Archive for the ‘Resources’Category

Maker Faire Weekend

One of my favorite events of the year is being held this weekend in the Bay Area. Maker Faire, now in its 6th year, is an exposition of hands-on workshops, do-it-yourself projects, and demonstrations that bring together art, technology, and lots of creativity. I remember when I visited for the first time 5 years ago, being wowed by the Eepy Birds Diet Coke & Mentos geysers and a life-size version of the “Mouse Trap” game (the marble and tiny plastic bathtub in the board game became a bowling ball and an actual bathtub!).

Each time I’ve attended, I’ve been amazed by the creativity and ingenuity evident in the hundreds of projects that fill the exhibit halls. How does one bring the innovation, critical thinking, and problem solving that make Maker Faire so inspiring back to the science classroom?

First, the sponsors of Maker Faire publish “Make,” a quarterly magazine that celebrates inventive do-it-yourself projects. While some of the projects are a bit complex for my middle school students, many of the clearly explained projects in Make use everyday objects and are appropriate for an inspired 13-year-old student. When I taught a “Design Challenge” elective, having this magazine on my classroom bookshelf both gave me projects to complete with my students (i.e., engineer your own alarm or doorbell system for your bedroom) and served as a resource for students to turn to for inspiration for their own projects.

Secondly, Maker Faire is expanding – adding more cities and a “Maker Education Day” to their schedule. The event is next headed to North Carolina, Vancouver, and Detroit, with New York City to follow in the fall. Instead of bringing Maker Faire back to your classroom, bring your classroom to the event!

Finally, the San Jose Museum of Technology and Innovation has developed a “Design in Mind” curriculum that is sure to inspire creativity and critical thinking in your students. Their program includes both an engineering competition at the museum and a set of lesson plans that a teacher can implement in his or her classroom. The lessons present students with real world problems along with a process for acquiring knowledge, brainstorming solutions, and then testing (and retesting) their ideas. From designing earthquake-proof structures to engineering a tool to help a friend reach the top shelf of a cabinet from her wheel chair, I’ve found my students both inspired and engaged by the “Design in Mind” lessons.

I’ll be taking my camera along to Maker Faire this Saturday and will share some of my discoveries in the coming week!


05 2011

Innovation at the STEMposium

In the last few years, STEM has become a buzzword in the education community. STEM, which stands for Science Technology Engineering & Math, has developed out of a growing concern that the US education system is not effectively preparing the next generation of innovators. From the National Science Teachers Association centering their 2011 around STEM education to the countless tech companies developing seeking to engage students in critical thinking with innovative curriculum centered around technology, STEM’s focus plays an important role in rethinking and reforming education.

Recently, the California Academy of Science, in partnership with several education organizations, foundations, and companies, held the “STEMposium” in San Francisco, CA. This event sought to bring together innovators in education to share their successes and best practices in STEM education. From a PIXAR animator working to bring animation and programming into schools to a Librarian reinventing the classic science fair using the web to a science teacher having her students build smartphone applications, the winners and finalists of the STEMposium are truly bringing innovation to how we engage our students. Visit the STEMposium website to learn about each of these inventive projects.


05 2011

The Physics of Angry Birds?

Yesterday I had my 8th grade students exploring an online projectile motion simulation where they launched various objects from a cannon, exploring what variables affect how far an object will travel (i.e., mass, air resistance, trajectory arc, etc.). Partway through the class, one student exclaimed that he thought the simulation was “Just like Angry Birds!” Hearing several classmates excitedly chime in and agree with the student’s assessment, I decided it was time to look into the physics behind this game and whether or not it might offer a potential new way to engage my students in physics.

For those of you not familiar with Angry Birds, it’s a game in which one uses a finger-controlled slingshot to launch birds, trying to destroy structures and enemy pigs. While the premise is simple (and a bit contrived), the game is very difficult to put down (I’ve personally been up late to play “just one more level…”). A quick search yielded a Wired magazine article in which they did frame-by-frame analysis of the launches, looking to see if the catapult-slung birds match up with real-world physics. As it turns out, they do!

Innovative Uses in the Classroom

  • Use the video analysis tools that are part of Vernier’s LoggerPro or Cabrillo’s (free) Tracker software to analyze Angry Bird launches, which are available on YouTube. Both of these programs allow students to place dots on the bird’s location in each video frame, plotting x and y values on the coordinate plane. For my middle school students, we’ll be looking at the linear and parabolic equations that match up with the bird’s horizontal and vertical positions respectively. For more advanced students, consider having students do some of the calculations for acceleration, velocity, etc. using the data from the video analysis. The Wired article does a great job outlining some of these calculations. Read the rest of this entry →


04 2011

Anatomy with Google Body Browser

Twice in the past eight years, I’ve been lucky enough to have one of the Body Worlds exhibits in San Jose, CA during my 8th grade anatomy unit. Each time I’ve taken students to see the exhibit, it’s been an incredible culminating experience to our study of human biology, allowing students to see actual human systems, how they fit together, and how life choices affect our organs and survival. In the years when the exhibit has not been in town, I’ve struggled to come up with a way to bring a similar experience to my students (using a frog dissection as an analogy just doesn’t measure up!).

As I strolled the exhibit hall at the NSTA National Conference, one booth amazed me with their innovative (and free!) solution to my Body Worlds dilemma. The engineers and educators behind Google’s “Body Browser” offer up an incredible tool that allows students to browse a 3-D, interactive model of the human body. A simple set of sliders allows students to peel away and zoom in on the systems of the human body. Discovering how the complex network of blood vessels feed muscles throughout the body is as easy as transposing the circulatory on the muscular system, giving you a 3-D model that then allows you then zoom in on the muscles, veins and arteries in any part of the body. Want to share a particular view that you’ve created on your screen? One more click gives you a link that will retrieve your customized view. While Google Body Browser is not new to Google Labs, they just released a major update to the tool, adding new features such as being able to change the model’s gender, add labels to your model, and “pinning” a particular organ so that it remains visible as you change views.

Innovative Uses In The Classroom

  • A Body Systems Scavenger Hunt – Give students a set of tasks, such as “find a ball and socket joint” or “show how the digestive and circulatory systems work together to meet the body’s survival needs.” Students use Google Body Browser to find a view that shows each of the scavenger hunt tasks and use the note tool to explain and justify their display. They then share their views with the teacher and classmates using the “share this view” link feature.
  • 3-D Quiz & Test Diagrams – Create a specific view of the human body to accompany a quiz or test question. Create a custom view link and have students visit your 3-D model to answer the question. They can interact with and explore the model, making this approach ideal for higher level thinking question, such as “Visit and explain how the muscles, bones, and connective tissue show in this particular joint work together to allow movement.”

How do you use Google Body Browser to enhance your students’ learning? Share your ideas in the comments section.

Access Google Body Browser at


03 2011

NSTA Conference Day Two

Sea World Penguins at the NSTA Conference in San FranciscoIn addition to the nearly 15,000 teachers who made it to San Francisco for the NSTA Convention, two avian members of the Sea World education team found their way into the exhibit hall. They were the stars of one of hundreds of exhibits in the exposition hall. I was particularly fascinated seeing the penguins’ tiny feathers up from only a few inches away. They are incredibly small, shiny, and densely packed… as many 100 per square inch!

Today being my only day to explore the conference without having to present a workshop, I took the opportunity to explore the exhibit hall looking for new resources and ideas to bring back to my classroom. From an interactive anatomy model to a 360 degree Earth Projector to a construction kit that allows students to build three different types of renewable energy vehicles, the room was filled with creative new ways to engage students. I’m off to finish my preparation for tomorrow’s workshop, but will be sharing photos of and links to the many amazing resources I discovered in the coming days.


03 2011