Sensational Summer Science – Backyard Discovery Zone

Magnifying glasses are a fascinating scientific tool at my house.  This summer we are using playtime to learn more about the world around us.  We used magnifying glasses to explore some treasures we found around the house.  We went into the backyard to scout for new mysteries.


We also decided to melt candy with a magnifying glass.  We used a plastic tray and a metal tray.  We had a marshmallow, some skittles, a peppermint, and a chocolate covered almond.  The Texas sun was hot and the items on the metal tray melted faster than the items on the plastic tray with the magnifying glass.

Another engrossing activity is finding, observing, and even catching bugs.  We never get tired of the various bugs to be found in the backyard.

I have a Backyard Discovery Kit that makes playing outdoors a world of fun.

I have a Bug Catcher with a small net.

And of course Magnifying glasses.

A plastic bucket and shovel and some gardening tools.

I try to throw in new items that we can enjoy every once in awhile, hence the Sweet Basil growing kit.  I also have a new Solar Kit that will be a fun surprise.

You can make your own Backyard Discovery Kit.  Just fill it up with fun items your kids will enjoy using to ferret out all the wonders in the world around them.

What Floats Your Boat? The Components of an Elementary STEAM Lesson


Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics!  Adding Art to STEM allows for the creativity side of the brain that is so needed in design.

If you’re an elementary school teacher you probably spend some time thinking about STEM/STEAM lessons.  You probably scour Pinterest for ideas.  Search TPT for more ideas.  Seek the advise and ideas of the professionals you know and those you may not know.  Finding a STEM/STEAM lesson that will truly be a STEM/STEAM lesson can be serious business.  You’ve probably found more than a few lessons that purported to be STEM/STEAM which really weren’t.

What does a STEM/STEAM (from here on, I will just use the STEAM acronym.) lesson need to be authentic. Here are the components my teammate, Leighann, and I used in a STEAM lesson on boat building and buoyancy.  We teach in Texas so we just have to make sure our lessons connect to our TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and standards.  There are several 2nd Grade Science and Math TEKS this lesson addressed.

Before we began our lesson we took some time to build BACKGROUND for our students.  We used children’s literature.  We watched some videos of sail boats.  We let the kids share their experiences with boats.  The experiences of some our students ranged from fishing on a jon boat to sailing on luxury cruise liner.  Two of our favorite books for this lesson are The Raft by Jim La Marche and Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats.

boat the raft

boat Maggie pirate

Building Background is necessary as so many children today have varied experiences.  Not every child will have the experience of sailing or riding on a boat.  Not every child will have the experience of playing with boats in the water.  Building Background gives them a point of reference for the lesson.

EXPLORATION comes after building Background.  This is also where we talk about the problem or challenge to the STEAM lesson.  In this lesson, students had to build a boat that would float across a pool with weight and without weight.  In the Exploration phase, we show the materials available to use during boat building (the ENGINEERING phase).  We experiment with the materials and a tub of water to see which materials float and which do not float.  This phase is fun for both students and teachers.  I enjoy hearing them “talk” about what will happen to each item placed in the tub of water.  Some of them are very accurate and some are way off on what they think will happen.

After exploring what the materials will do in water, we begin the BRAINSTORMING phase of the lesson.  Brainstorming can be done as a whole group or in small groups.  In this phase students discussed ways to build a boat that would float.  They discussed which materials they thought would be best for floating and carrying weight.  They also shared some of their ideas on how they wanted to construct their boats.

Build Boat Brainstorm withblur

When Brainstorming is completed, we split the kids up into small groups for the PLANNING phase.  Groups of 2-4 work best.  I also like to use random pairing to group my students.  When the small groups are formed, the kids begin to plan with their team how they will design their boat.  They will discuss together.  Every team member gets to voice ideas.  They sketch their ideas and list the materials they will use in constructing their boats.  They “write” out their plan, including measurements.

boat planning 1 with blur

Finally, we are to the ENGINEERING phase of the lesson.  This is where the teams actually build their boats using the materials designated for the challenge.  They have explored the materials, brainstormed for ideas, and created a plan for constructing their boat.

boat 1   boat 2

They are very proud of their engineering skills!

Thus begins the TESTING phase.  Real engineers test their inventions in some way.  Whether it be a prototype or the actual invention, or both.  The work is tested to see if the problem or challenge has been solved.  Our students had to float their boat across a pool with and without weight.  We used a fan as a source of wind to help the boats sail.  I will never forget the cheering and encouragement as the students tested their boats.  They wanted the boats of every team to float all the way across the pool!

boat test 2  boat test 3

The final phase of the lesson is the REFLECTION phase.  In this phase we visit with teams, either whole group or small group.  We discuss the success or failure of their boat.  We also discuss what they would do differently next time.  We have the students talk and write about what they learned.  This is an important phase!  Don’t skip it; this is where we make sure learning has taken place and that students understand exactly what they have learned.

These 7 phases (BACKGROUND, EXPLORATION, BRAINSTORMING, PLANNING, ENGINEERING, TESTING, and REFLECTION) of a STEAM lesson are my version of the components of a successful STEAM lesson for elementary students.  There are many great resources available.  Find a resource that works for your classroom and enjoy creating and teaching STEAM lessons that will enhance your students math, science, problem solving, and collaboration skills for years to come.

Here are some links to some great resources.

Link 1                                          Link 2                                   Link 3

If you have a successful STEAM lesson, please share in the comments!

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