Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Greetings from the Boston NSTA Conference!

It was so wonderful meeting with many inspiring science educators from the world at this week’s National Science Teachers Convention in Boston, MA!


In addition to attending workshops and scouring the expo floor for ideas and resources, I presented two workshops, one on National Board Certification and another entitled “Full STEAM Ahead” on integrating art into STEM education. Click on the “NSTA WORKSHOPS” header at the top of the page to access the presentations and resource pages from my workshops.


04 2014

Takeaways from The NSTA Convention – Part 1

IMG_0260The National Science Teachers Association annual convention is a 4-day exhibition of the latest and greatest in science teaching. From workshops and presentations (the details of which fill a phonebook-sized guide!) to an exhibit hall packed with vendors and exhibitors, I always find the convention to be a wealth of information and ideas. In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing my favorite takeaways from the 2013 event.


At the tinkering and making events I’ve attended over the past several years, I’ve heard countless people share how they’ve used Arduino both in their own projects and in the classroom. Arduino is an open-source micro-controller (think small computer chip with sensors and LEDs) that are programmable with a C++ esque language. At a workshop offered by exhibitor SparkFun Electronics, I had my first opportunity to play in Arduino. Within minutes, I was programming an RGB LED to blink in different colors in response to different light levels detected by a built-in light sensor on the board. I believe the incredible potential for Arduino in the classroom lies in its being easy to get started using while still having incredible potential for advanced projects. As with any computer programming implementation in the classroom, SparkFun and Arduino offer opportunities for students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

10311-01bWhile incredibly easy to pick up, the Arduino programming language may challenging for younger students – I’d readily teach it to my 6th grade students but I am concerned that the syntax might not be accessible to the 3rd and 4th grade students I’ll be teaching in a maker camp this summer. Enter the SparkFun PicoBoard – an external board and set of sensors that interface with Scratch, the visual programming software developed by MIT. Instead of having to write code, programmers drag programming blocks into chains to create and control animated “sprites.” For example, a student might create an animated cat that closes its eyes when lights in the room are too bright or that runs off the screen when it hears a loud sound (light and sound are sensed by the PicoBoard – readings are then used to control the on-screen animation). I’d recommend starting by playing around with the free Scratch software (version 2.0 to be released soon!) and then adding a PicoBoard when you and your are ready for more complicated programming and animating.

More updates from the NSTA Convention to follow. Stay tuned!

Full disclosure: I received a free SparkFun ProtoSnap as an attendee of their NSTA Workshop. I was under no obligation to use or review this product and receive no compensation from SparkFun for this posting or for any of the links included in this blog.”



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

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