Posted in Uncategorized

Big News

Travelogue-esque posts and information related to STEAM+Lit to follow, but let’s just enjoy the excitement and anticipation a little.


Drum roll, please.

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Zoe and I are heading to Hong Kong in May to present at the Postgraduate Research Conference at the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Education.

She will be talking out makerspace work and I will talk about my burgeoning work in Language Teacher Leader Identity (LTLI), a relatively overlooked area of Language Teacher Identity (LTI). We most likely will also be discussing our STEAM+Lit work.

Until we reach Hong Kong, we’re dreaming about views like this. How about you?

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Posted in Uncategorized

MidTESOL 2016—What a ride!

A little over a week ago, Zoe and I returned to Lincoln from one of the best conferences either of us have attended: MidTESOL 2016. We were there to present on Building Academic Language Through Innovation, an extension of our working on Teaching with a Maker’s Mind.

As part of our presentation, we passed out plain white envelopes with writing implements inside. We then asked participants to describe their implement using their 5 senses. Next, they switched envelopes with another participant and wrote down pros and cons. Finally, they collaborated in small groups on how they might improve one implement. We then brought everyone back together and asked the question: Did you use academic language as you discussed, brainstormed? This was the perfect introduction into our presentation’s message—that academic language is embedded within tinkering, making, and collaborating, that we as teachers can use these experiences to provide high quality, academic language experiences for our students that are authentic and highly engaging. I think our participants left our presentation with ideas on how to bring this into their own classroom.

Yet, we weren’t just there to present, we also attended the whole conference. And what a conference it was. Keynote by Krashen. Talk by Sonia Nazario. Group Think experimentation sessions. Shuttlecocks and Crayola. We’re very excited for next year’s MidTESOL.


Posted in Event

The Power of Paper(Airplanes)

Conference season has begun! This year, we kicked off with poster session at SciCOMM 2016. This great event allowed us a chance to engage with the local community and to have some in depth discussion with those interested in what we’re doing.

20160923_161950-1Friday night found us in the Railyard making paper airplanes with kids of all ages (and, even their parents). We also wore awesome hats. Our idea was simple: bring a ream of copy paper and have people show us their idea of what a paper airplane should look like. Through this, we engaged them in discussion about what the airplane does, what impact different designs have on the functions of the airplane. The idea starting from a place of “what do you want the airplane to do?” – having the participants decide the specific objectives. Then, working together to see how we could design and airplane to be faster, go further, flip. For those who had no idea how to make an airplane, we had a couple of stock designs to teach them.


I think one of the greatest things about this for me was being able to articulate to people how easy it can be to engage in a learning moment without feeling the need for the usual trappings of school. We were not in a traditional classroom, we were not using traditional curriculum or materials. Yet, we transformed our outdoor table into an interactive, educational experience.


Whole families came by to see how to make paper airplanes, to talk about aerodynamics, to talk about engineering (how to design for a target purpose) to talk about science – and to have fun. Several siblings decided to have a competition. To see who could create the airplane that would fly the longest, that would go the highest, that would complete the highest number of loops. Science doesn’t always have to be complicated. Teaching and learning doesn’t always require a classroom.

Posted in Thinking & Research

Where is the Lit in STEAM+Lit?

STEAM is hot, hot, hot. From robotics teams to marshmallow bridges, engaging students through hands-on experiences with applying science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics to making, tinkering, creating, and collaborating is happening in our classrooms, schools, and communities. These experiences are tied to standards in the STEAM fields, to preparation for careers and college experiences in the 21st century. But, is the learning limited to STEAM, to making, creating, and ideating?


These experiences are an easy, engaging, exciting way to engage students in speaking like techies, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and artists, to foster collaborative learning and  communication with peers, and to challenge all students to challenge themselves—through academic language use.


We begin with three specific strategies that embed academic language learning and use in the experiences.

1.) Open-ended questioning of students to foster and guide creativity, not structure their engagement. For example, when students  are prototyping rockets out of recyclables, helping students get from ideation to creation through questions like “how are you going to use the egg carton”, “what do all rockets need”, or “hmm, what might work to launch this”. Such questions put the onus on the students to direct their making and models for them the language scientists and engineers use as they collaborate.

2.) Provisioning of discussion sentence frames, either as posters in the classrooms or cards at tables, that students can turn to when they need a push to communicate and collaborate with their peers. My favorite excellent example comes from the Pasco County School District (Florida). These sentence frames can be adapted endlessly for different grade levels and provide built-in differentiation, empowering every student in your class to participate.

3.) Previewing of and emphasis on vocabulary exposure throughout the experience. With our prototyping lessons, we start by defining and discussing prototyping. We have the students break down the word, guess what it means, and generate their own examples of prototyping. As they work, we frequently use (and stress through prosody) the target vocabulary by asking students about their prototypes and encouraging their own use of the vocabulary.

As students get into making, as these experiences grab and hold their attention, and as they hear and encounter our models and direct instruction, they start to take the initiative to talk like scientists, techies, engineers, and artists themselves. This low stress, low stakes approach enables inclusion of every learner, at his or her level, in making, achieving the goals behind Universal Design for Learning.

Go forth and foster academic language! 🙂


Posted in Teacher Resource, Thinking & Research

Teaching with a Maker’s Mind

STEM and STEAM are H-O-T, HOT, right now in education; but robotic arms, 3D printers, and coding lessons are sometimes out of reach for the average teacher or school. Can a teacher create a low-cost Maker Space in her own classroom? How can she bring the mindset behind making into her teaching? Grab some fellow teachers, a variety of writing implements (“tools”), and a box of envelopes. Then, check out our recent presentation below to learn more!

Teaching with a Maker’s Mind


Posted in Event

Maker Madness

This summer, Zoe and I were thrilled to present three workshops at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. These workshops built on our Universal Design for Learning with embedded academic language by challenging participants to think, act, and talk like scientists and engineers.

First, during the Abracadabra camp, participants got to learn about the science behind bubbles and slime. We all got our hands dirty using household materials to make different kinds of bubbles (some were even edible!) and Kool-Aid colored and scented slime. You can check out our simple lesson plan here.


In these pictures, Brandy leads campers in making slime out of Metamucil, Kool-Aid, and water!


Who knew bubbles were serious—ly fun science? 🙂 Zoe leads campers in exploring different ways to make bubbles.

Next, we all became electrical engineers (and chefs :-)) for a day as we created Squishy Circuits dough, learning about the difference between conducting and insulating. The kids then turned the dough into awesome light up creations. Our simple lesson plan is here.

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Finally, we wrapped up with an oldie-but-a-goody, a making workshop using recyclables, tape, and glue to create Moon Buggies. The younger kids followed the directions step-by-step, while the older kids used their imaginations and knowledge of cars to develop their own creations. You can check out the lesson plan for the younger kids here and modify it as needed for more autonomy for older kids. Special shout-out to our helpers!

Just look at how much fun we had making Moon Buggies!

We’re looking forward to the fall when we will be making our Mad Scientist/Engineer Hour concept a monthly thing at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. Come join us!

Posted in Teacher Resource

Summer Reading!

Isummer reading‘m going to focus on the literacy part of science literacy for a moment because reading is vital to continued learning. As you’ll see in the the video below, it’s imperative that students continue their reading over the summer to ensure they maintain their skills. In the video, Dr. Guy Trainin and I discuss several reading apps for all ages of students that include both free material, “on loan” material, and paid material. This allows the tools to fit every budget, and every reading level.

The great thing about mobile apps is that they are mobile. Students can read on the go without having to take heavy books with them. Also, many of the mobile apps allow for “offline” reading so that even when there is no internet connection, students can read the books they’ve downloaded onto the device.

Need some ideas on what books to have your children read? I would suggest you look at the local library. Libraries typically have summer reading lists and/or programs broken down by grade or age to help guide your reading choices. For teachers, there are many online resources to help you cultivate a reading list for your students.