Be an Engineer

5673305910_a75aed349d_oPhoto credit: michael.heiss / Source / CC BY-NC-SA

We are starting a series that will explore the “E” in STEM education.

Some of the most fascinating structures such as the CN Tower in Ontario, Canada, the Golden Gate bridge, and solar-powered cars were each constructed through engineering design principles.

What is engineering design? Generally, this process involves 4 steps: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create and Improve (EiE, 2015).  These steps involve identifying the problem, devising possible solutions, constructing a diagram/determining material needs,  and producing and improving a product. Creating a “product” differentiates engineering from science.

Engineering is a great way to spark interest in science. Through project-based learning activities, students can design technology with a useful function in scientific processes.  Integrating science and engineering encourages interdisciplinary STEM learning.

Let’s start building!


Engineering is Elementary

Engineering Design in the Next Generation Science Standards



Do Real Science Outside of the Laboratory

IMG00020-20100924-1236Learning Objective: To analyze scientific data as a volunteer scientist online.

Would you like to make a difference in the scientific community?  Anyone can be a citizen scientist by analyzing authentic scientific data online.

How does this work? Scientists deposit their large data sets collected in the laboratory, the field or other setting on Zooniverse and request help from the public to analyze this data. After completing a brief tutorial, any citizen is well on their way to making an important contribution.

Topics range from space and climate science, to biology, and physics. Right now some research in which you can participate includes examining the moon’s surface, targeting cancer cells, finding spot explosions on the sun, and identifying species of organisms that live on the ocean floor.

The usages of Zooniverse are numerous. From personal interest to classroom activities in particular topics within STEM education, this is a unique 21st century way to do science.



Go Stargazing Tonight


“A Rose Made of Galaxies Highlights Hubble’s 21st Anniversary”


Learning Objective: To observe and identify various constituents of the night sky. 

There is just something magical and majestic about the night sky; the magnificence of the moon, stars and planets are hard to describe in words. Our vantage point, the Earth,  is just a mere speck in the vast universe.

Over the years our admiration with space contributed to several advances from walking on the moon in the 1960’s to more recently sending the Curiosity Rover to assess Mars’ capability to host life forms.

You do not need a telescope to appreciate the wonders of space. Free educational apps such as Star Chart and The Night Sky Lite highlight major components of the sky in our areas.

Try one of these and go stargazing tonight.

Celebrate National DNA Day by Smashing Strawberries


Learning Objective: To be able to describe how to extract DNA. 

DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the genetic material that serves as a blueprint for the creation of proteins, the workers in our cells. DNA  consists of our hereditary information that is passed on from one generation to the next. We receive half of our DNA from mom and half from dad.

The sequence of bases of this very important macromolecule can play a large role in determining many things including our physical appearance and our risk for disease.

In 2015 we know more than we have ever known about DNA. We have the map of all genes for our species as well as that of many others. We know that there are even factors beyond our DNA that can determine whether or not our genes are turned on or off. Our fascination with this macromolecule has led us to create kits to determine our ancestry by sequencing our DNA from a cheek swab.

So, what is DNA really like? A classic, simple experiment that you can do at home allows you to easily remove and observe DNA from a common fruit, the strawberry.

The extraction procedure is simple, you break open the cells and nuclei (where DNA is housed) of the strawberry and remove the DNA by making it to come out of solution. All you need to do is follow the steps shown in the video below and you will see DNA in no time.

Happy National DNA Day!

Additional Resource

How to Extract DNA from a Strawberry (

Earth Day Activity: Design Your Own Earthship

Learning Objectives: To design and describe the features of a sustainable house. 

Most of us live in houses and apartments where the living spaces are not sustainable.  What would the ultimate sustainable dwelling place or earthship look like? This activity answers such questions.

First, start by first performing a search with key terms such as “sustainable homes” or “earthship.” Children can use a safe search engine such as Safe Search Kids. Find several reliable sources and use these to develop a list of various attributes that make a home sustainable (e.g. made from recycled or natural materials, uses limited nonrenewable resources, etc.). Next, if money is no object, write in detail the specific features of your own sustainable house.

Make a sketch of this house and label its important attributes. Explain the reasoning behind why you chose this particular design. and how this house is more Earth-friendly than a typical house in your area.

There is a lot of potential to witness creative output in this activity. Students may design homes with solar panels, greenhouses, and more.

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Activity: Making Observations of Spring


Learning Objective: To be able to observe and describe several changes in nature that occur during Spring. 

An early sign of Spring in some areas is the emergence of crocus flowers. Like many things in nature, they almost seem to magically know when to come up from the ground. Biologically, however, we do know that plants in general sense seasons by the changes that occur in the length of the night throughout the year and the temperature.

In honor of Spring, a hands-on activity can involve making observations in a backyard, park, or around a school building noting changes if you live in an area where there are distinct seasons.  Use a laboratory notebook and divide the pages into three columns, labeled Date, Observations, and Drawings. Complete the table while walking around the area.

Take pictures of interesting phenomena with a cell phone or tablet. Use an app to identify unknown plants or flowers such as Leafsnap from Columbia University. At the end of the adventure, create a digital story of the experience with any of the software described in the link below, and be amazed by the beauty of Spring.

Free Digital Storytelling Tools for Teachers and Students

A Nugget for STEM Learning: Switching Mindsets

Learning Objective: To be able to differentiate between the fixed and growth mindsets.


“I’m not a math person.”

“There’s no way I could be an engineer.”

Have you (or your kids or students) ever been guilty of saying these types of phrases? Perhaps you have not said them regarding science or math, but another learning area or activity.

Meet the “fixed mindset,” FM for short, based on Carol Dweck’s research. FM is perhaps not someone you want to consider as a close friend. FM assumes the lack of potential, that because you have always performed a particular way in the past, you are guaranteed to perform that way in the future.

Being friends with FM is like being stuck yards away from the finish line of a race, convinced that you can’t reach the end, because, the reality is, you could never get there in your previous attempts.

FM’s counterpart, and with whom who it is more desirable to be around, is GM, the “growth mindset.” GM assumes you are capable of learning and improving, and that you can put in effort to make strides towards this goal.

How can you begin identify these mindsets in yourself? Take this short Mindset Test. Your own mindset can influence the children or other individuals you are around.  You can make a choice to choose the growth mindset and encourage those around you to do the same.

Next time you see a child saying they can’t do something, including STEM education, encourage them to try. Praise effort over outcome. Help them believe they can improve.


Carol Dweck: The power of believing you can improve