STEM Education – What Could/Should That Look Like?

As I started my new job as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) facilitator for six counties in northern Nevada not long ago, one of my first self assigned tasks has been to clarify just what being a  STEM school (or its other itinerations STEAM and STREAM and there are others) means … or can mean or should mean. Partly because I’ve been asked that question, so obviously I better have a clear idea of what STEM is how STEM education is perceived by all concerned, but also so I have a feel for just how far I can push the edge and I can facilitate others in pushing the edges.

In discussions here and online I’ve heard some interesting interpretations. I was told by teachers at one school, for example, that considers itself a “STEM Academy” that they teach science at every grade for at least 15 minutes every day … so that makes them a STEM school. Hmmmm.

My favorite definition of STEM so far has actually come from the Nevada Department of Education and the Gathering Genius web site published by the Nevada STEM Coalition:

The Nevada Department of Education defines STEM:

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education focuses on active teaching and learning, centered on relevant experiences, problem-solving, and critical thinking processes.  STEM education emphasizes the natural interconnectedness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and their connection to other disciplines, to produce informed citizens that posses and apply the necessary understandings to expand Nevada’s STEM-capable workforce in order to compete in a global society.”

“… and their connection to other disciplines, …” to me is key. STEM is not just doing science, technology, engineering and math – it is reading, writing, sharing learning, collaborating, discussing and even arguing about outcomes and perceptions (and more). It’s making mistakes … being messy if you will … and then learning from the mistakes and making things work and refining whatever you are working on.

There’s so much more to what STEM is, but what is it to you? This whole STEM piece has been around for a long time … it’s been ignored for a long time as well during the not leaving anyone behind era …. and as we race to the top. But now it is coming back. How can that STEM piece look or what should that STEM piece look like in our schools? How would you answer the question, “What does a STEM school look like?” Are there additions or changes you would make to Nevada’s description of STEM above?

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Messy Learning, STEM | 1 Comment

Being Transparent When Things Get Messy

Last week while I was at our state science and math conference down in Las Vegas, I used Google Hangout and Todaysmeet to participate in a discussion about our book “Making Connections With Blogging” with a group of teachers in San Diego. Adina Sullivan led the video-conference and Lisa Parisi, my co-author,  joined in from New York. This is where the fun began.

Understand that Lisa, Adina and I are all veterans of video-conferencing and sharing in various ways over the net. I had informed Adina that I was having some issues getting online over the wireless connection I was using, and my computer was acting up as well. So as a back-up I planned to use my iPad that has an optional connection over cellular. I explained that if there were any issues to just be patient and I would probably eventually get there. Adina was un-deterred.

I got into my Google + account and it wouldn’t let me get into the Hangout until the exact time came. Note that when connecting over the net I find it is usually a good idea to get in early so there is time to deal with any issues that come up. I was reminded why this is good policy. I noted that there was a chat feature going on and that both Lisa and Adina had left comments … Lisa’s noted not being able to get in early … Adina’s noted some way she was going to have to moderate on her end and included a link to the Todaysmeet chat.

Finally a link to the Hangout appeared and I clicked to join … I was pleased because I was doubtful my laptop was going to cooperate … but it turned out I had doubts for good reason. After a few seconds a white screen appeared where the Hangout should have been and I could tell by the way it looked that it was done doing whatever it does to connect and it wasn’t changing from a white screen. No problem … I’ll just go to “Plan B”. I closed my laptop and started to log on using my iPad. I have only been in a Google Hangout one other time and things looked different on my iPad, so finding just where to go to click on something to join the group was alluding me.

I finally managed to get into the Hangout, but when the images and sounds began I could tell things were not going exactly smoothly. Lisa was apparently walking around her classroom with her laptop dangling and I could hear her commenting faintly … and Adina was there in another box wearing headphones. Once she noticed I was there she welcomed me and about that time Lisa landed and steadied her laptop and we got started … sort of. Adina explained that the teachers in her class were in another room watching on a screen on a computer with no camera … they would just listen and watch the Todaysmeet feed and ask questions that way as well. Adina was in another room to moderate.

Once we started however the other teachers reported that they could not hear me … Lisa and Adina could be heard fine … just not me. Adina is obviously one of those people that can type about 200 words per minute because what she did was transcribe everything I said into the Todaysmeet chat so the teachers in the other room could read it. We went on for over an hour that way. Lisa and I took turns answering questions and sharing our experiences using blogs and more … and it worked.

I’ve had other somewhat similar experiences in my classroom over the years connecting my students. The school’s network dying during a video-conference and me switching to a cell card I had to re-connect and finish the discussion … using a phone to include someone in a Skype call because whenever they joined in over Skype the 5 way conference would crash. And there are others.

I think when these issues arise it is valuable to share them with students. What is wrong … what you are trying … what you are thinking could be causing the problem … and usually stating that you are not really sure what is wrong. I think it is important that students see that when it eventually does or doesn’t work, you didn’t exactly know what to do … you thought and tried things. And also when things get going again … sometimes you aren’t sure what you did (or someone else did) that made it work.  Be transparent. Otherwise I think we risk students getting the message that we knew what to do and why to do it, and the steps to follow, and there was an obvious answer and we leave them thinking they just don’t get that and aren’t smart enough or whatever. Not what we want them believing. This stuff can be messy at times … it’s OK, even valuable for our students to learn that.

Learning is messy!



Posted in Blogging, Brian Crosby, Education, Messy Learning, Podcast, Project Based, Technology, Wikis | 2 Comments

Long Winded Morning

I got to spend the morning Monday in Gardnerville, Nevada, working with elementary and middle school teachers exploring wind energy.


The Carson Range in early morning light, Gardnerville, Nevada.




I was helping Lou Loftin, the Science Facilitator for the Northwest Nevada Regional Professional Development Program (where I’m the STEM facilitator) as he lead teachers through designing wind mill blades that would then be used to lift as many washers as possible a half meter off the ground. Actually leading them is a bit of a reach. It was true messy learning. Participants were given a minimum of direction other than what I mentioned in my last sentence.

There were choices of materials to make the blades – everything from balsa wood to plastic to cardboard and more. This was an example of the ABC’s of science education … “Activity Before Content” – and, just like your students do, the teachers jumped in. Lou did encourage them to plan first – “… draw your design first” – some did. It was all gold as designs were started, changed, augmented … the whole range. After most had made and tried a design we debriefed a bit and then let them get back to it … it was like trying to hold back a stampede … based on their early experience some started over, others trimmed or added to their blade design. The data on how many washers they could lift quadrupled.


Next the group was given a new challenge. Instead of lifting weight … now you have to spin a generator to produce the most electricity possible. I won’t give it away … but let’s just say the old blade designs somehow had to be modified to fit the new task – no one was told that … but it became quickly apparent. Exquisite messy learning.

We ended the morning doing a final debrief and brainstorming extensions to the activities … which became a semester’s worth of hands-on learning without breaking a sweat. A good time was had by all!

Learning is messy!






Posted in Cooperative Learning, Education, Messy Learning | 1 Comment

Writing Experience Made In The Heavens

NASA just announced that the Mars rover Curiosity has made an important discovery. “One for the history books” they say. So what is it? They’re not saying for a week or more. Why aren’t they saying? NBC News,,  NPR

Think of the writing pieces your student could experience based on this real world opportunity. Oh, and the research possibilities too. They could write just total guesses based on having no background knowledge of space, the planets, Mars, – just fun (maybe they found Elvis? SpongeBob? Your sock that disappeared in the dryer?) – you get the idea. Students could also conjecture based on their own experience(s). OR they could do some, to a lot of research – what was the original mission of Curiosity? What are scientists looking for on Mars? Why? Why are we spending all this money to send spaceships and rovers to Mars? What other questions fit here?

So based on your research, what do you think the Mars rover Curiosity has found? What makes you think that? – share your sources.

If your students blog they could share their ideas or just plain creative pieces with others… this kind of writing is ripe for getting and leaving comments. But if your students don’t blog there are plenty of quality writing possibilities here. The kind that students might even talk about at home. The kind that get students asking questions or doing their own research just because they want to know more. You really can’t go wrong.

So what do you think Curiosity found? And PLEASE leave other lesson ideas in the comments. This is a great “messy learning” opportunity so go for it!

Learning is messy!

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Great Day For A Flight!

Click on the image below to watch the video (about 1 minute in length). My wife and I took our dog for a walk in the Tahoe Meadows above Lake Tahoe (about 8,500 feet elevation) – (see the Flickr Set of the photos and more videos HERE) We decided to stop in the parking lot to check out the view on the Slide Mountain side of the Mount Rose Ski Area on our way back to our house in Reno, Nevada, when we came across a group of pilots launching and landing. Some were taking off from the peak above and landing in the parking lot, others were launching from the parking lot and landing in the valley below by Washoe Lake. Note the yappy dog nipping at the pilot’s heels as he is taking off. Enjoy!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Really? – LAUSD considers making arts education a ‘core subject’

Is this a sign that some level of common sense has returned to education? From the article in Southern California Public Radio:

“The L.A. Unified school board will vote on a measure Tuesday that would make arts education a “core subject,” prohibit further cuts to the arts, and ultimately restore some money to arts programs. “

Only hope this becomes the norm nationally!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Traveling The Oregon Trail Yet Again, And Loving It!


I was helping my wife in her 4th grade class today installing the PVC pipe on her tables so each one becomes a covered wagon (Its been a few years now since I’ve been able to do this project myself, so she’s the expert now). This is such a great class project and my original post about it where I go into more detail is one of the most viewed on this blog. Let us know if you try it yourself.

Learning is messy!


Posted in Education, Messy Learning | 3 Comments

Hmmm, Maybe It’s Not “Innovative”

Posted in Education, Reform | 1 Comment

“Making Connections With Blogging” Is Published!

Our new book “Making Connections With Blogging” is out.

Actually the book has been out for more than a month. The “Making Connections” part of the title is really what is stressed. From the ISTE web site:

“Some students find writing to be a chore. Others write to get an assignment done but don’t put in any extra effort. There’s nothing like blogging to change those attitudes! Students will experience a whole new level of engagement when they are writing for an audience, writing about topics they are interested in, and responding to their classmates’ posts. Bring blogging into your classroom, and your students will not only be excited about their work, they will also develop their writing, reading comprehension, critical thinking, digital citizenship, and communication skills.

Parisi and Crosby show you how you can use blogging with any student as a part of any curriculum— not as an add-on, but as an integrated part of your lessons. Learn step by step how to blog, get ideas for your curriculum area, and understand how to manage blogging in the classroom. Get your students blogging, and change how learning happens.”

“Making Connections with Blogging” is also available for the Kindle. Would love to hear any feedback from readers.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Blogging, Brian Crosby, Education, Literacy, Messy Learning, Project Based, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Web 2.0, Wikis | 12 Comments

Independence Day

It’s been a tough year or so under “new” administration, and short of actually revolting, a change needed to happen and so it has. I’ve taken a new position in my school district being the Gifted and Talented specialist at 2 of our 7/8 middle schools. Both are STEM Academies and are early in their implementation of a more project/problem based, technology integrated approach. One is also piloting a 1:1 laptop program with HP Netbooks that will roll out this fall when all teachers will get laptops, followed the next fall with students acquiring them.

Someone thought my experience might be a good match for the position – and my wanting/needing a change led to a quick decision on my part. Somewhat ironically I was interviewed for the position over the phone while I was standing outside “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland while on a trip with my family.

I’ll let you conclude why I chose the title and timing of this post, but needless to say I’m very pleased with the change and look forward to being part of a new direction for our school district.

Learning is messy!

Posted in 1:1, Brian Crosby, Education, Inclusion, Messy Learning, Project Based, Reform, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 5 Comments