Category Archives: Science

Why Don’t Ants Get Stuck in Traffic?

My students are always fascinated when I have an ant farm in the classroom, and there is a lot to be learned from these insects as we observe their organized frenzy.  Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart” recently published a YouTube video that answers the question, “Why don’t ants get stuck in traffic?”  After watching the video you may second guess your feelings on self-driving cars…

Ada Twist, Scientist

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist.  Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M.  They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.

Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds.  Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”

You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.

For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.

You can’t resist Ada Twist, Scientist!

image from Ada Twist, Scientist
image from Ada Twist, Scientist

Don’t Try this With a Car

Thanks to my friend, Suzanne, for sharing this awesome video with me!

In this video from Smarter Every Day, the host, Destin, demonstrates what really happens when you actually try to change your mind.  I don’t mean when you switch to pizza instead of a hamburger.  I mean when you try to change something your mind has done the same way for decades, like riding a bike.  You will see the neuroplasticity of the brain in action, and realize that it takes a lot more work when you’re an adult than a child to create new paths in the brain.

Of course, you will immediately want to take the challenge of riding a backwards bike as soon as you watch the video.  If you are so inclined, you can buy your own for $500 at the Smarter Every Day shop.  There is a disclaimer, of course, that you will basically be paying a lot of money for a bike you won’t be able to ride…

Brain Bike Disclaimer from Smarter Every Day
Brain Bike Disclaimer from Smarter Every Day

I’m adding this video to my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board, and I’m going to use my left hand to click on the mouse. Baby steps…

Beauty’s Beak

Deborah Lee Rose is an author who recently worked with a raptor biologist, Jane Veltkamp, to write the non-fiction book, Beauty and the Beak.  The book will be published in 2017, but you can already access related S.T.E.M. materials here.

Beauty, who had much of her beak shot off by a poacher, was almost euthanized because of her inability to survive.  Jane Veltkamp and her team collaborated to save Beauty, and the eagle is celebrating her 15th birthday this year.

One important part of Design Thinking is empathy, and the story of how Beauty’s rescuers cared for her and found a way to replace the eagle’s beak using the technology of 3d printing is an excellent illustration of empathy at work.

There are so many lessons to be learned by the story of Beauty, from the perils of poaching to the fantastic feats that can be accomplished by those who work together to beat the odds.  This is a tale that is relevant and inspiring, and sure to make an impact on your students on multiple levels.

Beauty Before and After
USFWS Photo by Glen Hush – Beauty Before and After

Teach STEM with Stuffed Animals

I recently read a post on We are Teachers by Erin Bittman (@ErinEBittman) about how to use stuffed animals to teach STEM concepts.  In the article, Bittman gives several examples of how students can practice measuring, weighing, and using other mathematical skills as they compare their stuffed animals.  In addition, lessons can be learned about animal adaptations and habitats.

One reason I love these ideas is because I have seen the devotion that younger students have to their stuffed animals.  With that kind of interest, students will definitely be engaged.  The lesson give multiple opportunities for cross-curricular connections that will make the learning memorable and relevant to the students.  Check out Bittman’s article for specific activities, and feel free to add more in the Comment section!

I have a “Stemspirational” Pinterest Board here if you are looking for even more resources.



Monday’s post was about a recent field trip my 3rd-5th graders took to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center that was augmented by adding some drone education while we were out there.  Before we went on the trip, I did lengthy discussions with my students, particularly my 5th graders, about drones.  We have been talking about freedom vs. safety a lot in our class, and this is a real-life topic that fits right into that.

I showed my students a video of how drones can be used for conservation.  It is an engaging and informative TED Talk by Lian Pin Koh. We talked about how there is potential for good and for harm with this technology – just as there has been and will be with any new technology.

After the field trip, I had my students fill out some Depth and Complexity frames about the ethics, multiple perspectives, changes over time, and rules for drones.  I thought I would share some of their work. (Be sure to read the awesome “Dronuts” idea!)

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You can read more about how drones are being used and may be used in the future in my Drones for Education post.  Also, here is another example of #dronesforgood from the TED blog about how they can help to deliver medicine in remote areas.

A Bird’s Eye View

Located in the southern part of San Antonio, TX, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is dedicated to the conservation of birds. Though it’s open to the public, the majority of the tourists are the birds who stop in the area during their migrations.  The Center offers field trip and guided tours, and is a must-see destination for local birdwatchers.

When planning a drone demonstration for my gifted students with Justin Moore, @texasbyair, Mr. Moore mentioned that he had done some work with Mitchell Lake.  My 5th graders were researching field trip locations, and I thought it might be the perfect match as they seemed mostly interested in nature and wildlife.  The staff at Mitchell Lake, especially Jake Stush, were very accommodating as we worked with them to customize a unique field trip for the students.  Mr. Moore and Mr. Stush teleconferenced with the 5th graders a couple of times to finalize the plans before the tour.  We wanted to show the benefits of using drones, and give the students the opportunity to learn more about the habitats the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is trying to preserve.

On the day of our trip, 23 gifted students from 3rd-5th grades visited Mitchell Lake.  We separated the students into two groups. Mr. Stush took one group on a hike of the area near Bird Pond to learn more about the resident birds and how the sanctuary has changed over time.  Mr. Moore took the other group to get some drone footage of the region.

As the students learned about the importance of preserving areas like Mitchell Lake and used their binoculars to see some of the birds and other wildlife up close and personal, they also got to find out how drones can be used for scientific research.  Mr. Moore divided the students up into groups to give them jobs for the drone flight – allowing them to look up weather conditions, keep the launch/landing pad area cordoned off, take pictures and video, and to keep the drone in sight and away from obstacles and predators.

It was incredible to learn about this lesser-known part of San Antonio which actually has a huge impact on the ecosystem, as well as to allow students to see the amazing potential of drone technology to help us to work on improving our environment.

As I watched the drone take off, and saw curious birds circle it from a cautious distance while my students watched from the earth below, I felt that I was witnessing a certain kind of tentative balance among man, machine, and animal as we all try to learn how to exist together.

The next day, Mr. Moore sent us a highlight reel of our trip, using video from the drone, as well as video and pictures taken by the students.  He also sent a digital 3d map that was created from the drone’s footage.  It even included our school bus!  We talked about how the information could help the researchers at Mitchell Lake and how much we enjoyed our trip.

For more information about using Drones for Education, check out this post.  Thanks to Mr. Moore (@texasbyair) and the staff of Mitchell Lake (@MLAudubonCenter) for making our field trip so memorable!

Mitchell Lake