Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wow! What a trip!

Have you ever had a trip that left you breathless?  My trip to San Francisco is one that did...besides the usual sight seeing trips to the Golden Gate bridges, Fishermen's Wharf, and more I was able to visit Napa, Muir Woods and Sonoma.

 Have you ever been to a Redwood Forest? The majestic trees were awe inspiring, the mountain and valley views on the trip up there were magnificent.  Napa.....was pure beauty.  The weather was perfect, the air smelled so clean, the fog was fantastic!  Did I mention we rented a convertible?  That's the only way to go!  We stopped at a petrified forest, and even saw Old Faithful of California. This Virginia gal was in heaven!!!

One more funny thing happened while I was in Berkeley.  We happened to be staying at the same hotel as the Real Madrid soccer team.  Can I say the most FAMOUS soccer team in the WORLD?  (Not to mention....extremely good looking!) We played paparazzi for a while and took some great pictures.  It was very EXCITING.

But of course the real reason we were there was to get some training in FOSS 3rd edition.  Going to the Lawrence Hall of Science at U Cal Berkeley was a life, long dream.  This, my friends, is the birthplace of greatness....where GEMS was created, Seeds of Science, and FOSS.

First, I must mention the view.  The Hall is located on top of a mountain and the views of San Francisco are amazing. I told one of the instructors that I would never get any work done, because I would be so distracted gazing at the view. (By the way, that's not my hair sticking up, but a plant in the background!)

We spent three days learning about FOSS 3rd edition and the upcoming additions based on the Next Generation Science Standards. Can I say, phenomenal?  I am still wrapping my mind about everything I learned and am not quite ready to blog about it....yet.  As soon as I am, I will roll out another blog.

My new friends....Marty and Sarah with my bestie Sherrie. 

Until later....


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bucket List

I have been looking at pictures from this past year and realized I did not take as many pictures of the work we were doing in the classroom.  Have you ever had one of those years that was just "off"? For me that is how I would describe last year.  Now, let me start by saying - It wasn't the kids.  The kids were typical, fun loving fourth graders.  We had a blast learning, growing, building, creating and ... yes, they even scored well on the end of year tests.  It was me.  First, the school year was choppy with snow days and polar vortex days.  Second, my teenager was struggling in school - that was hard on the whole family! Third, morale was down in my school and district due to a new teacher evaluation system and lack of funding/raises and more. So what did I take pictures of? My family.

As I looked at them, I saw great photos of family gatherings.  My husband holding my four year old  nephew upside down!  My son playing soccer and eating ice cream.  My teenager in marching band and on the kayak.  My dog playing with toys and looking adorable!  My friends were doing silly things with props, at pool parties, at school events and more.  This made me feel happy.

Tomorrow I am leaving on a trip of a lifetime!  I am going to San Francisco with one of my closest, silliest friends.  We are going to the Lawrence Hall of Science where FOSS is headquartered.  I am so excited to do this!  Yes, I will have three days of training...but I am also going to have some FUN...biking across the Golden Gate bridge, visiting Pier 39, tasting some delicious wine in Napa, and visiting the Redwoods at Muir Park.

Don't worry, next year I will get back on track...documenting my science instruction with a literacy emphasis. But for the next few weeks, I will enjoy my time with family and friends...and FOSS!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer fun with Camp Invention

Have you ever heard of Camp Invention?  This is one of the ways I have spent my summer vacation!

Camp Invention is the only nationally recognized, non-profit elementary enrichment program backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

I had the opportunity to be the director of this year's camp.  It was our first time having the camp and the kids had a blast!  My principal's own children had attended this camp at another location one summer and he was very excited to introduce the staff to this STEAM related camp.  From a director's standpoint, I will tell you that the company provides ALL of the curriculum, material, training and support.  On my end, I helped to find the kids and take care of problems during the week.

Here is a great video clip from the camp that showcases more information about the camp's activities and the connection to real inventors.  

Here are some pictures of the kids and the products they invented.  Enjoy!

Using fabric to create and design fashion.

Taking apart electronics!  The kids loved this...who wouldn't? They then used pieces from the inside on a pinball machine that they created.

Can you hear inside the room?


Look at the hat I engineered for Crazy hat day!

Prototypes for new car designs.

Tinkering and creating with recycled materials. 

For more information, contact Camp Invention at 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Leading Women in Children's STEM fields

Displaying StephanieEchevestePhoto.jpgToday I am very excited to have a guest blogger!  Stephanie Echeveste works in community relations for the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education’s MAT online and Masters of Education Programs. She has taught English on the northern coast of Spain and created crazy clothes for In her free time, Stephanie likes to blog, eat black sesame ice cream and explore new cities.  I hope you like what she has to say about women in the Science and Engineering field and the websites and links she recommends.  

5 Women Making Waves in Science
Science desperately needs more women in the field. In every area of scientific research, the XX formation is greatly under-represented, despite the vast challenges before us. That’s why great women who are making a big impact in the field are so important. Here are five females who are turning the tide of women in science today — and making more than a few waves in the process.

Debbie Sterling, Creator of GoldieBlox

Debbie Sterling’s small-town upbringing didn’t offer much exposure to the world of engineering, but a conversation with her math teacher was the jumping off point toward a Stanford degree in mechanical engineering and product design. As she settled into her new career digs, she became increasingly disturbed by the lack of females in the field — which led her to create GoldieBlox.

Through her company, Sterling aims to move beyond the “boys’ toys” that have dominated the childhood culture for over a hundred years by designing a construction toy from the female perspective to “disrupt the pink aisle.” She hopes to inspire young girls in need of the direction and confidence to become future engineers. Or, as The Guardian put it, “Move over Barbie, there’s a new girl in town.”

Find out more about the disruption of the pink aisle at, and follow their efforts on Twitter @goldieblox.

Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code

Her first introduction to computer programming came when Kimberly Bryant was a freshman electrical engineering student in college and Apple Macintosh was the new craze in town. But Bryant says she felt culturally isolated, since she didn’t have Black classmates. Though much has changed since then, she’s still bothered by the persistent lack of Black women in science, technology, engineering and math professions. She blames it on lack of access and lack of exposure to STEM topics — something she’s trying to change.

Her company, Black Girls Code, has a vision “to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.”

To find out more about Bryant’s work, visit the website at, and follow her on Twitter @BlackGirlsCode.

Adriana Moscatelli, Co-founder & CEO of Play Works Studio
Adriana Moscatelli co-founded Play Works Studio in 2013, with a dream to help girls all over the world discover and develop a passion for science. Armed with a degree in industrial and interactive design, as well as extensive experience consulting for techno-play giants like Pokeman, Hasbro, Microsoft and Nokia, Moscatelli’s expertise with software development, mobile applications and gaming helps her lead the charge as CEO at Play Works Studio.
Loaded with talent and playful expertise, Moscatelli’s Play Works Studio design team creates games that encourage children — especially girls — to jump into the scientific fray at a young age. Funded by the National Science Foundation, their work emphasizes the development of spatial and logical reasoning skills by teaching basic computer programming concepts to create solutions.
To find out more about Play Works Studio, visit them at, and follow Moscatelli on Twitter @adrimk.
Regina Agyare, Founder of Tech Needs Girls Ghana and CEO of Soronko Solutions; Aspen New Voices Fellow
Regina Agyare’s passion to get women to discover their own voices and pursue their dreams through technology is why she leads Soronko Solutions, a Ghana-based software development powerhouse and social enterprise that focuses on using technology to drive human potential.
Through the development of apps for the disabled, as well as the use of mobile phones, laptops, raspberry pi’s and tablets, rural Ghana children are equipped with STEM and critical thinking skills to fight poverty and solve daily challenges. Recently, Agyare founded an exciting mentoring program called Tech Needs Girls to teach girls how to lead and innovate by learning computer coding. Agyare is also an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow and a mentor with the Women’s Tech Connect Global Mentoring program.
To find out more, visit the website at and follow her on Twitter @ragyare.
Jan Chong, Engineering Manager at Twitter 
She’s on Hackbright Academy’s recent list of 21 rising female leaders who are making major marks in the engineering world. As the engineering manager for the Android team at Twitter, Chong focuses on developing new technologies that help people integrate work and play into daily life.

A Stanford graduate and previous engineering manager at OnLive, Chong’s leadership at Twitter has helped the 140-character giant show off its scalability prowess by moving from a single, team-based development model to a project-based development model that integrates contributions from experts across Twitterland. The outcome has been the growth of Android code development efforts from three engineers in 2012 to over 70 unique contributors from 10 different teams in 2014.
To watch the progress of her efforts, visit And of course, you can follow her on her own turf @lessachu.  
Science desperately needs women, and the efforts of these female visionaries are paying off in young hearts and minds everywhere. It’s through collaboration and the sharing of knowledge that small steps can lead to big change — which is why we’d love to have your input.
Have you used any of these resources in your classroom? Do you know of more women making waves in science? Let us know in the comments below!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Electricity Design Brief

Looking for a PBL (problem based learning) challenge for your students to apply what you are learning about electricity?  We have just completed unit 2 in the FOSS unit, Energy and Electromagnetism.  The students have built circuits (series and parallel), explored conductors and insulators as well as energy flow. They have attached vocabulary words to the hands-on activities and learned how to explain the scientific concepts.

Now we wanted to see if the students could apply these concepts to an engineering project.  How about designing and creating a house?

In order to set it up, my colleague Elena and I set about to create a Design Brief.  If you don't know much about design briefs, I recommend you check out Ginger Whiting's book Children's Engineering. 

Basically, the design brief consists of five parts:

  • Background Statement (puts the task in context)
  • Challenge statement (what's the task?)
  • Criteria (specific details about the finish designed product)
  • Materials (things that can be part of the finished design)
  • Tools (items that you can use to help you build)

We thought long and hard about what we wanted our kids to be able to do.  We wanted them to create 2-3 rooms to include 3-5 lights and one fan.  They could use the materials we had been using such as wires, dcells, light bulbs, motors and more.  We also have LittleBits and Squishy Circuits in our Engineering lab and so we allowed the students to use these as well.  Tools they could use included  wire strippers, scissors, duct tape, glue guns and even a drill. 
Once our criteria was in place, we then added the design portfolio.  The design portfolio is a place for students to record their thinking, plans, reflections and redesign as they build.  This portfolio is based on the engineering design process loop.  This process can be found to use in multiple formats including this one by Ginger Whiting.  In the design portfolio we created a place to restate the problem, brainstorm planning ideas, create a solution, test your design and evaluate it. 

Here are some pictures of the building phase.  First they built the walls for the rooms. 

Next we added the electrical components.  The kids love to use the drill (with an adult nearby of course!) to drill perfect circles in the ceilings of the homes. The students were able to use wires, light bulb holders, dcells, Christmas lights, motors for fans, and more!  The video clip shows the squishy circuits and the little bits. 

Here is one of the final products.  See the bed in the bedroom, the coffee table and flat screen TV in the living room?   These students took the design element and ran with it!  Not all were as detailed inside...many just focussed on the wiring and bare bones of the house.  That was okay too! Students were able to present their finished projects to their peers and I have included a rubric for assessments as well.                                                                                                          If you want to pick up this design brief and portfolio along with the procedures for creating it then visit my TPT store here for a quick link. 


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Connecting Language Skills to Science

As I have said before, first you have to DO science...then you can connect language skills to it.

Let me share a story about a bored student.  Imagine sitting down to 30 minutes of grammar skills a day.  Sometimes they study possessives.  Sometimes they study fragments.  Nothing is connected.  Sentences are not meaningful.  It is complete skill and drill.

Now, imagine connecting these skills to something you are DOING in the classroom.  These skills suddenly become more meaningful and easy to do.  Enter the idea of the Language Board. 

What’s a Language board?
       I was introduced to the idea of Language boards from FOSS in the Spring 2012 newsletter when I read the article by Kimi Housoume entitled “Science and Language; a Good Mix for Learning.”  She describes connecting science concepts to language skills on a daily basis.  They called it a language board. 
          At the same time, I became fascinated with Shelley Gray’s “I’m Done, Now What?” board.  This is an actual board that you can switch out different activities for early finishers.  I purchased the yearlong activities from TPT and set to work.  These activities met many of my needs, but crossed over to activities for math as well as reading.  I used it for a year and my students loved it.

          Then over the summer (when I had time to think) I thought…why not combine the two ideas?  I thought, this would make a great activity for my kids to do as a morning work routine.  We can switch the activities out weekly and offer choice as to when to complete them.  Each child used one of their notebooks to record their thinking and have a place for me to check the work as they go.  So now, I am in the process of creating these for my students (upper elementary) as they connect to content (science and math).  
           I created different categories for students to practice and named them Making Words, Vocabulary, Word Work, Fix it, Write it and Think it.  (My students recently said that I need to add "Design it" as another category...maybe I will!) 
          I have recently posted my first Language Board packet on TPT where it is available for purchase for just $5.00.  It includes four weeks of language activities to use for morning work, literacy stations or even homework. These language board activities are integrated with the topic of ecosystems.  

Let me know what you think!  


Monday, March 3, 2014

DOING science...

I love, love, love teaching electricity to my fourth graders.  We have used the FOSS kit "Magnetism and Electricity" for several years and absolutely love it.  This year we have upgraded to the FOSS 3rd edition "Energy and Electricity".  Why do we love it?'s because the students are completely engaged in the process of building circuits.

I recently did a workshop where I had some fourth grade teachers in attendance.  I passed out the bulb, wires and battery and asked the teachers to make a circuit.  I expected the kindergarten teachers to struggle, but was shocked to find the complete opposite was true.  The kindergarten teachers jumped in and kept trying until they made it work.  The fourth grade teachers (who teach electricity every year) had no idea what to do.  It wasn't until later that I was told, the teachers teach with a textbook. I get that.  We have a LOT to cover and not enough time to do it.  But, something stuck in my head...if they don't understand how to light a bulb, how will their students?   This brings me back to the fundamental belief...students need to DO science first.

In my classroom, I teach all kids - gifted, emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, English as a second language, autistic, ADHD and, oh yeah, a few that don't have a label.  Since I teach children with many different needs I have learned over the years that it is crucial to level the playing field by giving all kids the same background to build from.

Using FOSS or any inquiry based program, you are trained to "do" first and add vocabulary and concepts later.  For example, when teaching a concept such as "salinity" we start with an experiment or observation in which we notice what is the same and what is different in samples of water.  The brain seeks patterns and stores information through activities that engage the brain - like comparing, testing, observing, and more.

Once we "do" the activity then we talk about it.  What did you notice? see? observe? Talking helps to secure the information in the brain before we move on.  Once you have explored and talked about the activity, then you can add the words and concepts.  We add information on a class chart and introduce the science words we want our kids to use.  (I love this chart that I learned about through the awesome program Seeds of Science!)

Then if you want to read from a text, the kids have something to hook the information to.  We read a selection and then write about what we have learned. My students are used to answering focus questions in their notebooks and write full paragraphs to explain their thinking.
Lastly, and I think most importantly, is the "think it" phase.  Students need to think things through, ponder, reflect, and solidify information.  It's that "metacognition" piece that is so essential for students of all abilities.

Only through all of these phases will students truly "know" science.