Posts Tagged ‘Engineering’

Deep in the heart of SCIENCE!

San Antonio Convention CenterI’ve just wrapped up my second day at the National Science Teachers Convention in San Antonio, TX. The buzz of the conference has been the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were just released this week. Developed by scientific education organizations in partnership with 26 states, the standards seed to define 21st century science education.  The NGSS establish learning expectations for students that integrate three important foci—science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts—outlining science and engineering concepts from kindergarten through 12th grade. The new standards are available at

Stay tuned for updates from the conference… from animatronic toy dissections to Arduino boards and sewn circuits to iPad microscopes I have tons to share!


04 2013

Rube Goldberg Machines (Innovative Ideas Video!)


In 1990, I created a 14-step machine that, after 2 minutes of toppling dominoes, cascading marbles, and straws sliding down makeshift zip lines, popped a balloon. Inspired by the cartoonist Rube Goldberg, I entered my machine into the Ingenuity Challenge 300, a science & technology competition held to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Schenectady, NY, the town where I grew up. I remember the excitement when I finally got all of the carefully engineered steps to work… and the thrill of winning 4th place in the county-wide for my balloon-popping device.

Over twenty years later, the Rube Goldberg project has become an integral part of my teaching, serving as a culminating assessment for my 8th grade physics unit. Students apply their understanding of Newtonian physics to create 8 or more step machines that include 5 or more different simple machines. After presenting their finished machines to their families and younger students, my 8th graders engage in a detailed written analysis of their machines and a reflection on the engineering process. I find this project to be particularly powerful for how it pushes students to not only apply content knowledge but also to think critically, problem solve, and work collaboratively.

Students presented their machines just yesterday (my classroom is filled with K’NEX towers, marble ramps, dominoes, and Lego contraptions – all to accomplish tasks like pulling a tissue from a tissue box, stirring a glass of lemonade, or ringing a bell). To share some of my successes with this project, I’m posting the lesson plans and student materials that I use to guide students through the construction process. The downloadable materials include a rubric to assess student work and ideas for how to best implement the process in your classroom.

As a new feature on The Science Guru blog, I’m also posing a video from my classroom in which I share tips on implementing the project with your students. Please share your successes and challenges – post a comment, send me an email, or post your own video response. Good luck and happy engineering!

Rube Goldberg Project Download


06 2011

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