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!

Create > Consume

For most teachers starting out in the profession, the desire for control is strong. Management is a primary concern – and understandably so. As the gate-keepers of knowledge, we feel the need to disseminate content as outlined in our scope and sequences. Our students become consumers of knowledge.

But what do we lose when we make all the decisions for kids? What can we gain when we let them take ownership of their own learning?

One way to give students agency over their learning – and in turn, allow students to think more deeply and critically about content, while also increasing engagement – is to allow for students to create.

Here are a few tech tools to help you bring a little creativity back into your classroom – the way you always imagined you would as a teacher.

1. ThingLink

A ThingLink is an interactive image, where students put ‘hotspots’ (buttons) on top of a large background image. Text, video, pictures, and links can all be placed as hotspots.The variety of hotspots allows for students to include additional information about a topic, or for them to input their own thoughts and opinions.

Analyzing a photograph? Try asking students to add their “see, think, wonder” statements on top of the image.

Researching important historical figures? Include links to biographies, videos, and famous photographs on top of their mug shot.

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2. Scratch

Coding is not just about writing <things in brackets> and staring at computer screens all day. The real genius of coding is how it reinforces problem-solving through a creative outlet.

Scratch is an excellent program for students of any age. Use it with any subject to push students to construct new knowledge from their classes. In English, have students create stories with dialogue. In Math, ask students to create concentric circles. In Social Studies, ask students to recreate major historical events. In Science, ask students to demonstrate physical laws. Whatever your task, ask students to share and remix one another’s work.


3. VoiceThread

VoiceThread is an incredible tool that can be used with as much – or as little – complexity as desired. This collaborative platform allows students to create multi-media projects with video, audio, and text, and to share it with the rest of the class. It even allows students to interact with one another through multi-media commenting.

Education-related resources, rubrics, and examples can be found across the web.


4. Pixton

Storytelling is an innately creative activity, and Pixton allows students to create and share their stories as comics. The design studio is easy and intuitive for students to navigate, allowing students to combine text and images into a fluid story.

Arts-integration can be difficult for some subjects. If you’ve wanted to include more creativity in your social studies or science classes, Pixton can be a fantastic way for students to demonstrate their knowledge of any topic.


What other tools are teachers using to bring creativity into the classroom?

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

Blended Learning Throughout the 5E Science Model

Most science educators are familiar with the 5E model as shown below. Until this year, I have not been able to fully incorporate blended learning techniques throughout the entire model. After much experimentation, and many learn-as-you-go classes, I have found how to successfully use technology not only for student engagement, but for data driven instruction.


ENGAGE: excite, hook, attract

Traditional Engage Activities Engage Tech Integration
KWL charts

Thought questions


Word sorts


Do Nows

Padlet: a digital corkboard, where students can post ‘sticky notes’ on a wall together.

Poll Everywhere: survey students current knowledge, create word clouds, etc

Socrative: quick ‘spark’ question to grab students’ attention/curiosity.

Exit Ticket: gathers and allows for teacher to access real time data on prior knowledge of topic. Tool for differentiating/forming groups.

Most traditional engage activities have some platform that can generate that same information and excitement that you are looking to gain in the classroom. However, in my opinion, there is no substitute for hands-on demonstrations to hook students into an awesome science lesson. I have used each of these platforms in my classroom, but still find myself going back to traditional ways of presenting an engage activity.

Engage Spotlight Item: Padlet
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • Interactive
  • Allows for students to type, add attachments, take pictures, add audio
  • Visually appealing for kids
  • Kept students engaged with activity
  • Hard to set-up first Padlet
  • Students could not figure out how to write on Padlet
  • Too advanced for the simple answers I was looking for 

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Overall thoughts: I really enjoyed the visual aspect of this program. I also found it really awesome that the posts were not just limited to text. Students really enjoyed seeing their answer projected for the rest of the class to see, and it kept even my wiggliest students engaged for an extended period of time.  However, I did find this to be too complex for the simple brain dump of vocabulary words. I think this would be a great tool to use in professional developments or with high schoolers, but not necessarily in a 6th grade classroom.


EXPLORE: inquire, examine, ask questions

Traditional Explore Activities Explore Tech Integration
Experiments/Labs PhET Simulations: students  explore essential questions/topics like a lab, but as online demo instead.

Web Quest: an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web.

Glencoe Labs: students  explore essential questions/topics like a lab, but as online demo instead.

Go-Lab: online portal that contains inquiry labs and apps for all branches of science. It also allows for teachers to create their own inquiry learning based spaces for others to use.

Gizmos: online lab simulations. Membership required after free trial period. Only some work with Chrome OS.

While most of these sites cover topics presented 6th-8th grade curriculum, there is not one site has labs that can be presented to students without modifications. Most virtual labs and interactives comes with downloadable resources that allow you to modify the content to the needs of your students. I often times find myself using snippets of these labs in my classroom, mostly for  standards that are highly conceptual or completing a traditional experiment would be too expensive.

Explore Spotlight Item: PhET Simulations
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • Interactive
  • Premade worksheets are available in both Word and PDF form
  • Students are invested in these explorations
  • Only some simulations work on Chromebook OS
  • Simulations can be too difficult for middle school students, only certain parts are applicable to Louisiana standards
  • Simulations do not have written directions for how to complete them
  • No guided learning points throughout simulation

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Overall thoughts: I enjoy using this simulations when I am teaching an abstract concept, for example, conservation of energy. I have taught, and retaught this standard for the past 3 years, never seeming to be truly successful. The PhET simulation that allows students to explore conservation of energy has helped by investing students in their exploration of this topic, allowing for this conceptual topic to be shown in a tangible way, and allowing for reference points while explaining this concept during the explain portion of my lesson. I have found that this lab, as a whole, is too complex for my 6th grade students. I am only able to use the most basic part of this lab, which allows for only about 10 minutes of class time actually using a small portion of the interactive.


EXPLAIN: describe, make clear, give details

Traditional Explain Activities Explain Tech Integration

Introduction to new material

Connecting observations from engage and explore to conceptual concepts

YouTube: create notes video for each student to take notes at their own pace.

Educanon: create or use videos made by other educators and embed checks for understanding to assess student knowledge as new material is introduced. Teachers can access data in real time.

Edpuzzle: create or use videos made by other educators and embed checks for understanding to assess student knowledge as new material is introduced. Real time data not available.

Prezi: software that uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life. More advanced version of PowerPoint or Google Slides.

NearPod: presents interactive lessons & assessments that students can access on any device. 

The way that I have presented the explain portion to my students has evolved over the past 3 years. I began with projected notes, moved to YouTube videos, and have found myself now using Educanon. I enjoy that my students are able to complete notes at their own pace and I am able to check for classwide misunderstandings by looking at the data gathered from the embedded CFUs.

Explore Spotlight Item: Educanon
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • You can embed CFUs
  • Students cannot skip a video, they must answer CFUs first
  • Variety of options for CFUs (fill in blank, open response, MC, check all that apply)
  • Easy to design bulbs
  • Share bulbs between teachers
  • You can use already existing videos and create your own CFUs or use the ones already embedded
  • Does not hold high expectations/engagement for students unless outside expectations are in place
  • When high volume of computers on Educanon is can freeze
  • Some issues with Firewall/Blocked Sites

Check out my video on work & power!

Overall thoughts: This is a great way for students to take self-paced notes. It is great that teachers have the option of creating their own bulbs for the class or search pre-made ones. The only issues we experience are technological ones, computers freezing or having to get past the network’s firewall.  My only personal issues with Educanon is the lack of engagement over time. If you want to keep your students on task and engaged in the videos it may be wise to have an outside incentive system to hold them accountable.


ELABORATE: practice, make habit, push

Traditional Elaborate Activities Elaborate Tech Integration
Guided practice

Independent practice

Check work  

Exit Ticket: online program that allows teachers to upload/create questions. Provides real time data as well as a mastery breakdown per student.


EVALUATE: assess, gauge learning, analyze

Traditional Evaluate Activities Evaluate Tech Integration
Exit Ticket



Exit Ticket: online program that allows teachers to upload/create questions. Provides real time data as well as a mastery breakdown per student. 

I have always struggled checking the independent work my students complete and therefore not really knowing if they are mastering a standard. I started using the Exit Ticket program for students to check their  independent practice and exit tickets from science class.

Elaborate & Evaluate Spotlight Item: Exit Ticket
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • Provides real time data on overall assessment and breakdown of each question
  • Students can see how they did after each question
  • Students can see their progress over the week, semester, year
  • Has a projector mode which can be used to show students without giving away student data
  • Easy projects question breakdown for reteaching
  • Keeps a bank of all items you create/find
  • Students have to enter a code the first time they log-in
  • Sometimes link doesn’t work and students have to find from google
  • Free response answer have to match exactly for it to be counted as correct
  • Can only grade 1 point constructed response questions
  • Cannot be easily used or constructed response question with multiple parts

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Overall thoughts: I really like using this program to use hold students accountable for completing their independent work. I have found that this invests student in their science GPA. I have often times used this as a talking a way to address misconceptions in the moment (see image above). Often times I have students raising their hands to defend their answer or challenge one they believe is incorrect.