Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Glue Gun Fun

Glue Gun Fun: Engineering for the young...give them a low-temperature glue gun

Busy Kids = Happy MomOur first STEM-themed linky was a success. I was so pleased and thankful for each person who linked up their science, technology, engineering, and math activities. We had a range of ideas for a wide range of ages....just what I wanted. There's preschool science involving 2 liter bottles, cool demonstration to show the importance of the mitochondria (my personal favorite organelle BTW), hands on math, the science of snowflakes, polar animals and more. If you didn't have a chance to see them, check it out. Our next STEM-themed linky is opening in just a few days, Saturday morning Feburary 2 and is open for 8 days. A list of all the linky parties can be found on my Linky Page

Build a Bridge Challenge from Busy Kids = Happy MomAnd like I promised, I am featuring one of you who linked up! Our winner is Kristen at Busy Kids = Happy Mom. Her post, Unplugged Play: Build a Bridge Challenge was one of those posts that totally motivated me, not to "Pin It" but to actually DO IT!   (No, she didn't win because we have the color theme on our blogs!) This post is part of a Unplugged Play Series that encourage kids of all ages to be actively engaged in play other than electronics, which all Moms know is always a challenge. As you can see from her Bridge Building Photos, her kids built totally different types of bridges.  

We had lots of popsicle sticks at our house, but honestly, turning a glue gun over to my 5 year old is something that I had never even considered. Kristen dedicates an entire post to Glue Guns and Kids, which helped me understand how to get my kid started. I ordered a low-temp glue gun, multi-temp glue sticks and  had Caleb practice before starting our project.  

Because I enjoy all things STEM, I just happened to have some cereal box pieces from another project we did. I cut a cereal box into varying lengths, and used a hole punch on each end. Then we use brad fasteners to connect them. 

Cereal Box Engineering: STEM

While our glue gun was heating up (it doesn't actually take that long, but don't tell Caleb that!), we experimented with different shapes looking for a pattern we might use for our bridge. 

Cereal Box Engineering: Use boxes and brads to build:

Caleb was sure that a rectangle would be the best because it has length he thought his bridge should be. But alas, we discovered that triangles were the strongest and most stable. I was amazed at how well the cardboard strips made this point. Rectangles and squares turn into diamonds with just a little pressure. The triangles are so much stronger! Then when we played a bit making bigger structures out of smaller triangles. And this was how we got started on our bridge.  Now when ever we go anywhere, we notice triangles in structures and know they were used because of how strong they are! (The other really strong bridge structure are arches, but we didn't touch on might!) 

Experimenting with Cereal Box Shapes: Engineering from

Now the fun part...constructing the bridge. I'm so glad I got the confidence from Kristen to hand over the glue gun! Caleb was so proud to use it himself, and because the glue dries so fast, his bridge came together quickly. He did touch the glue and the metal part of the gun, but no burns, just wide eyes!  

Kindergartner with glue gun: Building his first bridge out of popsicle sticks:

Hand over the glue gun to your kid!

I will admit I helped a bit with this first bridge. We lined up all the triangles well, and the bridge ended up looking great. Here Caleb is testing/playing with his bridge using all available Lego Minifigures and Lego Heroes! 

Testing popsicle bridge between two chairs;

However, since these photos were taken, Caleb has built several more bridges. I'm learning not to be as obsessive about him lining everything up exactly right.  I want him to have full ownership, even if that means the bridge floor isn't straight! He doesn't mind, so why should I? 

Testing popsicle bridge between two chairs;

A HUGE thank-you to Kristen from Busy Kids = Happy Mom, for giving me the encouragement I needed to hand over the glue gun to my kid! We are both thankful! 

Looking forward to our 2nd STEM-themed linky starting this Saturday, February 2 and going through February 9. For a full list of link-up dates, check my Linky Page. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reading Color Words - Building Activity

Building, constructing, and reading....ahhhh teaching boys! I love it! Much of the materials to reinforce the reading of color words often include visual cues that don't allow me to know for certain that Caleb is really recognizing the word. So, I designed a simple game that includes building patterns using Unifix Cubes. The key to this game is that the student cards don't have any color on them, just the text (all lower-case). Then after they construct their structure, they can pull out the key and self-check. The best aspect of this is that they don't need help. This would be a great center activity!   

Reading Color Words Activity: Building Blocks to play, read, and self assess: from

Three Levels of "Reading Color Words" cards: Word student cards, and colored answer keys for easy self-check: from

To align with the Common Core Standards for kindergarten, we have been working on spelling our color words. I’ve decided to work on colors in pairs. Working on two colors at a time, is working well for us. I chose to pair up the following:

Red & green
Purple & yellow
Blue & orange
Black & white
Pink & brown

How the Levels of the Reading Color Words Activity are Organized

Level 1: 2 colors             Cards A-J
Level 2: 3-4 colors          Cards K-T
Level 3: 5+ colors           Cards U-DD

Then within each level, each card is lettered, and the cards get progressively more difficult.

This Reading Color Game was designed to be flexible. While the levels are dependent on the number of colors on each card, even a child who can read 4 colors can move onto level 2. 

Here is an example of how I introduce the cards. I teach colors in pairs and therefore use the following cards for reinforcement and even assessment.

Level 1: Card A (red/green pattern)
Level 1: Card B (red/green pattern)
After the child has learned red/green we move on to yellow/purple

Level 1: Card C (yellow/purple pattern)
Level 1: Card D (yellow/purple pattern)

Then I use some of the level 2 cards that integrate the previously learned colors with the new colors.

Level 2: Card K (yellow, green, red)
Level 2: Card L (yellow, green, red, purple)

Boy doing the Reading Color Words Activity:

Differentiating Instruction

There are many ways to make this game fit a wide variety age and ability children. It is also a game that might be able to span the entire year, depending on how long you spend on teaching the reading of color words!  Here are just a few of the ways to increase the difficulty in the cards:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

STEM Themed Linky Party #1

STEM-themed Linky Part: hosted by STEM Mom 1st and 3rd Sat of each month

Welcome to the STEM Mom's first Linky Party! This linky party opens Saturday January 19, 2013 and closes 8 days later, Saturday January 26, 2013.  Then next week, I will choose two lucky winners who will be featured in a blog post at, 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
  • 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!  (A full description of this linky and the upcoming dates are listed on my Linky Page.)


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Living-NonLiving Lab Part 2

The richest discussions come from having to defend your ideas. For instance in biology, talking about what makes something “alive” can be a wonderful challenge for students in having them explain and defend why items are alive or why they are not. At first, it seems like an easy task, but we can provide samples that challenge student thinking, force them to address misconceptions and assumptions they have about how they view their world! Its in these discussions that wonderful learning takes place.

Ideas for Living-Nonliving Lab Stations:

In a previous post, I share the details of a Living, Non, and Dead Lab that I love to do in biology classes. In that post, I describe the lab, how to set up stations, and provide a free download of the student lab. While I listed suggestions for what you can put at each station, I’ve had a lot of feedback on the stations that “trick” students. While tricking them isn’t really the point (albeit fun) we do want to provide samples that challenge their thinking. Therefore, in this post, I’d like to show you how to set up stations in this Living-Non-Dead Lab that will provide the richest experiences for your students.

Setting up Tricky Stations for Living/Non Lab:

Choose your station items carefully. There are several ways to make stations "tricky."

  1. Pick easily identifiable objects that may cause students to leap to conclusions.  Items like seashells and corks make students pause before deciding whether they are living, non, or dead.
  2. Pick objects that are dead or hibernating. Dead bugs and seeds are great examples. Even better yet, choose the same items at different stages. For example, I like to have a packages of seeds at one station and at another some germinating seeds. It really makes students think.  
  3. Put objects into environments that they are not usually found. For example I put white rocks in paper towels in a beaker, trying to make students think they may be seeds. You could also put  items in a water bath or under a glass dome, or put something nonliving under a microscope. 
  4. Do something during the class session to a station to make students think you are feeding it to "keep it alive." Do this without fan fair, without saying anything out loud. Some students will likely pick up on this "care" and it will weigh in their decision of how to classify it! (Sneaky huh?)
  5. Slightly change it by changing its color or order.  I do this with my oil/water mixture. By adding a few drops of food coloring, I'm hoping some students may believe its undergoing photosynthesis. 

Tips for Setting Up the "Glue Monsters" Demonstration

One of the favorite stations I use for this lab is the “GlueMonsters—Are They Alive?” activity that comes from Flinn Scientific. While you could use this demo in isolation, using it with a combination of other stations gives students a wider view of how difficult it is to determine life.

Materials Needed for Glue Monsters Demonstration:


Petri dish (I used a mini mason jar)
Duco cement modeling glue
Construction paper and tape
Wood pencil shavings
Overhead projector
Tap water

Premise of the Glue Monster Demo

The glue is the “critter” and the pencil shavings are the “critter food.” You should keep the identity of the glue and shavings a secret. Therefore you will need to develop (and even practice) your technique so that at the time of the demo students don’t get a close look at these so they can identify the substances.

Remember: Don’t use the phrase, "Glue Monster" in front of your students! You don’t want them to know its glue! Its a "critter."

Setting up for Glue Monsters Demonstration:


In preparation for the lab

Duco cement glue really is the only one that works reliably.  I looked at all the super stores and hardware stores around me, and couldn’t find it. I ended up buying it at Amazon. To keep your students from identifying the critter and the food, cover the glue tube with paper (or use a pipette to transfer it to the dish) and place the shavings in a non-descript dish.  If you are working with just a few students, you can perform this demo with them leaning in to watch the reaction. However, using an overhead increases the drama and allows students to only view a silhouette of the critters and food. The glue critter is more opaque when viewing with an overhead.

Prepping the Glue Monsters Demo:

Once you have students attention, first add the "critters" to the water, then add the "food." Again, do you best to hid the identity of these items, and focus them on what is happening when the food is added. The glue moves solidifies a bit and moves around in the water. Sometimes it interacts with the shavings, and other times it just swims around. Here a a video of the Glue Monster's Demo. I have this posted on You Tube, without any reference to "Glue Monster." Feel free to use it if you don't have the time or resources to do the demo yourself. 

Living-Non-Dead Stations

The Glue Monster Demo is one of two stations that I do with students as a class. The other is the Sewer Lice (Raisin Dance)  These need to be done as a demo because the “critters” are only active for a short time, and you want to control how close students are to the sample. I usually number these stations 1 and 2. All of the other stations are located around the room. I tape a 3x5 card with the station number, and any special tips or instructions. Tips range from, mix the sample with the stir stick and waft the sample to smell it, or wave your hand near the sample and touch the sample to feel its texture. Students usually start at the lab table where they usually sit. So after entering stations 1 and 2 into their data tables, they will focus their attention to the station in front of them. That means most students will not be at station three. As they begin this first station, I usually rotate around the room, making sure they

Friday, January 11, 2013

Probability Lab Using Coins

There's all sorts of situations you might want to introduce the concept of probability. Maybe it comes up when talking about how "some people are ALWAYS late" and you are able to work the idea of calculating probability! (or is that just me?) Maybe as a way to introduce genetics, before getting students into the exciting world of chromosomes and Punnet Squares. Or maybe in a physical science or technology context while discussing machines. Or maybe you just want to have some fun with friends on a Friday night! (he-he)

Free Coin Probability Lab:

Using coins to teach probability is by no means unique, and I've not really done anything that's worthy of mention, just that I've added well organized data tables that includes space for a lot of practice calculating probability percentages. I also provide opportunities for students to apply the concept of expected outcome.  They compare their data to what is expected, pool their data with others, and see  whether the data get closer to the expected.  

This free download includes: A four-page student handout that has 6 prelab questions, procedures for both a 1-coin toss, and a 2-coin toss, data tables to record all the coin tosses, and 6 post-lab questions. And last, the download also includes a teacher answer key.

Click HERE to obtain the free Google Doc. I hope you enjoy this lab! I would love your feedback on how it goes with your students!

I'd also like to open an invitation for you to post your results here in a comment! That way we can see what happens when the number of tosses increases. Will you help add data so we all can benefit?

I linked up at:
Freebie Fridays

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Science Teacher Academy Webinar

Phew.......that was fun.....

Thanks so much for the almost 200 new science teachers who attended a webinar I facilitated hosted by NSTA!  I know in this age of inquiry we, as teachers, shouldn't enjoy talking so much, but I'm sorry. Its fun!  (See my post on What Inquiry is Not.)

I enjoyed sharing about my book, and how it might benefit teachers looking to include authentic inquiry experiences for their students. I am writing a post here to welcome any additional questions that you may have about my book, about how to implement research, how to manage a large number of projects, or the benefits and drawbacks of student research. We were having such a great time chatting at the end of our session tonight, and didn't have time to address all the philosophical and logistical questions about how to implement student research.  

As I was going through the chat log, I found a great question that I never addressed, which was, "How do you encourage curiosity? How much of research is dependent on curiosity?"  

How do you encourage curiosity in student research?

I suppose there is a bad-news answer to that question and a good-news answer to that question. First, the bad-news; you can't force curiosity. Although students are naturally curious from a young age, often times curiosity is squeezed out of them sometimes because of the school system, other times because kids just want to have black/white issues, and not deal with difficult-to-answer questions. If you've never watched the TED video by Sir Ken Robinson titled, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" you should, you will get a perspective of why its so hard to get students to think for themselves and outside the box after watching this video. 

The good news is that you as a teacher can encourage curiosity, but not whimping out on kids when they are picking topics. Don't let them go for the "science buddies" Gadarade/plant project. Force them to think. Provide opportunities for them to be inspired. Allison Hennings, a teacher at Oak Park River Forest in Illinois has her students search through TED videos. Students get ideas about how the world works, cutting edge STEM research, and what the great minds of our time are themselves curious about. Its a great example of people being curious and excited. One of my personal favorite TED videos is one of Dr. Bonnie Bassler on "How Bacteria Talk." This will give you an idea of what a good TED talk will do for you. She is funny, concise, clear, and obviously excited about her subject matter.  Watching videos like this help students make connections of what they learn in the classroom with how scientists work, and how their discoveries benefit mankind.

Here is another question that was posed in the chat room during our webinar,  "How can I provide adminstration and parents with information that supports Science Fair and Long Term Inquiry projects for middle and high school students? We had the opportunity to require all students to do a science fair project this year, and our department is very excited, but the parent backlash about requiring it as a grade has been ferocious. I really need support so that our program can continue."

How can I explain the importance of long-term inquiry to parents when they are do adamantly opposed to it? 

This is really a tough one. I believe that it is possible that many of these parents have had bad experiences themselves and project these emotions onto their kids. I think the best argument for student inquiry (aka student research) is to somehow draw a distinction between learning science facts, and learning how to learn science. While reading a text book (or on an iPad) helps you learn science facts, it doesn't help you discover how science is learned. Only conducting research, based on a question that students really care about can inspire students in this way. 

However, let's mention the elephant in the room. We've all met zealous teachers excited about science fair, and had all sorts of great projects from their students. We must be careful that we emphasize the PROCESS not only the product.  I know at times I was guilty of this. Students would fudge data, or change research topics because they thought it would please me. We have to be careful to celebrate all the learning that occurs, even from bad research design, even from poor execution of  a procedure, and even from a lack of understanding of the content. I assure you, students learn more in a project with which they are in control (ahem....not the parents) than any chapters or cookbook lab they could ace in class. 

I'm not sure I address this questions completely, but I'd love to hear what the rest of you think!  How can we convince parents (administrators) of the value of including student research? Or maybe we should open the discussion wider to include the question whether or not compulsory, school-wide student research projects should be required. I had a high school English teacher who believed (kinda joked, but tongue in cheek) that students should not be allowed to read or write poetry until they were 17 years old.  This was based on the assumption that forbidding younger students to partake in poetry would make students look forward to the experience as a right of passage. I won't say I agree with this, or that it translates perfectly to teaching research, but is there a chance that forcing kids to do science fair too early actually turns them off? What's our role as science teachers? What experiences are students ready for at what time? Not easy questions. Anyone want to give it a whorl? 

Again, Thanks so much for those of you who came to the webinar session, I had a great time. Please consider connecting with my either liking me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or on Google +. Click on the beaker icons in the upper right-hand corner of my page! Also for those of you who are interested in talking to your departments about having me do professional develop, please visit my professional development tab for information on how to bring me to you, or to sign up teachers in my online professional development course.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

DIY Chemo Wrap

DIY Chemo Wrap for Teen Girl: from

In December, I blogged about a chemo care package I put together for my 13 year-old niece, "Maggie" who has Hodgkins Lymphoma. In addition to the scarves, t-shirt caps, and cowboy hat that I put into her care package, I also found time to sew some more tailored head wraps as well.  I bought various types of fabric at a thrift store, ranging from polyester, cotton, and jersey.

I found this WONDERFUL tutorial at Daydream Believers. What I liked about this tutorial over others I found is that she included measurements for adults and for children.  This pattern is EASY. If you are careful to use only jersey (t-shirt type material), its even easier because you don't have to finish the edges, and has a nice clean look, like the purple and printed examples I have in the logo on the left.

Tips for Making Chemo Wrap

I'll let you go to Daydream Believers to get the details but basically, the wrap is two rectangular pieces of fabric, a larger "scarf" and a smaller ribbed knit fabric for the band. You sew the lower band only a few inches onto the scarf, and then sew the remainder of the band to the top of the scarf. The rest of the scarf edge becomes the ties.

In retrospect, I probably needed to modify the wrap size to be something in between the adult and children's measurements provided in the tutorial.  If you are making a wrap for a teenager, you may want to consider this.  Since I cut all five of mine before I had sewn the first one, I had to modify what I had to make it work. I stitched using zig-zag stitches instead of straight stitches when attaching the band to the scarf. That allowed the band to have enough give to fit over Maggie's head.

DIY Chemo wrap for teenage girl: from

Another great aspect of this chemo wrap, is that you can modify it to match the look you are going for. Daydream Believers has some beautiful and classy examples that you must go and see. One way to modify the pattern is to make the scarf longer so the tied ends go down the back and feel like "hair." If you want to make the band feel like a headband, make the band wider so it can be folded up on itself. I made a total of five wraps, varying in colors, fabrics, and textures. 

Once I got the hang of this, it was easy to make a bunch of them. If you are looking for a good cause to sew for, I would suggest making these and donating them to a children's hospital. There are also some great organizations that that distribute head coverings made by people like you. So, if this interests you, check out Halos of Hope, Crochet University Charity, or Head HuggersPlease consider the great tutorial at Daydream Believers as a type of chemo wrap to make!  

Chemo wrap from the back:

A HUGE thank you to Daydream Believers, who took the time to post a  tutorial. And I want to mention that she specifically asks individuals to make the wraps for those who need them, but NOT to use the tutorial to make the wraps for a profit. 

I linked up at Classy Clutter, and Thrifty Things Friday. If you are visiting from a linky party, let me know!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gifting a STEM Kit for a hands on experience

Assemble a STEM Kit for a budding scientist! from

My nephew, Micah enjoys building things, conducting experiments with the hopes of becoming an inventor one day. After seeing similar kits at Gluesticks and Thrifty Decorating, I decided for Christmas to put together a STEM kit for Micah. Essentially the kit includes an empty composition notebook for him to keep track of his findings, a folder full of fun science, technology, engineering, and math activities, and then a miscellaneous pile of supplies he may need. The supplies I included were cornstarch, white vinegar, corks, film canister, corks, raisins, glue, Borax, radish seeds, owl pellets, black light magnifying glass, coffee filters, ivory soap, modeling clay, twine, rubber gloves, tweezers, goggles, dropper bottles, and an official lab coat (my mom's from medical school.)

Give the gift of science: Composition notebook & Folder full of activities:

Paper insert to tape to inside a composition notebook:

To prepare the notebooks for gifting, I simply printed "Micah's Science Lab Notebook" on yellow card stock, used my corner rounder punch and then used rubber cement it attach it to the cover. On the inside cover of the composition notebook, I developed some basic tips on how to keep a lab notebook like the scientists do! You can download a copy of The Tips for Keeping a Lab Notebook for free!   (It is a Google Doc.) I printed these on cardstock and used rubber cement to glue it to the inside. These tips are simplified and appropriate for late elementary and maybe middle school students, but not for high school students. Students with more science background should include more in their lab notebooks! 

Free Printable: Tips for keeping a lab Notebook, made to be glued to the inside cover of a composition notebook; STEM

Then to prepare the pronged folder, I hole punched all the activities (more about those below), wrote a letter to my nephew, then fastened it all into the folder.