Year 5, MARS & STEM in Term 1

What an awesome term of STEM we had in year 5! The main objectives were to learn about the planet Mars, space missions to Mars, the role of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the people that work there, discover if humans could live on Mars and what life would be like there.

So, lots of talk about lots of my favourite things: space, Mars, NASA/JPL, Adam Steltzner, The Martian, amazing technology, science and engineering, really inspiring stuff.


As well as the main learning objectives I had planned at the start of the course, some extra opportunities arose to fit into the busy schedule to enhance the course further. March 14 was Pi Day and I planned a special lesson with help from a great resource I found from the NASA website called Planet Pi. I adapted the lesson slightly for year 5 and they coped with some new and tough maths admirably. This lesson highlighted how NASA scientists use Maths in their jobs to learn about planets and other celestial bodies. I explained the maths and formulae clearly and used some great visuals to help the girls understand the maths and why it was needed. I loved the example of using Pi to explore a planet, this was such a great lesson!


Another great lesson we had this term, and which was a complete and unexpected surprise was the Skype with Andrea Boyd, an engineer with the European Space Agency. Andrea lives in Germany and was good enough to stay up late at night to speak to all of year 5 at 9am Sydney time. Andrea spoke about her education and career in the space industry, which was very interesting and inspiring for our young girls. Our students prepared some great questions to ask Andrea about space, the International Space Station, astronauts and more. Our girls did a great job, were beautifully behaved, very polite and engaged with this brilliant, young, Australian woman. We learnt so much about space and how astronauts live and work on the ISS. This was a really exciting lesson which everyone enjoyed! Big thanks go to Jackie Slaviero, founder of One Giant Leap Australia, for putting me in contact with Andrea and then for sending me an amazing pack of goodies from NASA.


The students seemed to love our STEM lessons this term. Space is such an interesting, exciting and inspiring topic for young and old, and I was so pleased with how they engaged. I love the questions they ask, they are so curious and what to learn everything. As well as learning about Mars we learnt about black holes, the Earth and Moon, the ISS, the speed of light, galaxies and more. We could quite easily study space for the whole year, and I gladly would.

Next term… students continue their STEM journey to Mars when they work in engineering groups to design and build their own Mars rover, based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity. Curiosity has been a common theme throughout the term and I talked a lot about it when I talked about JPL engineer and EDL team leader for Curiosity, Adam Steltzner, a really inspiring speaker.


His TED talk ‘How Curiosity changed my life, and I changed Hers’ is one of my favourites.

We also looked at rover facts and a great video called ‘7 minutes of terror’ which details how the rover made it from the top of the Mars atmosphere travelling at 30,000 mph to the surface travelling at a few mph in just 7 minutes. Another must-see video!

Like I said, I could teach this topic all year and not get bored! I used this video for an which included some questions about the EDL of Curiosity. A great resource for incorporating video into classes.

Students produced some wonderful work including ‘Selling Mars: selling land on Mars’ advertisements and a ‘NASA profile’ of an inspiring NASA scientist they found from the website We Are The Martians.

So next term… engineering groups, specific roles for each girl in the group, designing and making a Mars rover, making wheels and incorporating LittleBits electronics to make the rover move, engineering guide with project milestones, evaluations, presentations, creativity, teamwork and fun!

Let’s hope ours will look better than this one!


Pluto, polygons and Sphero

Today’s Sphero lesson with my two year 4 classes focused on coding Sphero to trace polygons on the floor. Students were not very familiar with polygons and some of the other terms in the lesson, however, during the starter it was evident that some girls had some knowledge, enough for the lesson at least. Students were just about to learn about polygons in their maths class so this was a nice introduction.

So, a polygon is a 2D shape with at least three straight sides: triangle (3 sides), quadrilateral (4 sides), pentagon (5 sides), hexagon (6 sides), heptagon (7 sides), octagon (8 sides), nonagon (9 sides) and decagon (10 sides).


To help set up the lesson and relate the learning to a real-life, STEM scenario I used a great article from NASA called ‘The Polygons of Pluto’. This blog article by Katie Knight, an undergraduate student at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Katie works with the New Horizons team to help map some of the unusual terrain on Pluto, seeking patterns and estimating sizes and shapes of some of its unusual features.

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This fascinating article talked about the work Katie does to study the geological features and ‘chaotic terrain’ of the surface of dwarf planet Pluto. This also raised an interesting discussion of what is a dwarf planet and why was Pluto downgraded from a planet to a dwarf. This BBC article provides a nice explanation of why Pluto was downgraded. The image below also states the requirements to be classified as a planet.

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I love lessons where I can relate the learning to space, and this was a great example. We talked about how NASA scientists use knowledge of polygons to study the surface of planets to try to discover what the terrain is made from, how big it is and how it formed. They also look for patterns that they try to match with other planets that could help unlock more clues about our solar system. Young girls are curious about space and mentioning NASA always seems to engage young minds. One day some of these girls could be working for a space agency such as NASA and perhaps they could even be coding robots on far away celestial bodies like planets and dwarf planets. This lesson could have gone in so many directions and we could have explored much more about space and NASA, but time limitations meant we could not venture too far into deep space. Perhaps a flipped activity here where students look for polygons on other celestial bodies, how many can they find, what shapes can they discover?! Example below is Eros, an asteroid famous for its close approaches to Earth.


After describing how Sphero moves using a 360 degrees heading system it was time to start coding some polygons. We started with a square and moved onto a triangle. Some groups absolutely flew with the challenges and were able to complete them quickly. When they completed the challenges they moved onto extension tasks, including coding Sphero to display different colour lights on each side of the shape and coding the shapes in reverse.

Observing the groups at work is interesting. Some girls just want to play for the first few minutes while others start the challenge immediately and can’t wait to finish and show the teacher. However, all girls are engaged, all girls are participating, all girls are collaborating and communicating, all girls are problem-solving and using technology constructively. Using Sphero and an iPad means girls are not staring at screens the whole time, they are actively using technology by using a small robotics device that they love to make move and follow. They are active and mobile coders.

In the lesson girls learnt about polygons, Sphero heading, how to find the angle needed to draw any polygon, how NASA scientists use amazing technology to explore distant bodies and search for certain shapes and the information they can get from them. For me this lesson definitely ticked the STEM box many times over.

Need an idea? Go for a run!

If you need ideas then my advice is go for a run. I have been saying this for ages now as every time I go running I seem to be able to clear my thoughts and focus on some really important aspects of life. Today my focus was on work, as it often is, and came up with lots of great ideas, including:

  • Make a Scratch movie with the Scratch girls to show in assembly. This could be something like ‘5 reasons you should join Scratch Club next term!’
  • Interview 5 Scratch girls and film their responses, then edit them into an iMovie
  • Include Sphero in the Scratch club
  • Change the name to Code Club, incorporate not just Sphero but Makey Makey and WeDo when it arrives
  • Use other coding resources such as Hour of Code, Scratch Jr and Grok Learning
  • Make my own Scratch project to show in assembly, such as how to time travel into the future. Show the girls that Mr Scadding is also a Scratcher and loves to code and be creative
  • Use more Scratch in my teaching, especially in junior school to tempt more girls to attend Code Club
  • Change Code Club to Wednesday to avoid that crazy Friday feeling

Just a few things to get started on thanks to my run around Killara today. I also did some equations in my head regarding the speed of light, light seconds, light minutes and light years. All that and keeping myself fit at the same time.

So, the next time you need to be creative and come up with some great ideas, grab your running shoes and go for a run.


Lego WeDo 2.0 Teacher Training Workshop

On Monday 14 March I attended a workshop for the brand new Lego WeDo 2.0 STEM kit. I was involved with arranging this event to be held at my school, Ravenswood, in Gordon. I attended with a year 3 teacher from school. The event was arranged with Modern Teaching Aids and Lego Global Master Trainer Rob Widger led the workshop.

During the workshop we were introduced to the kit, the curriculum included with it, how to build and code kits using the software.

This kit is billed as being a hands-on, innovative and creative way to meet certain science standards in a fun and engaging way. This kit is a step down in terms of ability to the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot that we use with year 6 students.

After unpacking a few items from the kit we were challenged to build a table fan to help keep Rob (from Dorking, Surrey) cool in the heat, and humidity, of the day! I got nice and hot helping the guys set up, the humidity really was a killer! We made our fan incorporating the motor and the battery hub to provide the power. We then had to Bluetooth the hub to a computer or tablet so the code could be downloaded to it. I could not connect the hub to my school laptop so ended up borrowing an iPad from Sandra, from Lego. The iPad worked fine. I hope the kits will work with the laptops at school! I need to try this asap. So we coded the fan and made it spin.

We also got to construct small Lego ducks during the first part of the day, proof that Lego was fun, creative and you don’t need a lot of it to make something interesting.


We then delved into the lessons included with the core software. There are lots of science based lessons that aim to teach core science concepts through making, coding and doing. We did the Pull and Push lesson and constructed, with help from the built in guide, a machine that could move and pull something at the same time. Our model worked fine and we coded it to pull some more Lego. Other groups managed to set up a tug-o-war with two machines to see which was the strongest.


After our lunch break we delved into another lesson, Predator or Prey. In this lesson we had to team up with another group and decide who would make the predator and who would make the prey animal. There were a few rules to make the challenge more interesting. In the end we went with a predator and built a crocodile with wheels. Other groups designed some awesome looking creatures, that moved in some weird and wonderful ways. This task highlighted the creativity of WeDo and with just a few basic motors and sensors you could add more complexity to the design, along with the code element of course.

After packing away the WeDo kits we got to experience the Lego Story Teller kit. This is themed Lego that students use to tell stories on a series of small panels to represent a beginning, middle and end to a story. We were shown the educational and behavioural benefits of the kit in a nice Lego video and then we had to construct our own story with a few ideas to guide us and make our Lego sets to help tell the story. Our story was a bit out there, as you can probably tell from this pic.


It was fun for a few minutes and a good resource for small children, but just some regular Lego would do the job really.

Overall, we were impressed with the WeDo kits and these would make a great addition to years 2-4 in the junior school.

Thanks for a great day Lego and MTA!