March STEM Challenge 2017


What says spring better than those colorful, marshmallows you see in every grocery store?  I’m talking about Peeps, of course!  And this month, our students are going to give them some air by creating Peep Launchers.

This idea comes from a packet of wonderful ideas that you see here.  Our building completed the Peep Puff Mobile last year.  So fun!


Each pair of students will need 2 toilet-paper tubes (or 1 paper-towel tube, cut in half), tape, a single-hole punch,  a pencil, a pen or marker, 2 thin rubber bands, scissors, and a marshmallow Peep (bunnies work best).

For this challenge, I wanted the students to focus on perfecting their design to achieve the highest average distance in three trials.

I gave them this link with directions on how to assemble their slingshots.  Have your students watch the fun little video (2:12).  It explains how the slingshot stores potential energy when the plunger is drawn back and releases kinetic energy when you let go!

You can download and print the instructions OR you could simply put them on this site and let them follow the directions.  The reading teacher in me selected the latter and had great results with fifth grade.

Design Squad Slingshot

The students and I set up ten feet of measurement tape in the middle of our Makerspace for our trials.  Each pair came to the center, and gave it their best shot(s).  We rounded each to the nearest foot.

In this challenge, everyone wins – a Peep to taste, that is!

Looking for more?  The Design Squad Nation has some great extensions listed in Step 13.  Check it out!


Want to know how Peeps are made?  Check out this video from the Just Born factory located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania!

Feeling really ambitious and want to make homemade Peeps at home?  Try this video!

If you try this STEM challenge, let me know by leaving a comment!

ELA Raps 2016


Have you heard of Flocabulary?  It is a terrific teaching resource!  Flocabulary features “hip-hop videos to teach standards-based skills and content.”  Raps cover ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, Current Events and more! There are loads of activities and assessments that are built right in, and they even have lessons on how your students can write and perform their own educational raps.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 1.41.05 PM

Challenge Accepted.  [It didn’t hurt that my teaching partner and I are products of the late 90s and early 2000s and have a soft spot for hip-hop from this era.]

We began by analyzing a few of Flocabulary’s raps/lyrics.  We looked at rhythm and rhyme, and highlighted content.  We circled hooks and talked about repetition.  Sounds a lot like a poetry lesson, doesn’t it?

We introduced students to a short list of original Flocabulary beats.  There were just too many to choose from!  Student groups were assigned topics such as the different reading genres and types of writing.  They drafted lyrics and practiced by placing them to the beat of their choice.

Then came the tricky part:  recording the raps.  Once they performed for a teacher, we allowed them to move into a “recording studio” or empty classroom equipped with a tri-fold presentation board.  They downloaded their beat from Flocabulary into their Google Drive, uploaded it to SoundCloud, and started their recording.  Note:  SoundCloud does not allow for editing.  Some of the groups became frustrated when they made mistakes while recording.  However, we decided that this was an important lesson in perseverance.  They had already invested so much time and energy that not one student wanted to give up!

The most ambitious groups reached a new height when they were able to move their recorded raps to the iPads and use the Video Star app to film in an original video.  View some of our top performances below.  What an amazing experience!

Click here to view a free sample of Flocabulary’s product. Learn about the “Rock Stars: Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic.” We’ve enjoyed using Flocabulary and just know you will too!

Drive About: Number Neighborhood

Age Scale: 2-6
Device: iPhone, iPod, and iPad
Quick Line: Cruise into Early Math
What Educators Need to Know:
Gentlemen, start your engines… Drive About: Number Neighborhood is finally here and ready for exploration!

Give your little learner the green light with this new app from Artgig! As we’ve come to expect from this innovative company, Drive About: Number Neighborhood is a delightful adventure for the toddler/preschool set, introducing them to concepts such as counting, ordering, matching, number identification, and number writing.


Toot Toot! Start your tour by visiting the slippery Sea Pickles. Whack those with the target number as they pop up from their holes. Next, it is Whale Feeding time! Slingshot cabbages into your adorable buddy’s mouth Angry-Birds-style. Skyrocket into Cloud Writing and trace numbers from one to ten. Drive on and use your Construction Blocks to stack numbers to 20 correctly. Strive to balance your See-Saw sums with either individual numbers or combinations of a few. March on to clean up the ‘hood by counting and using a Space Vacuum. Don’t forget to visit the Bakery where you will decorate your cut-out cookies with matching toppings. Catch the snowboarding yak on your way downhill, and help him touch the flags in order. Tired yet? Relax by expressing your artistic ability, or lack thereof, and Paint by Numbers.

Whew! Sounds like a lot of practice doesn’t it? Well, you are correct, but it is FUN! My three-year-old has been visiting this Number Neighborhood frequently.  And even though he pretends not to, my six-year-old hits the town often as well. The graphics are endearing and the sound effects are a hoot! Best of all, the games are designed to provide your students and children with a foundation to mathematical thinking. Numbers, reasoning, critical thinking, and problem solving are all represented with this one app. In all honesty, I can’t see how little ones wouldn’t learn from this app!

Price: $2.99 and worth every penny


Motion Math: Pizza!

Motion Math Pizza
Age Scale:  9-14
Device:  iPhone, iPod, and iPad
Quick Line:  Share a Slice of EdTech Brilliance

What Educators Need to Know:

Hand-tossed, thin and crispy, deep dish… it’s all good.  And this tasty new app from Motion Math is the same:  it’s all good.  There is not one thing that either my students or I would change about this app.  You know you have a good app when the students readily choose it for their home devices.  And I had SEVERAL do so over a holiday break!
Here’s the 411:
Ever dream of running your own business?  Well, now is your turn to try!  You have 30 days to get rich selling an American food staple:  pizza.  
Head on over to the market to buy your ingredients, but be careful!  Think about whether it is better to buy in bulk.   You will want to get the best bargain!  
Make your way to the kitchen to create your original pies, give them a name, and set a price that will make a nice profit.  Don’t be greedy.  If you charge too much, your customers will complain and disappear with a POOF! Charge too little, and you won’t have enough cash to purchase your ingredients.  
Slide back into your pizzeria and serve your visitors.  Be quick with your calculating, or they will get angry and eat elsewhere.
Don’t forget to save!  Extra money earned will allow you to upgrade your equipment and ingredient options.
As usual, the customer is always right.  Remember this, and you will have much success.  They will help you create your menu and establish fair pricing.
My students have been obsessed with this game.  They love the challenge of maximizing profits and delight in the feedback from the somewhat saucy customers.  They’ve been experimenting with what works, but they’ve also been pushing the limits to find the fine line between supreme success and bottom-out failure.  What a great life lesson learned with little or no risk!  [This flavorful fun is only $3.99!]
Take a big bite out of teaching economics to elementary students by ordering up a slice of app-ilicious heaven:  Motion Math Pizza!

123 Kids Fun Numbers

123 kids fun numbers
Age Scale: 2 and up
Device: iPhone, iPod, and iPad
Quick Line: Numbers are Fun, For Sure!
What Educators Need to Know:
123 Kids Fun Numbers is part of a series of apps by Ros Media. It was the first however, that I had the opportunity to try, and it does not disappoint. It is designed so that learners will be able to say the numbers 1-10, represent the numbers on fingers, and eventually write the numbers. I found that it lead my little D to meet these objectives, although he has a ways to go before he can actually write the numbers on paper.

As a parent or teacher, you can approach the app from one of two ways: by number or by activity. I would suggest completing the simple activities that accompany each number first, and boy, are they fun! D loves putting the robot together (1), quieting the crying babies (4), spreading jam on the sandwiches (7), and washing the 10 cars. (My sons are currently obsessed with the car wash near my parents’ house.) The other activities get more and more challenging and require the child to identify the numbers at random. You can feed the hippo, make fruit juice, whack a meerkat, race cars, put the meerkat on airplanes, and complete puzzles. All encourage counting and number matching skills, and children are rewarded with items to place in an aquarium.

The most challenging activity for my young one is the tracing game. At age two, he struggles, and that is OK. I can help him! But that’s something I want to stress here: yes, many children can perform the activities with this app without assistance. However, it is important that you interact with them as they complete them. D loves when he can hand off the device to me to trace the numbers that are difficult. I thought he would learn to avoid those that are difficult, but with my guidance, he seems to gravitate to them instead! You cannot discount the importance of parental involvement.

Price: $1.99

Annie’s Picking Apples 2

annies picking app

Age Scale: 2-6

Device: iPad

Quick Line:  Perfect Preschool Pick

What Educators Need to Know:

Traveling for the holiday?  Looking to maintain skills over a break?  Annie’s Picking Apples 2 will help you with this.  And the best part?  It will PROVE that your child is learning!

annies picking mapWorking with Annie will help your child develop number awareness and counting skills to 20.  There are 27 “worlds” or activities in this educational game.  There are four primary categories:  counting games (blue icons), making pies (yellow icons), puzzles (puzzle piece icons), and trophies (trophy icons).  The content is heaviest in the blue areas.  Children will encounter five games including classifying, sorting, memory, catching, and throwing.  Making apple pie seems to be designed to provide fun as children will slice butter, pour milk, crack and egg, etc. to make a pie.  Although there are few pieces, the puzzles can be a challenge as children must drag and turn pieces to complete.  Trophies are awarded for the completion of each category.  Not every icon will be focused on math, but I believe the design will eliminate burnout for younger learners.

All of this might seem ordinary, but what sets this app apart are its performance trackers.  Entering the parent area via a double-digit math problem will provide a series of five choices.  The first is a parent report.   As you know, my classroom instruction is data-driven, and I can do the same at home with this app.  I can see my child’s performance on each of the five games in the following areas:  number awareness, visual pairing, and concentration.  Not sure what all this means?  Click info, and a description is provided.  I can also see when my child has played each activity in the activity log.  If you are a preschool or kindergarten teacher, this would be a great alternative to black and white assessments!

annies picking reportAnother fabulous feature are its controls.  The parent portal provides recommendations on how to change the iPad’s configurations to meet the needs of individual children.  You can increase time limits, stop puzzle pieces from locking, set a time control for multiple users, and set time limits for overall app use.  You can also clear reports when transitioning from one child to another.  All of these options will provide safe and healthy usage for younger students and students with special needs.

On the whole, Annie’s Picking Apples is really terrific.  Kids will be pleased with the games.  Parents will be pleased with the controls.  And teachers will be pleased with the reports.  I would highly recommend this app for preschool, kindergarten, and special needs children.

Price:  $2.99