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, 


  1. Thanks for the resources! I had a lot of fun at your talk today. We really appreciate you taking the time to visit us.

    1. I'm glad you got the handouts! I'd love to know if you end up using any of the activities we did in the workshop! Please stay in touch!


  2. Thanks for all the great ideas at the workshop and on your site. I have already shared it with many co-workers. I liked the idea of giving us an empty folder and filled it with the papers that we got as we went throughout the morning. I think this was an effective method!

    1. Josh, Thanks so much for coming to my session, and for taking the time to leave a comment here as well. Hearing that you shared what got from my session is the biggest compliment you can give me! Thanks again! Maybe I"ll see you at next year's conference.


  3. Hi Darci,

    I commented on your Teachers Pay Teachers Gumdrop Structure Inquiry Challenge last week. I love these handhouts. I am getting so many ideas for activities for the summer camp STEM class that I will be teaching at my children's summer camp. Thanks for all of your work and I love the STEM Linky Parties.



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