Incorporating STEM challenges- management, grading, and expectations

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Lately I’m very interested in incorporating more hands on learning in my science classroom that is unique of building a science model or completing an experiment/ investigation. Don’t get me wrong; these practices are very important, but I’m been trying to mix things up! It’s the end of the year and I want to keep my students challenged and engaged.

One thing that has really inspired me is a maker space teacher training I attend every Saturday at the IDIYA Makerspace . These classes are giving me the kick in the butt I need to incorporate more STEM in my classroom. Some things I would ask about before these classes were How would I grade the students? How would I keep them from going off in my small, boxy classroom? How would I keep them on track?

Assessment and expectations

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This simple rubric keeps my students on task and I am able to forget about management and circulate while asking probing questions to each group.

I use a rubric that I found online and edited to grade the students’ as a team. Each team has this rubric sitting between them during every STEM challenge. Before each challenge begins, I have the entire class review the rubric. This keeps the expectations fresh in their heads even though they have seen it before. As I circulate the room, I put a dot each time they have to be reminded of something in any of the categories. I also add positive comments and notes so that I can remember small details as I give them feedback afterwards. Towards the end of the challenge, I circle each box for the points they earn. This is a shared grade.

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Screen shot of my presentation. Prove Its are what we call exit tickets.

After the challenge, the students reflect on their experience. This is really important and helps the students candidly participate in a whole group or small group discussion about the challenge. The reflection writing piece  asks students about what worked well, what didn’t work well, and what advice would they give another student about to complete this challenge?  I make it very clear before they start that even if their design is unsuccessful, they will be successful if they collaborate, try their best, and get creative.The reflective piece is done individually at level 0, and students may listen to classical music or jazz on their Chromebooks as they write.


I have great success with management on my STEM challenge Fridays. I think one reason is that students are so engaged and excited by the materials. Going over the expectations each class and having a rubric we review that is visible both on the board as well as on the table of each group also plays a huge role in successful STEM days. Once the students begin their work, I can forget about keeping things in order and actually focus on teaching and asking Socratic style questions (Side note- I accidentally typed “socrative” the first time around… yas #EdTech!).

Ready to start? These links include directions, materials, and procedures:
How does the design of our catapult affect the distance the figurine travels?

How can we save Sam?
How can we save Sam? Packet with questions

STEM on!

Incorporating augmented reality experiences in the classroom using Spacecraft 3D By NASA

3d spacecraft

Hello, all! Better late than never. I’m writing to hype up the awesome app called Spacecraft 3D, an augmented reality app available for free for iPhones and Apple products (and also for Androids, I think) by NASA.

Overview: This app requires you to download and print a PDF of pictures– markers– for the app to interact with. I used the included marker that focuses on Mars rovers. Once you have both the app and at least one copy of the marker sheet, just hover your phone/ tablet over one of the pictures and this happens:
IMG_0783 (1)When you hover your tablet or phone over an image of Mars that a specific rover explored, said rover appears as a 360 degree view 3D image! In the image above, you are viewing the Curiosity.

The image is also interactive. If you click the icon of a mini rover (second from the right), most of the images will move. For instance, the Mars Exploration Rover will unstow and open up. Others have things attachments that unfold when engaged.

If you do not have access to a printer and want to mess around with this app, you can pull the markers up on a different screen and hover the Spacecraft 3D app over the screen.

Once students have explored a rover’s movement and build, they can click the icon all the way on the right that is an italicized I. This will provide a non-fiction text listing the proportions of whichever specific rover you are exploring, as well as launch information, and the history of the vehicle.

Application: I had a worksheet with specific questions about each rover for the students to answer as they explored. This was a station of about 7 students in my classroom on a day that the students explored how technology enhances space exploration. Each student at this station had a marker, and most had a tablet or phone to hover over the images. I also had a station with a telescope and questions, and a station with a reading about “planet 9” on NewsELA.

Reaction: The students were FLOORED!!! Every student was trying to stick their hand through the image, and once they realized that they could interact with the images, they were literally grinning ear to ear. I wish I took pictures, but I needed my phone at the station for the students to use.

“This is a real thing! Ah! This was really on Mars?!!!”- confused and excited student.

Pros: This app really helped the students understand rovers better. They were able to learn that they are smaller than rocket ships, they were able to read about each rover, and they were able to see how versatile each spacecraft is with the interactive component. The students at this station were 100% engaged, and have been asking me to help them download the app and print markers that we did not use in class (yet!).

This app is a perfect match for the following standard:

ES47: Identify and explain advances in technology that have enabled the exploration of space

Cons: You really have to man this at a station or however you first present this to your class. I know that at my school, the students do not normally use technology like this, and I really had to walk them through the features. To help with this, I trained several “experts” from my homeroom, and went through the app ahead of time with them. That way, they were able to help the students throughout class.

Another problem I had is that although I asked all week for students to bring in phones and tablets, only about 5 per class brought them in. This app would be more ideal if I had a class set of tablets already set up with the apps I wanted– which is my goal for 2016-2017.

Last note: If you teach space in your science curriculum, give this app a try! Don’t be afraid of management- the students will be so shocked and fascinated by NASA’s Spacecraft 3D that they will be on their best behavior in order to participate!  I am already trying to figure out how to get iPADS for next year to do more stuff like this. KIDS ARE STILL TALKING ABOUT HOW AWESOME THIS CLASS WAS!

Why you should try using Nearpod for INM

How do you fit tons of standards into one year in a memorable, interactive way? As of last week, I’m going to have to go with Nearpod !

Backstory: Since the 2013-2014 school year, I have been introducing new material to my class via Educannon. Educannon has allowed me to introduce new science material as a video which enabled the students to pause and self pace, provided my students with read aloud, and enabled embedded CFUs. However: I felt the format was basic, and as I been doing this same routine for the duration of my life as a science teacher in the NO, I was ready for a change. I think the kids were, too.

Last week, I decided to try Nearpod instead, which was suggested by an awesome co-worker.


  • Students do NOT have to be logged in– students can simply enter a class code- not unlike socrative :

This takes away one step, and we all know how precious time can be during class!

  • Students are easily monitored- ever since the loss of the amazing program hapara, I have been circling around my students and making sure they are the correct website. This is a time suck as I’d much rather be checking in to make sure they understand the content. With Nearpod, I am able to see if a student is active in the lesson or on a different tab with simple a red icon green icon system:Screenshot 2015-12-10 at 9.29.03 PM
  • We are all on the same page! Students start and end at the same time, as controlled from my screen. I still get data– but I can share it out with the students!

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highlight: one of my classes got 100% correct 3x in a row and burst out in a cheer!

  • Data can be collected in more than one way; students are able to answer a multiple choice question, complete a sentence by filling in the blank, or even draw:

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The students loved drawing on the above diagram of a plant cell! They were v. stoked!

  • Students still receive read aloud. Being that my students have Google Chromebooks on the basis of differentiation, it would be a disservice to them if they did not receive accommodations as needed. We are still reading the slides aloud, and my students love being able to “be the teacher” and read a portion of the INM to their class!


  • My highest students might need more of a challenge. To compensate, I include a view-only link of the presentation I used for INM on my class website. This enables the top three or so students  to move ahead, but still ask questions and participate in the embedded CFU’s during the presentation. If they finish early, they have a week long “early finishers” project or extension assignment they can work on.

Using Nearpod engages students, is more interactive than other programs I’ve tried, and enables me to provide students with IEPs with the read-aloud they need. Love it! AKR