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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Three Good Places to Find Hands-on STEM Activities

On a fairly regular basis I'm asked for recommendations for hands-on STEM activities. In fact, just this morning I answered an email from a reader who was seeking that recommendation. Here are three of my go-to recommendations for hands-on STEM activities.

Microsoft has two excellent and free resources for those who are seeking ideas for hands-on STEM lessons. The first is MakeCode. MakeCode offers free programs that students can use to develop their programming skills. These include coding with LEGO Mindstorms, Adafruit, and Micro:bit. Checkout the MakeCode YouTube channel for great project ideas.

The second offering from Microsoft is called Hacking STEM. The idea behind Hacking STEM is to make low-cost or no-cost hands-on STEM projects accessible to as many people as possible. You can follow Microsoft's directions as written or modify the projects to use other materials to build the projects. In the following video I explain how I modified one of the Hacking STEM projects. So you might say that I hacked a Hacking STEM project.


Science Snacks from Exploratorium has been a recommendation of mine for a few years now. Science Snacks are activities that can be conducted with inexpensive and readily available materials. Each Science Snack comes with a materials list and step-by-step directions. Science Snacks are also accompanied by a written explanation of the science at work in the activity. Many Science Snacks, like Penny Battery, include video demonstrations and explanations.

Working with Arduino circuit boards is a fantastic way for students to develop programming skills. Students write programs on their computers then see their programs "come to life" through the lights, motors, and robotics connected to their Arduino boards. The Arduino project hub is full of project ideas for beginner through advanced programmers. If you're new to Arduino and wondering what hardware to purchase to get started, there are many inexpensive kits for beginners. I'm partial to this Arduino hardware kit for beginners.

Share Rubrics and Other Improvements to Microsoft Teams for Edu

Back in August rubric grading was added to Microsoft Teams for Edu. With that feature enabled you can attach rubrics to assignments for students to see before and after completing an assignment. Equally important, you'll be able to grade an assignment using that rubric without having to open multiple tabs or windows. This week at the BETT Show Microsoft launched new features for Microsoft Teams for Edu including improvements to grading process in Teams.

Microsoft Teams for Edu now lets you share rubrics with your colleagues. This means that you can share a rubric with a colleague, get feedback on it, and collaborate on editing a rubric.

If you spend more time using your tablet or phone than you do using your laptop, you'll be happy to know that you can now grade assignments on the Teams iOS and Android apps.

Microsoft's Grade Sync now integrates with popular SISs like PowerSchool and Infinite Campus. This means that you'll be able to easily move grades from Microsoft Teams for Edu into your student information system. Watch the following video for a short overview of how this will work.


Finally, Turnitin users can use that service within Microsoft Teams for Edu.

Students Can Create Their Own Tours to Share in Google Expeditions

Googles' Tour Creator launched last spring and since then has become one of my favorite tools for history and geography classes. One of my few complaints about it was that while students could easily build virtual reality tours, it wasn't always easy to share those tours with their teachers and classmates. That is about to change. Yesterday, Google announced that the updated version of the Expeditions Android app (iOS support is coming soon) will allow sharing of tours that students build in Tour Creator.

If you haven't tried Tour Creator, take a look at the following tutorials that I created.

How to Use Google's VR Tour Creator (The Basics)



How to Add Points of Interest in Tour Creator


How to Include Narration in Tour Creator


Applications for Education
In addition to making tours for history and geography lessons, students can use Tour Creator to build VR tours based on their favorite books. My detailed directions for that process are available here.