UCF Hosts Free STEM Conference 2018

I just have to share this information for those that don’t know about this #FREE #STEM #Conference every year in Orlando. The Florida Engineering Education Conference (FEEC) is hosted each year in the spring by the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in East Orlando. UCF has hosted this STEM conference for Florida Educators since 2006. The conference used to be held at the end of April, but for the last couple of years that I know of, has been the first Friday in March. This year, the conference will be held on Friday, March 2, 2018 at the Student Union at UCF.

This will be my second year presenting at the conference, and one of my favorite STEM conferences to attend. It is always a pleasure to attend this conference. The sessions are always great, and I love meeting new people and learning new things at the conference. You can usually find STEM presentations from the Florida Association of Science Teachers (FAST), the Orlando Science Center (OSC), the US Army, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Education. Last year, I learned about using robotics in the elementary classroom, integrating STEM in elementary schools, planting a school garden, and other great STEM lesson ideas. The conference is done by 3:30 so you can get a jump start on your drive home, and your weekend.

If you have never been, the University of Central Florida is a beautiful campus with lots of lakes and wooded areas, a perfect escape from the common classroom! Lunch is included with the registration, with water, coffee, and tea set up in the main ballroom/conference hall throughout the conference. Should you get a hankering for a pick-me-up snack before or after lunch  (like maybe breakfast time) there are some restaurants on the main floor of the Student Union that you could visit, such as Starbucks and Smooth King, to name a few. And for those that enjoy dining outdoors, there is a lovely deck behind the Student Union with with umbrella covered tables and wooded walkways that lead off into a Cyprus forest.

I would recommend getting to the campus early as the parking garage fills up quickly between conference guests and students. You can find more information about the conference and registration at FEEC’s webpages on the UCF website: http://stem.ucf.edu/feec/. If you decide to go, look me up, I’ll be presenting about Engineering in Elementary Life Sciences!


STEM Training in Boston

Museum of Science in Boston

This week’s post comes to you from the wonderful city of Boston! I’m so excited and happy to have had this opportunity to go for STEM training at the Museum of Science, here in Boston, through a scholarship from Engineering is Elementary (EiE). I got a take a break from teaching this week and be a student myself learning new things to bring back to my classroom. I met some amazing teachers from all over the country and in different school settings. But our goal is the same, to bring hands-on science-based engineering challenges to our students.

This week’s lesson that I’m learning focuses on Life Science. In my search for engineering design challenges to do with my students, the hardest domain to find challenges on is Life Science. I was so pleased to see that EiE was offering this workshop on a Life Science topic. In this unit, we take a look at the muscles and bones of the human body as we work our way up to designing a knee brace from classroom consumable materials. One that would stabilize an injured knee and offer support to the knee that allowed the knee to move in a natural way. We even had a model knee to test our designs on that was constructed from ordinary items such as shipping tubes (like the kind used for posters), a Whiffle ball, panty hose (to give it that natural skin tone, and to help keep everything together), rubberbands, pipe cleaner, paper fasteners, and cardboard.

model of a knee for the knee brace

We began by discussing what technology was as we did an activity with items in a brown bag. Working in small groups of three, we had to think about the technology of the item, the materials it was made of, what it is used for, and alternative uses for the item. My group had a plastic spoon. We decided that besides the fact that we use plastic spoons in so many of our engineering design challenges in our classrooms (catapults being one of our favorites), we could also use the spoon to dig with. One item that surprised me and made me stop and think was a laminated recipe. I never thought about recipes being a piece of technology. However, when I think about it, a process is something that is man-made that meets a need or solves a problem, making life easier.

As we went through each of the activities in the professional development workshop, we were able to “wear” teacher hats and student hats. So sometimes we got to think like our students would think about a challenge or activity. One fun activity we did along the way was to take a look at, sort, and compare everyone’s foot print. We did this by spraying the bottom of each other’s foot and then stepping onto a piece of construction paper. Then we used a marker to trace the outline of the footprint. We compared the foot prints as we posted them all on a wall and sorted through all of the footprints. Our challenge was to give a shoe manufacturer suggestions for its design of a new sneaker. In order to meet this challenge, we needed to gather information about people’s feet. One thing that stood out right away as we were doing this activity is that everyone has different arches.

comparing footprints activity

A fun team building activity we did was a tower challenge using 100 index cards to build a pedestal for a pig. It had to be at least 24 inches high and had to stand for at least 10 seconds with the pig on the top. My team’s structure did not make the 10 count.

index card tower

A pedestal fit for a pig

While we were here in Boston we got a do some sight seeing. The weather was absolutely perfect for sight seeing the Bostonian way – walking. Everything in this great city is so close you can walk everywhere. And, walk we did! (If you go to Boston, I recommend bringing comfortable shoes. Yesterday I walked so much, I got a blister.) If you get tired of walking, or get a blister like I did, you can take the T (subway train). The passes are very reasonable. The first night we were in town we all walked downtown to the harbor and hung out in a garden designed for adults. There we got to socialize and get acquainted with everyone’s background. Our class was small – only 13 of us teachers. After this, a small group of us ladies walked along the harbor and found a seafood place to eat. I mean, while in Boston… Wednesday was a full moon (flying into Boston on the evening of a full moon and seeing the full moon over the harbor from the air was one of the highlights of my trip. Simply breath taking!) so we saw the full moon over the harbor as we dined. I even got to watch a bit of the Red Sox play on a TV that was there in the restaurant. (Sadly, they lost to the Astros.)

Yesterday was our last day of a workshop. We had our final challenge, constructing a knee brace that stabilized an injured knee, like the boy’s knee in the story that accompanied this unit. Each of the EiE units come with a story about someone in need of an engineering solution. Each story contains a character that is the specific type of engineer needed for the task. In No Bones About It the characters are camping when one of the kids injures his knee. The main character’s mother is a biomedical engineer, so he uses what he learned from her to come up with the solution, a knee brace. We all got to wear our student hats to ask, imagine, plan, create, and we talked about improvements to our knee brace designs. It was fun to go “shopping” for the materials for our design.

One of the knee brace designs

One of the best designs of the class was one that used Velcro so that was removable, and a hinge that allowed the knee to bend naturally.

At the end of the PD session we were able to check out other units to help us decide which kit we would like for our kit. They will send us the kits for free. We just have to agree to teach the unit this year and report back to EiE about how our lessons went. The instructors encouraged us to select a unit that had materials that were harder to acquire on our own. I think I am going to select the maglev unit because of the magnets involved. Although I really want the knee brace kit, I feel I would be able to use their list to create my own kit.

This is my last day in Boston. Last night, after touring the Museum of Science, I walked all over the Commons and Back Bay, where I was staying. I hiked up Beacon Hill on a street called Joy Street. I think it is only a Joy if you are walking downhill! This is where my blister came from. Well, it didn’t help that I walked to the Museum yesterday morning. On my walk last night I visited Cheers (had to) and spent a couple of hours in the Public Garden until after the sun went down. As I found my way  back to my hotel I discovered this wonderful old castle in the middle of the city that is now a steak house restaurant. I want to go and check it out this morning before I leave. Turns out, it is just a few blocks away from my hotel.

I’m sad to be leaving but so thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to visit this beautiful city, meet new friends, and learn new things for my class. I’m looking forward to receiving my kit and teaching the unit. I would love to come back to this city soon for another visit. I will definitely have to plan to fly in again on the evening of the full moon, and definitely in fall when the leaves  have changed. I didn’t see as many of the changed leaves as I thought I would this trip.

My next stop is Orlando, in a couple of weeks, for the FAST conference where I will be presenting an engineering design challenge in Life Science with a fellow IE2 teacher.