Science Learning

Cubes in Space – Year Two

What does magnetic putty, kinetic sand, aluminum, and carbon fiber have in common? These are all materials that will be tested on a NASA sounding rocket for Cubes in Space experiments.

For a second year in a row, my students have brainstormed, hypothesized, designed, and written proposals for experiments in 4×4 cm cubes. In our 7th grade science classes, we are primarily focused on earth and space science. We are fortunate to have an amateur astronomer who regularly visits our classroom to help us think beyond the classroom walls. This year we sent three science classes worth of “Cube” proposals for flight (test) consideration. We were excited to learn three cubes were selected for flight this summer.

International School Team Granted NASA Rocket Flight

Cubes in Space™ a program by idoodledu inc., in collaboration with NASA’s Langley Research Center, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and Colorado Space Grant Consortium, offers global design competitions for students 11-18 years of age to develop STEAM-based experiments for launch into space.

Used in formal or informal learning environments, students and educators are exposed to engaging online content and activities in preparation for the design and development of an experiment to be integrated into a small cube. Throughout the experience, students develop key 21st century skills; communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Since 2014, Cubes in Space has flown nearly 400 experiments representing 1,500 educators and over 20,000 students from 57 different countries. This year nearly 600 educators and thousands of students from 39 countries participated and proposed experiments for a space on a NASA sounding rocket or high-altitude scientific balloon mission.  A total of 160 experiments were selected and were designed by students from Australia, Austria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and the United States of America.  

The experiments will be launched via sounding rocket in late June 2017 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia or by high-altitude scientific balloon in late summer 2017 from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

This year’s Cubes in Space experiments will be testing the extreme conditions and forces present in a sounding rocket on their materials. Students have taken note of their pre-flight material data and observations and they will be ready to analyze their materials once their cubes are returned in the fall. If asked, I suspect students will report the tricky part of their experiment was making sure the weight of the cube met the 64 grams (+/- 2 grams) requirement. The materials used in the cubes did not weigh very much, which meant they had to be creative about how to add ballast to their cube without affecting their experiment. Once the cubes were prepped with experimental materials, there were many smiles, high fives, and joyous laughter that the cubes measured within the acceptable weight range!

We are excited to mail our package of cubes to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. We are looking forward to the summer launch and our hypotheses will have to wait until this fall to be confirmed…or not.



Fostering Project Collaborative Learning

My middle school science classes often just blow me away with their creativity and energy. To capture this, I strive to foster collaborative and creative projects. Specifically, this year, I have been setting up science projects that require students to productively function in teams, more specifically to shine within a team.

Project 1 – Step 1

For the first big group project, I offered students their choice of medium to create a weather “lesson.” Although there was choice in presentation, the group worked in a traditional project team. The students were excited to try out new tech for an audio-visual “Ted-Ed” style weather lesson, but without specific work to coach the soft skills of team collaboration, there were the usual pitfalls of who does what work, how much work, and whether the work was of good quality. The product of the “lessons” was amazing in the style and variety of creativity, but the downside was we didn’t work on improving how the team collaborative functions.

Project 2 – Step 2

The next big group project team experience gave us the reason for the next step in team collaboration a “Team Contract.” Students were to write a proposal for a small cube experiment to travel on a space flight. As students choose their teams, I asked them to review, discuss, and define their requirements to be a successfully functioning team. When we had group class time to work on our “Cubes in Space” projects, students referred to their Team Contract when a team member didn’t meet their work requirements. Students began to hone the essential skills of collaboration and communication that are so vital in our everyday world.

Project 3 – Step 3

Our current project, an Earth Safety Challenge PSA, takes all of the above and moves it beyond team collaboration to group creativity. Students initially completed background research on local earth science events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Students were grouped into 3 large “company” teams based on their research area. Their task is to create a company and assign the roles of research scientists, engineers, media specialists, and project managers. Their job is to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to inform the public about the science and safety of their assigned earth event. This project is majority student designed and managed. Students are using a variety of skills, research, technology, modeling, communication, collaboration, and creativity. I am so impressed with their level of positive engagement, motivation, and the direction of each company team to produce a creative and effective earth science PSA. Although I can’t wait to the see the final products, I am already extremely proud of the collaborative learning in which these students are engaged.

Lesson Details If you’re interested in the specifics of our Earth Safety Challenge Project, please see my lesson plans here: Earth Safety Challenge Project Lesson Plan

Lesson technology – for this project we utilized the following technology;

Since we are a 1:1 school (students are issued district laptops for the school year), we are comfortable with utilizing technology in our classroom. Class notes, agendas, and group project work is all conducted in OneNote. The final Earth Safety Challenge PSA will be posted in for other grade level science classes to review and offer feedback. We also use Class Policy to group team members and monitor technology on task time. Modeling in Minecraft is an awesome way for students to use their analytic thinking in a creative format to make a 3D model – of anything. Making use of student voice was easy with FlipGrid and Forms. FlipGrid offers accessible technology for students to video respond and reply, it is fun and informative. Forms provides an easy means to access or survey online, providing accessible data to share. My students are using a variety of tech tools to make their PSA presentations, including PowerPoint, Office Mix, Sway, and video, to be posted in class collections in If used appropriately, technology can enable and amplify student knowledge and voice on any project. Totally amazing collaboration.


Free Favorites Web Resources

EdublogsClub – short #5 Web Tools. This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

“Free” is a magic word for teachers. If there is a recommended free web resource then it is like gravity, we are drawn to explore. This week’s blog highlights a few of my favorite web tools I use in my science classes.

Web tools for teaching Coding – has a wealth of resources to learn and teach basic coding skills to students. The tutorials begin with visual block coding games to teaching computational thinking skills. If you are interested in introducing and sparking coding and computational thinking skills, I highly recommend these resources as a starting place.

Scratch is another kid-friendly coding resource site. Originally developed as a project from the MIT Media Lab, it provides a platform for kids to create, code, and share stories, games, and animations in an online community.

Science learning fun – Gravity Toy is a simple adobe flash player program that was created a few years ago. A player can place particle dot masses and explore the effects of gravity and velocity.

Classroom presentation tool – is an awesome site where students can explore and upload class projects to share. Although it is available on the web, the caveat is that it is free as part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite supporting uploading Word documents, PowerPoint, Sways, and URLs.

If your school or organization is supported with Office 365, is an amazingly easy way to share and collaborate student or teacher project work. In a previous blog I shared an example of sharing my students’ work: Office Blog – Cross-classroom Collaboration

Classroom review fun – Kahoot is simply a fun way to review. It is a boldly colorful and interactive online game. Players answer questions and points are tallied and projected. It is an easy way for staff and students alike to enjoy competitive questions in a round or two of Kahoots.

Content lesson resources – TedEd Lessons are wonderfully told and animated stories of history, science, and other tidbits of information. There is a plethora of lessons from which to choose, introduce, or expand content detail concepts.

Study Jams is a middle level science and math review web resource for students from Scholastic. Easily accessible as an introduction or review to content concepts in a short “cheesy” animated video, vocab, and key concepts.

It was snowing…

The week before winter break.

It began to snow.

6th grade science.

No need to say more.

EdublogsClub – short #4 focusing on images.

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Simply write a post and share it (via social media w/ #edublogsclub or posting a link as a comment to that topic’s posting on the Edublogger site) to join in

Put another wrap around the winch

Growing up I always felt supported that I could do just about anything I put my mind to. My mom was always silently strong and competent and my admiration for her grew as I learned how she made tough decisions in her young adulthood to build her own independence and became a pediatric nurse. In her small rural high school, she was told not to take higher level math courses because “girls didn’t need math.” As a child, she was my role model of how to be an exceedingly confidently competent woman. My dad was my stalwart encourager that being a girl should not stop me from my goals. Growing up sailing he would tell me that “any 200-pound suction footed gorilla” could haul in sheet lines or halyards and that as a girl I would need to be smarter. “Put another wrap around the winch” to raise the main sail or haul in the jib sheet, meaning I could get the job done just as well but that I would need to be smarter to take advantage of the mechanical benefits within the winch.

Growing up my dad and I talked science a lot and I knew there was a high value placed on the hard sciences. My summer evenings were often about what could I deduce, whether it was looking at the sky to determine weather, looking up at the stars and discussing astronomy, or even understanding the mechanical advantage of a winch. Being smart and competent were valued and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that was valued by my family and society. Somewhere around early elementary I knew I wanted to be a teacher, probably because I had amazingly caring teachers as a role models. My mom thought I might become an elementary teacher, but then middle school came along, complete with many bumps and bruises, and with it an extraordinary free-thinking middle school science teacher. This experience combined with ongoing science discussions with my dad and I knew where my future lay…the ability to encourage thinking about science amidst the chaotic din of middle school seemed where I was destined to be.

For the majority of my years in the classroom I had confidence that my students could do anything, that their future was wide open and encouraged – just as mine was. Now, I’m worried that it might not be. In the last few years, the societal climate has changed to valuing pseudo-science as real while debunking real science. This year was the first time I felt the need to address early in the school year the mass amount of misinformation my students face and how they truly must learn the skills to search for credible sources at their young age.

So now what?

I truly hope science and education becomes valued and supported again as we need scientists and teachers. It is unfortunate that I, and a few of my colleagues who have college-age children, have guided our own children out of teaching. Our (own) children would be wonderful teachers as they have lived with us and know how much we adore our students, how important we view our calling, and much care we put into our curriculum. But they have also sat by us during lesson planning and grading and know how much we take home at the end of the day. They also have watched us get frustrated at the dwindling support from society (but not necessarily from our students’ parents). The legislature has continually defunded education while piling on more responsibilities and “accountability” to correct and fix all the challenges in our students’ lives. The result is that we, as current teachers, will continue to teach until retirement but own children are off seeking a more “valued” career that is more rewarded by society. If the education tide returns to shore someday, maybe they will change careers and come “back” and join the classroom. If not, I worry whether anyone will be in the classroom for their children.

Learning Standards – Becoming Teacher Ready


I have been thinking a lot about what teachers need to do to ensure our students are capable, learned individuals who are ready to enter the next stage of their life, whether that is higher education or a career. As educators it is imperative that we make sure that the next round of teachers are prepared and ready to take on this immense challenge. The big question is how do encourage and foster new teachers to apply to be an educator? How do we mentor teacher interns?

We all know that “old school teaching”, rote memorization, drill and kill, and the like, is no longer applicable in today’s classroom, nor is it acceptable. We need to have energetic, innovative, intuitive, and creative teachers in our classrooms. Our students depend on us to help guide them to the world of yet-to-be-thought-of careers and educational majors. Reflecting on this, we need to apply a similar standard to what we want for our students and our new prospective teachers.

The mission statement for my school district is three-fold; provide all students the means to be successful 1) in Academics, 2) be College and Career Ready, and 3) with a Positive and Productive Life. To do this, we teach and guide our students to be able to read and write in order to effectively communicate. We strive to incorporate understanding of core content concepts and principles so our students are knowledgeable in their communications. We foster our students to think in all areas of the brain; analytically, logically and creatively so they are well-rounded and able to understand diverse points of view. Our teaching goal, along with parents too, is to raise citizens who understand that their efforts and decisions about work and performance are their tools for their future. It is important life’s work to raise competent, caring, educated adults.

So, as with our students, we need to do the same with upcoming teachers. University educational programs are at the lead with guiding their (adult) students to be able to communicate effectively both with other educators but also with their future students. Professors, mentors, and coaches have the responsibility to foster teacher interns’ thinking about how to guide students to become analytical problem solvers, logical questioners, and creative idea makers. Interns have the immense responsibility to realize where their own skills and talents lie and where they can contribute most to nurture all students. Interns have to be cognizant of their abilities to foster academics, to create a positive and productive environment, as well to prep for future college and careers.

How do we teachers do this for teaching interns? We model what we teach our students. We model how to communicate and, as effectively as we can, how to think analytically about the curriculum. We model how to logically question what we want our students to learn and why we want them to understand it. We model how to look for creative ways to provide opportunities to learn. The crux is when there is a choice between who is given the opportunity priority, the students or the intern who needs to learn how to teach students. It takes work and it takes time. Just as we encourage our own students, we learn from our mistakes. It may mean reevaluating skills, placement, and available options. Ultimately, we want a classroom that fosters it all, a classroom that provides students with the skills to be academic, productive, and future ready citizens. If we ask ourselves whether we would want to learn in our classroom, the answer should be “yes” for both us and teaching interns.

Cubes in Space – version 1.5

My email to my students stated, “the cubes have arrived…” and in an after school flurry of fun, fascination, and excitement the box containing two cubes that flew into space was unceremoniously opened.


Let’s open our Cubes!


This is the second school year my 7th grade science classes have participated in the Cubes in Space program. Students are provided an opportunity to propose an experiment to be launched into space on a NASA rocket or balloon. The project requires students to design an experiment that will fit inside a 4cm sized cube. If the experiment proposal is accepted, the students’ cubes will be launched via sounding rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia in late June 2017 or on a high altitude balloon launched from the NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility at Fort Sumner, New Mexico in August 2017.

Last year was our first year to participate and we were fortunate to have four student proposals accepted. The first two cubes launched on the sounding rocket the first week after school released for the summer. The second two cubes were scheduled to launch on the research balloon in late August but the launch was weather delayed until early October this school year. Although we are still patiently awaiting the final two cubes to review and analyze data, my students have shared their experiences with our local newspaper. It was delightful to hear what my students learned about the scientific process and the amount of collaboration and communication that is necessary to be successful with completing their experimental designs and proposals.

Bellevue students send science experiments to space

To be completely honest, it was extremely difficult to not open the delivered parcel that contained the first two (rocket) cubes this summer. I needed to be patient and wait until school resumed and let my student scientists open the package first. Since then my (now former, who are 8th grade) students have been periodically checking in at lunch or after school to provide updates on their summary and presentation of results, as this is a requirement of the Cubes in Space project.


Just delivery – Cubes from rocket launch


This year’s new 7th grade science students have just been introduced to the Cubes in Space project. We have begun the initial work of gathering ideas for objects that could be tested in space. A range of questions from “What materials will NASA allow?” “How much does gravity decrease as the rocket launches?” to even “What is a variable?” There is genuine interest and excitement to think scientifically about what can be tested in space.

A recent comment from one of last year’s student said it best, “It was the highlight of science last year.” By the smiles and questions from this year’s students, it looking like Cubes in Space is on track to be a science highlight again.

Cross-classroom collaboration—student scientists as teachers

Sharing a blog for a blog – specifically, sharing my classroom collaboration project as shared on the OneNote Education Office Blog.

I presented this classroom collaboration partnership at the MIEE U.S. Forum in Denver and at a Redefining Learning Conference at Sammamish High School. Watch a short clip here: cross-classroom collaboration demo or see the Sway here: school partnerships Sway on