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!