Category Archives: Uncategorized

Inventing 101

Alexis Lewis is a teenage inventor who is on a mission to inspire other teens to innovate.  You can read her story, and about the products she has invented so far in her young life, here.  Alexis specifically wants middle schools to guide students with inventing curriculum, and has launched a website to help in this endeavor.  Inventing 101 is a good start as a repository of resources with this end in mind.  You can also visit her personal website to learn more about other teen inventors on this page

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Operation Valentine

Operation Valentine is an adorable project on Instructables that can be used for grades 3 and up to teach the basics of electrical circuits just in time for Valentine’s Day.  You may recall the post that I did that included some of the Operation projects my co-worker, Kat Sauter, did with the 8th grade science teacher.  The Instructables project from mathiemom is definitely more manageable with younger students.  Maybe your students can make these for their Virtual Valentines projects, or in addition to some of these other STEM projects for the young at heart 🙂

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Cup-Stacking Teamwork

I came across this cup-stacking activity from Jaclyn Sepp when I was looking for some ways to help the students work on teamwork.  I did it with 5 different classes of 8th grade students with various levels of success.  (Note to self – don’t have the cups on the table while you are trying to give directions.)  I found that it definitely works better with at least 5 students in a group, and that they love making challenges for other groups once they have completed the first two! (Link at the bottom of her post will take you to the second challenge.)

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Year of Engineering

Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms.  In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year.  (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)

After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas.  There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning.  And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.

During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning.  Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.

Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources.  From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me.  My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”

You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site.  Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…

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CC image from Pixabay

Spatial Puzzles

While searching for ways to help my engineering students develop some desperately needed problem-solving stamina and spatial reasoning, I came across these wonderful puzzles that are in color – and provide solutions. (Did I mention I need to practice my spatial reasoning, too?)  I gave them the TED Ed River Crossing Riddle last week, and I thought I was about to have a full-on mutiny on my hands when I wouldn’t reveal the answer right away, so I thought I would try some less complex challenges for the next few weeks 🙂

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image from Gerwin Sturm on Flickr

Engineering Design Process Lessons from Design Squad

I’ve been combing the internet for projects to do with my engineering students (grades 8-10), and ran across these lessons from Design Squad.  They don’t quite fit my curriculum, but I thought I would share them since I know a lot of my colleagues are working on incorporating STEAM into the curriculum.  If you look on the left side of the page, you will see other lessons and activities that you may be able to use in areas that range from electricity to structures.

I have included Design Squad in posts since 2013, but I don’t think I have mentioned this particular page before.  Even if I have, it bears repeating!  This site offers a lot of creative challenges and videos that are great for any STEAM classroom.  And it’s not just for elementary students.  I used one of their videos today with my secondary students on isometric drawing, and it was the perfect introduction to a brand new topic for them.  After you browse the site, click here to visit their YouTube channel, chock full of videos on all sorts of design topics.

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Heads or Tails – I Win!

I like to make a lot of life decisions by flipping a coin.

Before you dismiss me as a crackpot, hear me out.

There is a moment when the reveal happens, when you uncover the coin to see heads or tails, during which you must access the deepest part of yourself.  Because, no matter how ambivalent you were about your decision before you tossed that coin in the air, that inner part of you knows what you really want.  There will be a tenth of a second that you will feel either relief or disappointment at the outcome, and that’s important information for your ultimate decision.

Of course, not everything we want is good for us.  I don’t use the coin technique for deciding whether or not to eat a tub full of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream.  It’s reserved for those important times where the pros seem to equal the cons, like my recent job dilemma.

Except it didn’t work this time.  “Heads” told me I should apply for the new job.  But relief and disappointment both exploded in my soul.  I didn’t want to leave my students, my colleagues, my district I had worked in for 27 years.  I had a great job that I knew how to do.

But.

I was intrigued by the idea of a new adventure, taking a job that practically described word for word, my dream career (which I had pitched to several people over the years) that seemed impossible to do in a public school.

And, I had a child’s voice in my head that urged me on.  “Mrs. Eichholz always encourages us to take risks,” she answered, when someone asked her what she had learned in GT.  “Responsible ones!” another student shouted – just to clarify.

This is true. I tell them to go outside their comfort zone, do things they have never done so they can learn what they’ve never learned.  “Don’t stick to what’s easy for you or your brain won’t get enough exercise!” We try things together that I’ve never even done, and they watch me make mistakes on a daily basis – and learn from them.

I never say, “Okay, everyone, when you are middle-aged and two years from being eligible from retirement and you live 5 minutes away from work and you know everyone in the community and you have good friends who support you and make you laugh every day, and you’ve taught K-5 for nearly three decades, throw it all away for a job that might require you to 3d print a parachute while you’re jumping out of the plane.”

But here I am.  And it feels exhilarating and completely intimidating at the same time.

I guess the coin toss kind of did work.  I think my soul was telling me that either decision would be fine.  I had a choice between two different journeys, and I picked the really scary one – mostly so I can tell my students, “Don’t tell me you can’t do that just because you’ve never done it before! Challenges make your brain even stronger!”  And mean it.

I have accepted a position in SAISD as a S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher at their Advanced Learning Academy, which serves grades 4-12.  They have a Maker Space (with power tools!), and I will be teaching some classes, helping other teachers to integrate S.T.E.A.M. projects, and working with Trinity University students studying Education.