Monday, November 11, 2013

Engineering Cell Division - a NGSS lesson

My passion right now is inquiry and really trying to develop labs that emphasize THINKING processes, getting kids to ask good questions and finding ways to answer them.

I am also using the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) to reframe how I teach. For example; for years, I have used the traditional "hands-on lab" of pipe cleaners to teach mitosis and cell division. With the new standards the focus is not on rote memorization of the phase names. Check out HS standard HS-LS1-4.

HS-LS1-4.Use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms. [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific gene control mechanisms or rote memorization of the steps of mitosis.]
At first I was broken hearted..I love teaching the phases of the cell cycle. But in reality, does every kid need to know the WORDS, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase etc... to be successful in life? No. So I rewrote the lab to focus more on problem-solving...and took an engineering slant to it. I just had a group of middle and high school boys complete the lab, it went extremely well. And the bonus? The following weeks, they still had retained all the "big picture" ideas from the lab.

[Free download available at the end of this post.] 

Setting up the Engineering Cell Division Lab

I set out a variety of materials including: (But really, just gather up as much junk as you want, the kids will be creative in how they use them.)

  • twine
  • pipe cleaners 
  • playdough
  • craft pom-poms
  • clothes pins
  • beads, pennies
  • other stuff

The way the NGSS has made me rethink the way I teach is to use models more, and to really drive home the Cross-Cutting concepts. Before developing a model, I have students brainstorm both structural and functional barriers that a cell has to overcome.  Here is how I word it in the lab: 

1.     What are the major structural and functional barriers a cell must overcome? Then brainstorm some ways the cell might overcome the barrier.
a.     Structural barriers refer to the cell parts
b.     Functional barriers refer to the ability of the cell to work and do its job

I have them work on this chart as they brainstorm barriers and then solutions. Don't be too hung up on the solutions column just yet. Sometimes the students need to "play" with the materials to determine what has to happen in order for a cell to divide.  I've included a few students may come up with. 

Description of Barrier
(Design problem)
Possible Solutions


 There must be enough genetic material for 2 cells

 At some point the DNA must double...Can cell be "working" when this is going on? 

 The genetic material is protected inside the nuclear membrane. How does it get out? 

 Nuclear membrane must pinch off (or dissolve). 

 Size issue: If a cell divides; cutting itself into 2; and the next generation does the same, the cells will get smaller and smaller.

 At some point, the cell must grow before it divides. 


 Organelles must also be divided. (Does it matter how many mitochondria each cell gets?) 

Then, once students have addressed the engineering challenges a cell faces in order to replicate, I have a section in the lab called....

Play Time

I wished I would have learned earlier about the power of play, even with middle and high school students. Unfortunately, school has squeezed out much of the natural curiosity that students have, but if you allow (sometimes force) them to be creative, they will...and they'll enjoy it!   

Friday, October 11, 2013

Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Abstracts Due October 24

For me, it is hard to not be passionate about the mission of the Conrad Foundation. We host the Spirit of Innovation Challenge - a legacy program honoring Apollo Astronaut and third man to walk on the moon, Pete Conrad. Not a lot of people know, that while Pete experienced great success as an adult, he had a really difficult time in school because he had dyslexia at a time when learning disorders were not widely understood. Luckily, Pete had a  teacher who saw something special in him and helped get him focused on engineering and math, which at the time did not require a lot of reading. This teacher gave Pete his moon shot – and that’s what we try to do for students worldwide through the Spirit of Innovation Challenge.

One of my favorite parts of the program is that we strive to create relevance for what students are learning in the classroom. We believe it is vital that students understand that the application of what they learn can equate to products and services that can benefit humanity. 

As part of the Spirit of Innovation Challenge, we ask parents and teachers, just like Darci, the STEM Mom, to give their students the chance to make a difference by combining STEM and with innovation and entrepreneurship.  We want them to think beyond the classroom and put their ideas in motion. It is amazing the amount of ingenuity students have when someone gives them an opportunity to “Get Their Genius On”.

At the Conrad Foundation, we try to foster education as diplomacy. We have expanded the program to reach all 50 states and 72 countries. As part of the Spirit of Innovation Challenge, students learn how to work collaboratively, think like an innovator and develop skills that will stay with them for the rest of their life.

Our theme this year is “You are the solution. Design things that matter.”  I believe, when given the opportunity, young people prove time and again they are capable of so much compassion, creativity and the ability to solve problems. One of my favorite examples is from a team in Florida that developed a water filtration system that is now in place in a clinic in Nigeria. A team of five created a product that is helping a population of 500,000. Every day in our online community, I see the ideas presented by these young adults and I am amazed by their thoughtful and unique approach to problem solving. I hope you will be, too.

I invite you to participate in this year’s challenge. There is still time for students to get their abstracts completed before the Oct. 24 deadline. I recommend you start with a creative brainstorm, then have the students answer the four abstract questions about the team’s product or service and submit. It may be the best experience they will have as a high school student and it’s free!

Learn more at


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Flanagan Pipeline; Engineering Activity

Last Year Wind Turbines...This Year Oil Pipeline:

Last year we had wind turbines being constructed near us (rural Illinois) and this year we have an oil pipeline going in! So, as you can only imagine.... I view this as a wonderful learning activity! Its lab time! Last year we did a several labs; including Building Wind Turbines, and Power testing Wind Turbines.  And now we have the Flanagan South Pipeline going in a mile from our home. 

Before I share the multi-day engineering challenge I am doing with my middle school/high school students, I wanted to first share a few photos showing what's going on around here. 

We first noticed the survey equipment marking the path of the pipeline. (No photos of this.) It wasn't long before the crops were coming out making way for the oil pipeline construction crews.  

Flanagan South Pipeline Surface Preparation in Illinois:

Then we noticed the construction to provide access from the road to the right of way sections. Here in Illinois is it cutting through corn and bean fields and an angle. Which may not seem like a strange thing to you, but here in the midwest, our roads all go North/South and East/West! 

Road access to pipeline right of way

Map of Flanagan South Pipeline through IL, MO, KS, and OK:

The construction crews worked carefully to separate the top soil from the subsoil. See the difference in color? 

Separation of Top and Sub Soil for Oil Pipeline:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pipecleaner Numbers to Teach Number Bonds

Numbers, math, adding, subtracting to solve....but what's the purpose? I have bad childhood memories learning my addition facts...using flashcards...ugh. So when thinking about my own kids, I wondered what other methods of teaching early math were out there. And what I found was Singapore Math. And the reason I like it so much is that it focuses on conceptual concepts and making sure students attach meaning to numbers. 

In addition to our Singapore textbook and workbook, I also bought "Building Number Sense: Games & Activities to Practice Combinations to 10" by Catherine Jones Kuhns.  And this resource has really helped me understand the importance of my son understanding how the numbers up to 10 combine together. It is this basis that all math is based on. At first glance it all seemed so simple, and overkill to focus on these skills so long. But what I'm finding is the more ways we talk about these numbers the less my son has to think about the numbers, and he just "knows." That's what I want! 

Pipe Cleaner and Beads to practice number bonds to 10  from

While there are TONS of great activities in this book, my favorite by far is called Number Bracelets. The idea is to focus on a single number and have students explore all the number combinations that can add up to that number. 

How to Make Pipe Cleaner Numbers

So for example, if eight is your focus number, you make a pipe cleaner circle with 8 beads on it, and then label it with the number. Then you can have conversations with kids about all the possible combinations the beads can make. The simplicity is that the total (eight) doesn't change; yet several number combinations can be used to add up to the number.  It takes kids a while to get it, and this manipulative is a great way to SEE it. 

I made two, one for me and one for my son. If you are working with a full class, I suggest making one for each child. And to make life easier, construct all the "eights" with the same color pipe cleaner and beads. That way at a glance you can be sure everyone has the right number! 

See How it Works with an Example of "Eight"   

Below is my green and purple "eight" pipe cleaner. You can see that by pulling the beads apart you can show:

0 + 8 = 8
1 + 7 =  8
2 + 6 = 8
3 + 5 = 8

Flip the pipe cleaner to face the other direction, and it also shows:

5 + 3 = 8
6 + 2 = 8
7 + 1 = 8
8 + 0 = 8

And if you want to get more advanced, you can see what three numbers to add up to your focus numbers.  Or what four numbers...such as;

2 + 2 + 3 + 1 = 8

PipeCleaner and Beads to teach addition; Sample number eight from

The first few times I used the pipe cleaner numbers with my son, we just talked about them, manipulating the beads to the right and left, and getting the concept down, that the total number doesn't change. 

Now I use number bond graphics and equations so the sounds of the numbers are also being seen as symbols. 

Bubble Number Bonds graphic:

Here is the cover of Kuhns' book! I highly recommend it. I'll share more activities from it in the future.  

Building Number Sense: learning combinations to 10

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Engineering Spy Challenge: Guest Post

I'm bringing to you a guest post from blogger Kelly from Learning Things on the Fly. Don't forget to "like" her on Facebook.  Although she has two girls and I have two boys, I admire her passion to make engineering fun for all kids, but especially girls. I've asked her to introduce her Engineering challenge in hopes that you'll join our family in working these activities into your kids lives over the next few months. We'll be doing one every other Friday! Now, without further ado...

Hi, my name is Kelly and Darci the STEMmom has been kind enough to let me share with you a little bit about what I’m doing this summer.  I was raised by a single dad and I have an older brother, so I was given every opportunity to build, tinker and play with electricity, magnets and blocks. I think the environment I grew up in gave me all the skills and confidence I needed to love and excel in math and science and a desire to be an engineer.  I have two little girls and I often see that they are drawn to pretend play, stories and books, dress up, and drawing. They love to be in other worlds. Our house is full of building toys and our girls love them, but they often need encouragement to get started and often use them to build little worlds that they can make stories about.

It is clear that girls and boys think and play differently. I love this article by ASCD about the learning differences of boys and girls (article). Girls are amazing at crossing both hemispheres of their brains, they are terrific listeners, they are often great with detail and can write well descriptively, and they have better verbal and emotive functioning. In general, boys love to move objects through space and have good spatial understanding. It would seem that girls aren’t geared for engineering, but it’s just that at a young age engineering isn’t put into terms or presented in ways that are appealing to the way they learn. So I made my girls a little ten week Spy Mission.  The Engineering Spy Girls program is really 10 open-ended engineering challenges that are caught up in a fantasy world to appeal to young girls (and boys). It’s taking the building that helps with spacial awareness, basic physics understanding and design that are often missing from girls play and putting it in this imaginary world where the girls are Spy Engineers helping these adorable Spy Puffs that they have created reach their goals. It’s meant to appeal to their love of small creatures, stories, secrets, pretend, and success.

Each week a new mission will be posted. These missions are project-based learning and building challenges that will get you to use your engineering brain and stretch your imagination. If you document your solution to the missions you will get compensated with more spy swag. As you complete missions you will receive new official documents celebrating your accomplishments and move you up on the Spy Challenge Ladder. After you complete your first challenge you will receive your missions book and your first badge, and after you finish your second mission you will receive an official Engineering Spy Girl ID (or an Engineering Spy ID for boys) that can be printed out at home. To officially complete a mission you need to send in a picture of your completed mission and some sort of documentation (to Kelly {at} ). You can print out a labbook page here or just make a drawing of your solution to the problem in the mission. It is very important in engineering and the spy world to take notes of what works and what doesn’t so that you will be better prepared for future missions and problems. We hope that you enjoy solving the problems and that you have great adventures with your Spy Puff. Remember the Spy Girls motto – Engineering Spy Girls where the best spy gear is your brain.

My goal with this is for the children to feel like they were doing engineering and enjoy it. I want them to hear engineering from this point forward and think about how they solved problems, how they created things, and how they enjoyed building and creating.  I was also a middle school math teacher for a couple of years and I know for a fact kids will try harder and enjoy a class more if they think they are good at it. I for one am truly sick of girls saying they are not good at math and science… they can be. If they have early success in working with building and physics, they will be able to have success in these things later on at school. If you would like to join the squad check out the missions at . ~ Thanks, Kelly

Kelly and I are hosting a blog hop so we can all see how others are doing with this wonderful Engineering Spy Girl Challenge (Boys welcome too!).  Its a blog hop, so you should not only be able to link up, but also include the linky on your site so people can "hop" from blog to blog! Let's have some crazy engineering fun! :)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Children's Illustrator Curriculum

So, as the STEM Mom, I acknowledge my need for help in the arts! While I am a photographer and crafter, I'm not well versed in art appreciation. So I went out in search of help to include art into our homeschooling curriculum this year!  

I am so happy to have found an art curriculum that I think will be perfect for us this school year. The curriculum came from Jill @ Enchanted Homeschooling Mom and is titled, "Storybook Artist Unit Studies." She wrote the curriculum to accompany this wonderful book "Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art."


This book has illustrators of children's books talking directly to children about their lives, art studios, inspiration, and many include photos of themselves as children! It is a wonderful attempt at showing how art is a process, and how we all are artists at heart. 

Jill's curriculum organizes the book into a curriculum that will last the full school year and maybe even more! I plan on trying to do 2 lessons a week, which means we will study one illustrator for two weeks. Jill's lessons include discussion questions and links on the web to projects that line up with that artist's style. I absolutely can't wait to get started!

In June I attended a Handwriting Without Tears workshop as I struggled with teaching this skill for my son in kindergarten last year. I feel I have a better handle on it this year, and want to start the year using the wide double lines.  Handwriting Without Tears suggests that the double lines, removing the red dotted line can reduce confusion for new writers. Therefore, I modified the Illustrator Report that Jill designed for us to complete during each illustrator study.  I also added one prompt that reads, "Pick one illustration and describe what you see and how it makes you feel."   

Illustrator Report for Storybook Artist Unit Study; Using HWT wide double lines:

Feel free to download my version of Jill's Illustrator Report that uses the wide double blue lines that work well for students who use Handwriting Without Tears.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Play Dough Scat Animal Poop Lab

Cold Scat Creamery Lab: Free Student Lab: Find, Study, and MAKE animal poop using playdough and "mix-ins."

Poop and Ice Cream....Ah....all the makings of an amazing day learning science! Katie Fisk wrote a WONDERFUL article in NSTA's Science Scope that had students using playdough and mix-ins to create scat (or poop).  I borrowed and built on her idea and designed two student-versions that are two levels of inquiry.  A link to my free downloads are at the bottom of this post. My objectives for this lab include: 
  • Practicing observation skills by categorizing scat into "like" groups
  • Addressing misconceptions of scat and the animals from which they come
  • Applying knowledge of scat to food chain and food web
  • Deductive thinking to match diet type vocabulary with appropriate terms
  • Construct scat out of playdough and mix-ins to demonstrate understanding of the connection of what animals eat and what is "left behind."

Two Versions of this Cold Scat Creamery Lab

The activities for the two student lab versions I've written are similar. In the higher-level inquiry, its best for students to go out into nature, find, photograph, and then identify the animal from which it came. Classroom teachers might be able to combine this activity with another "field day" lab since it wouldn't take much time to do, if you're already out in nature. Homeschooling parents, vacationing families, or informal science providers will have no trouble doing the inquiry version. If you do have students go on a scat hunt, be sure they don't touch the scat! And they should carry with them a digital camera (phones work great) a coin and a ruler. Show them how to take close photos (using the macro function) and to include the coin or ruler to help with scale later.

Identifying Animal Scat

At the end of this post, I reference some great sites, and even online dichotomous keys students can use to identify the scat they photographed.   If getting out into nature isn't possible, I've provided "scat activity card" of 15 varying types of scat. These cards will allow you to do either inquiry level of the lab with students.

Sample Scat Activity cards for Scat Lab: Students match scat with appropriate animal.
My students used my cards to try and match animal to its scat. Even though the boys live on a Ranch with dogs, cats, cows, horses, racoons, etc... most had never really looked at scat objectively. I know...right? That's crazy.

When you've downloaded the teacher lab, print on card stock, laminate, and then cut.  Here is the answer key:

A: Earthworm
B: Cat
C: Deer
D: Crow
E: Opossum
F: Horse
G: Squirl
H: Robin
I: Skunk
J: Cow
K: Rabbit
L: Mouse
M: Coyote
N: Racoon
O: Cockroach      

In this photo, students are observing the scat cards and determining their own category names! That's right, scientists are objective AND creative!

Categorizing (observing) scat samples; Free activity cards at

Categorize Scat

Once data have been collected (photos have been taken) students should REALLY observe the scat and compare them to one another. I have found that asking them to categorize them into like groups helps them to really think and talk about what they are observing. Since the official scat categories aren't all that profound (didn't come from Latin root words) I have students categorize and name the categories themselves. I then have them exchange their category names, and have another group try and place the scat according to the groups. Inevitably students argue about what "large" or "tubular" really means. This is exactly what you want. Have students hone their categories so it is abundantly clear which scat belongs to what categories. Trial and error is good here!

Here are the Official Answers: (from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management)
  • Pellets (Deer, Elk, Llama)
  • Plop (Cow, Bear, Buffalo)
  • Tubular--large (Dog, Cat, Fox, Coyotes, Bobcats, Geese)
  • Tubular--small (Mouse, rat, bat)
  • White (Birds and reptiles)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Grace from Outer Space -- Guest Post

I am proud to introduce to you Jenna Bryson, the author of the book, "Grace from Outer Space." I'll let her tell you her story. Please welcome Jenna with open arms, and be sure to visit her site!
by Jenna Bryson

Grace from Outer Space Graphic:  guest post on STEM Mom

I am a woman of many hats. In my life, I have been a singer, a songwriter, a children's party princess (more on that in a bit), an actor, a business owner, a producer, and most recently, an author. 

I create content, I perform, I entertain, and I dream-up ideas, but mostly, above all else, I consider myself a storyteller. I love a good story and I love telling stories. 

For most of my life, I've been trying to figure out a way to make my own dreams come true, but by mid-2012, I had an epiphany of sorts: I realized I wanted to empower the dreams and expand the possibilities of others.

As a storyteller, I knew I wanted to create an original character to help me achieve this goal. As a professional party princess (yes, I'm one of those weird grown-ups who still likes to wear costumes and play pretend with five-year-olds), I knew children would be the target audience. And as a science/space enthusiast, I knew I wanted the project to advocate S.T.E.M. education.

Let me go back to that party princess thing for a minute: while I love performing for children, and seeing a child's face light-up at the sight of a "real" princess is one of life's priceless experiences, my heart is often conflicted by the messages of most fairy-tales  As an advocate of science, reason, exploration, and self-discovery, I want little girls (and little boys) to see that there is more possible for them than simply a life of physical beauty and peer acceptance.  

And sure, there's that whole thing about internal beauty which princesses also represent, but I want to go even further and suggest that the word "beauty" not even be part of the equation. I want girls to be curious, I want them to hunger for knowledge... I want them to be comfortable in their own skin and to pursue whatever interests they like, despite whether or not these interests are perceived as "cool" by their friends... and I want to teach them how to think

I let this mission statement, if you will, bounce around in my brain for quite some time. I got to thinking about how much power fictional characters have over children. In fact, young children don't separate fictional characters and stories from reality. This is something I experienced first hand, as I would read little girls a fairytale and I would point to the picture on the page and ask them, "Who's that?" and they would unanimously shout "That's YOU!"

And then it hit me like a red-hot sun flare: Grace from Outer Space. The title alone was enough to send me zooming around my living room with excitement, but then the rest of the idea burst to life and I knew I was in for a ride.

It would be a story about a futuristic female heroine, who lives in outer space on an intergalactic ship. 'Grace' would be a child, about the same age as the demographic I would be writing for (approx. 4-8 years-old), which was very important to me because, since the book would be filled with space-science facts and theories, I didn't want for children to feel as if they were being talked-down to; 'Grace' would be a curious character, one children could aspire to be like and, therefore, children would learn through her eyes and experiences. And she would represent a futuristic ideal of an interstellar society by living on a space ship with her scientific family.

Solidifying my idea for the concept of 'Grace' was a paper I read about a study conducted by the US Dept. of Commerce entitled "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation" which summarized that a lack of female role models and gender stereotyping may be factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs. 'Grace' would be a breakthrough in gender stereotyping, in a marketplace where most "science-y" merchandise is geared towards boys, and give little girls a role model they could look up to. Literally. Into outer space! 

From the outset, I knew that this idea was powerful, and had the potential to be more than just one book, and even more than a series of books; it could be an animated series, a live show with music, and so much more, all in the name of showing kids that science and space exploration is for everyone, boys and girls. 

With this in mind, I wrote the initial story as a slice-of-life introduction to the character. Stylistically, it's a rhyming picture book. It's fun, imaginative, and contains plenty of space-science facts and theories. The picture below contains actual writing from the book along with concept art by illustrator Mike Davis, just to give you an idea of what the spreads might look like.

Inline image 1

I am currently running a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter to turn this first story into an interactive eBook app. Book two in the 'Grace' series is already written as well, but in this story, readers will get a deeper look into our heroine's "universe", if you will. Where does 'Grace' go to school? What's her teacher like? How does she get around in space? And most importantly, what is she excited to learn about today?! 

Because I myself like to live by this philosophy, as stated perfectly by astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, "Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others," in every subsequent story I write in the Grace from Outer Space series, these ideals will be exemplified by the main character.  

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The point of all of this, is to say that there is truth in fiction. Stories can teach us so much. Stories can show us how to live, how to think, and who to be. And although girls can't be a princess (well, not a really-real princess) when they grow up, they can be astronauts. And I hear the pay is great. 

So, of all the things I have been or will be in my life, a scientist is not one of them. What I am, however, is a storyteller, and I am storytelling in the name of science.

You can connect with Grace from Outer Space in several ways!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Alka-Seltzer Rocket Challenge

Alka-seltzer Rocket Design Challenge from STEM
I love labs that challenge students to think. If its loud and makes a mess, all the better! This challenge accomplishes all of these goals. 

The Alka-Seltzer Rocket Challenge: 

The Challenge: Using the basic construction suggestions below, and using any of the available materials, design a rocket that will propel the greatest monetary value to an elevation of at least 1 meter above its start location.

Here are the materials you set out for students:

  • Alka-seltzer tablets
  • small clear plastic cup (I prefer clear so you can see what's happening)
  • film canister
  • water and/or club soda
  • meter stick
  • various coins
  • tape
  • hotplate
  • thermoeter
  • balance
  • mortar and pestle
  • graduated cylinder
  • safety goggles

Put water in a film canister, add an alkaseltzer...quickly put on lid, and add a cup...stand back!

Here's the basic design:  The coins are taped to the cup. Any given amount of liquid inside a film canister, alka-seltzer dropped in, film canister lid to cover and a plastic cup upside on top. The CO2 will pop off the canister lid, and push the cup into the air. Its AWESOME.    

Given the basic design, set students free to explore. Concepts include force, lift, gravity, propulsion, and fun. They'll need a few "free-bees" as the surprise factor is so enjoyable, student have a hard time focusing at first. Allow them to tweak their procedure and change materials to meet the challenge.    

Alka-seltzer rocket going up 1 meter! from

Depending on your goals, you can focus students on the aspect of the scientific research project you want them to experience. For example, maybe this activity will help your students see how important it is to record observations in a laboratory notebook. Or maybe you want them to focus on problem-solving and critical thinking determining how to change their design to make it work better.

As you can see in the photo below, some students wanted to see how high they could get the cup to go without any coins on it. Impressive huh?

Alka-seltzer rocket going over 1 meter from

Most students determine that it is best to work together, one drops the tablet, one puts on the lid, and then the first puts on the cup. 

Working in pairs to shoot off an Alka-seltzer rocket from

It doesn't seem to matter that you know the cup is about to fly into the air, its EXCITING every time!
Surprise!!! Alkaseltzer Rocket goes off! from

Here are the post lab questions included with the student lab. I emphasize the process, by asking about what went well, what they learned from their successes and failures! You could have students write these out in their lab notebook, or just explain verbally to one another and the class. It leads to a rich discussion regarding the scientific method. 

1.     What design issues did you run into trying to get your rocket to propel higher?
2.     What modifications made the biggest impact on improving your rocket design?
3.     Can you explain why that modification worked better than others?
4.     Describe a modification you made that didn’t have a big impact. What did you think it would do? What happened instead?
5.     Draw AND label your rocket design and measurements that performed the best.
6.     If you had more time and more materials, what would you do to improve your rocket?

Feel free to download the student Alka-Seltzer Rocket Challenge Lab Sheet. It lists the materials, shows the basic design, and has a list of post lab questions students can answer regarding the design process. Enjoy!

Alka-Seltzer Rocket Challenge: Student Lab from STEM Mom

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

South Dakota REMAST Conference

I am pleased to have been asked to be the keynote speaker at the REMAST Conference at South Dakota State University. I'm impressed with this program whose goal is to provide support, training, and a monetary incentive to teach in high-need districts.  

I enjoyed interacting today with current Noyce Scholars, recent graduates, and new classroom teachers. I'm inspired by their stories, their enthusiasm, and their optimism!

This is the presentation that STEM Mom gave at the summer 2013 summer REMAST summer conference in South Dakota State University. Topics range from "What is STEM?" Ways to teach in context to engage students, Importance of Inquiry, creating an environment that is friendly for inquiry, and how to balance natural curiosity with making sure student improve their scientific thinking and practice skills.

Dr. Harland (STEM Mom) Keynote at REMAST Summer Conference from Darci the STEM Mom

Tomorrow I will be giving the following presentation. This presentation provides teachers with tips on how to set up a curriculum plan for implementing student research. Year-long planning, unit-planning, and tips for deadlines is included. Tips on using technology (Web 2.0 tools) to support the coordinating of group projects and grading. We also perform some activities that will help introduce scientific method to students by allowing them to do stuff!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Importance of Handwashing-First Glog

K-1 Germ Unit: Handwashing Glog from

One of my goals in our Germ unit, was to be sure that my son learns proper hand washing technique. We've always enjoyed singing our ABC's while we wash our hands (to ensure the full 20 seconds), but we've not been too concerned with how well the soap is moved around. So now we know how important it is to clean ALL areas of the hands. We've learned that the spots missed most are the fingernails, outside palms, and wrists. This video highlights this point well.

Source: via Darci on Pinterest

We've read books on how to wash our hands, and although the content within this video was specific and helpful, the song just annoyed us all!

Source: via Darci on Pinterest

Source: via Darci on Pinterest

And this next video, titled "Pump The Pump" I thought would be a sure hit with my 6 year old, but I he just rolled his eyes at me! Oh, well. I tried, right?

Source: via Darci on Pinterest

Our First Glog (Digital Story)

Another goal I had this unit, was to see if I could get Caleb to make (or at least contribute to) his own digital story. I've been searching for kid-friendly programs, and decided to give Glogster a try. With a Ph.D in Educational Technology, I've been excited about getting Caleb to show what he's learned by creating digital products. As I played around with Glogster  I found it is super intuitive! I also plant to give Caleb a glog to begin learning how to insert and edit graphics. He usually begs for technology time, even if he has to "do school."

So the first step we took to make our first glog, was to take photos. I had to bribe my son with "rec" time and then photo shoot took less than 3 minutes. I uploaded the photos to Glogster, and added the text. But for the audio, this is where I wanted Caleb to be front and center. 

To increase his comfort level with using a microphone headset, we just played for 20 minutes in Garage Band (pre-loaded software on my MacBook Pro). We changed settings to make his voice sound like a mouse, a 40-year old man, a rock star, and his favorite "helium voice." 

I wrote a script (found below), and I read one line at a time, and had him repeat it. He mumbles, laughs, pouts, but we get through it! You can also tell he had issues with maintaining the same voice level throughout the recording, and keeping his hands off the mic! And I'm betting you'll recognize  the level of enthusiasm changing as the recording moves on.  But you know what? Pretty good for his first attempt! You can view the glog by going to my Glogster Page, or in the embedded image below.


Original Script for "How to Wash Your Hands" (Liberties were taken during the recording session!) 

Hi, my name is Caleb and I am 6 years old.  I’m proud to share with you, my very first video. We are learning about germs.  So I am going to share the right way to wash your hands.  Here we go… Step 1. After getting water on your hands, add one pump of Soap. Step 2: Rub your hands palm to palm Step 3: Next get between your fingers by making Wall-e  hands. Step 4: Wash tops of your hands, but don’t forget to get both sides. Step 5: Now rub the base of each thumb Step 6: Hook your hands together like a chain to get the back of the fingers. Rub them back and forth. Step 7: To get your fingernails rub your fingers into your palm.  Step 8: But don’t forget each wrist.  Step 9: Rinse your hands in warm water and dry your hands.

Don't forget to check out what Andrea over at No Doubt Learning and Erin at The Usual Mayhem is doing in their Germ Units this week!