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5 Myths About STEM…

by Stem_ED

(and how not to worry about it)

It was the spring of 2013 when I first heard these words, 

“We are going to have a STEM Lab next year!”

Well, I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I researched a little and then went back to my principal to let her know the job was going to be mine. And it was!

Now, many years later I have learned so much.  One thing that worried me, at first, were the articles and blog posts I kept finding that seemed to have some “myths” about STEM. So, let’s talk about five myths concerning STEM and how I can clear up those misconceptions for you!

If you are ready to tackle STEM Challenges- this post is for you! Let's dispel some of those myths that are floating around. The post has tips and resource ideas for you!

A Myth about STEM – # 1

Here’s a fabulous STEM challenge to help ease into STEM at the beginning of a school year! It’s all about school boxes and pencils! This one has an interesting premise and will spark a discussion about why students would need to build a pencil box. Mine came up with some creative ideas!

STEM curriculum is not creative. You just build stuff.


I read that in an article. STEM is not creative. Kids just build things and everything looks the same. Y’all. This is just not true. Even with the same task constraints and the same materials, the structures I see in class are all different. And, let me just tell you this: KIDS ARE AMAZING!

They have no fear! Most of them are not striving to be PERFECT. They just want to complete the task and add their own special touches to the devices. And that’s when I see their creativity!

Take a look at that photo above. The kids were building a box. The constraints required that the box be a certain size and it had to have a handle. However, what we ran into was that the boxes would not stay closed when picked up by the handle. So, teams had to add a fastener to hold the box closed. Do you see what that team did? Look at the arrow. It is showing you the little hook they created to hold their box shut. That is creative!

TIP: Allow time for decorating! Kids want to do it. They love making signs about their structure and adding those wonderful little decorative items. And, you need a scrap box. My students know to go to the scrap box when they are decorating. They will find all colors of paper in small amounts (many of them with a hole in the center because kids).

Myth # 2 –

This is one fantastic STEM challenge that is now in our top three all-time favorites! It’s a bungee jump challenge using rubber bands and a ton of math! Students experiment and analyze their data to determine the next step as they design the ultimate bungee jump.

STEM focuses on only one subject- Science. 

Yes, Science is a major focus. But is that all? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Our favorite challenges involve the scientific method and experimenting. This means we must keep data and this involves research, calculating, averaging results, analyzing results, and concluding from those results.

We write in every class. The kids must write explanations, draw or sketch ideas, jot down notes about what is happening, record improvements in their designs, and then write reflective paragraphs. We don’t always research, but we do use electronic devices to find information when we need it, we find ideas to help with designs, and we use recording devices to view our presentations or create our presentations.

But, here’s the BIG advantage of STEM. It’s not just about the academic subjects. The collaboration and teamwork are profound. Kids learn to work together as a team with the best interests of the team at the heart of the task. They learn to take on jobs and responsibilities and share the workload. They make DECISIONS! Good gracious, this is a big issue- making the right choices. I would have to say that STEM encompasses just about everything. It’s not just science.

And, by the way, that photo is showing you the amazing Barbie Bungee Jump. In this challenge students experiment with the length of the bungee cord and keep data in graph form. Then we plot expected distances based on the trend on the graph to determine what length would work best for a major 7-foot drop. Oh my, the math in this one is crazy good!

TIP: Let students use calculators. This makes the challenge about the structure and not those precise calculations that a calculator can do for us.

Another Myth about STEM – # 3

Let’s build a robot model that has a purpose that students or their parents might need! This is the perfect STEM Challenge to try after reading The Wild Robot or The Bot That Scott Built. Reading and a STEM Challenge is a win-win!

STEM is only about gadgets and robots and circuits.

For some people, the acronym STEM brings on the vision of robots, robotics, engines, and complicated circuitry. Those are part of STEM class, certainly. But, there is so much more. STEM includes the T for Technology and again, you immediately think of computers and then probably robots.

However, technology is defined as this: It’s the purposeful application of information in designing and producing goods and services or for use in human activities. Here’s another meaning: Technology means using materials in a way to solve a problem.

This might include using materials in an unusual or innovative way. Wow, does that sound like only robotics? No! It sounds like designing and building a device to solve a problem, maybe using materials that might not be the ordinary ones for that problem. Yet you tackle it anyway!

Now, think about that! Isn’t that real life? If you have not seen the movie called Apollo 13 you need to watch it. In that movie, the astronauts have to build a device to replenish their oxygen supply and they must use only the materials they have on the spacecraft. The materials were not meant to be used for this purpose, but it’s all they have (they are in space!) Friends, this is STEM! It’s not just robots!

But, speaking of robots! Take a look at the photo above. That cute little robot is from our Design a Robot Challenge. Students use a variety of craft items to create a robot and must create a function for it. The function must be reasonable and something I would purchase for use in my home. So, no saving the galaxy with this robot- I want want that will scoop the cat litter! Ha!

TIP: You need some cardboard tubes. Seriously, those cardboard toilet tissue or paper towel tubes are a perfect STEM material. Ask parents to save them for you!

Myth # 4 –

This little challenge is such a hit with students! They love to design those giant homes with extra rooms and spaces to fill with unusual themes. Basketball court beside your kitchen? Why not! In this Quick Challenge, students will design the floor plan for the home of their dreams.

STEM is only for kids that are planning to be engineers when they grow up.

This myth just makes me laugh! Seriously, who would believe this?Let me just set this one straight.

STEM is for every kid! I see a little more than 350 kids each week and of that number, I would say about 10 don’t like STEM projects. The rest think coming to STEM is the best part of their week.

This is for so many reasons. Kids that are artists are the creative part of a team. Kids that like to build things are the construction crew. Kids that like to be exact are the tape managers or the person that keeps the group on task. My best students are NOT always the natural engineer type students. My best students are the ones that don’t do well in other subjects. Struggling readers, reluctant writers, not so great at math kids… those are my best students. They work hard because of one simple fact- in STEM class, failure is part of the process, and being able to re-do and improve is what they need to do all day long. STEM is for all kids.(Climbing off my soapbox now.)

If you would like to throw a little bit of real life into your STEM class try the Dream House Design project (pictured above). Students use graph paper to design a house that has their dream rooms. Don’t be fooled, however. This is more than a drawing project. As they design their rooms, the students must also calculate the area of each room! Love throwing in some math!

TIP: If you try a project like this do add a few basic rules. Students that have completed this in my lab will often have 14 rooms for sports and watching movies and making donuts and have zero bathroom or no closets. Yes, I allow the dream rooms, but my constraints include some basic rooms that all houses must have!

Finally, Myth about STEM # 5 –

STEM – Engineering Design Process Posters: This is a full size Poster Set featuring the steps of the Engineering Design Process with primary colors!

STEM is expensive.

Okay, friends, I will not lie. Materials for STEM can be daunting. Goodness, I have made pancakes for THREE weeks with two grade levels and that amount of pancake stuff was over the top. But, they sure did learn a lot!

I have another challenge that requires five-foot lengths of PVC pipe, but once you buy them you have them forever. And, you can always substitute broomsticks. Go see the custodian!

Anyway, yes, materials can be a lot to purchase or have donated, but you can also build about anything with straws and craft sticks. So, let’s just dispel that myth about materials being expensive.

TIPS: Ask parents and local business to donate to you. Parents will save cardboard boxes and tubes for you until you run out of room to store them. Make a shopping list for things from a dollar store and put it on your website. YOu might be surprised at what parents will buy for you. I have lots more tips about gathering materials and I will link those below!

By the way, that cute poster set is one I created for first and second graders who needed Engineering Design Posters. For a few dollars you can grab a set like this, print it, laminate it, and use it for years! I have so many colors of this set for upper grades!

Click on any of the images to see the resources.

Blog posts about Materials:

If you are ready to tackle STEM Challenges- this post is for you! Let's dispel some of those myths that are floating around. The post has tips and resource ideas for you!

The post 5 Myths About STEM… appeared first on Teachers are Terrific.

March’s Best Books

by Stem_ED

The best books of March, oh my. This month I have traveled with giraffes, read more about short-term memory loss, been mesmerized with a tale of horror, and been angered beyond anger at the antics of a company that employed a young man nicknamed Buck.

Here are the best books of the month and one that was my least favorite.

Book Reviews -The best books I read in March 2021 reviewed with snippets and recommendations. I also included my least favorite book of the month.

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links to resources. This means that with your purchase of items Amazon will pass on small percentages to me. This will not create extra costs for you at all! It will help me keep this blog running!

West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

Woodrow Wilson Nickel is 17 years old when he loses his entire family. It is 1938 and dust storms have overtaken the panhandle of Texas. Woody’s baby sister dies, then his mother, and then more tragedy.

Woody makes his way to a cousin in New York City by jumping trains.

The book opens with Woody in the city during the Great hurricane of 1938. As he comes to after being thrashed in the wind, he finds his only living relative, dead. And then…

“…the last thing you think you’re going to see in the middle of flipped boats and buildings afire and bodies dangling and sirens wailing is a couple of giraffes.”

And then Woody also sees “a shiny new truck with a wood contraption strapped to its long flatbed” and he realizes the giraffes are going to be transported. Old Man steps out and thus the adventure begins.

Old Man is the name Woody gives to Riley Jones – the person that is going to take the giraffes across America to the San Diego zoo.

Woody joins the excursion as the driver of the truck- but only after stealing a motorbike and following the caravan for a time. Despite being only 17 and not really knowing how to drive a large truck carrying two swaying giraffes Woody and Old Man go across the Appalachian mountains, across Tennessee, Arkansas, and the panhandle of Texas. From there they make their way across the desert. They are followed closely by a photographer named Augusta (nicknamed Red by Woody), a woman that wears trousers and is traveling alone. (Both scandalous in the time.)

The journey is slow with many stops at roadside camps, motels, and towns. People gawk at the giraffes and help Old Man and Woody. They encounter circus trains that want the giraffes, muddy detours, mountains switchbacks, and overpasses they cannot fit under. And the drama of being followed by Augusta Red.

“I was hoping for sleep without nightmares, I saw a flash of bear on the back of my eyelids and felt the touch of Red’s lips on my cheek. And I wondered what might be more dangerous, the bear, the giraffes, or a camera-packing redhead in britches.”

Woody obviously falls for Red, but the real story here is his love for the giraffes. This is an amazing book, based on a true story. The language of the text is rich with details and beauty. I loved this book– 5 stars absolutely.

And, side note, I learned so much about giraffes. Two giraffes together will not sleep at the same time. One stays awake to guard against prey- lions. So, the ultimate great day for a giraffe is “a day with no lions”.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Oh. My. Let me give you some background about this book.

Darren, a 20-something black man living in Bed-Stuy, New York works at a Starbucks in a high rise office building.

He is perfectly content with his life. He lives with his mom, has a long-time girlfriend, and really hasn’t a care in the world.

Until one day, he greets a regular customer with a hard-sell to try a different kind of coffee. The customer happens to be the CEO of a company located on the upper floors of the building. The man, Rhett, is so intrigued by the success Darren has in selling him one cup of coffee that he makes him an offer to join his company.

And, the book takes off! Darren, now called ‘Buck’ ( a nickname given due to his former job), begins his training to become a phone solicitor for the Sumwun company. What do they sell? I still am not sure- it’s a counseling business that has clients all over the world. Yeah.

In the meantime, Buck is struggling with all other aspects of his life and making rather hasty and weird decisions. He becomes an unlikeable character (for me).

Now, let’s talk about this book. If you do not know the meaning of satire, you are going to need to look that up. This book is not serious and if you read reviews you will find a lot of people rating the book low because of the language and events that are way over-the-top. Reviews sound like the reader didn’t understand this book was totally exaggerating everything, on purpose. For example, Darren is employed in this company and is the only person of color. He is called names, given the nickname ‘Buck’, and has white paint poured over his head on his first day on the job. Every single person he is introduced to will say, “Hey, did you know you look like ____?” Fill in the blank with the name of any famous black man.

So, what could possibly be any redeeming qualities for this book? Great question. The book is compelling as Buck goes through his training to be able to sell anything. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are asides that read like a how-to book about selling. Some of these techniques ring true while others are just silly (satire, remember). Anyway, as Buck transforms into his selling persona you will be appalled and yet you will keep reading. Is Buck destined to be an all-time best salesperson in his industry or will he crash eventually? Hmmmm… just a note, there is a delicious twist near the end that I did not see coming!

And, here’s the thing that occurred to me at 79% on my Kindle- the book did to me, the reader, exactly what happens to Buck. He resisted joining the company and then did anyway. I was shocked at parts of the book but kept reading anyway. The author “sold” this book to me.

Can I recommend it? Yes, I do think it is an eye-opener and worth your time. You will think about it after you finish it and I thought it ended perfectly. I have heard that the audio version is amazing, but I read this one on an E-reader. My rating is a 4.5 – 5.

Later by Stephen King

Jamie is about six as the book opens. Living with a single mother is a typical child, well except, for that special thing he has. Mom is a literary agent and does well. A girlfriend of mom's stays with them occasionally. Perfect little life, right?

I seriously have a copy of Carrie that has book jacket and tattered pages. It’s that old. I cannot even guess how many years ago I bought it.

Let’s face it. I will buy anything written by the genius that is Stephen King.

This book features a young man that has an unusual ability. If you know this author I am sure you know what that ability might entail. I will let you find out when you read the book.

Jamie is about six as the book opens. Living with a single mother is a typical child, well except, for that special thing he has. Mom is a literary agent and does well. A girlfriend of mom’s stays with them occasionally. Perfect little life, right?

Aha- remember who wrote this. All is dreamy until the author of one of mom’s book lines dies. His last book will go unpublished and finances become a problem. Would a mother use her son’s special ability to gain something? Hmmm…I am not telling.

Let’s just say that, from what I read over the years, that when you bargain with the dead, or the devil, or the spirits, or whatever magical special abilities Stephen King thinks up, you are going to swiftly meet with some problems. And it may be a horror story…

I absolutely cannot tell you more than this. Yes, if you are a King fan, you will love this book. 5 stars, Mr. King, always.

Memories in the Drift by Melissa Payne

Although I enjoyed this book, it is my least favorite of the month.

I have too many questions.

This book deals with short-term memory loss- the inability to remember something that happened five minutes ago.

Claire, is a mid-thirties woman living in Whittier, Alaska. During a pregnancy she suffered a stroke which resulted in the loss of the baby and her short-term memory. Now, ten years later she is living with endless journals and lists to help her remember day-to-day things.

Claire lives alone and relies on her lists and organization to function. She writes down events as they are happening to look back at later when she cannot recall them. She does remember her parents, her friends, a grade school teacher, store clerks, and her old boyfriend (the father of the lost baby). These are all memories in her long-term memory which she recalls vividly.

So, let me describe a little of what she does to cope…every morning she awakes and as she goes through arising, eating breakfast and showering she moves a clothespin on a clip-chart to keep track of what she already done. As her friends are talking to her she flips through her journal to help recall what they are talking about. She sets alarms on her phone to remind her of everything- multiple alarms for the same thing.

But, still, she can be talking with friends and get distracted, and then look up and not know what they are talking about or where she is. Everyone quickly reminds her of what is going on!

It is a fascinating premise for this book and I was intrigued. There is family drama that goes along with the story and it is ultimately a romance “chick-lit” type book. So, 4 stars because I did finish it and cared about the characters. But, 3 stars for all my questions.

  • Why didn’t she use an alphabetical tab system? Flipping through days and days of her journal could have been reduced to flipping to the tab with a keyword on it. That’s just a small thing. I know.
  • Why didn’t she record things digitally or on audio to help her remember? She explains this as a preference for pencil/paper, but as a visual person, I would have wanted photos beside the entries in the journal.
  • Does the author occasionally forget that Claire is not supposed to remember something? Yes, and it drove me nuts. Claire would suddenly have a flash of memory that didn’t jive with everything else.
  • Also, Claire had no job. Where did she get money?

At any rate, it was worth my time to read this one. It’s short and I did love Claire and a little girl named Maree. Grab this one! 3.5 – 4 stars!

Another month of amazing books! You can always check my reading list on Goodreads!

My rating system: 5 stars means perfection- the book was written well, held my attention, and I did not want it to end. 4 stars- the book was really good, but I had questions or concerns about parts of it. This might include the way it ended. 3 stars- the book was okay, but I just didn’t like it much. 2 stars- I skimmed most of it. 1 star- I could not finish it.

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The post March’s Best Books appeared first on Teachers are Terrific.

Math and STEM – A Perfect Combo

by Stem_ED

Math and STEM are like peanut butter and jelly, or cornbread and butter, or cats and mice…haha! Seriously, the M in STEM means math. Now, let’s talk about two kinds of math that I find in STEM Challenges!

There is incidental math. For me, this means math that happens naturally. We measure in so many challenges! Those rulers and meter sticks come out for more than drawing straight lines.

Then there is purposeful math. For me, this means the challenge has a math base. Students average, collect data, find geometric shapes, use volume and surface area, and more. Sounds great-but is it easy?

Of course it is! Keep reading!

Ways to make sure you are getting some Math in your STEM projects- tips and resources are featured on this post.

Math and STEM Overview

Here’s what I am sharing today:

  • Area and Perimeter
  • Catapults
  • Cup Stacking
  • Designing Ramps
  • Designing Boxes

Area and Perimeter

Math and STEM - If you need a fabulous resource for practicing math skills and combining a STEM Challenge here you go! This one is all about perimeter and area and using those measures to create! Students will design a paper dog run!

This is a favorite of mine and students. First they identify the perimeter and area of shapes and after learning how to do this they must create a dog run.

Now, that sounds so simple, but it is so complicated. The dog run or doghouse is created on paper and it must have a specific area and stay within a minimum perimeter. They draw and re-draw and re-draw!

Then, comes the design challenge.

Students create a 3-D version of their dog run. We use graph paper for this and add our own embellishments to decorate it. This involves creating box shapes by folding the graph paper. Take a look at the photo- even the little doghouse is made of graph paper.

TIP: Students love using graph paper! This resource is perfect for use with shapes, area, and perimeter. Have plenty of spare paper on hand and consider creating some larger sizes.


How far can you launch something with a catapult? Can you hit a target or go over a formidable wall? This STEM Challenge catapult building experience will have your students working together to build a catapult, experiment with different angles, and compete with several performance tasks!

The math combined with STEM in this challenge is amazing. Students create different angles with the catapults and experiment.

They keep data tables of the distances created by the different angles.

Each angle is tested five times and students average those distances. They are looking for the best angles for distance and height.

Then we use that data to make decisions for the class competitions.

Students create versions of the catapults for competitions for the longest flights and for going over tall objects. Their data must be accurate.

TIP: How do they measure the distances? We use our floor tiles! The tiles are 12 inch squares. So spotters watch the pom-poms and spot the landing. They count the squares, multiply by 12, and measure the small distances with rulers.

Cup Stacking

How tall can you stack 100 cups? Can you calculate the mean, median, mode, and range with your data? This is a perfect and fun challenge to practice these math skills and increase the level of teamwork with your students.

Let’s talk about the math and STEM in this challenge! Oh, my!

After collecting data, students determine the mean, median, range, and mode of the numbers! What? That’s right.

How do we do this? Okay, each team starts with a stack of cups. At my signal, the teams build the tallest tower they can. After one minute, I measure the towers and we place that data on a class chart.

Then every team takes the data (for the entire class) and calculates the average height, the median height, the mode, and the range of heights.

This is so fun! Especially, when a team has a really tall structure that falls over at the last possible second! We change the rules for each task and build strucutres with different shapes. The design portion is near the end of the event. Students are challenged to build a structure that has a different shape. Notice the round shape in the photo!

TIP: Use plastic cups! Foam cups can have static which makes stacking them challenging. Also, use calculators. That makes this challenge about the calculations and not on students’ ability to add or subtract by hand. Let’s face it- calculators make it easy, but you still have to use them correctly!

Designing Ramps

Math and STEM - Experiment with using ramps and Newton’s Second Law of Motion and then build your own ramp in this fabulous STEM Challenge! Kids love this one! This is more than a STEM Challenge! Students experiment with ramps and then use their data to design and build their own ramp. Can they use that data to their benefit?

Another experiment and design challenge- with some math, of course!

This is a challenge I have used with third graders. The idea is that they will experiment with ramps placed at different angles to determine the best angle for transporting a small car.

The first time I tried this we tried whacking the cars with meter sticks to propel them on the floor. I thought this would let us know how much force was needed to make the car roll the best.

Yea, well, that did not work! So we starting letting the ramps propel the cars. And that worked great! We changed the angles of the roadways by just taping them to our lab tables at different heights. The higher the ramp was the steeper it was. Students kept data tables showing how far the cars rolled before stopping. Their goal was to find the angle (height) that gave them the greatest consistent distance.

Then we designed our own ramps. Students could design their roadways in any style and then we demonstrated. Most of the third graders were very concerned about having side rails on their ramps! They didn’t want their little cars rolling off the sides.

TIP: All the cars used by students really need to be the same kind of car. The first class that tried this had a different car for each team. Some of the cars rolled better than others- so I went back to the dollar store and found enough of the same kind!

Designing Boxes- The Ultimate Math and STEM Project!

Math and STEM - Students will use cereal boxes and have great discussions about the appearance of the boxes, as well as how much a box contains. They will learn about volume and surface area through weighing and measurement tasks. Finally, they will take all the things they have learned and design a box

My favorite challenge of all time! Really!

First, we investigate volume. We look at many different sizes of cereal boxes and find the volume of each. We also do a study of marketing and creating box designs that are visually appealing.

The challenge is to create a cereal box with the greatest volume possible… but…

…every team has the same size piece of poster board. Doesn’t that mean all the boxes will be the same? Absolutely not! The volume, using that static surface area, will be very different depending on how the box is cut and folded. Ideally, a square box will give the largest volume- but I don’t tell students this!

The most fun part of this challenge is the marketing of the cereal. Students must design the packaging and then create a commercial ad for it. This challenge is so fun! And so full of math!

These are all challenges that have math and STEM in the perfect combination. The point of each challenge is to use math to inform your design. So fun! Which one will you try? Click on any of the images to see more details.

You might also enjoy these posts:

Ways to make sure you are getting some Math in your STEM projects- tips and resources are featured on this post.

The post Math and STEM – A Perfect Combo appeared first on Teachers are Terrific.