STEM Sections

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hello, My name is...

Last week, we had many famous people visit our school - from Archimedes to Steve Jobs to Orville and Wilbur Wright.  How is this possible??  These people came to life through our living wax museum. 
I first thought about doing this last summer when a colleague from another district explained how he did it with his high school students in an effort to teach about character traits.  I really liked the idea so I decided to try it out in my STEM room.  The guidelines were simple: Choose a famous person you would like to research, BUT you have to tie that person to STEM. 

What I ended up seeing, literally blew me away.  There were 55 different people that were researched by my students.  After much research, they wrote a biography about their person.  The next step was to find the interesting facts/stories and put them into a speech that was written in first person.  The students memorized the speeches, created a poster, and designed their costumes. 

On the day of the museum, the students frozen in a pose that was significant to their person and waited until a group was ready to hear the presentation.  That is when they came to life.  The speeches were given and it was concluded by "refreezing" into the starting position.

Here is a list that explains why I was blown away:

1. The students changed their speeches as the day went on.  This showed me that they really knew their person because they were able to pull in different facts to avoid sounding like robots.  They also were able to answer questions that the guests asked of them - all while staying in character!

2. When we originally spoke about the speeches, I told my students the audience needed to walk away learning something or amazed by a fact/story.  My students did not disappoint.  People learned where Tollhouse cookies got its name, how Michael Jackson was able to stand at a 45 degree angle, why Archimedes got divorced and much more.

3. I was a proud mom watching these students.  They said their speeches, at a minimum, or 50 times in one day.  From the beginning to the end, they presented as though it was their first time.  Their enthusiasm and dedication really shined through.  We heard students talking in the cafeteria about the "wax figures" they saw.

4. 40 of my 60 students came back in the evening to conduct an optional presentation for the families.  When students attend an after school educational function on their own will, you know it was a successful learning experience.

I hope you enjoy these pictures!

Here's to STEM!
Mrs. Giran

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Communicating like an Engineer Follow-Up

I just wanted to post a few pictures as a follow up to the mini-unit I did on communication.  The students were tasked with building a freestanding shelter out of newspapers.  They received unlimited newspapers and a roll of masking tape.  As you will see, some groups were more successful than others, but the discussion afterwards was the real gem.  The students were able to identify their strengths and weaknesses as a communicator.  We also spoke about different leadership styles.  Although it was a quick unit, it definitely was one with a lot of key concepts that are often forgotten.

Enjoy the pictures!

Here's to STEM!
Mrs. Giran

This was during the construction phase.  The Engineering Design Process was used throughout.  Notice the bottom right picture.  The thinking behind that design was to form the newspaper like cardboard!

When all else fails, put the newspapers on top of your heads! (see top picture)

STEM Field Trip

Our second annual STEM field trip took place yesterday.  Our first stop was the Science Center where we participated in SciTech Days.  As a teacher, I have always vowed to myself that I would not go to here on a field trip because all of my students have gone there and I believe the reason for a field trip is to expose students to experiences they would not get otherwise. 

SciTech Days gave the kids an opportunity to speak with STEM professionals from around the region, while experiencing hands-on science in action.  From PPG to Fed Ex to local colleges, the students were able to interact with people who chose (or are choosing) STEM careers.  Each station gave the students a chance to meet a professional and explore his/her daily duties. 

After visiting a few stations, we all attended an assembly on brain surgery.  This was Grey's Anatomy meets middle school students, without Dr. McDreamy.  :(

This simulation took students through the process of brain surgery, from early symptoms to recovery.  Humor and science were integrated - perfect for this group.  I even had a few students who participated as volunteers.

My favorite part of SciTech Day was the last session.  The students were able to choose one of six hands-on workshops to visit.  Some of the choices included:

New Medical Technologies

I liked this because it tailored to the students' interests.  Some students later told me that they were able to cross a potential job off their list, while others said they would love to be involved in research of infectious diseases!

In the entertainment design classroom
The last stop of the day was to the Art Institute.  This was the most eye-opening part of our day because we were all able to see how STEM is incorporated into art.  We all have heard about STEM and STEAM, but now there is STEAMIE, STAMPER, and STEMMSS.  Basically, we are talking about school.  The arts are integrated into almost every occupation and this tour showed us how.  We visited the culinary floor, video production, computer animation, and industrial/entertainment design, just to name a few.  One of my students told me that he is trying to figure out a way split his time between CMU and the Art Institute.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a successful field trip!
Fun selfie on the bus - no, it was not moving! :)

Here's to STEM!
Mrs. Giran

Be the Beat

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive...This song will be forever embedded into my brain, but all for a good cause. 

On February 27, we participated in our annual Jump Rope for Heart day, which raises money for the American Heart Association.  Last year, a group of my students "studying to be a doctor" helped to train the entire school on CPR compressions.  I wanted to continue helping bring awareness to this crucial skill so 12 of my students participated again this year.

We had 20 minutes to impress on the students that you can save a life with only your hands.  Videos were shown and hands-on practice was given to over 800 students in one day!  I received a lot of feedback from my students such as:

"My core is so sore."
"I have calluses on my fingers."
"This was harder on my body than doing the pacer."

My favorite comment was:

"Can we make our own video for next year?"

This brings me back to the iconic 1977 song I referenced.  In one video that we watched, they explained that the number of compressions per minute should be around 100 a minute.  In order for the students to keep that beat, they played "Stayin Alive."  By doing the compressions to this song, the students are able to ensure the compressions are being timed accurately. 

It is a STEM teacher's dream to have her students ask to create a video because they feel they can make one better than the one we watched.  They proceeded to tell me what teachers they could use, how it could be edited, and what the storyboard would look like for it.  I guess those kids really are paying attention in class!  :)

Check out this clip of our students rocking out chest compressions.

On a serious note, compressions can save a life.  For more information, please check out Be the Beat's website or ask one of the 800 students in our school.

Here's to STEM!
Mrs. Giran

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Communicating like an Engineer

Communication is key in life.  Think about the many ways there are to communicate...verbally, nonverbally, through writing.  This is the challenge I am posing to my 5th grade students this week.  What does it mean to communicate like an engineer and how can we become more effective communicators?

For the first lesson, we discussed different types of communication and gave examples of each.  We also spoke about how being a good listener is a type of communication.  Many times, my students ask me why we have to write so much so we had a great discussion about the types of writing that engineers do.  From letters to reports to emails, we discussed the formalities of each type of writing. 

The first activity that we did today really showed the students the importance of precise communication.  You would want your architect to precisely describe how to build your house, right?

I first passed out bags of Lego's.  Every bag had a matching partner (with the same pieces).  The students paired up and partner 1 had to build something with the Lego's and then explain to partner 2 how to replicate the build.  This was done while the students were sitting back to back.  The look of surprise when they compared the creations was great!  Only two groups described precisely how to build the tower, but the most learning came from those who did not succeed.  After the reveal, I noticed students talking about what they could have said.  I also heard a lot of, "But, I meant."  It was this stem that lead us to really analyze how to give directions and what it means to be precise. 

Take a look at a video that shows two students interacting with each other.

I plan on redoing this activity at the end of the mini-unit to see how much the students have improved.  It will be great to hear how they describe things once they have had a chance to experience the different communication styles.

Up next...we will be going through some experiences that allow the students to see how different feedback can both encourage and dissuade "employees" from working to their highest potential. 

Here's to STEM!
Mrs. Giran

Monday, December 15, 2014

Highlights from the Hill

"Thanks for watching, Highlights from the Hill."

That one sentence made so many students smile on December 5th.  It was the final line in our first-ever news broadcast. 

Due to a grant that I received (with another teacher), our students have been working during every free moment of their day to put together our newscast.  The best part of this whole project is the students run it all.  My students are paired up with 5th grade students to form segment committees.  We have everything from QnA Wednesday to current events to public service announcements to...STEM!

With the grant money, we were able to purchase a green screen, 4 flip cameras, a Sony Camcorder, and Adobe Premiere Elements software.  The students came up with a news schedule and write and film all segments.  From there, our editors take over and add the pizzazz that you need to keep the attention of 250 students at lunch time, which is when we show the news. 

In the beginning, we started with a goal of a daily newscast.  We will eventually get there, but as of right now, we are just working on 2 days a week.  The software is amazing to use and I lucked out this year because one of my editors has used it frequently at his house.  He has taught the others (and me) so many things!  The interface is very similar to iMovie, but for PCs. 

We have a link on our website which allows the students and families to watch "Highlights from the Hill" whenever they would like.  We can already see a huge improvement from the first show to the third.

Producing a newscast is a great way to teach students many state standards.  The students are writing stories, interviewing guests, and identifying the purpose of each segment.  They have to think of ways to keep the student body engaged, which forces them to add style to their segments.  They use critical thinking when figuring out how to edit the clips or troubleshoot a problem.  Time management and organization are two of the biggest challenges for us at the moment, but the students are always working to improve those aspects as well. 

One part that has been a surprise lesson is watching the students actually listen to feedback from other and use it to make the next show even better.  I think everyone can use a little help with constructive criticism.  The collaboration and communication that has to take place in order for our show to be successful often pushes students out of their comfort zone, but they then see the benefits to working together.

I highly recommend looking at Adobe Premiere Elements if you are considering bringing video production into your classroom.  I'm sure you will be as satisfied as I am with it.

Here's to STEM!
Mrs. Giran

Giving thanks this holiday season.

Wow!  Who can believe that an entire semester is almost over?  This year has been one of the best in my career.  Each day, my students amaze me with what they are doing in class.

Although this blog is always about STEM, I thought I would veer off track a bit to discuss one of my interest groups that is new this year.

We call them the "K'Nex" group.  This group of students will be participating in a K'Nex design challenge in the spring.  In the meantime, they are partnering with the students in our life skills classroom.  Those student call them their "buddies."

We all met in the courtyard and friendships soon formed.  From harvesting vegetables, to scientifically mixing a natural weed killer, to dicing onions, these students all have a twinkle in their eyes when we get together during 7th period. 

Most recently, we had the honor of hosting a Thanksgiving feast together.  Administration and teachers were invited.  We made invitations, decorations, and dessert.  We even peeled potatoes and made our own stuffing.  On the day of the feast, each one of my students found a buddy and helped serve our guests.  As a teacher, it is heartwarming to see your students looking out for each other.  My students turned into cheerleaders.  They helped guide the others without being overbearing.  They did everything with a genuine smile and it reminded all of us the true meaning of the holidays. 

In the classroom, we discuss many concepts and topics with the hope that those skills will be carried over from year to year.  This year, I really saw the importance of teaching life lessons in character education, collaboration, and communication.  If everyone showed as much empathy as I have seen in my students, the world would be a better place.

We may call them the "K'Nex" group, but their buddies call them friends.

Here's to STEM friends!
Mrs. Giran