Connect Agriculture and STEM Through Coding

In our third grade STEM classes at Hamilton Community Schools we spend a lot of time investigating the science and technology of farming. Hamilton straddles Allegan and Ottawa Counties in Michigan, the two top ag producing counties in the state. All of our students are either involved in farming or know other families who are. In STEM we show them how being successful as farmers takes high levels of scientific knowledge, technical skills, and an increasing level of innovation. Even though we live right in the middle of the “farm belt”, every kid across America needs an understanding of how and where our food is produced. Whether you’re in Hamilton, Michigan or Brooklyn this unit can deepen understanding and open minds to all that is involved with feeding a nation.

Here is a progression of activities I do to build these skills with a heavy focus on engineering and computer science.

Open Their Eyes: Most of our kids have seen the big pieces of machinery out in the fields plowing and harvesting but only a few have actually had the chance to get up close. YouTube provides a bunch of great videos that take kids inside the machinery and highlight technical advances.

Farmers Reap the Benefit of Driverless Tractor Tech – CBS This Morning
John Deere: Improving Farm Efficiency with Technology
2016 John Deere Combine Features Video

These videos are great for showing kids what is already in use and can spark the innovative imagination as we move forward by asking them to design the farm equipment of the future.

For an overall look into the real lives of a variety of different types of farmers, nothing beats from the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Lesson plans, digital interactive games, and clips from the documentary Farmland highlight what is available.

Practice: The American Farm Bureau offers a great set of farming-based games and their Equipment Engineer game fits perfectly into this unit. Learners travel around the world and are given agricultural scenarios where they pick the best equipment for the job. Through the game, they are gaining knowledge of the way different pieces can be used as well as how farm equipment solves a wide range of challenges.

Get Designing: This is also a great spot to introduce the Design Process and for kids the PBS series “Design Squad” provides lots of resources like cool graphics and the “Kid Engineer” videos are super helpful, especially the Bike Trailer one.  

For creating designs we use Apple’s Keynote on our iPads. There is a lot that can be done with the app besides making slideshows. Kids use their imagination to start designing what could be possible in futuristic farm equipment. This is a great activity for detailing designs and the really great Keynote users even are able to animate their designs. Video of our students designing.

Students use Keynote on the iPad to design farm equipment.

Building for Function: It is one thing to dream up the future but it is a big task to actually build something functional, even if it is a model made of Legos. This can be a difficult hurdle for kids to clear because for most of them all of their use of Legos has been  purely imaginary. We spend time building vehicles with Legos that must be powered by a robotic Sphero. Here is where young engineers get really good at analyzing flaws and making tweaks as part of the design process. We start off building vehicles that can move straight ahead as just accomplishing that can be a task. Eventually students get to where the vehicles can actually maneuver around the playground.

Students engineer a Lego vehicle powered by a Sphero.

Bring in the Computational Thinking:  The great thing about Spheros is that their movement can be controlled down to a fraction of a second by the Tickle app. By using a block programming, kids sort and build out a list of commands for the Sphero to perform. When we first start with the Lego vehicles, we simply tell the device to go as fast as it can in one direction. We ramp the coding up greatly when we start to simulate jobs machinery would perform on the farm.

Students are given a small plot of ground on the playground (or in the gym depending on weather) and have to program the Sphero to “plow” or “harvest” the field. Below is some sample starter code that students might assemble for their Sphero.

Block coding in the Tickle app used to control robotic Spheros

Not only are there tremendous calculations our third graders are making like angles, velocity, and time, but there is a deeper benefit in the way they must think logically to make something real actually happen. They create loops of commands and must algebraically figure a number of variables.

Last year was my first year as a STEM teacher after having taught 16 years in a technology-only classroom. By far the greatest reward was seeing students grab a sense of power over their world when they were able to program an app to make something real happen. It is one thing to program something on a screen, but when they can send a robotic sphere all of the way to the office from their classroom, they become real “do-ers” full of confidence to tackle real tasks.

Putting it All Together: This unit starts with gaining understanding and then progresses to imagining and eventually building and controlling. It takes time and patience and not all kids will progress at the same rate and some may not even finish it…and that is okay. Those who progress really quickly can be given extra challenges. I am planning on giving my “high flyers” a kite, a 3D printing pen and a GoPro and ask them to create a tool a farmer could use to survey crops. We will spend six weeks (meeting once a week for an hour) on this project this year but no matter where individuals are on our last session, we will dedicate a major chunk of time to discussing how the innovation we simulated helps preserve resources and promotes sustainability.

Evaluations and Reflections: Our STEM classes focus heavily on the Next Gen Science Engineering Standards. We are constantly monitoring how individuals are progressing through:

Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

We also write, sketch, and reflect daily in STEM journals that students use from kindergarten through fourth grade. We talk about how STEM time is different than any other time at school. We are not just doing school, we are together designers, engineers, and scientists and journals and sketchbooks are tools these people use to do their jobs.

As we continue to develop our STEM classes we are discovering the power in tying STEM concepts like design and coding with real-life challenges rooted in our community. Someday we hope that our current students will not only graduate and do great things…but will do those great things right here in Hamilton.

Follow our Hamilton STEM adventures at
Catch us on Twitter and Instagram as @htownstem

Top Gifts for Young Engineers – 2016 Edition – Left Brain Craft Brain

The Top Gifts for Young Engineers gift guide is packed full of STEM toys and activities that will keep kids having fun and learning this Christmas.

Source: Top Gifts for Young Engineers – 2016 Edition – Left Brain Craft Brain

Remix…Don’t Reinvent STEM Lesson Plans

As I get ready to embark on my newest adventure of switching from an elementary Infotech teacher to an elementary STEM teacher, I have been doing a lot of lesson planning.

Luckily there are tons of STEM lesson plans readily available on the web. Some obviously are better than others but here is a list of the best ones I have encountered. Check them out.

CUE SteamPunk 

Sphero SPRK Lessons

Dash and Dot Curriculum

Polar 3D Printer Cloud 

Brian Briggs • Rock Star Drone AcademyCoding Playground

Engineering is Elementary

Cogniflex is a nootropic equation that guarantees to soar your fixation and lift your inventiveness utilizing research-upheld regular fixings. Here’s our Cogniflex Review 2017. Cogniflex is a dietary supplement that comes in bundles of 60 cases. By taking two cases each day, you can purportedly appreciate nootropic benefits.

STEM Collaborative2

NC State: The Engineering Place

STEMpact: Lesson Design ResourcesSample Plans

Lesson Plan Template2

10 Ways Glowforge Can Disrupt Education

It’s been a long time since I have been more excited about the introduction of a piece of technology than I am for the Glowforge.

Aside from all of the personal ways I can see Glowforge help bring my creativity to life, this single device has the potential to revolutionize so many of the ways we do things in the typical school. I have often said, “There is a lot of money to be made in education…just not in teaching.” Schools spend a ton of money that goes to vendors, but here are 10 ways a single Glowforge can change that.

1. Die Cut Letters – The Ellison die cut machines have dominated the bulletin board making market my entire career and their stuff is expensive. A single set of alphabet tiles runs $500 and it takes a ton of time to plan and cut that “Hurry Spring” signage. With a Glowforge you can throw a stack of construction paper into the machine and have your whole set of cut-outs zipped out in a couple of minutes…and you’re not stuck with one font either. If you can type it on an device, you can cut it out of construction paper.

2. Mothers Day Gifts – Think about the huge ramp-up in production value that the average elementary school class could do when it comes to personalized gift crafting. Goodbye paper plate bouquets and hello personalized wooden votive candle holders.

3. Awards and Trophies – Athletic departments and honor societies spend huge amounts of their budgets on trophies, plaques, and awards. Think about the amount of money that could be saved if schools just bought the raw materials and engraved all of their own awards. What if a school created a class where kids designed and created all of the awards? A teacher may have to do final names but 90% of the work could be student driven and done at a fraction of the dough Ned at the trophy shop is charging.

4. Inventory Engraving – Speaking of engraving…instead of a jittery hand with an engraving pen or a sticker that is easily removed, schools could engrave items like laptops and iPads with attractive, permanent identifiers. Check out what Glowforge designers have done with a Macbook.


5. Staff ID Badges – Get creative and save money by creating personalized staff or visitor badges by cutting and engraving them from your choice of materials.

6. Pro-Style Locker Labels – If you have ever seen an interview from a professional or big-time college sports locker room then you’ve seen the fancy headers above each locker sporting the athlete’s name, number, and team logo. With some creativity and cheap 1″x2″ lumber, a school could give its athletes the pro treatment.

7. School Spirit Items – Lots of schools sell items as fundraisers and to boost school spirit. Instead of eating up profits by going to one of the national suppliers, schools could begin buying blank stock items and doing the engraving and laser cutting themselves with a Glowforge. You can’t screen print with it but you can create some amazing luggage tags, pendants, and other personalized signage that can generate spirit, pride, and revenue.

8. Etsy Class – Think of all of the economics and entrepreneurship that can be experienced when students begin to design, create, and market products with a Glowforge. With sites like Etsy and Mercari as global marketplaces, individual students may begin to peddle their wares  to the far reaches of the Internet. It sure beats 180 days of PowerPoint lectures and worksheets.

9. Trick Out Your Office Space – With every Glowforge purchase comes access to the members’ catalog that features projects ready to print and assembly. This iPhone stand is one example of the cool stuff that staff can create for themselves and add a high end, start-up, feel to the workplace. There are a ton of neat items like this available. Glowforge features a similar computer stand in many of its promotional materials that was cut as flat pieces and then glued together.

10. Hands-on Classroom Products – Instead of buying any of these items, just create your own.

•Wooden or Acrylic Cut-out Letters and Numbers for the early elementary classroom

•Wooden or Acrylic Cut-out Shapes or other math manipulates that can be used K-12

•3D Geometrical Shapes that can be cut from all kinds of materials from cardboard to plastics

•United States or World Puzzles cut from plywood or plastic. Team with the art teacher and have kids paint and label each state or country.

•3D Models of Landmarks can be elaborately created by cutting flat slices and assembling a bunch of pieces like this Space Needle or just cut and engrave a 2D image on piece of wood thick enough to stand up on its own or with a small additional brace.

Like I said, I haven’t been more excited about a piece of technology in a long time. It can turn all kinds of creative dreams into reality but it has nearly infinite potential to impact how we do things and what we can create in our schools.

It’s “Madden For the Classroom” Eve! Sneak Peak of Tomorrow’s Launch

It’s one day away! Tomorrow Madden, Discovery Education, and the NFL Players Association launch their “EA Sports Madden NFL: Football by the Numbers” interactive site to promote math and science in the classroom through football.2015-11-24_17-07-03

Brandon Wislocki and I share our experience of getting to preview the site and the simulations. We talk ease of use and some of the key features of the offensive and defensive sides of the ball as we preview some of the core math and science skills being explored.

The Discovery Education blog posted its own previews with a couple of screen shots.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the official launch URL.

Makey Makey Just Got Easier With Makey Makey Go

Image result for makey makey goIt is not like inventing with the original Makey Makey was extremely hard to begin with, but things just got more simple and more mobile with the “Go” version.

Makey Makey Go will begin shipping in December and is the size of a thumb drive making it totally mobile and less likely to get you taken “behind the curtain” by TSA when on the way to some nerdfest you’re carrying kits with lots of wires, panels, and alligator clips through airports (I know a lady who experienced this.).

What exactly is the “Go”? Well, this video can explain and describe it way better than I can.

Third Graders creating scale models of the world’s tallest buildings

Last year my third grade students went big Cane’s Arcade style when creating scale models of the world’s tallest buildings. This activity takes a while but it builds so many skills and hits so many tech and math standards.

  • Research
  • Sketchup 3D model exploration
  • How to work in teams
  • Converting to scale (division)
  • Converting decimals to fractions
  • Measurement
  • Creativity

To me it’s really what STEM or STEAM learning should be about.

This year we are greatly scaling down the size of the buildings. 100 feet of reality equals 1 inch of model. After weeks of prep and design we are finally into the making stages. Here is a quick glimpse of the energy we are generating today.

I will be sure to share some of the finished models when we progress that far.