What's Going on in the Lab? Baked Potatoes!

Now, you know you clicked on that title because you think I have lost my mind. Right?
Baked Potatoes in the lab!
What am I thinking?
Keep reading!
STEM Project! This is a big one! It's all about baked potatoes and a delivery company. Kids invent a company, create the marketing, design a delivery box, and then share their ads! Total fun and so much learning! Check this blog post!
So, I had some ideas a while back that cooking in our lab might be fun. We tried pancakes and the kids loved it. I kept thinking about other ways to involve food and happened upon this idea quite by accident. I overheard someone complaining one day about only being able to get pizza delivered and wishing other restaurants did the same. (Yes, we know others do deliver, but not in our small town!)
So, I started thinking about what people would want to have delivered......

What about a giant baked potato with all the fixings?????
BAM! I had invented a STEM challenge- not to mention a delivery restaurant idea!

So, here's the premise: The kids must invent a delivery restaurant that will bring baked potatoes to your door. How, you ask, do we get STEM involved in this?
Alright, let's go step by step.
First, the kids had to design a delivery box.
It had to keep the potato hot and crush proof in case they dropped the delivery box.
Check these photos:
STEM Challenge: Kids are using packing materials of their choice to line the boxes, but they must also consider what kind of materials will keep the food hot. It's the great Baked Potato challenge!
Kids are using packing materials of their choice to line the boxes, but they must also consider what kind of materials will keep the food hot.

And just how are we going to know the food will stay hot?
We tested it!

After the boxes were stuffed we actually cooked some potatoes and placed them in the box. We used digital thermometers and tested the potatoes to see how much the temperature would drop in 20 minutes. The kids recorded data every minute. Can you see the temps in those pictures? One is 204 degrees and the other says 197!

At the same time that this box designing was happening other team members were making advertisements for the potato company. The team chose a name, a logo, and a slogan and then made bill boards for their companies.
Take note of the social media on these posters- websites and Instagram!

Some companies offered refunds and Buy One Get One Free! Notice that the company called Potato Tots is also advertising that they now have Sweet Tea! (Yes, we live in the south!)

Another thing each company had to do was decorate their delivery boxes. We looked at some pizza boxes to see what needed to be on our boxes and then created some masterpieces!

I don't have any photos of the last thing each company did, but they also had to perform a television commercial- which meant writing a script and then acting out their ad.
We love this challenge!
It has so many parts!


So, that is Baked Potatoes in the STEM Lab! Thanks for stopping by this week- come back in two weeks for more of:

Coming soon:
Hammocks
Balloons
Platforms
Sailboats

0

5 Books You Might Need to Read! (August)

Are you ready for some new books to read? I have five  great ones to recommend!
Five books you should probably read! Check this blog post for more!
Throughout the post, for your convenience, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon compensates me if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running and helps fund give-aways!

Turning Angel by Greg Iles
This is a book in the series about a lawyer turned writer named Penn Cage. In this book he is involved with solving the murder of a teenager from the local high school. The story involves more murders, drugs, an exchange student from Croatia, and Penn's best friend, Drew. Somehow these are all tangled together.

This is by an author compared to John Grisham. This book is one of a series about Penn Cage- a lawyer turned writer- that returns to his home in Natchez, Mississippi with his very young daughter. In the first book I read of this series his wife had died and he then found himself embroiled in solving a decades old civil rights murder mystery. In this book  he is involved with solving the murder of a teenager from the local high school. The story involves more murders, drugs, an exchange student from Croatia, and Penn's best friend, Drew. Somehow these are all tangled together. Penn is helped in solving the case by his baby sitter, an old friend, his father, and a few other people. I enjoyed this book- definitely a page-turner! It's a fast-paced and a jam-packed with action kind of book, which I like better than normal chick books. Now, having said that, it is quite graphic in the details of some of the things that went on with the murders and the way high school students deal with one another. I did raise an eyebrow a few times and wondered how true to real life this all might be. But, considering that we all have read Harry Potter I think that's hardly a reason not to like a book!
Anyway, it was a good read- if you like detective, lawyer books! (But read the first book before you read this one- It's called The Quiet Game.)

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
It's the story of Shep who has just purchased one way tickets to an island in Africa and has plans to move there for retirement, never to return to the USA. When he informs his wife, Glynis, she simply says, "Well, I'm going to need your health insurance" and then proceeds to tell him she has mesothelioma.

This book was on my list for a long time and I finally found it in my favorite second hand store. It's the story of Shep who has just purchased one way tickets to an island in Africa and has plans to move there for retirement, never to return to the USA. When he informs his wife, Glynis, she simply says, "Well, I'm going to need your health insurance" and then proceeds to tell him she has mesothelioma. In the next few chapters you learn about her diagnosis and then she undergoes surgery. It turns out that this specific type of cancer is difficult to deal with, the surgery is hit-or-miss, and response to chemo is also not good. Glynis battles for her life as Shep takes care of her. It also turns out that she may have gotten this cancer from exposure to asbestos. As the two main characters deal with this, Shep's retirement money flies out the window. There's another story line about Shep's best friend Jackson. The story is somewhat amusing- Jackson decides to have a certain body part enlarged and the doctor he sees for this makes a mess of it. This, of course, changes Jackson's marriage drastically. And, eventually, this problem Jackson has comes to a tragic conclusion. There are other characters woven into this story- Shep's sister that asks for money constantly. Shep's dad who is in need of elderly care, Jackson's disabled daughter, and Shep's boss. There is also a lawsuit to be dealt with.
There were parts of this book, to be honest, that I skimmed through. There is a lot of back-story that I did not find interesting. The heart of the story, however, comes down to the care that Shep provides for his wife and how it is handled in the end. It turns out to be a beautiful story.

Whiskey and Charlie by Annabel Smith
This is the story of Charlie and William, identical twins, that adopt a walkie-talkie type language as youngsters. They soon learn the NATO phonetic alphabet- Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.... and William is dismayed that his name is not part of the alphabet. Hence, he becomes Whiskey. Charlie is often (practically always) overshadowed by the more outgoing popular Whiskey and grows increasingly resentful. Their estrangement continues into adulthood until a tragic accident leaves Whiskey in a coma.
Fabulous book! I was hooked from the very first page and read all of it! (I often skim books that have long yucky passages!)
This is the story of Charlie and William, identical twins, that adopt a walkie-talkie type language as youngsters. They soon learn the NATO phonetic alphabet- Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.... and William is dismayed that his name is not part of the alphabet. Hence, he becomes Whiskey. Charlie is often (practically always) overshadowed by the more outgoing popular Whiskey and grows increasingly resentful. Their estrangement continues into adulthood until a tragic accident leaves Whiskey in a coma. The chapters alternate between their childhood and present-day as the family continues a vigil at Whiskey's hospital bed side. It was about mid-way through the book that I realized that the chapter names (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie... actually had something to do with the story unfolding in each chapter!)
Spectacular book! I loved the story lines and things are revealed throughout that you don't expect- including the way it ended. You need to read this one!

Summer Secrets by Jane Green
The book opens with meeting Cat, an alcoholic young woman that is struggling. You quickly learn her back story- a cruel father and a mother that was chronically depressed. The story switches then after her father's death and her mom begins to tell her a secret. Ends up being somewhat predictable, but light reading with a few twists that are a surprise.

This book's cover proclaims it to be the perfect summer beach read and although I don't normally like chick lit, I thought I would try this one.
The book opens with meeting Cat, an alcoholic young woman that is struggling. You quickly learn her back story- a cruel father and a mother that was chronically depressed. The story switches then after her father's death and her mom begins to tell her a secret.
Interwoven into her mom's revelation you learn about mom's early life. Mom, named Audrey, married Richard and moved to London. Richard was not a pleasant person, and after a few months Audrey returned to the US, to Nantucket, to help her aunt Judith organize a home for sale. There Audrey meets Brooks. Brooks, it turns out, is part of Audrey's secret. When this is revealed to the daughter, Cat, it also sends Cat to Nantucket to meet Brooks and his family. The meeting is a huge disaster.
Eventually, the story delves into Cat's struggle with overcoming alcoholism and the meltdown of her own family back in London. She does return to Nantucket and the book ends with all the things that happen there. It does turn out to be somewhat predictable (like all chick lit books), but I did stick with it. Most definitely, you will learn a lot about AA meetings and alcoholism. This would make a perfect beach book (like the cover says) because it's light reading and you will not think about it for days afterward.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
Oh my.  This is the story of Joseph an eighth grader, 13 years old. After some trouble with a juvenile center Joseph is taken in as a foster child with Jack's family. There Joseph learns to do farm chores as he struggles with his past. This includes the fact that he has a daughter- named Jupiter. Yes, he is 13. This was a fabulous, very short little book!
Oh my. 
This is the story of Joseph an eighth grader, 13 years old. After some trouble with a juvenile center Joseph is taken in as a foster child with Jack's family. There Joseph learns to do farm chores as he struggles with his past. This includes the fact that he has a daughter- named Jupiter. Yes, he is 13. So, was the mother. Little by little Joseph's story is told- abusive father, never cared for, and when he meets Maddie things change. He loves her, despite their ages and improbably she has a baby. Joseph attends school with Jack and they have several encounters with bullies that create a touching and brother-like relationship. I won't reveal what happens eventually, but this tiny little book will startle you in many ways. The ending was a surprise.
Now, you also have to totally get past the fact that two 13 year-olds became parents, but here's the main thing I loved about this book. There are no vivid details about these events. When there are adults or kids that are speaking profanely you never see their words. The author just tells you that words not fit to be heard are being spoken. This is a young person's book for sure, but a very clean and appropriate one. I don't think it would be one I would recommend to elementary age kids!  But, for you I would highly recommend this little book (75 pages). It will stay with you for a while.

There you go reading friends, five new books for you to try! (All of them are linked to Amazon for you with my Amazon Affiliate link.)
Come back at the end of September for more and come back on Wednesdays and Fridays for science and STEM! And, one more thing, go visit Doodlebugs Teaching for Five for Friday Posts!





2

5 Things I Learned about STEM from First Graders!

After a few years with upper elementary grades, I am in the midst of a new adventure! I will now have first and second graders! Oh my! Let's just say this is a tad scary.....
But, a few surprises came my way during the first days with the very smallest engineers.

We built bridges!


First Grade STEM: Each child had ten counting cubes and four craft sticks. All I told them was, "Build a bridge." Check this blog post for more!
I really wanted to dive right in with a STEM building event because I knew these little engineers would not sit still and listen for as long as my big kids. So, we watched a "Crash Course" video about Engineers which included a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. This gave us a good way to talk about bridges and then kids went to their tables. Each child had ten counting cubes and four craft sticks. All I told them was, "Build a bridge." I did not tell them each one of them should build the bridge, but that is what they did (and it's what I expected.)

Here are the things I didn't expect!

First Grade STEM: After each student built their individual bridges and we shared them, I then asked them to put all their materials together and build one big bridge. Cceck this blog post for more!
After each student built their individual bridges and we shared them, I then asked them to put all their materials together and build one big bridge. Some groups actually cheered when they discovered they would be able to join the materials! Look at the photo above. That group actually talked about what jobs each would have,
 "You be the snapper and I will be road layer, and then Carlie can straighten it when it gets crooked." 
It was fairly amazing to see the kids work together and talk about what they were doing!

Could they use the materials effectively?

First Grade STEM: You would think that all their bridges would look alike since the materials are so limited. But, they built amazing little bridges with ramps and turns and extras- extras like a team that built a boat to go with their bridge! Check this blog post for more!
Another unexpected thing! I had no idea if they could build a bridge with those wonky materials, but just look at that photo. Another thing, you would think that all their bridges would look alike since the materials are so limited. But, they built amazing little bridges with ramps and turns and extras- extras like a team that built a boat to go with their bridge!


They added details (like ramps)!

First Grade STEM: Some groups that made ramps because, "You have to drive up on the bridge!" There were some kids that used extra cubes to hold the ramps in place since they did tend to slide. Check this blog post for more!
Speaking of ramps! Yes, there were some groups that made ramps because, 
"You have to drive up on the bridge!" 
There were some kids that used extra cubes to hold the ramps in place since they did tend to slide.

Some even had ramps right in the middle of their bridges and when students pointed out that the ramps in the middle would lead straight into the water I heard this, "Well, you know, bridges don't have to be over water!"


Total fun!

First Grade STEM: Some kids wanted a double-decker bridge with stacking roadways. The bridge in the top photo shows what kids did often. They pulled apart the cubes and slid the craft stick between cubes to hold it in place. Check this blog post for more!
Some kids wanted a double-decker bridge with stacking roadways. The bridge in the top photo shows what kids did often. They pulled apart the cubes and slid the craft stick between cubes to hold it in place. Y'all these are first graders! I thought that was pretty genius!

Best of all- total engagement!

First Grade STEM: They talked about the task, they solved problems when things would not stay in place, and they rebuilt when they got knocked down. They were fabulous! Read more on this blog post!
Total engagement! I knew this! I have STEM with upper grades and they are always almost 100% engaged with tasks. The little engineers were, too! They talked about the task, they solved problems when things would not stay in place, and they rebuilt when they got knocked down. They were fabulous!

This was the easiest little opening challenge and the first graders taught me a lot! I taught them what the word precarious means! (As in Don't Bump the Table!)






12

What's Going on in the Lab? Gliding Bridges!

Hello STEM Friends!
Are you ready for a  little bit about bridges?
STEM Challenge: In Nepal, people in remote villages build a bridge that crosses rivers by installing a rope across the river. Dangling from the rope is a passenger carrier and once you are seated in the carrier the passengers pull on the rope to glide the carrier across the river. We decided to try to build a model of this gliding bridge! Check this blog post for more!
We have built a lot of bridges in STEM Class!
In fact, you can read more about bridges right here:

I knew students loved bridges and I was looking for a different  kind of bridge when I happened upon an article about a gliding bridge. In Nepal, people in remote villages build a bridge that crosses rivers by installing a rope across the river. Dangling from the rope is a passenger carrier and once you are seated in the carrier the passengers pull on the rope to glide the carrier across the river. What they really need is a bridge like the one in the above photo but these are quite costly. Instead they often have rigged up their own version of a foot bridge or a gliding bridge- and in many cases these have been disastrous.
We watched videos about the bridges in STEM class and then decided to try to build a model.
First, we had to decide what a gliding bridge is!

STEM Challenge: After a little research we determined that a gliding bridge is a rope pulley system that carries passengers across a river or canyon by means of the passengers themselves. Once seated in the carrier the passengers reach to the overhead ropes and pull until they have crossed over to the other side. Check this blog post for more!
After a little research we determined that a gliding bridge is a rope pulley system that carries passengers across a river or canyon by means of the passengers themselves. Once seated in the carrier the passengers reach to the overhead ropes and pull until they have crossed over to the other side. What makes this work is two things: great supports on each side of the river and pulleys or some kind of ability for the rope to be easily pulled.


STEM Challenge: Build a bridge. Knowing that the supports on each side of the river were very important led to the first decision each team had to make. They were given a choice of what material to use for their anchors on each side. Check this blog post for more!
Knowing that the supports on each side of the river were very important led to the first decision each team had to make. They were given a choice of what material to use for their anchors on each side. We used two lab tables that were about 2 feet apart for our river banks. The kids could choose from three types of foundations- rocky soil, sandy soil, or clay.

STEM Challenge: Build a passenger car for a bridge system. The next decision was the passenger carrier. What should it look like? Wow! We had so many different ways to cross that river! Our passengers were ping pong balls! Check this post for more!
The next decision was the passenger carrier. What should it look like? Wow! We had so many different ways to cross that river! Our passengers were ping pong balls! Again, the kids had to choose from available materials and decide how to build the carrier. Some of them chose craft sticks! What do you think happened when these carriers were tested? (Hint: They might have been heavy!)

STEM Challenge: This challenge presented so many dilemmas! One of the biggest problems to solve had to do with connecting the "rope" for the pulley system. Kids learned very quickly that the rope had to be securely attached to the support on each side. Check this post for ore!
This challenge presented so many dilemmas! One of the biggest problems to solve had to do with connecting the "rope" for the pulley system. Kids learned very quickly that the rope had to be securely attached to the support on each side. Look at the clever ways they found to attach the rope! The photo on the bottom right is a pulley the team designed!

STEM Challenge: To test the final bridge system kids had to demonstrate a crossing. We all cheered if their passenger car made it across without a mishap! Check this blog post for more!
To test the final bridge system kids had to demonstrate a crossing. We all cheered if their passenger car made it across without a mishap! What a fabulous real life model we built and the learning was just amazing!

So, there you have it- that's what we have been doing in the lab! How about you?

Coming soon:
Popcorn Challenge
Potatoes
First Graders!
2

5 Routines for Specialists!

It's August and it's time to go back to school!

Are you ready?

I have some new parts (like more classes) to my job this year and it is making me even more aware of the need for teaching routines and procedures in the first weeks of school. I know you are like me in expecting things to run smoothly and like clockwork as students come in that door every morning. I learned a long time ago that this is not the way it happens! The procedures and routines of any classroom have to be explicitly taught and practiced- just as much as math skills or swinging a golf club.

So, if you are a specialist, this will be a fun read and may give you some ideas. If you are a NEW specialist, you need this post and dozens more like it, to get you ready to start with multiple classes!
Let's get going with the top routines I am planning to work on!

Specialists need to really work on those classroom routines and procedures because of the limited time students are in their classrooms. Check this blog post or a few ideas!
Just a tiny bit of background! After teaching a regular classroom for a really long time I switched to the specialist world. The very first year was quite interesting as I took on seventeen classes. Those first few weeks were a lot of fun, but I quickly learned that I made a big mistake. I expected kids to listen to me one time and then do all the things I wanted. Now, three years later I have a list of things we are going to tackle from the very first day. And by tackling I mean explicit lessons and practice. The ones I have listed in this post are the ones that drive me the craziest. I know you can relate to that.

Lining Up

Teaching procedures is a big deal! Think about how often you line up. Decide how you want this to be handled. And then practice it everyday for the first few days or even weeks of school!
Now, you would think kids know how to do this, but you probably know they don't or they have forgotten what is expected. Or it is also possible that your expectations as those kids arrive at your special are different than their regular classroom teacher.
So, what can a specialist do?

Before my classes ever set foot in the door we stand in the hallway and go through procedures for my line up, traveling down the hall approaching my classroom, and waiting (if I happen not to be ready as they arrive). After talking through this procedure a couple of times we walk all the way to the end of the hall and approach the classroom again. And again. And maybe one more time!
At the end of this practice, we will talk about how this is what is expected each and every time they start down the lab hallway. With or without their classroom teacher. Even if it's the day before Christmas. Same procedure every time.
Think about how often you line up. Decide how you want this to be handled. And then practice. Daily! It seems silly, especially if you have never done this. But, think about it- we practice spelling words, we practice our multiplication facts, and we can also practice routines and procedures. 

Seating Arrangements

Okay, teachers of multiple classes- how do you assign seats? Or do you? Here's a fabulous hint: Don;t try to teach all your routines on the first day! Check this blog post for more!
This is a fairly easy aspect of the regular class. The kids sit in the same seats every day. You change them monthly or bi-weekly. With flexible seating, the kids can change up all day long.

Okay, teachers of multiple classes- how do you assign seats? Or do you?

Here's a story about my all-time favorite way to get kids to come in and get seated. This was the routine of our music teacher long ago. She had a large rug area right beside her piano. She taught the kids to come in and make a line of five in a row at the front of the rug. The 6th student started a new row and so on. When they were all seated they were in rows of five, one behind another. Then she did a call-back singing routine and it was fabulous! I always stood in her door and watched this because I loved it!

Now, I don't teach music, but I do have a seating routine. My classes work in groups and each group has its own table. When the class comes in, their lab folders are at their tables, they walk counter-clockwise around the lab tables and find their folders, and sit down. It's very simple, but we practice it anyway. I place name cards randomly around the room and on the very first day (after practicing the lineup routine) we talk about sitting and then practice it a few times.

There is more to this we learn later- which includes getting out materials and filling out the daily table report sheet. But it's too much for the very first day! That's another hint for you- Don't try to teach all your routines on the first day. Pick the top 3-4 and work on those!

It's Cleanup Time!

Clean up Routine: Every table has its own garage can, broom, and dustpan. At the end of class we have a clean up time. This is one of the routines we learn on the first day of class. Get the garbage can out and start picking up things from the table top that be e thrown away. Another student walks around the table doing a floor-check. Another looks under the table and the fourth get that broom and gets busy sweeping.
One of the classroom routines we use to teach about community and responsibility is the cleanup crew. At the beginning of the year you train some kids to be sweepers and plant waterers and garbage patrol and then they teach others and after about two months this works perfectly. You watch over the little sweeties until they are cleaning up the way you taught them and then you release them to those jobs! Excellent.

What about specials? Is there a need for a cleanup crew? Big surprise! When I started as a specialist I had no idea that clean up was going to be such a big deal. But it is. HUGE!

Here's what I do for this procedure and how we manage it at the end of class:
Every table has its own garbage can, broom, and dustpan. At the end of class, we have a cleanup time. We learn this procedure on the first day of class. Get the garbage can out and start picking up things from the table top that need to be thrown away. One student walks around the table doing a floor check. Another looks under the table and the fourth gets that broom and gets busy sweeping. The stools are moved back out of the way and for a few intense minutes, we are all cleaning. Each group dumps its small garbage can in the big can and then all the cleaning tools are placed back on their shelves. The room is ready for the next class.

Do we practice this? You better believe we do! On the first day, we walk through all the steps- Move the stools, walk around the table, floor check, sweep, dump, put it all back. I am thinking this year I may even walk around and throw some junk on the floor to help with the practice! Ha! Won't that be fun!?

Here's one more hint: When I know the tabletops are going to need to be wiped off I place some wet washcloths in a dish pan and kids use those to wipe off their tables. Washcloths work much better than paper towels!

Do You Have a Bathroom Routine?

Wow, do we all have different routines for this one! It does depend on your age group, but with my third graders we learned on day one what this procedure/routine would be. Check this blog post for more procedures to tackle in the first week of school!
Wow, do we all have different routines for this one! It does depend on your age group, but with my third grader, we learned on day one what this procedure/routine would be. I had a magnet board by the door and each student had a magnet. When one needed to go to the bathroom the magnet was moved into the bathroom space and off that student would go. One at a time, hurry, flush, wash your hands, get a drink, and come right back.

So, what on earth do specialists do? This has turned out not to be a huge issue for me. A lot of teachers have students stop in the restroom on the way to a special so they usually arrive ready to work. However, I do have a very simple plan. A boy and girl pass is hanging by the door. During work time if you must go, get the right pass, place it on the counter by the door, go to the bathroom, hurry, flush, wash, and get back! 

It has occurred to me that I will have to re-think my plan for my new first and second graders so if you have any magic tips for me with those ages, please leave me a comment!


Shared Materials in a Specialist's Classroom


How do you store classroom materials? Do you have community bins or do kids keep their own things? Check this post for some hints about teaching procedures for materials!
Big. Huge. Deal.
How do you store classroom materials? Do you have community bins or do kids keep their own things? In my former third grade class each student had a school box in which we kept glue sticks, pencils, scissors, and erasers. All the fun supplies were stored in cubbies so kids would not play with them all day.

But, specials are sooooooo different! A lot of specials only use pencils and paper so I am thinking it might be easier than a regular classroom. 
Here's my procedure:

  • Each table has a main supply caddy with scissors and pencils and sharpies.
  • Each table has two supply drawers with markers, colored pencils, rulers, clip boards, and paper. 
  • Need a new pencil? Turn in the old one and get a freshly sharpened one.
  • That's about as hard as it gets with my materials. The very first time we use any of the materials I have kids open the drawers and see what is in them. We practice taking things out and placing them back. I have kids pretend they need a new pencil and go to the pencil cups to trade in a bad one for a sharpened one. 


Here's a couple of hints for specialists:
We never use crayons. They break off and get ground into the floor. We use markers and colored pencils. Speaking of pencils... are you ready for this? This year I am going to try ink pens for lab work with my big kids. Bic pens. They won't need to be sharpened, they can't be taken apart, they don't break, and they last a long time. I will let you know how this goes!

And, yes, I am going to have to invent a procedure for using those pens..........*sigh*

One last hint for specialists: If you want to cement these procedures you have to practice them for the first whole month of school. The ones in this post are the first five we tackle. On the second day kids come to me we repeat and practice these and then learn a couple of new things. The next week we practice everything and learn a couple more..... you get it, I know! Have fun!




1

Five Ideas about an Engineering Vacation

Ready for some vacation engineering?
So, early in the summer we went to Charleston, South Carolina for a few days! It is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL and fun place to visit. I highly recommend that you spend some time there. Take a horse and buggy ride first and have your driver tell you the things you need to do.
In the meantime, I was captivated by things we saw that I tried to figure out.
 I mean, really, who looks at bridges and thinks about STEM......

STEM on vacation! Check this blog post for some things we saw on a recent vacation that made me think of STEM and what I could do in the classroom!

So, here's what happened. We went to this fort and one of the things we kept seeing were these little metal tracks, like railroad tracks, only curved. It took a while (and our tour guide's explanation) to figure out what these were. And then I was blown away. How on earth did people engineer that in the 1800's?
So that made me take a closer look at everything we saw- as a feat of engineering. I went back through my photos just to see what other things I captured .... Take a look!

This is the famous Pineapple fountain in Charleston, SC. Just think about how amazing that is. The water has to go through the statue in just the right way in order to spew out of all the little places and then make the perfect little water spouts. Isn't it gorgeous!
This is the famous Pineapple fountain. Just think about how amazing that is. The water has to go through the statue in just the right way in order to spew out of all the little places and then make the perfect little water spouts. Isn't it gorgeous!
Look at the photo below to see the whole thing and all the spouts working together. Amazing.
This is the famous Pineapple fountain in Charleston, SC. Just think about how amazing that is. The water has to go through the statue in just the right way in order to spew out of all the little places and then make the perfect little water spouts. Isn't it gorgeous!
It's actually much larger than it appears to be. There were kids all over the place wading in the water at the bottom and playing. This is in a little waterfront park with giant houses right across from the park. And in the distance you can see the bridge that was completely overwhelming!

STEM! The photo is showing only one of the cable sections. There are two. From a distance those cable look like strings, but when we drove across you realize these are gigantic steel cables. This photo will make students so excited about building suspension bridge models!
We drove across this bridge when we first got to Charleston and then back and forth across it several more times. It is truly a marvel. The photo above is showing only one of the cable sections. There are two. From a distance those cables look like strings, but when we drove across you realize these are gigantic steel cables. Look at the photos below to see more.

STEM! Driving across this fabulous bridge you realize these are gigantic steel cables. This photo will make students so excited about building suspension bridge models!
Even with those pictures you cannot truly understand the size of those cables. Those are light poles beside them if that will give you some perspective. My first thought when I saw this bridge was, "Oh my gosh, I cannot wait to show pictures of this to my students when we get ready to build suspension bridges again!" Yeah, I know, that is totally weird. But, I know they will be so excited. It's one thing to build a bridge from craft sticks and hot glue and quite another to see this marvel up close. It makes you appreciate those engineers that had this concept and then made it happen!
Our classroom Suspension Bridge project is located right {HERE}



Those are gigantic and weigh a huge amount. Certainly more than one person could push around. So, how on earth did the soldiers move them to aim?  Look closely at that photo above. See those little curved tracks. That's actual metal rails mounted into the ground so they could push the cannon wheels along the track to move them. More feats of engineering on this blog post!
Okay, this is the moment when I was blown away by how these cannons were engineered. First, of all, I thought cannons from the Revolutionary War or the Civil War were small. Y'all those are gigantic and weigh a huge amount. Certainly more than one person could push around. So, how on earth did the soldiers move them to aim? 
Look closely at that photo above. See those little curved tracks.
That's actual metal rails mounted into the ground so they could push the cannon wheels along the track to move them.
Those are gigantic and weigh a huge amount. Certainly more than one person could push around. So, how on earth did the soldiers move them to aim?  Look closely at that photo above. See those little curved tracks. That's actual metal rails mounted into the ground so they could push the cannon wheels along the track to move them. More feats of engineering on this blog post!
You can see the tracks in these photos, too. I thought this was truly genius and I can't wait to show my students these pictures. What do you think we can build- using this knowledge?!



This is the Angel Oak in Charleston, SC. First, of all, it's maybe 500 years old.  It's about 68 feet tall and the distance around the trunk is 28 feet. The spread of Angel Oak's branches takes in 17,000 square feet. The branches sweep the ground on all sides. It is truly a marvel. Check this blog post for more feats of engineering!
Okay, I am guilty of buying those tourist guidebooks when we go places. You know, the ones that always have a page called "The Top 10 Places You Must Visit"! And this little tree was strongly recommended. So, off we went, in pouring rain, to visit the Angel Oak Tree. This tree is in its own little park and the tree is not little.
First, of all, it's maybe 500 years old. 
It's about 68 feet tall and the distance around the trunk is 28 feet. That number seems little until you take a look at a tree in your yard. Our largest tree is about four feet in circumference. So, 28 feet is ridiculous. The spread of Angel Oak's branches takes in 17,000 square feet. The branches sweep the ground on all sides. It is truly astounding.

This is the Angel Oak in Charleston, SC. First, of all, it's maybe 500 years old.  It's about 68 feet tall and the distance around the trunk is 28 feet. The spread of Angel Oak's branches takes in 17,000 square feet. The branches sweep the ground on all sides. It is truly a marvel. Check this blog post for more feats of engineering!
So, how is this engineering. Well, you are going to have look closely. As we walked up under the gigantic branches I noticed giant nuts and bolts and then began to really look closely and found wires bolted to the branches and then bolted to lower branches. The tree limbs are so heavy that these cables are helping to hold them up. That's pretty clever, but also the folks that came up with the right places to add the cables and bolt them together is pretty genius. Look at that branch above! It's is bigger around than the largest tree in my yard!

This is the Angel Oak in Charleston, SC. First, of all, it's maybe 500 years old.  It's about 68 feet tall and the distance around the trunk is 28 feet. The spread of Angel Oak's branches takes in 17,000 square feet. The branches sweep the ground on all sides. It is truly a marvel. Check this blog post for more feats of engineering!
Then I noticed one more thing! A lot of the branches that are sweeping the ground have blocks of wood under them. I added an arrow to the photo to show you. Now, I am not sure why that block is there, but the engineers that helped this tree must have had  a good reason. Maybe to help alleviate the stress of laying on the ground. This made me think of a way to use the photo in class. What if I had this photo displayed, with the arrow, and had kids brainstorm the reason for those little blocks.....which led me to thinking about all kinds of photos we could use for this same reason! Wouldn't this make a great entry thinking question to start your science class?!
In the meantime, we stood at the base of this tree in total awe of its beauty and size. Not to mention being 500  years old!


This is Fort Sumter and a lot of it is still standing. Probably due to the way it was engineered and built. See the arches. Engineers know that an arch supports itself with downward compression and will remain standing long after other things have crashed. Check this blog post for more feats of engineering!
Alright, so how is a fort engineered? We actually visited two! Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter. We rode a ferry out to Fort Sumter and, let me tell you, approaching that island fort was an awesome sight. It is just so tiny and when you consider its history and what its purpose was, it is just mind-boggling that this tiny island and fort withstood assaults. But, it did. And  a lot of it is still standing.
Probably due to the way it was engineered and built.
See the arches. Engineers know that an arch supports itself with downward compression and will remain standing long after other things have crashed. Think about the arched bridges in Italy that are hundreds of years old and still function. So, definitely the builders of this little fort thought about how to get the walls to remain standing even during attacks. The buildings you can see in the photo that have fallen were barracks that were built in rectangular shapes and you can see what is left of them!
I am guessing we need to build a house out of arches if we ever move. And I need to invent a STEM challenge that involves arches!

In the meantime do two things:
1. Go visit Charleston, South Carolina. You will love it!
2. Go visit Doodlebugs Teaching and see others that have joined this week's Five for Friday link up. Join yourself, too!



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Back to School STEM with Towers!


Are you ready to go back to school? I am guessing you are- if Instagram and Facebook are correct! It looks like teachers are jumping right into decorating classrooms and gathering ideas for the beginning!
Let me help you with some easy-peasy STEM Challenges!

It's all about Towers!
If you are looking for some quick and easy STEM challenges to start off the school year this blog post will show you several!

Now, let me just tell you---- we build towers ALL THE TIME!
Kids love towers! They love talking about them, telling us which tall buildings or towers they know something about, and they love building them!
Of course, I would say they really love the competitive part of towers! I mean, who doesn't want to have the tallest tower, right?
So, last year we invented some towers that aren't always going to be very tall. I came up with some ideas for towers that have a function (and one that is just purely silly fun) - and height might not be part of it. 
Here are FIVE towers that your kids will love!

STEM Challenge! Water towers are so fun to build, but the best part is testing them! Will that water container stay in place or splash?
Let's start with Water towers. My idea here was to have kids think about why you would need a water tower and then build one. With my test class I had a group build one that satisfied all the constraints and it took them about four and a half minutes!
So, you know what I did--- I changed the rules and made it harder.
Of course, I did- that's why we have a test class. (By the way, my classes love being the test class! It's pretty weird, but kids will actually ask if they are the testers. I think they like stopping and changing the rules or solving the mystery of what will work for other classes.)

Don't you love that photo above. Those boys are ready to catch their water container, aren't they?

STEM Challenge! Water towers are so fun to build, but the best part is testing them! Will that water container stay in place or splash?
This one satisfied the task constraints, but that little water container part is perched rather precariously I might say! After testing it the team went back and added some features to make it more safe! It's called Improving in the Engineering Design Process!
This is a one day challenge with some easy materials to gather. Just have some towels ready!
Click {HERE} for details about Water Towers!

STEM Challenge: Build a satellite tower! The trick on this challenge was that students had to work as two separate teams. One half of the team built the satellite dish while the other half built the tower. Then they had to connect them together and the dish had to be movable.
This one came about one day when I drove by an apartment building and noticed every single balcony and window had a satellite dish attached. I wondered why the apartment complex didn't just have one giant satellite dish that everyone could connect to. So, I took that thought into class and asked students to design a satellite dish tower that could reach thousands of people. We tried some materials that worked well with  actually appearing to be satellites.

STEM Challenge: Build a satellite tower! The trick on this challenge was that students had to work as two separate teams. One half of the team built the satellite dish while the other half built the tower. Then they had to connect them together and the dish had to be movable.
The trick on this challenge was that students had to work as two separate teams. One half of the team built the satellite dish while the other half built the tower. Then they had to connect them together and the dish had to be movable. Pretty tricky, right? We loved this one and it was a one day challenge using materials I had already! Win-win!
Click {HERE} for details about Satellite Towers!


STEM Challenge: This challenge uses index cards- any size you want and each group gets only 12. This is an amazing and simple challenge and would be perfect at the beginning of your school year- without breaking your budget!
To be completely honest this challenge came about in an effort to be frugal with materials. I teach multiple classes and I really have to think about supplies all the time! This challenge uses index cards- any size you want and each group gets only 12.
Yep.
Twelve cards and a little bit of tape and then they build a tower.
The first time I tried this I had a lot of muttering and whining about the lack of materials and then the kids got busy.
Here's the thing: Kids will do what they have to do! Give them ten tons of  things with no restraints and they will use all the things. ALL of them. And they will waste a lot of it.
One thing we have definitely learned to do is use materials wisely and make do. Isn't that real life?

STEM Challenge: This challenge uses index cards- any size you want and each group gets only 12. This is an amazing and simple challenge and would be perfect at the beginning of your school year- without breaking your budget!
Here's another thing! You would think that with such a small amount of supplies all of their towers would look the same. No way! They tried such amazing things to solve this one and it was so fun to watch. And, they were so PROUD of being able to get a standing tower. This is an amazing and simple challenge and would be perfect at the beginning of your school year- without breaking your budget!
Click {HERE} for details about Card Towers!


STEM Challenge: Twelve straws was hard! Most kids wanted to build a very, very tall tower and use those spindly legs as the support base. What do you think happened?
Well, let me just tell you- the index card tower with only twelve cards was such a hit- I had to try the same premise with a different material- STRAWS! Now, you would think it would be practically the same building challenge, but it was so much more challenging. Twelve straws was hard! Most kids wanted to build a very, very tall tower and use those spindly legs as the support base. What do you think happened?
Yeah, they fell over! 
So, kids learned that they would have to try many things to make the bottom more secure. Take a look at the top photos. The first thing I notice is the teeny tiny amount of tape that team used! Ha- I have said this so many times: My students know how to use tape wisely. That team made those four tall skinny legs and then secured them at the top and somehow that one stood up! The other thing we noticed was how the kids used the bendy part of the straws in such clever ways!
This one was a hit with my fourth graders and it's another that would be great to try at the beginning of the year!
Click {HERE} for details about Straw Towers!

STEM Challenge: I call it a Spoon Tower and kids have no idea what is happening until they open their materials bins. They are all for this tower design until they are told that one of the rules is that the plastic spoon must be at the top of the tower!
This one makes me laugh every time we do it! I call it a Spoon Tower and kids have no idea what is happening until they open their materials bins. They are all for this tower design until they are told that one of the rules is that the plastic spoon must be at the top of the tower!
Why? Well, it's purely simple- cause when I invented this one I just pulled out a bunch of wacky materials and thought a spoon on the top would be funny.
Then kids loved building it! You just never know!!
Again, this one is great for the beginning of the year - just for fun!
Click {HERE} for details about Spoon Towers!

So, which one are you going to try? STEM is a great way to build community at the beginning of the school year! All of these towers are fantastic and easy to set up. Best of all, KIDS LOVE THEM!

Join me back here on Friday for Engineering on vacation and keep coming back for more of:
Coming Soon:
Gliding Bridges
Hammocks
Baked Potatoes

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