Saturday, February 14, 2015

Family STEM Night - Year 3

Another year, another STEM night. (Read more about Year 1 and Year 2). The theme of this year's event was EASY. Our family night fell during a really busy week in late fall, surrounded by field trips, student-led conferences, EdCamp Puget Sound, and a math training for many teachers. Easy, yet engaging, activities were critical in keeping my sanity due to minimal time and volunteers. Even still, we had a great night for about 50-ish families that was full of interactive STEM activities. The total cost for supplies and raffle prizes was less than $100.

The Activities

Students explored early animation using some index cards, markers, and a straw. Thanks to PBS Kids for this simple, yet fun, activity. 

Cookie Paleontology

Students used chocolate chip cookies to learn about archeology and paleontology. They used tooth picks and toothbrushes to carefully excavate their chocolate, making sure to keep their cookie flat on a paper plate. Students were encouraged to make sketches of their dig site and record important information, such as the number of chips found on the surface vs. under the surface. 

Hex Bugs
This station was all about asking questions. After exploring the Hex Bugs, volunteers guided families in creating scientific questions. It was important to stress that not all questions could be answered that night, but that good scientists and mathematicians think about the world around them and ask thoughtful questions that take time to solve. In the future, I will leave tools out, like PVC pipes or stop-watches, for families to create mazes or conduct quick experiments. 

Binary Code Bracelets

Students used pipe cleaners and black and white beads to write their initials in binary code. They used this key from This one was a hit!

Puff-Ball Catapults

Families created catapults using simple directions and materials. We created supply "kits" ahead of time so they could easily be made at our event or at home. Students enjoyed some friendly competition to see how far their puff-ball could fly. Using puff-balls is a good choice, as they don't fly too far and aren't sticky like marshmallows. In the future, I night provide a variety of choices beyond puff-balls (like small erasers) to see how weight factors into distance. I would also put out measuring devices for students to explore with, as well as make sure to include a smaller set of directions in the kits. 

Cardboard Buildings

This station was by-far the easiest to set up, and one of the most engaging! I took about 3 cardboard boxes and cut them up into 3" x 3" squares (roughly). Volunteers graciously helped me cut notches in the sides so the squares could connect with each other. The result is a fun, and deceptively challenging, building process! Families really liked this one!

Make $1.00

Students had fun with this game practicing money skills. Volunteers said this game was easy to differentiate, and families liked it was something they could easily do at home with a deck of cards.


Last year I learned that all students really like pipe cleaners and straws - not just the littles. This year, they were happy to create all sorts of 3D shapes. This station required some persistence. Next time I will purchase more supplies so students can take them home. 


These were easy because I use them in my own classroom. I used the patterns found here. I cut out four different foam sets of the pentominoes for durability. The used different colors for each set, which helped volunteers easily keep track of pieces. 

Secret Messages
Students created a secret code to share with a member of their family. We used this recording sheet from E is from Explore! This one, while fun, was a little too difficult 

Creation Station

My school is well-known for its environmental consciousness and "green" initiatives. What better way to support these philosophies than with a creation station stocks with all sorts of recycled materials. I started collecting cardboard tubes, boxes, lids, construction paper scraps, egg cartons, and plastic containers about a month before our event. I placed a large box outside my classroom door for teachers to drop in their recyclables. At the event, I added a few rolls of duct tape, glue, markers, yarn, and stickers to help aid creativity. The creation station was a popular place all night long!

 Make-a-Shape Sticks
This was a fun (and easy!) Pinterest find. I used different colored craft sticks to create shape puzzles. Each set had the name of the shape and the number of sticks needed to create that shape. 

Fill the Cup

Our kinder teachers loved this one! Kids rolled a dice and counted out manipulatives into a cup.

PVC Pipes

I've found that simple building stations are always the most popular. A kinder teacher loaned us her PVC pipes and kids had a blast putting tubes together and creating. While this station was meant for our preschool and kinder students, big brothers and sisters also had a lot of fun with this activity!

What's next...
Now that I have three very different and well-planned STEM nights I am going to circle back to year 1. I have saved most of my work on a Google Sheet, which includes a shopping list and links to station information. Other supplies, like games, are tucked away in a closet at school. When it comes time to plan next year's event, all that we will really need to do is make signs, make estimation jars, and gather volunteers. While it took a long time to initially plan each year's event, I know that I will be thanking myself down the road.

Have you planned a family STEM night? If so, what has worked for you?  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

In the Moment

It's been a while.

I snapped this photo of my daughter yesterday. I love that it captures her in mid-crawl. She's a curious and observant kid, into everything. Moments before this photo, she had been falling over backwards into the blanket pile, laughing and drumming on her little belly. By the time I was able to get the camera ready, she was already on the move.

And that's how I've been feeling about this blog.

So many times I've sat down to write, and then the moment has already passed. There have been lessons to plan, assignments to be graded, food to cook, clothes to clean, dishes to wash, chores to be done...and I've just been tired.

And maybe a little scared.

Scared that I've been away too long. Scared that I won't be able to keep up. Scared I won't have anything groudbreaking to share.

But I still need this little space to reflect and share and dream. I've missed writing, and I've missed the drive blogging gave me when I started. I've missed the connections with others outside of my bubble.

So, here's to starting over. Here's to reflecting on the good I've been seeing in education. Here's to sharing what's been working in my classroom, and most importantly, what's NOT. Here's to dreaming up new ideas to inspire myself and others. Here's to remembering the moments.

It feels good to be back.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

2 Minute PD

As teachers, finding time to learn is not always easy, but I think it's safe to say we can all take - and need - 2 minutes in our day to get inspired and motivated. Here are three 2-minute PD's I've done for Seattle Pacific University's Masters in Digital Educational Leadership program:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Oh, hello! I've missed you! Here's a peek at what I did on my summer vacation:

Attended the New Media Consortium Summer Conference in Portland, OR with some of my students.
Our Idea Lab session won "Best of NMC!" BIG MOMENT!

Road Trip! Tacoma to Los Angeles and back. Here we are at Redondo Beach.
I attended the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, CA.
I cleaned out the back cabinets in my classroom to make room for my MAKER SPACE.
I found this digital camera from the early 2000s.
My first day back with my colleagues on a scavenger hunt. Feeling great about the year to come!

Friday, April 11, 2014

An Interview With the New Media Consortium

I was recently interviewed by the New Media Consortium as a follow-up to winning the Henderson Prize back in June. I am incredibly honored to be associated with this organization as a K-12 Ambassador. The interview (a mix of text and video) delves into some of my philosophies of teaching - enjoy!

Also, be on the lookout for the 2014 K-12 Horizon Report. I was fortunate to serve on the expert panel this year, and I can assure you that it's a very exciting outlook for the future of educational technology! In the meantime, have you read the 2013 Horizon Report?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The A is Important

I've been thinking a lot about the conversations surrounding STEM education and the inclusion of an A for the Arts. To me, it comes down to this video of a lone trombonist and his computer. Watch what I mean:

I want to show everyone this video because this is how so many of our kids (and adults!) think. Through sounds and movement. In pictures. Through stories. There's so much STEMmy goodness jam-packed into this video, all manifesting itself through the melodious sounds of a trombone...isn't it wonderful?!

Growing up, traditional STEM subjects didn't come easy to me, nor did they interest me. I excelled in music and took honors courses in English and Social Studies, yet I routinely struggled in math and science classes. I often remember sitting in those classes wishing I could just be somewhere else making music, reading, or writing...because that's what I was good at (or so I told myself). To ease the pain, I often chose the "easier" math and science courses over the years, even if they left me feeling inept compared to my peers. It was frustrating being an honors student in the low-level math and science classes, and by senior year I was completely defeated. I dropped out of trigonometry three weeks into the school year to take sewing, much to the disappointment of my guidance counselor. I continued to struggle during my undergraduate years, yet found interest in the nontraditional courses I took to fulfill my prerequisites - astronomy, accounting, and physics of music.

I spent my whole educational career thinking I wasn't good in math and science because I struggled to learn the content in the traditional way. It wasn't until I began to look back on my college classes as a new teacher and dive into my graduate work that I realized that this was not the case. My struggle in these classes allowed me to see that I was interested in what STEM subjects offered and I could learn the material - as long as I could relate it back to my passion - the arts. Suddenly, science and math became relevant and interesting because I saw how it could help me to become a better musician and teacher. Moreover, I began to see how integral math and science really was in some of my other classes. Sewing, world music, and aural skills had new meaning once I began to see how math, science, technology, and engineering influenced these subjects. It was probably one of the biggest "aha" moments of my life.

Innovation comes from the the blending of STEM with the arts, and we need to start living this within our classroom walls. STEAM curriculum allows individuals to not only be creative and expressive in their learning, but see the complicated and beautiful relationships between the subjects. Instead of just encouraging our teachers to focus on STEM curriculum, we need to really think about its long-term relevance for our kids and relate knowledge back to individual passions. Not everyone is destined for a career in medicine or computer science. We need to demonstrate that STEM is alive and well in writing, social studies, music, art, and physical education. Ultimately, we need to get kids to stop thinking they are bad at these subjects and see the value they add to their overall lives. Having STEM skills doesn't just prepare us for careers in math and science - they prepare us for careers in anything. And that's enough to make anyone feel "happy."

Monday, March 31, 2014

What I Read in March

I'm trying to read more for fun. Here's what I read in March: 

My favorites this month were Counting by 7s, Bigger Than a Breadbox, and Wake Up Missing. The silly writing in the second Templeton Twins book was the perfect mid-month pick-me-up, and much-needed after the more serious The Real Boy. Ursu's previous novel, Breadcrumbs, is one of my favorites and hooked me from the very beginning. The Real Boy...did not, but I eventually warmed to it. Mister Max and Parched did not do much for me, sadly. I also love that Kate Messner references Bigger Than a Breadbox in Wake Up Missing. That was an unintentional connection! Overall, a great month of reading!