstration)
Inquiry (3)
Inquiry (4)
Poses the
Plans the procedure?
Formulates the Results?

From: D. Llewellyn. 2002. Inquire within: Implementing inquiry-based science standards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. pg. 12

I want to mention upfront here that there is a time and a place...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marshmallow Puff Tubes

Q: What can you do with large marshmallows, paper towel cardboard, flour and a deep breath? 
A: Make a marshmallow shooter! 


 This is a physical science lab asks students to predict how far marshmallows will travel from:
  • shorter tubes 
  • longer tubes
  • the end closer to our mouths
  • the end furthest from our mouths
Purpose of the lab: demonstrate the impact of unbalanced forces.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Summer Lesson Plan Book for Homeschooling Mom

Its no secret that I'm a planner. And lesson planning is no exception. I'm new at digital scrapping, but I'd thought I'd take a go at making the cover for my summer lesson plan book. So there you have it! My lesson plan inserts are landscape and are meant to be back to back so that when you are looking at the entire 8 subject columns, the title headings are on the far left.  This lesson plan layout is designed for pre-K. I'll have to provide you with feedback after the summer is over how it worked!  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Introducing STEMmom

Ultimate Blog Party 2012
I am a first-time participant of the Ultimate Blog Party and have been looking forward to this event for weeks.  I've put together a post that will give you a good idea of what can be found here at

To meet the varying learning styles of my readers, I've got several ways you can learn more about me and this website. I've got a video introduction, a Prezi presentation, which includes 2 short videos, for those of you who are auditory and visual. (The video has bloopers that showcase more of the reality of the life of a blogging Mom!) And then I also wrote a narrative for those of you who prefer to read because of your verbal/linguistic bent! Thanks so much for stopping by, I look forward to meeting you. Please leave a comment and consider signing up to following my Blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook!   

Hi, my name is Darci and I’m the author of the virtual space and the real-life book STEM Student Research Handbook.  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Digital Scavenger Hunt & Spring Nature Walk

We decided to get out and enjoy the spring weather this week by taking a nature walk combined with a digital scavenger hunt. Here's what I packed to keep the boys happy for a few hours. 
  • clipboard, tweezers, & magnifying glass
  • drinks and snacks
  • layers, coats and hats
  • 2 digital cameras (a small one for Caleb and an SRL for me)
  • essential diaper bag items; diaper, wipes,  
  • a large bag to hang on the jogging stroller
To plan the trip, I tried to keep the mood light. I often struggle with over-planning (do I hear an Amen?).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Giant Menacing Microbes

If you have never seen the science version of beanie babies (sorry I'm dating myself here) called Giant Microbes, you are in for a treat! 

As a classroom teacher I used these stuffed "animals" in my classroom as a way to engage students with microbes. Because microbes (short for microorganisms) are, you guessed it, microscopic--students, often have a difficult time conceptualizing these little critters and the impact they have on our world. And worse, even after a microbiology lesson, they still incorrectly assume that a majority of microorganisms are pathogenic (cause disease)! Microbes have a huge variety ranging from bacteria and viruses, but also protozoans, microscopic algae, and some fungi.  Using Giant Microbes helps kids to see the huge variety, not just in sheer number, but also in their  structure as well. 

The Giant Microbes website has them categorized into many different categories such as health, exotics....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Eggs, Static Electricity & Math

I made these Easter Eggs using Alissa's directions from Crafty Endeavor. I'm leaving the detailed directions and tips up to her, so be sure to see what she has to say. Instead, I'll focus on the STEM connection to make this craft a learning experience for your kids.

Materials you'll need
  • water balloons (filled with air, not water)
  • liquid starch (found in the laundry detergent isle)
  • flour
  • embroidery floss (or any colored string will do) 1 skein per egg

Monday, April 2, 2012

Astrophysicist Challenges Science Education

Encouraged, discouraged, helpless, yet hopeful.

These are the feelings I have after hearing Dr. Jeff Goldstein speak at NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) 2012 here in Indy. Dr. Goldstein is from the National Center for Earth and Space Science. His blog titled Blog on the Universe, is geared to parents, teachers, and kids trying to find ways to make science fun. He is an astrophysicist with authority to speak both as a scientist and an educator. Throughout his presentation, I wondered what he might say about my book, STEM Student Research Handbook. At times I couldn’t wait to talk to him afterward because our beliefs aligned so closely and at other times, I realized that I am part of the problem! This YouTube video is from NSTA 2011, but you'll get the flavor of what he had to say this year at the conference as well. The production is well done, as his words are put into a song. Its inspirational, and true!

As an audience member I was fully engaged by Dr. Jeff Goldstein's discussion of the disconnect between science and science education. I even clapped at one point, and he looked over at me, but I'm not sure whether or not he liked my enthusiasm!) He, like many others who promote a reform of science education, said that students need to DO science. And I whole-heartedly agree. But he hit a nerve when he gave a specific example of how schoolteachers