Posts Tagged ‘STEM’

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

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