STEM Team Project: Build a Straw Mobile

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and STEM is taking off in schools! STEM is imperative to learn and understand because it blends through countless facets of our lives. Additionally, technology is continuously expanding around us and STEM opportunities in school allows students to have hands-on experience with cutting edge problem solving, inventing, and creating that is beneficial to the learning process while being FUN!

A few weeks ago I came across an awesome hands-on activity through PBS Kids that I shared with another teacher in my school, Jordan Noice. Jordan and I loved the activity so much that we decided to work on the lesson together in her 2nd grade classroom. The activity in this post is inspired by PBS, but I also walk-through other ideas and planning resources that we created through collaboration.

*This lesson worked brilliantly for second grade, but I also believe that this lesson can be formatted and used for a multitude of grade levels.

Overall Lesson Synopsis


For each prototype we gave student group:

  • 3 straws
  • 4 lifesavers
  • 1 piece of paper
  • 2 paper clips
  • 40 centimeters of tape
  • Glue
  • Scissors

*Students thought carefully about how they would use each material on the list, because once they cut, glue, or taped a material, they would not get a replacement until the next prototype was created. But, students could of course think outside of the box to establish ideas to reuse materials.


  • Place 3 to 4 students in each group, for the best collaboration possible
  • Each group will get one set of materials for each prototype they create
    • To make things even more interesting, you could also have student reuse the same materials for each prototype

Lesson Walk-through

*Goal: To build a straw mobile that can move the furthest by only blowing air

We broke the activity into 2 days or “stages” as we called it:

Day 1: Plan, Draw, and Build up to 3 Different Prototypes with Team (1 hour)

Here is our planning sheet we created for students. feel free to make a copy:

During this time period, students were able to draw and label their prototypes. Students found it beneficial to draw BEFORE they built because they said it “helped them think things through.” Student teams quickly sketched 3 different prototypes before they started building. Once they were ready to build, they focused on the prototype that they believed would be the most successful. If their prototype did not work out as planned, they looked at their other 2 drawings and prototype options to revise or start over.

Students also tested their mobile as they built it to see what mobile would go the farthest. Some students blew into a straw that they attached to their mobile to make it move, while others used part of a straw that was unattached to blow air onto their mobile.

Day 2: Test Prototypes, Rebuild Prototype, Test again & Reflect (1 hour)

Students then traveled to the hallway with their prototypes for an official testing round. Each group was allowed to blow air to their mobile car 10 times to see the distance that it would travel. Students quickly learned by seeing their mobile and other teams in action what worked and what did not. After our testing round, students went back to the classroom and to the drawing board with numerous ideas to try.

Students then spent additional time brainstorming and rebuilding their prototypes so it could be retested again as a class.


After building and testing their final prototype, we gained even more insight to what the mobile needed to move faster; Students shared these findings with the class:

  • “The lighter the mobile is, the faster it moved.”
  • “We did better when we did not use as much tape and paper.”
  • “Ms. Welty’s mobile was shaped like an airplane and that helped it cut through air.”
  • “The straw was the engine, so it worked when the straw saw the air on both sides.”
  • “Most of the mobiles moved faster without the lifesaver wheels.”

The beautiful thing about this project is that students were engaged, empowered, and their wheels were constantly turning with ideas. I overheard one student calling himself an “inventor” because he found out that his mind was full of awesome ideas that he could put into action. We could have created more prototypes and students would have loved the opportunity of innovating once more.

Whether it is this lesson, or another STEM activity, give students opportunities like these to learn by DOING. Allowing students to be in the drivers seat of their own learning is powerful beyond words. Moreover, as an educator, it is a beautiful thing to see the creativity and spark that is born from students working together to create solutions.

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Podcast Featuring Students-Why EVERY Student Should Have Makerspace Learning Opportunities

A group of 5th graders and I have been working closely on diving into Makerspace type learning and thinking. Students have explored the concept of thinking differently in a variety of ways.


But, before we jump into how we learned and our podcast, it is important to discuss the meaning behind our reasoning. Although the new and shiny Makerspace gadgets are pretty cool, what is more important is the thinking behind it. You can have all the robots and gadgets that Amazon has to offer, but if the focus is misguided and focused solely on the tool, we can hinder the growth of our students. But, when done with intention, Makerspace type learning allows for students to be curious inventors and creators, rather than being static and rote problem solvers.

In the blog, Curiosity Commons, there is a fantastic post that highlights the benefits of Makerspaces called, “Makerspaces: The Benefits.”  One of my favorite quotes within this post is:

“Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning.  I believe firmly that this learning environment fosters enthusiasm for learning, student confidence, and natural collaboration. Ultimately the outcome of maker education and educational makerspaces leads to determination, independent and creative problem solving, and an authentic preparation for real world by simulating real-world challenges.”

Needless to say, Makerspace learning is incredible, and our kids agree!

The Podcast

While working with the 5th-grade students, we glanced over at our new Snowball Ice Microphone and we thought to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we shared our learning of Makerspaces with the world?” After we had this initial thought, students started saying things like, “Every student should get a chance to learn like this. Let’s create a podcast about Makerspaces and send it out to as many teachers and students as we can” and “I hope our podcast can make another kids life better!”

Here is our Snowball Ice Microphone- The quality is pretty sharp for $49.

Remarkably enough, within a couple of minutes, we plugged the microphone in and started recording the podcast on the spot. Students asked if I could host and they could give the insight! So, here is our organic podcast that we created in 10 minutes with zero editing, just pure excitement for learning and sharing; Click the orange “play” button below to listen.

Highlights from the Podcast

Students discussed the power of Makerspaces and how it helps with:

  • problem-solving “real” problems that can change the world

  • creating new things

  • the “important kind” of teamwork

Our 5th graders also discussed the power of using YouTube to foster learning, so I challenge you to ask this question in your classroom:

I was in awe by the way our students eloquently stated their thoughts with such a candid and authentic approach. I love seeking out opportunities to hear their perspectives to help me learn and grow. As one of our students said during the recording:

“When we work in groups we are just solving problems, like math problems. Whoever solves it then solves it, and that’s it! It’s over. But, with Makerspace learning you just can’t do everything on your own, you have to work together.” 

Beautifully stated and powerful. Give Makerspace learning a try and even share this podcast with your students or teachers. If you are looking for Makerspace resources, give this website MakerEd a try.

Also, our students would LOVE some positive feedback or questions about the podcast. Please comment below!

Here is the Chibi Lights LED Circuitboard our students created and referenced during the podcast

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Are We Fostering or Suppressing Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning is a crucial process that is unarguably paramount for any human being to survive and thrive. Each day, we learn new things about the world around us.

Yet, lifelong learning is more than acquiring new information over your lifetime. The important piece of the puzzle is having the desire to actively seek out new ideas while being able to transfer and apply these concepts to a variety of contexts and dimensions.

When we think of lifelong learning, we need to do everything in our power to ensure we avoid:

  • Trying to forcefully manufacture lifelong learners
  • Over structuring learning in a way that makes it unrewarding for kids
  • Spoon feeding every learning experience students have

Although we have good intentions with the learning for our students, we sometimes get stuck in a pattern of doing things the same way we have always done it; Therefore, we can inadvertently suppress the passion for learning.

Nevertheless, we can rewire our thinking to give lifelong learning the definition it deserves so we can foster and inspire environments to be the spark for new ideas, new passions, new interests, and new discoveries. But, these discoveries are not made to be information banks. Imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the power it has on changing the world.

Discovering new learning has power. Just imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the capability it has on changing the world.

Lifelong learning in its true form is:




Now, let us embed students as THE focal point and take a moment to visualize your school day tomorrow. Ask yourself:

  • Are learning opportunities ongoing for students?

In other words, do the learning opportunities expand in breadth and depth over time while giving students multiple opportunities to apply and connect learning?

  • Are students voluntary members in how they learn?

In other words, do students have a choice in their learning? and Do they want to be apart of the process?

  • Are students self-motivated and empowered to learn? 

In other words, are students trusted partners and included in their learning conversations, while given the power to help guide how they learn each day?

Based on the answers to these questions, make small tweaks to your approach day-by-day to include these elements and watch the progress that occurs. While you organize and create your content and curriculum, keep these questions at the center of what you and your school does.

Remember this:

We can develop the best curriculum, but if we undervalue the inquisitiveness of our kids, we miss the mark.

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A Dynamic World Requires Dynamic Classrooms

We live in a dynamic world today; there is no question about that; The digitalization and globalization of the world we have grown to know are unlike anything we have ever seen.

Students are growing up in a highly competitive world full of uncertainties. For example, jobs that our kids will be applying for in years to come are jobs that have not even been discovered yet, methods for digital communication and collaboration continue to improve and diversify, and innovation across the globe continues to surprise us all in areas of STEM, medical research, education, business, and beyond.

We do not know what is going to happen in the future. As this YouTube video titled, 21st Century Education, states “the pace of change is staggering.” The movement of change has accelerated to speeds that leave educators feeling weary and often confused on where to go next when equipping students for the future that seems to look like an ENORMOUS question mark.

The truth is that we do not have to know all of the answers. Teachers in previous years did not know what would occur in the future either, but they continued persevering for the betterment of the students they served.

We often forget to consider the determination, hard work, and advocacy that many educators positively imprinted on our professions even before our time.

Just look at the old school house picture above. Some may see this picture and think of outdated teaching practices, but I like to see the history of teaching and learning.

Although teaching is changing faster than ever before, change has always transpired in the scope of education. I believe it is crucial that we acknowledge and recognize the educators, leaders, and philosophers who advocated for progressive education, which laid the foundation for us to be successful now.

PBS Online compiled an incredibly informative timeline that highlights the history of teaching from 1772 to present day. Take a look at the timeline if you want to feel rejuvenated from 20th-century educators like John Dewey who fought for student-centered education. Some of these ideologies that we are seeking today, were similar conditions educators wanted then, but they were based on different contexts. As PBS states,

John Dewey, perhaps the most influential educational philosopher the 20th century, challenged the rigidity that characterized many American classrooms. By the 1920s he had become the standard-bearer for Progressive Education, arguing that democracy must prevail in the classroom. Both teachers and children needed to be free, he argued, to devise the best forms of learning for each child. These assumptions turned the hierarchy of classrooms and schools upside down. While the implementation of progressive education has been uneven over the past 100 years, its influence on teachers’ roles within schools has been notable.

John Dewey also brilliantly says, “Education, therefore, is a process of living, not a preparation for future living.” 

Notice the two keywords I bolded above: free and process.

I think Dewey was onto something BIG . Although it is our diligent responsibility as educators to prepare our students for the future, we cannot forget that education is a process and a JOURNEY. Let us still use technology with a purpose, connect students with a global audience, give students opportunities to create, and transform our teaching processes. Except, let us always keep in mind that although we want our students to be as dynamic as the world around them, we cannot expect this to happen overnight because growing for the future never truly ends.

Let us also to continue to allow freedom and openness in our voyages as we navigate the newness and uncertainty of what will happen next.  After all, this only makes sense- Dynamic students and adaptable students will always go hand-in-hand; You cannot have adaptability without future-ready or future-ready without adaptability. 

Here is to YOU– The dynamic educators who came before us, the dynamic leaders who stand beside us, and the dynamic students who will continue to change the world.

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Reverse Innovation: Do More with Less

I live for lessons and ideas that I can apply to all areas of my life; Reverse Innovation is one of those transformational ideas.

To give you a short backstory, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a TED Talk from

Vijay Govindarajan titled “Reverse Innovation.” Needless to say, I was pulled in instantaneously. I thoroughly enjoy learning from global experts in all areas: business, finance, leadership, education, and more. We often stay in our own bubble of expertise to a fault. I have found that there is a plethora of learning that can take place from listening to the successes, and trials, from those in other professions.

While watching Govindarajan’s TED talk, I was hooked. Although his principles mainly apply to the global economy, they can truly be transferable to a myriad of pursuits, careers, and passions. I also recommend reading Govindarajan’s book, Reverse Innovation: Create Far from Home, Win Anywhere.
The above infographic depicts a few of my favorite points from Govindarajan:
  • “Do a lot more with a lot less”
  • “Change from value for money to value for many (people)”
  • “Be curious about all problems”
  • “Think ambitions over expectations”
  • “You cannot unlock new opportunities by using the same logic” 
These concepts are written effortlessly, yet have a much more complex meaning. Furthermore, the meaning of these interpretations can change drastically based on the perspective you bring to the table.
Govindarajan even shares real stories of how reverse innovation is changing the developing world by offering “universal access to world-class quality” at low prices that are unheard of. For example, a $30 artificial leg was made using recycled plastic yogurt cups from Thailand doctors; Can you imagine? Miraculous innovations are occurring all around the world, even in unlikely places.

Applying the Concepts to Education

With tightening budgets and growing expectations for educators, one may find it difficult to transpose the above ideas to education. There always seems to be more things we want for our students, yet not enough money to make it all happen on the surface. But still, educators all over the world are finding ways to be innovative and “doing more with less” while focusing on the people, ambitions, and opportunities before anything else.  For example, design thinking, Project Lead the Way, STEM, Makerspaces, and Cardboard Challenges are just some of the ways teachers are advocating for these ideas by using inexpensive items like legos, cardboard, and ducktape.
I am curious to learn from you: How are you, your colleagues, or your school “doing a lot more with a lot less?
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Are We Spoon Feeding or Empowering?

Image Credit

As educators, we all start our journey because we love kids and want to help them.

What is interesting, though, is that over time, we learn strategies and develop unconscious habits to “help” students, when in reality we are unconsciously enabling students rather than empowering. Sometimes over helping even becomes instinctual. But even with the best intentions, our over “help” can often resemble spoon feeding.

Empowering students has always been a passion of mine. I am always engrossed in finding ways to stretch brains and mindsets, including my own, in new and different directions. This past week, the phenomenal 4th-grade teachers at my school, @clarkesclass @teammontgomery @msrittsclass, and I have been working on approaches to help students in this area and we have been brainstorming ideas to challenge thinking.

Therefore, this week I worked with 4th graders on a Digital Scavenger Hunt I created that closely resembles a Digital Breakout Edu format. Yet in my scavenger hunt; students had to think critically to think outside of the box, troubleshoot, and to create and solve technical problems they have never encountered before. Each step built on the action before it, and it required deep thinking and trial-and-error to reach the destination. Just like many Breakout Boxes do, I gave each student the ability to use two tips to ask for help along the way.

During this Digital Scavenger Hunts with the classes, numerous students were astonishingly focused on the tasks and determined to reach the destination at all costs! But, there were also many who looked at step 1 and immediately said: “This is too hard, I give up,” or “I quit.” This also occurred once students ran out of tips. Even though it was hard for us to not over help at times; When these moments occurred, it was the perfect opportunities to discuss with students the idea of “YET” and growth mindset. In other words, it is okay to be honest about frustrations when challenges arise, but we have to work hard to train our brains to think: “I may not get it YET, but I will if I keep trying and am patient.” We also discussed the idea of progress; We may not reach our desired destination now, but if we make growth, we should be proud of each stride we made.

Although discussing growth mindset and learning how our brains work helps jump start crucial conversations, what we often miss is to truly challenge students and to help them apply what they learned about growth mindset in real-life scenarios.

Some students revealed to us after the Digital Scavenger Hunt that they wanted to give up many times during this challenge because it was too hard, but they started thinking positive and then realized “Hey, I can do this!” When you empower students to lead with a growth mindset, once they do overcome challenges, their reactions are priceless. There is nothing that can replace a student proud of his or her accomplishments from exerting true grit.

The 4th-grade teachers and I are currently planning mini-challenges that we will embed throughout the school year called Mindset ManiaThank you, @clarkesclass for the clever wording! These challenges will include anything from STEM to collaborative projects and they are designed to positively develop growth and innovators mindsets. I am looking forward to watching students grow as we embed thought processes like this into everything we do.

After all, nothing is sweeter than seeing a student proud of his or her accomplishments while endlessly persevering and learning new ideas along the way. If we aim to empower students today, the impact will last a lifetime.

Growth Mindset
This picture from today displays the joy that occurs when students reach their goals and realize “I CAN do this!”
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Build a Mobile Green Screen for $10

Do you want to build a green screen for next to nothing in cost? I hope I can shed light on a few ideas to make your wish a reality.

The process of making a green screen seems overwhelming at first, but the creation can be as simplistic or elaborate as you want. Likewise, you can pick your price on a green screen. For example, if you only want to spend ten dollars and make your own, you can do that. There are also a variety of other cheap remedies, like constructing a green screen with pipe cleaners. While on the other hand, you can spend $100+ and buy a ready-made kit for you on a website like Amazon.

At my school, we are in the search for the perfect spot for our Makerspace. So in the meantime; I wanted to create a “mobile” green screen that I could easily take with me from class-to-class since I am regularly collaborating with our K-5 teachers. Another important piece was that I wanted this green screen to be low-cost. Since we plan on building a fabric green screen in our future Makerspace room, I wanted to create something that would fit the bill of a mobile and easy-to-use unit that would be accessible to teachers and myself in the present day.

Therefore, this green screen was born.

But, before we get started, many people ask me “why” we use the color green in video making. To answer this, the green screen, and blue screens are often go-to colors because they are the hues that differ the most from the majority of human skin tones. Other uniformed colors can also be used, but green and blue are preferred.

In my opinion, neon/lime green is the optimal choice because it is unique and will contrast most clothing as well. Since blue is more likely to be worn, that particular combination not ideal. To paint the picture, if a student is wearing a blue shirt with a blue screen; Their upper torso will disappear.

Now, here is picture overview on how I built my easy green screen:




Green Screen Blog Post

To give a little background, our 3rd-grade teachers are in the initial stages of a climate and weather unit. I thought this green screen would be perfect for “Kid Meteorologists.” Today, I taught several students in 3rd-grade classes how to create green screen videos. In the very near future, they will venture out to teach their students and teachers, too.

Here is one of the awesome videos we put together; We had the best time creating!

“Kid Meteorologist”- Weather of the Day
Other thoughts to point out:

  • To be honest, it does not matter what side you add the tape to when you are taping the posters together; When you create the video on the app, the green tape will disappear, just like the poster. But, I decided to add the green tape to the sticker side of the poster (for aesthetic reasons), while making the opposing side tape and label free.
  • Since I work with K-5 kiddos, I chose four pieces of poster board. But, I did buy 10, just in case I decided to add more to my base. Feel free to do what sounds best to you and your students.
  • I have been using a few pieces of the green duck tape to attach the green screen to the wall. I roll the pieces and put it behind the green screen. I have liked this idea since I want to be able to make any wall into a green screen at the drop of a hat.
  • I must say that my favorite green screen app is “Do Ink.”
  • I love using iPads for green screen video creation, so that is the device we used for this particular activity.

As I mentioned above, we will be building another green screen in the future for our Makerspace Studio. We are considering other ideas for green screens in the classrooms as well. Stay tuned!

Kara Welty

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The Innovator’s Mindset: Start a Book Study in Your School

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New Adventure

This school year, I am a part of a once in a lifetime adventure. I have begun taking innovation to the next level as a Technology Integrationist and Mentor Teacher with a phenomenal elementary staff. As a result, to take this role, I moved to the Kansas City area two months ago to start this electrifying chapter!

My new school was restructured in a variety of ways. We have a brand new combination of staff members coming together for one common purpose: To make learning EXTRAORDINARY. Cultivating innovation is clearly not an easy feat, but it is a must. The individuals, staff, teachers, and principals that were chosen to educate in this environment are out of this world amazing!

It Takes a Team

Our incredible principal- Kevin Lathrom (@KLathrom), our marvelous Assistant Principal- Lauren Malone (@LaurenMalone3TE), and the rock star Director of Technology- Brent Catlett (@catlett1), and I collaborated for weeks during the summer to make learning awesome for kids. The idea of a summer book study came up instantaneously during a school visit, and it excited us all to the core.

Whether you have new staff like us, or not, a book study is a perfect chance to build community, dialogue, and a continuity of common language that can be at the heart of your school vision and mission. This work can be done simultaneously with the pairing of pushing ideas and mindsets to a whole new level, including your own.

Innovator’s Mindset

The first book that came to our minds was the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros) – and if you have read it, you know exactly why the title was the first on our list.

If I had to describe the Innovator’s Mindset in one sentence, I would say it is the Educator’s Bible to Innovation. Since we are beginning the 1:1 journey at our school, having the Innovator’s Mindset as a foundational piece of our shared language is crucial; It is not about the devices, and it NEVER should be- it is about innovating HOW we educate.

The way George intertwine’s dialogue and storytelling to transcend his message is unmatched and translates very well to educators.

George has been a tremendous mentor for me in leadership and a remarkable friend- I am eternally grateful, truly. When I was lucky enough to meet him at #METC16 in Saint Louis, MO this February, he pushed me to read his book right away- not next week, but right then and there. In true George-like fashion, he drives your thinking seamlessly, whether in person or by reading his book.

In April, I sent an e-mail to our new staff inviting them to our book study, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive! Team members were excited to get on board and to push mindsets while building relationships before we started our new school year.

Voxer Book Chat

We focused on our book study during the month of June via Voxer. To prepare our staff, I sent out a Google Sheet that included spots for teachers to add their social media accounts, including Voxer. Many teachers then signed-up for Voxer and then added their names to this sheet. I then added everyone into our Voxer group so we that we could discuss the book as a team.

To give some background on the book, there are four parts to the Innovator’s Mindset, which is then divided into chapters. I took these four sections and decided that each week in June would be dedicated to one part of the book. Furthermore, George leaves discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which lends itself very nicely to a book chat format. Therefore, I chose three items from each part that I wanted us to focus on each week.

As I posted the weekly questions, I asked teachers to choose from one of the three questions (or more) to respond to. I encouraged everyone to add in their questions, responses, and takeaways.

But, even before jumping into the book questions, I began our book study with questions that dug deeper to who we are as learners, educators, and family members; This was crucial. We can discuss our reflections to books all day long, but if we do not at least have an idea of who we are as people and what we believe in, the words that we say will lack meaning and understanding.

Also, I posted questions on the same day every week and modeled how to respond by talking or by typing and I encouraged our group to respond in whichever way was most comfortable to them. *This could also be modified to fit as a Twitter Chat, Google+ chat, and beyond.


As a new team, this book study was meaningful for a variety of reasons. The time we spent together chatting about the book received positive praise from countless group members. I also believe that the conversations gave us a comfort level amongst one another. We started to see: Each other’s perspectives on the world around us, the expertise and strengths that each of us possessed, and what we stood for as educators and individuals.

In July, a month after our book study ended, we all met for building-wide professional development, and it was the first time that many of us had officially met “face-to-face.” As we started creating our school vision during these days, my eyes watered when I saw how many people were using the word “innovation” to describe what they wanted to see for our students, and for us. It was evident how much the book already shaped everyone’s mindsets, and that was priceless. In addition, I asked George if he would be willing to Google Hangout with us, and he said “YES!” Needless to say, our chat could not have ended on a higher note.

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Innovation is not just encouraged, it is what we aim to do and who we aim to be. “Innovation” is even a part of our school Pride Pledge that our principals read each day in the morning announcements. Even though we are only three weeks into school, I can already see first-hand how risk-taking is happening each day.

As the year proceeds, I cannot wait to see how our mindsets continually shift, and more importantly, how our kids grow!

Kara Welty

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