Science Fair Season


This year, I have had several people ask me if I had any ideas about Science Fairs.  I have always loved the idea of Science Fair and Family Evenings.  There are great ways to pull in the community, guest speakers and rich opportunities for students to show what they know.    Unfortunately, Science Fair can also turn into a strict set of rules that takes away from students thinking and creativity.   We also know that when Science Fair becomes a homework assignment it can turn into Mom & Dad’s Greatest Hits.

How then, can we use Science Fair to engage students, families and the community in Science and STEM experiences?

The starting point should be in clearly defining the purpose for Science Fair.  And, let’s be honest, if the purpose is to regurgitate “the scientific method”, we should cancel the Science Fair.  We need to blow the dust off the traditional “find a project online, follow someone else’s steps, build the same tri-fold as every other student”.   Rather, let’s consider the purpose as being a way to engage families and the community.  Or a challenge to student inventors.  Or participation in a school-wide theme, such as solving a problem in a fairy tale.  Once the purpose has been set, you’re ready to organize the Science Fair.

With NGSS in mind, let me suggest promoting two options for students – a science investigation or an engineering challenge.  Connecting to the Science & Engineering Practices  provides a context for students to ask authentic questions, develop their own process, analyze their data or efficiency and communicate their results.

Check out more of my ideas and some excellent resources I found here:






Qualities of a STEM lesson…

You need only to Google STEM lesson to get 23,000,000 ideas.  There are Pinterest boards, Teachers pay Teachers activities, Science Museums and publishers lining up to share their STEM lessons with you.  With all of those ideas, how can you identify the best lessons?  What are the qualities of a STEM lesson?


While there are many ways to define STEM, and many ways to incorporate STEM thinking and learning into your classroom, I would argue that there are a few key qualities that should be built into every STEM lesson.  Whether you are considering a STEM lesson you’ve found or developing your own, consider the following questions:

  • Are students presented with an authentic problem to solve or question to answer?
  • Do the Science & Engineering practices drive the work students do in order to solve the problem or answer the question? More to the point, are students making decisions about how they will solve the problem rather than following a step-by-step procedure?
  • Are students engaged in an application of mathematics skills?  Are they using the mathematics in order to solve the problem or answer the question?
  • Are students using technology as a tool to understand the problem, collect data or report their findings?  Is the technology an integral, irreplaceable part of the process?
  • Is there more than one way to solve this problem?  Can students develop a solution with an iterative process, such as an engineering design process, in which they area also learning from their mistakes and reflecting on their success?
  • Will students have an opportunity to more deeply understand a big idea in science or to apply their current understanding?
  • Does this experience support student-to-student discourse or maybe argumentation?  Are students supported in a collaborative environment with their peers?

The big idea behind STEM isn’t to engage students in lessons using science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  In fact, STEM is much more than connection to four subject areas.  The true application of STEM is one in which the four components cannot be isolated without damaging the integrity of the students’ critical thinking, problem solving and ways of sharing what they have learned, built or discovered.


It is important to note that in 2019, Washington State will be requiring teachers with several different certificates to have 15 STEM clock hours or a STEM-based goal on a PGP every 5 years for certification renewal.  When granting STEM clock hours, there are three guiding questions that must be considered:

  1. Will the STEM activity have an impact on STEM experiences for students?
  2. Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources to use with students or with other educators?
  3. Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources about STEM-related career choices to use with students?

While these guiding questions definitely provide a layer of cohesiveness for STEM clock hour opportunities, I think the deeper consideration of the qualities I’ve outlined will result in stronger student learning experiences.  Zipline

More Resources…

I’ve been organizing & facilitating iTeach STEM workshops for a couple of years now.  Those resources have been sitting in a Google Classroom, only available to participants of iTeach STEM.  Recently, I created a new Google Sites site – iTeach STEM as a way to share and archive the investigations, challenges and resources we’ve shared. Just click on the picture below to check out the new site!

iTeach STEM

How Cold is Snow?


I recently had an opportunity to spend some time with a great team of kindergarten teachers.  We were exploring the nature of STEM lessons and thinking about ways to include more STEM in the classroom.  This lesson was originally planned for kindergarten students, but it would be easy to revise for older students.  Check out a copy of the student page, here.

We started by making predictions to answer the question, “How cold is snow?” Younger learners often don’t have a strong sense of the numbers we use to describe temperature and making the prediction helps build this background knowledge.  We used wire less Vernier Temperature probes to check the temperature of a cup full of fresh snow.  Using the meter setting, students will notice that the temperature seems to keep changing.  Ask groups of students how they will decide when to record the temperature.  At this point, students may also have additional questions to test…Is the snow colder at the top of the cup than at the bottom?  Is a snow ball colder than loose snow? Is the snow outside colder than the snow inside?  The wireless temperature probes allow for these questions to be easily tested.

After establishing a basis for the temperature of snow, we push into the real STEM part of the lesson.  Building a snowball keeper!  Provide a set of materials for groups of students to choose from – we included different sizes of styrofoam cups, paper coffee cups, plastic cups, a variety of lids, plastic jars with lids, different types of fabric, packing peanuts, bubble wrap and tape.  Working through an engineering process, groups of students can build a snowball keeper, check the initial temperature and decide where they will leave the keeper until the end of the day.  As groups of students share their keepers, you may want to grab short video clips when they explain why they chose the materials or configuration they used.

There are many ways to extend this lesson based on student questions or curiosities.  You’ll find possible discussion questions at the end of the student page as well.  I would love to hear your comments if you test this one out in your classroom, especially if you revise for a different grade.

STEM Clock Hours

What is STEM?  What are STEM Clock Hours?  Do I need STEM Clock Hours?  


STEM is a curriculum, career or content way of thinking that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  Contrary to some opinion, STEM is not connecting those content areas into a lesson but rather, the deep integration of content that allows for application and problem solving.

STEM clock hours are a new layer on renewing teacher certifications.  “Beginning in 2019, renewal applications for professional and continuing teacher certificates must document completion of at least 15 clock hours, or at least one goal from an annual professional growth plan, with an emphasis on STEM integration to meet this renewal requirement.” (Professional Education Standards Board)  This requirement applies to several teaching endorsements, including: Elementary Education (K-8), Secondary Math and Science, Designated Sciences and CTE.  Check the website for your specific certification.   In order to qualify, your clock hour certificate or transcript must clearly state, STEM.

The State of Washington is fairly specific as to what professional development qualifies for this requirement.  Those offering professional development for this requirement, must be able to answer “Yes” to the following questions:

  • Will the STEM activity have an impact on STEM experiences for students?
  • Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources to use with students or other educators?
  • Does the STEM activity provide examples or resources about STEM-related career choices to use with students?

If you are a Central Valley teacher, there are a couple of ongoing opportunities to earn STEM clock hours.

  • iTEach STEM occurs monthly during the 2016-17 school year
  • STEM Online is a part of the Science Online classes

For more information or to learn about more STEM opportunities, contact Jennifer Chase (

For other Washington State certification questions, I found this article by Maren Johnson to be extremely informative.

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