Category: STEM/STEAM Thoughts (page 2 of 2)

The week in STEAM – Posts I Love from Twitter and Instagram

This Week in STEM – Great Links from Twitter and Instagram

STEM/STEAM Field Trips

Lounging in front of classic Tom and Jerry while eating cereal from the box

That is a school holiday. And it’s really, really fun.

It is also necessary to have that kind of downtime. But what comes next? Boredom inevitably sets it. Facing 2 weeks of vacation, I am pulling together a list of ideas to be prepared.


Visit a power plant (check to see if they have a visitors center first):


© bobistraveling

We visited a local power plant. They had a science museum which covered the plant’s operation, plus experiments in energy/renewable energy and more.

Check out a science museum:


© Elliott Brown / Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum – Kids’ City

We have a playdate set up with a former classmate to a local science museum.


Trip to art-supply store to look at all the cool stuff:


© a loves dc

I posted about art supply stores a few weeks ago. Now that we have a little more time during a vacation, how about creating a specific project? There are many appealing projects hiding in the grownup supplies aisle:

Silkscreen kits: last year I picked up a full kit for about $19 on sale

Sculpey bakeable clay

Mod Podge

Pen and ink with nibbed pens

A visit to Home Depot©:


home depot

© Dean Hochman


Home Depot ideas:

Pick up some paint chips to plan a room makeover – even make believe

Buy some PVC or other cool STEM supplies

Try a piece of mosaic tile (I bought one that looked like bricks and snipped off the backing. It was better than blocks because it looked so “real.” Please be careful as some mosaic tiles have sharp edges.)


Local engineering sites of interest:


© Ben Harwood / Canal lock powerhouse

Visit nearby sites where engineering solutions can be seen: 

A hiking path under a soaring bridge. Look up and what do you see?

An old, hand-built stone fence

Abandoned (check for trains anyways please) train tracks

An old water mill


Stationery Something – either Staples, Wal-Mart, or arty local store (even Aisle 5 in the pharmacy will do)


© insatiablemunch


Pens. A fresh highlighter. A silly coloring book. Pieces of paper with clouds printed on them. A gold Sharpie®. Colored index cards. Then come home and get to work!


Bad weather? Feeling like a homebody? How about a field trip to the basement:

© Travis Wise

© Travis Wise

There it is. The box in the corner. The one marked “misc.” What could it be? Dig around and:

Wind up old baby toys.

Poke through great-grandma’s silverware

Examine useless kitchen gadgets bought on a whim, and try to re-purpose them into some kind of STEM machine

Wishing you a nice time with your kids.


STEM/STEAM Field Trips



Strange but Fabulous STEM Supplies

There is a stray Barbie leg near our daughter’s maker space. The leg has been colored pink. But that is the least of it. The leg has been part of Lego structures. It has been wrapped in string and swung about. It has been used as a bad guy in pretend games.

Leg aside, there are many great – but unusual – STEM supplies in our house.

(Please note: this is not a sponsored blog post.)

Here are some of our favorites:

PVC Pipe:


© Dan4th Nicholas

From marble runs to water play, there is no end to what we can construct with PVC. It is not too expensive, and easy to get at a home or hardware store.

Study ideas: physics, structure, water flow

Look at this great toy on Amazon based upon PVC:

Life-Size Pipe Builders on Amazon


Ice making


© Pierre (Rennes)

Ice. Yup. Our daughter is officially obsessed with ice. She will take a small ramekin or plastic container, fill with water, and add the item of the day. She has tried freezing everything from chia seeds to stuffed animals.

kitty in ice

poor kitty

Study ideas: changing states of matter, change over time

Plastic tubing:

plastic tubing – Amazon

This is an odd one. I bought a length at the back of our local hardware store. It is available on a spool, and you can choose whichever diameter you’d like. Some will be large enough to accommodate a marble, others are good for water.

Study ideas: physics structures and life science studies: We used it for a science project about the liver and gallbladder. We clogged it up with “gallstones” (pebbles from the garden).

Small motor

1.5-3 Vdc Motor

We used this for our daughters STEM-Vention fair last year. She used it to make a special fan. But the motor was quite the diversion. Note: you must fashion something to fit on the axle or buy one with a gear attachment. We tried everything from a Sculpey blob to cut up styrofoam. Probably better to buy something in the future. (BTW, Roominate dollhouse products use these motors as well.)

The excitement of touching the wires to fire up a motor is memorable. It was one of the hits of the science fair. Children as young as 4 were touching wires (with supervision of course!) together to fire up the motorized fan.

Study ideas: physics, robotics, invention

motor hooked to a fan (fan from Quercetti Gears Building Set)

motor hooked to a fan (fan from Quercetti Gears Building Set)


Have a good one.




STEAM Career: PrePress

It was the only Times job listing I ever got. A real “ground floor” opportunity in the graphic arts industry.

I was fresh out of art school and had just started working nights at a Mexican Restaurant. The best part was the huge meal they would give you after the kitchen closed. I devoured rice and beans after my shift. The summer night hung humid around me, as laughing people passed by on MacDougal. It was rich, but it wasn’t my scene.

The next morning at 8 AM I received a call from the owner of a PrePress shop. The company with the ground floor opportunity.

He had hired someone else after our interview. But I was the alternate choice. “Oh, well thanks anyways… ” I started. “I’m not finished. The other candidate turned down the job. He does not want to work nights. He’s too afraid to take the subway (small laugh) after midnight. Are you interested?”


© m01229

I thought of my 2:47 Am commute the night before.

“Of course.”

So in I went to the world of prepress. My mother hated the fact that she could not explain what her daughter did. “Something with computers,” was the standard response.

But I took to this profession.

Now instead of trying to balance enchiladas on a tray, I was lugging large bolts of paper and film. Draining processors from a variety of toxic chemicals. Downloading files from the BBS. Spinning up Syquest 44 mb discs. Pushing the SE30 to its limit (which it did not seem to have. Still one of my favorites).


© Tim Patterson

But it was a true ground floor opportunity. I was a graphic designer learning from the other side.

We had a drawer of fonts on floppy disks. The company owned the entire Adobe® library, and it was presented one font per disk. I began to memorize which font was which as soon as a job came in. “That looks like Eurostyle,” I would think while heading for the drawer.

We became masters of software. Quark XPress, Adobe Illustrator, and everyone’s favorite program to hate: Aldus Pagemaker. I still remember the etched portrait on the program’s splash page, and the skiddly sound of an SE30 hard drive processing while the, oh, 3 minutes passed.

I learned a language all its own. Registration. CMYK. Spot color. Overrun. Courier Default (my fave). DPI. LPI. Resolution. Spooler. Gigabyte! That was a big day. No pun.


© Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

What prepress demands is that a worker has a head for math and engineering, and also an aesthetic for good design. There’s your STEAM.

If something looks wrong, it needs to jump out at him/her. If the colors are running too deep, the worker needs to figure out why. If a font defaults to something incorrect, the worker must see that red flag, knowing that that is not a good piece.

Prepress is more about troubleshooting than getting a job done. Anyone who loves problem solving would appreciate the work that goes in to a seemingly simple project.

For example, one project may demand:

  • Scrutinizing several pages of hard copy to comprehend the proposed finished product
  • Brainstorming ways to to approach the steps
  • Preparing for the possible pitfalls
  • Addressing the client’s concerns along the way (hand holding at times. Dodging thrown potted plants other times. But that’s a story for another day.)
  • Knowing your limitations when it comes to materials and machinery
  • Knowing your limitations when it comes to time
  • Establishing checkpoints throughout the process
  • Color checks along the way
  • Trim size accommodation
  • Holding of breath and pounding back of caffeine in order to facilitate the process

Years later I taught Production/Prepress to a Community College. It was invigorating. And the students LOVED it. We toured a local facility as well. They never knew how much went into this work! They thought they would just drop off a project – and – poof! It would be done.

If you have an opportunity to tour a facility, I encourage it.






I was a STEM Kid – When I Tried to Make Leonardo’s Flying Machine


Please note:

I am noT Leonardo Da Vinci


I went to high school in the 80s

(Think: The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink)

What happens when we mix the two?

This could be the script for an after school special. The story is so cringe-worthy that I almost can’t even write it. But it is worth it, because I want to show how far we have come.

I had a wonderful art teacher. Let’s call her Mrs. Baker. Her room smelled of acrylics and plaster. Mat boards leaned against the wall. Paint-spattered chairs sat pulled out, awaiting a new set of students. Entering her room allowed me a sigh of relief. Art time!

We were encouraged to create and to take chances. We mastered our skills. We brainstormed.

I longed for that feeling in other classes. Creative writing came close. Physics seemed like it may invite some inventive thinking.

But in those days science was science.

Art was art.

And never the twain would meet.

I had seen Leonardo’s notebooks in a handout. I was fascinated by his backwards handwriting. His sketches drew me in. But I remembered specifically the Flying Machine. Bird wings built from wood stretched in their glory. I was in. I got to work in my kitchen. (Sorry, Mom.) I purchased several dowels at our small-town, narrow hardware store that mysteriously carried everything you might need. You know the store that your father still calls by the name from the 50s? Even though it is Ace or something else at this point? That store. Then came thin army-duck painter’s canvas which I tie dyed (did I mention I was a hippie?) light purple with stripes.

I would work at home, then bring the partially-created work to school to continue in art class. schoobus One day as I was walking up the aisle on the bus, I accidentally jammed a dowel into the hanging fan near the driver. The fan churned off the ends of the dowel and flung wood chips about the bus. Of course – as fate would have it – my bully was sitting right there. Let’s call him Randy Farrone. Nice guy. He launched into action, relishing every moment of my humiliation as I froze. I scooped up the pieces and fled the bus even though I was several blocks from home. He never let me forget it.

But I did not let it stop me. I did, however, avoid the fan on the bus.

The final structure was pieced together with super glue and rubber band reinforcements. Careful, though. Touching any joint could cause a springing-open action, and I would have to patch it together. More rubber bands. Even duct tape here and there. I stretched the canvas over the wide shape which hid the questionable construction.

It really looked interesting–as long as you did not get too close.

As I was one of those students that the school doesn’t really know what to do with, I was given a few study halls during the day. It was during one of said study halls that I planned the launch. You might think I would try the machine in the parking lots behind the schools. Or even a vacant field somewhere.


I went right outside, smack in the center of the soccer fields, directly in front of the expansive windows of my large, suburban high school. Right in the middle of the school day. The wind whipped upwards, so I was actually caught aloft for a brief second. I mean, this thing was big. It was really exciting. Kids started to look at me from the windows: my moment of glory in fringed Minnetonka mocs.

You know that screeching-to-a-stop record sound when someone scrapes the needle over the vinyl? Yeah. Cue that.

The front of the machine was not properly balanced out, so it nose dived and smashed into the dirt leaving a nice divot in the soccer field. I tripped and fell under the structure as it folded upon me. Students faces were practically pressed against the windows as they witnessed my demise. I was the entertainment of the day.

In utter silence I entered the school through the back door so I would not have to rustle up a hall pass. It was during class-time, so there was nobody in the halls. Kids leaned back in chairs to smirk as I passed their Economics or Detective Fiction classes. But they were also intrigued. I could see a light in their eyes. Failure and all, it was fun and adventurous.

I padded soundlessly into the art room and placed the flying machine in the ‘way back of the supply closet. I never spoke of it again. As far as I know there are probably still pieces of it there.

But today things would be different. The students would be invited to share what worked and what didn’t. They would be encouraged to fix or rebuild.

Projects such as these (well, maybe not exactly THIS project) are now being tackled by groups of students. Inventive thinking has been brought into the classroom and is being shared with pride.

Check out below the great initiatives that I have seen just in one morning on Twitter.

And this is not even close to all of the tweets about STEM and STEAM. And at the very bottom? Download my free Leonardo poster. It’s all I can do to honor him after the sorry Flying Machine event. I mean, purple tie-dye and duct tape?

Not really his thing, I am guessing.

© Leonardo Design for a Flying Machine, c. 1488.jpg

© William J. Grimes – School Bus

Free Leonardo Poster:


Confessions of an Early STEM Kid – When I Tried to Make Leonardo’s Flying Machine

Invention Journal

Invention Journal: Elementary + Middle Grades

Invention Journal Cover

Invention Journal: Elementary + Middle Grades

Encourage your student to design the future with our Invention Journal.



Ask – Imagine – Plan – Create – Experiment – Improve: these are the steps to the engineering design process. This journal takes your student through each of these steps with questions and spaces to sketch. At the end of each chapter, student will have a fully-developed idea.

View details:

Invention Journal - Engineering Design Process

Guide your student step-by-step, using the steps illustrated above. Thought-provoking questions lead your student through the thinking process. What do I want to make and why? And how can I do it?

Journal includes: space for 6 complete projects and a fill-in-the blank table of contents. 40 pages.

Invention Journal: Elementary + Middle Grades

Engineering design process steps (ask – imagine – plan – create – experiment – improve) based upon a flowchart © Find the original image at:

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