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!

Camp Wonderopolis


My sixth grade students know that I am absolutely in love with the website  There are so many interesting wonders in this world including, “What does the fox really say?” and “Can a human outrun a cheetah?”  On occasion, I would simply book the iPad cart, distribute this trifold brochure, and tell my kiddos to learn something new!  The feedback was pretty positive as many children appreciate the ability to choose their own learning path.

That has lead me to use Wonderopolis at home too.  Now, E and D are still little young (now 6 and 3), but when a scary storm rolled through the area this spring, we grabbed the computer to find out, “Why does it thunder?”  I was excited to see a new button pop up on the home page letting me know that I could preregister for Camp Wonderopolis, a FREE program designed to keep kids learning and discovering during the summer.  Without hesitation, I enrolled E.

Here is some information from the FAQ pdf:

Camp Wonderoplis is a fun, engaging way to keep kids learning over the summer months. The content has been developed to improve reading comprehension of informational text, build background knowledge in different areas of science, and improve vocabulary and literacy skills.

…Camp Wonderopolis has been created so individuals, families, and programs can customize the Camp experience to suit their individual needs. There are 42 individual scientific lessons that can be explored at your own pace, on your own schedule.

Camp Wonderopolis is built for learners of ALL ages, but it is especially targeted at grades 2 – 8. Campers under the age of 13 will need to have their registration verified with the email address of a parent or guardian.

Basically, there are six tracks:  Observatory, Zoo, Amusement Park, Woods, Dig Site, and Laboratory.  There is one overall video and “maker” lesson for each track and a series of mini-lessons for additional exploration.  Completing lessons earn the user Wonder Cards.  Completed Wonder Cards will earn rewards online, although I have no idea what they look like.  Each quest/lesson should take 10-15 minutes to complete.  Again, E is a little young, and we struggle with getting quiet time.  But the framework is outstanding, and as a parent and educator, I absolutely love the opportunity for my kids to explore science in a fun way.

Registration is open until July 28, 2014.  After July 28, all camp content will be available on the


ABC for Little Space Explorer

abc for space




Age Scale:  2+

Device: iPhone, iPod, and iPad

Quick Line:  The Universe in an Alphabet

What Educators Need to Know:

Every kid has his or her “thing”.  For my oldest, it was trains.  For my youngest, it is animals.  Many of us moms knows the depths to which we are willing to indulge those “things”.  (We have to watch Thomas AGAIN??)  Lucky for us, the App Store never lets us down.  With a quick swipe of the finger, we can easily satisfy our children with their “things”, and we don’t have to feel guilty because they are usually educational!

Take for example, the ABC Flashcard apps by Common Extract.  So far, there is ABC for the Little Scientist and the newly created ABC for the Little Space Explorer.  Now, space is far from a hot topic in my house.  But I realized as I shopped for new bedding for little D’s room, it must be a pretty popular theme.  Each letter is accompanied by its sound, vocabulary word, and quick activity.  Now, the vocabulary is certainly more challenging than the standard for the average toddler, but it is spot-on for the enthusiast.  And if they learn the sounds that the letters make?  Even better!

If I could revise this app, I would do two things.  One, I would reduce the price.  $1.99 is a bit high for an ABC app.  Two, my very wise babysitter pointed out that the advanced vocabulary was not actually defined.  Yes, this would be above the typical toddler/preschooler’s head, but at minimum, it would be helpful for parents!  Also, it could widen the audience to children in primary grades.  I know I would be more willing to download and use an app that provided content with the alphabet exposure.  Plus, content-specific vocabulary is a Common Core buzz topic!

In this very competitive market, it is nice to see developers branch out and pay attention to the interests of children.  Because, as we all know, despite our best efforts, sometimes there’s just no way to discourage some of our kids “things”.

Price:  $1.99

Bubble Guppies Animal School Day


Age Scale: 2-6

Device: iPad (Note: There is a separate iPhone version for $3.99. It is unclear what the difference is between the two.)

Quick Line: For Animal Lovers and Guppy Fans

What Educators Need to Know:
Our family has a problem: Baby D is OBSESSED with the television show “Bubble Guppies” on Nick Jr. Something about the combination of catchy tunes and silly jokes strikes his fancy. And judging by the amount of Bubble Guppies merchandise out there, D is not alone.

In a weak moment, I took a chance and downloaded the pricey Bubble Guppies Animal School Day app. To my surprise, Mr. Grouper is actually a good teacher! The focus here is on animal attributes, diet, and homes. After selecting one of ten target animals, children must drag animals with similar characteristics to join their target animal in the bubble. For example, D had to find all of the animals with four legs to join the zebra. At Deema’s Snack Shop, children drag one of four true foods to their target animal being mindful to avoid items that their animal would not eat. D chose herbs and had to avoid shoes and cameras. The third exercise briefly explains the habitat where the target animal lives. Players must swipe the vehicle around barriers to help their animal reach its habitat. D lead the zebra to the savannah. Classification, foods, and habitats are a great place to start when learning about animals!

The highs: The content is accurate and completely appropriate for the age demographic. Games are easy enough for little learners, although D, newly two, needs some assistance with parts. Up to four players can save their progress on the same device. Great news for preschool classrooms! Center activity anyone? Completion of games earns players stickers to decorate Bubble Puppy’s doghouse.

The lows: It is repetitive. I can understand how this might be a positive trait in some cases, but I tired of the three games very quickly. Also, I feel that the price point for the educational value of this app is too high.

I am very conscientious about what apps stay on my devices from day to day. If I download something that I do not like, I delete it immediately and do not write about it. I have to give into the occasional brand name desires, but if I write about it, you can bet that it will remain because I have found some redeeming qualities. D will certainly be happy!

Price: $5.99

Bubble Guppies: Animal School Day HD - Nickelodeon

Khan Academy

Age Scale: 10-adult

Device: iPad

Quick Line: Help! (At Your Fingertips)

What Educators Need to Know:

A few months ago, I saw a 60 Minutes piece on Salman Kahn, an American educator who had started an organization called the Khan Academy.  His resume boasted an education that included MIT and the Harvard Business School, and watching him create tutorials for his website indicated that this man was pretty close to a genius-level intellect.  Since that time, the Khan Academy app has been brought to my attention over and over again. Users have access to thousands of videos/tutorials on topics including K-12 math, sciences, humanities, history, and finance.  Now, don’t expect bells and whistles here.  The simplistic lessons are created on an online whiteboard with audio, but what I love is the portability.  Students can download their own playlists and replay them easily whenever needed.  Tutors can brush up on topics before sitting down to remediate.  While it is, by no means, a replacement for teacher/student interaction, it is yet another tool to lead our students to mastery.  I want to teach my students life lessons including seeking help when needed and using available resources.  Khan Academy is a great one!

Price:  FREE

Khan Academy - Khan Academy

Britannica Kids: Solar System

Age Scale: 8-12 (great reference for all)

Device: iPod, iPhone, or iPad

Quick Line:  Solar System Information Overload

What Educators Need to Know:

To be honest, the idea of downloading an encyclopedia did not really excite me.  But this app was a pleasant surprise!  Encyclopedia Britannica has developed a superbly-organized reference tool that will appeal to learners and teachers alike.  The content is extensive, and as suspected, there are many articles to use as reference for projects and writing assignments.  Outstanding pictures and videos are embedded throughout, but they are also accessible on a separate page. Students can watch Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon!  How cool is that?  There are also many diagrams and charts that illustrate a number of difficult concepts that simply aren’t clear by using words alone (birth of a planetary system, anyone?)  Fast finishers need not go to another app as there are various games and quizzes built into the program.  The reading level is a bit high for eight-year-olds.  Do I wish it had a read-aloud capability?  Yes.  Do I hope content updates occur frequently?  Yes.  But really, it is a very well-designed app.  I recommend downloading others in the series including Rainforests, Dinosaurs, Ancient Egypt, U.S. Presidents,  and Volcanoes.

Price: $4.99

Britannica Kids: Solar System - Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc