Citizen Science: Use Technology to Track Fall Foliage


Photo credit: turning mill pond 2 via photopin (license)

Learning Objectives: To develop observational skills and assess the extent of Fall foliage in a given area.

Deciduous trees lose their leaves each Fall through a biological process known as senescence. Prior to the falling of a leaf from a tree, green chlorophyll breaks down, exposing other pigments. This results in the remarkable colors seen during Autumn in some areas. When senescence occurs, the cells of the stems die and the leaf falls off of the tree.

Like most processes, losing leaves takes time for a tree. Using observation skills, you can track the fall foliage in your area and record your findings in an app such as Leaf Peepr. Based upon the summative ratings of other viewers as well as your own data inputs, you can determine whether leaves are “green,” “turning,” “moderate,” “peak,” “fading,” or “gone” in your area or another location.

Next steps? Use this data to analyze trends in leaf foliage patterns over time in different areas, or simply to plan a Fall trip!


Yankee Foliage


How to Make a Stop Motion Video (Note: Watch the giant Peep quickly get away)

Learning Objective: To demonstrate creativity through technology by making a stop motion video.

Some freak accident happened and the marshmallow Peeps somehow became gigantic and were caught scurrying around inside homes. I snuck up on the bunny in this video before it quickly ran into my closet.

Stop motion video clips such as this one are now easier to make than ever before. This video was created by iMotion which is downloadable as a free app on an iPad or iPhone. The steps to making these clips are relatively straightforward:

1. Create an interesting scene with good lighting.  Prop the iPad in a case or by other means so that it is properly placed to capture the entire set up without being disturbed.

2. Press “new movie” and enter a movie title. Click the hand icon to take pictures manually. Press “start.”

3. Press “capture.” Take a photo after each small movement on the scene.

4. When finished, press “stop” and confirm.  You can slow down or speed up the video using the slider and export to your photo library.

There are many reasons to make a stop-motion video–for fun, educational projects, presentations and more. Maybe you could even catch another stray Peep.

Make Your Own Font

Create Your Own Font Image 2

Glancing at the letter you may think that someone wrote it by hand, but in reality it was typed using the font Wardzap. Never heard of Wardzap? Me neither…until it was recently created on my computer. Yes, anyone can make their own font for free plus give it a unique name.

The steps to creating the font are pretty straightforward. You can download the font writing template from, handwrite letters on the template using a medium-tip black Sharpie marker, scan and upload the file into the program, and install your personalized font onto your computer software. A very helpful step-by-step tutorial is included through the link below.

There are so many uses of this–personalized letters, cards, flyers, school reports, invitations and more. What a unique way to encourage creativity through technology!


Turn Your Handwriting into a Font for Free

Everything is Awesome with Dancing LEGOs

Learning Objectives:

To be able to describe and demonstrate how simple machines such as gears and pulleys can be utilized to make a simple LEGO robot move.  

To be able to describe how basic computer programming can be used to make a simple LEGO robot move.

The saying, “Everything is awesome” certainly holds true for LEGOs. You can use your imagination to build just about anything with these bricks. Now LEGOs are even more sophisticated and can be used to teach major concepts in engineering and computer programming.

I recently had the opportunity to assist with a robotics workshop for elementary school students that involved LEGO WeDo kits.  Kids as young as 5 were able to build a LEGO structure out of LEGO bricks and simple machines, use the WeDo computer program to create a simple code, and make their two LEGO birds dance.

During this activity, one child played the role of the “Engineer” and another the “Programmer.” The Engineer built the structure, while the Programmer controlled the computer. The two swapped roles half-way until they finished the project.

Each of the WeDo kits contained the LEGO pieces for making a variety of robots–hungry alligators, soccer goalkeepers, spinners, roaring lions, and more. The motors or sensors easily connected to a laptop computer via a USB port. Once the Engineer built the robot following the step-by-step instructions on the screen with the WeDo software, the programmer assisted in making the objects move by dragging together icons to make an appropriate code. For the most part, the entire process was straightforward and not too complicated.

If there is a robotics program at your local library or other enrichment program using LEGO WeDo kits, or you have $140 to spare, this kit is a great way to teach children (grades 5 and lower) engineering and programming with a fun twist.


Lego Education WeDo

Lego WeDo Building Instructions

Are U Smarter than Ur Smart Toy?


There is no doubt that toys continue to see their share of advances over the years. So much so that now we not only have “smartphones,” but also “smart toys,” some of which are educational.

What defines a smart toy? Our cultural ideas of smartness often focus on mental capabilities. For example, if someone is “smart,” they typically can use their minds in ways that go beyond the norm. A smart toy appears to have intelligence, usually by  recognizing human speech and responding in an appropriate manner.

One example of a smart toy is Ubooly, which works through an app on a smartphone. Ubooly is a stuffed animal that you place in a smartphone. When you open the app and insert the phone, Ubooly wakes up and will tell you a story, play games and more. How does this relate to STEM education? Well, Ubooly fosters imaginative play, one of the best ways kids learn.

The developers include some games as well as in-app purchases with STEM content.   They are also constantly adding more content to the app, so the toy is not static. I can attest that my kids love this toy and run around the house doing the things that it tells them to do. The only issue is, I have to give up my smartphone for them to play with it…I guess that can be a good thing too…

This was my first experience with a smart toy. Have you (or your children or students) ever used one before? Would love to hear about your experiences!

Making a Simple Robot!

Learning Objectives: To be able to describe and demonstrate the parts of a simple robot called a BrushBot and how each plays a role in the movement of the bot through circuitry.

I was trying to find a low-key robot that a young child would have fun designing with parental assistance. I was so thrilled when I discovered the BrushBot.

These small robots can be made from a common item, a toothbrush head, hence the name “Brush” Bot.  Their individual components come prepackaged in kits sold by companies such as the Maker Shed store.

BrushBots consist of a simple circuit. Electricity is provided by the battery. The wires are the path through which the electricity flows and the pager motor, when energized, vibrates, moving the bot.

How are They Made?

To make a BrushBot, you cut off the head of a toothbrush.  A piece of foam tape is used to attach the battery to the toothbrush head, and the motor is adhered to the battery with tape. Pre-stripped wire ends on the battery and motor are appropriately twisted into contact with one another. Once the wires touch, the BrushBot instantly starts moving around. The Maker Shed store kit also comes with stickers to make silly faces on the bot–kids love picking out those!

The fun that kids can have with BrushBots is endless. Children can race their BrushBots to see which is the fastest at getting down a track. They can design BrushBots of different colors, with a variety of faces and toothbrush head thicknesses. Emulating the engineering design process, BrushBots can be constructed, tested and revised as needed for a world of fun.

Tip: Balance is crucial for these little bots as they can tip over. Take care in the placement of the battery and motor so that they have an equal distribution of weight. Wider brush heads are sometimes easier to balance.

In sum, these little bots are simple, fun and great for children of all ages.

Additional Resources

BrushBot Directions

How Does a BrushBot Work?