Fairy Tale STEM part two

In the first part of this post, I shared some pictures from our challenges based on the Three Little Pigs and Rapunzel. In part two I am sharing more of our fairy tale STEM projects.

3. Goldilocks

After reviewing the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the first-grade classes engineered a bed for Goldilocks. I told students that she went back and apologized, they became friends, and sometimes she would sleep over at the Bears' house. Of course, this meant building her a bed just right for her. After printing and laminating pictures of Goldilocks, I taped six pennies to the back. This provided some weight to the figure so that the bed had to be sturdy enough. What I didn't tell them before was that I also have Bears to test -- they loved that part! Papa Bear had 3 large washers on the back, Mama Bear had two, and Baby Bear had one. Sometimes the Papa Bear collapsed the bed and they had to modify their design.



I love that many of them wanted to make sure Goldilocks has a pillow and covers on her bed. They also wanted to decorate it for her!

I also expected them to draw their bed before building. This was the first time and all the grade levels added that part of the engineering design process except Kindergarten. I have a crate with hanging folders for each grade level. Each folder has a teacher's name so we can keep their drawings.

Using fairy tales turned out to be a favorite of the students and will definitely be part of next year's plans.

Happy STEMing!


Fairy Tale STEM

One of my favorite things to do with STEM lessons is to use a book hook. Right now I am in a unit where I am using classic fairy tales with my kids. I look for a youtube video that I can show, because I can't stand reading a story over and over again for two weeks!

Here are the activities that we have been doing. We have finished the first week (with a two day interruption of school due to Hurricane Matthew) and have another week to go.

1. The Three Little Pigs

My kindergarten students were challenged to build a house for the little pig that the Big Bad Wolf could not blow down.


They tried a variety of materials and when they had a house built I came by with the Wolf - a hair dryer with a picture of the Wolf taped on. Hilarity ensued!

2. Rapunzel

Third graders are working on a way for Rapunzel to escape from the tower - without help from the prince.


Next week - more fairy tales! Happy teaching.


STEM Lab: part 4

Two of my biggest challenges starting out this year was planning for kindergarten and making modifications for the three ASD (autism spectrum) classes. While I have six years of experience teaching K, I must admit I had forgotten that the beginning of the year is an experience in herding cats!

After the first day of school I realized I needed to come up with something very simple for the kindergarten classes. Something that would help me introduce STEM and establish the classroom rules and routines. Fortunately my cupboards of supplies includes several boxes of duplo blocks. Students were thrilled to have the opportunity to play and build.


I have three classes of students with autism. They are divided into K/1, 2/3, and 4/5. Each class comes with one of the grade level classes. As you may guess, the students vary greatly in their abilities so my challenge is to not only get to know the individual students but also to determine who needs a modification to the activities we are doing. In each class there are one or two students who are much lower functioning than the others. The assistants who come with the class will pull out alternate activities that I have ready - like the duplos - for those students. The other students participate in the grade level activity. The assistants and I help where needed, but many of them do just fine on their own. These kids are amazing, and I am thoroughly enjoying having them in the classroom.

Happy teaching!


STEM Lab: part 3

After finishing my introduction to STEM during the first rotation (first two weeks of school) I began having my students build towers. This is when I began to teach the Engineering Design Process. While there are different versions of the process, I use these simple five steps:
  1. ASK: Define the problem
  2. IMAGINE: Brainstorm possible solutions
  3. PLAN: Think, Sketch, Label
  4. CREATE: Make a prototype and test it
  5. IMPROVE: How can you modify your design and make it better
Building towers is a very simple way to begin understanding the process, is done with simple materials, and can be done by grades K - 5. Here are some pictures of our towers:

Grades 2-5 build with 24 plastic shot glass cups from the Dollar Tree. Their challenge was to build the tallest tower. What I did not tell them was that once it was built I would blow on it. All the towers from their first attempt crashed and then they redesigned to build stronger. We talked about the importance of the foundation of a building.

The kindergarten and first-grade classes had 12 cups. They used these larger cups which were much easier for them. They got very creative in finding ways to build high. They also used paper cups and we compared the different materials. The plastic cups were stronger, the paper cups were taller. Each pair of students had a chance to build with both and were very excited to be able to try different designs.

This "foundation" lesson is one that we refer to throughout the year. In the upper grades, we have a STEM notebook where we record what each class discovers in their hands-on work. This is an adjustment for me from teaching STEM in my own third-grade class. I am not able to have everyone keep a notebook when I teach 6 different classes daily :) So far this seems to be working for us.

Another "management" technique I have fallen into is to designate each two-week rotation as a unit. We are now in unit four (the towers was unit 2) and I have one more unit before the first quarter ends in October. I am going to try to keep sharing our work on the blog, including writing about the three ASD units (autism spectrum) who come to me and my search for engaging projects with accomodations for special needs students.

Happy teaching, and remember: every teacher should be a STEM teacher!


Making the Move to STEM part two

After cleaning up all those boxes I showed you in my last post, I have a very nice STEM lab.



I see six classes daily in this room. My morning is filled with intermediate grades and I have primary students during the afternoon. The school year started on a Wednesday and the rotations go through two weeks to see all the students. Along with the rules and routines that are part of the first days I planned to jump right into an introduction to STEM.

One thing I want to do this year is to highlight various STEM careers. I purchased a set of posters from Lakeshore Learning and you can see the first two on my Careers board in one of the pictures. I look for short youtube videos to help explain the careers as well as using the printed information on the back of each poster.

For my first challenges, the fourth and fifth-grade students built perches for Harry so he could see the classroom.

Second and third-graders tried to save Sam by getting his life jacket on.

The kindergarten and first-grade classes built with the Duplo block kits. 

It was a successful first two weeks. Students were engaged and were having fun. Their teachers kept telling me that they talked about STEM constantly and wanted to know when they could go back. I'll be sharing in future posts about our beginning lessons on the Engineering Design Process as well as incorporating our three ASD (autism spectrum) units into the classes. Until them, happy teaching!


Making The Move to STEM: part 1

I haven't written a blog post since the end of July. Like many of you, I've been busy with back to school! For me, August has been a month of learning a new job - which I am loving. School started here on August 10th, so we have 18 days under our belts and I'm ready to share a little bit from my new classroom.
I am still at the same school but have moved from teaching 3rd-grade math and science to two classrooms. Now I teach STEM as a special area class to the entire school. With over 950 students that takes a full two weeks. Some grade levels have to split one or two classes to get them all in. We also have three ASD units that come with their grade level, so some of my classes are pretty full.
I am loving my new classroom - I had to move from an upstairs room where I had taught for the last six years to a downstairs room. My favorite thing is that there is a parking spot right outside my back door - since I need to make a quick getaway at the end of the day it is perfect.
I will share a few pictures of my room before pre-planning:



As you can see, I have some great cupboard space. Since STEM is very "materials intensive," this is a huge blessing. I am able to keep a lot of the supplies behind closed doors.

I have a few posts planned to show you my classroom and tell you about the STEM challenges we have been doing at the start of the year. I'll leave you today with the one thing I forgot: teaching Kindergarten is like herding cats. I was quickly reminded of that on day one! Before my 7 years in 3rd grade, I had taught kinder for the previous 6 years. I remembered a lot of things, but had to quickly make some changes before my second day of K. More about that later :)


Fiction Friday: July 29th

Today is the last Friday of summer vacation for my district! We report back on Wednesday. I'm going to miss sitting on my couch in the middle of the day with a book.

The Worm Whisperer
Betty Hicks

This was the last of the Sunshine State books that I read this spring. It is a very sweet story about a young man named Ellis who loves animals. He spends a lot of time out in nature and thinks he can communicate with many of the animals. When he finds a caterpillar that seems to respond to his directions he believes he might be a "worm whisperer." This is important because his community has a "Woolly Worm Race" event every year. The grand prize is $1,000. That just happens to be the amount of the deductible for the surgery his Dad needs but can't afford. The story is set in a town in North Carolina that really does have a Woolly Worm Festival every year.

I loved the family relationships in this story. Dad can't work because of his back injury and Mom is working three jobs to make ends meet. There just doesn't seem to be any way to get the money so he can have the surgery. There are some twists and turns in the story - it doesn't exactly turn out the way Ellis plans, which makes it much more fun. This one is another great read-aloud and is under 200 pages.

The Terrible Two
Jory John and Mac Barnett

Miles has just moved to a new town and school. And he's not happy about it! He had to leave all his friends, but worst of all he left behind his reputation as a master prankster. He assumes he will be able to pull off great pranks here, but discovers there is already a prankster at work - and he is awesome. Miles sees this as a competition with the mysterious prankster; when he finds out who it is he is extremely surprised. I'm not going to give it away here, but this is another fun read, and already has a second book in the series.


STEM on a Shoestring: Part III

This is my third post about STEM resources from the Dollar Tree. Of course, if you don't have a Dollar Tree in your area you may find many of the same things at any dollar store.

We will be using cars for some of our force and motion activities. I like being able to pick up 3-packs for just $1.00!


I use these little cups for building towers. I was excited to go in and see the colored ones - not that they will work differently but it will be fun to give a different color to my groups!

I always end up raiding my kitchen drawers to scrounge up measuring cups. These will be great!

We are going to be learning about wind energy this year so I want to have different types of pinwheels. I love the flower ones!

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