May 2

A Focus on Goats

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve, only a few miles from home, has resident goats. I visited the preserve during their Earth Day celebration, and watched children feeding them magnolia leaves, which I consequently discovered is their favorite treat! Watch the goat below push the other goat away from the leaves.

In this post, let’s focus on a goat’s eyes. What do you observe and wonder?

How would it benefit a goat to have horizontal pupils? Scroll under the photo below to find the answer.

Goats are herbivores and need to be able to spot predators approaching along the ground. Horizontal pupils improve peripheral vision, so they can see on either side of them without turning their heads. Click here for the Safeshare link.

The two videos below present additional information about goats. Click here for the Safeshare link.

Click here for the Shafeshare link.

After studying goats, read The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a traditional folk tale about three brothers who need to avoid a troll as they cross a bridge to reach the pasture. A folktale is a fictional story that was originally passed down orally. Many folktales have animals as characters, magical elements, and teach a lesson. A common theme is good vs. evil.

It is fun to compare different illustrators’ interpretations of the story. The author will always be unknown. This is also an easy story to dramatize with sound effects. I used a rectangular school table as my bridge. The goats could safely walk across the table with the troll underneath. You may also have a bridge on your playground.
Click here for the Safeshare link.

My youngest scientists brainstormed alternative ways the goats could have safely reached the other side of the river. When one of them suggested a boat, my response would always be, “Let’s make boats for the goats!” Click here for the repost of this STEM lesson.

A lesson about absorbency would be a good place to begin. Click here for a simple lesson that will build background knowledge.

To learn more about animal eyes, click here for the Safeshare link.

March 31

Let’s Study Maple Trees

Spring and fall come with a plenitude of seeds on trees and other vegetation. They disperse in a variety of ways. My favorite are the winged seeds that you find on maple trees. They are called samaras. Look carefully at the samaras below. What do you observe?

Click here for the Safeshare link. This is fascinating!

I just added this book to my collection of nature books. On the last page there is a list of downladable resources.

When engineers are inspired by nature to solve problems, it is known as biomimicry. Click here for more information about biomimicry. My second-grade scientists studied maple seeds prior to engineering rotocopters. Click here and here for information about that science lab.

Some additional activities to do with your scientists:

  • Record the time it takes a samara to fall with and without the wing.
  • Use the slow-motion selection on your camera to record a samara falling.
  • Pull the samara apart and find the seed.
  • Use a magnifying glass or a camera to look closely at the wing.
  • Carefully observe and draw a samara. Paint your drawing with watercolors.
  • Do samaras look the same on the tree and on the ground?
  • Is there diversity among the samaras you collected (size, shape, or color)?
  • If you find a maple tree, walk in all directions to discover how far the samaras have traveled.
  • Can you sprout maple seeds?
  • Learn about and taste maple syrup. Click here for the Safeshare link.

Can you identify a maple leaf? Click here to watch a video to learn more.

Include this fiction picture book in your study of maple trees. Click here for the Safeshare link.

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March 10

Who Lives Underground?

When I pass by a hole in the ground, I can’t help but wonder who might be living right under my feet! Animals live in the trees, on the ground, and under it as well. Everyone has its own space-a perfect plan! Which animals have subterranean habitats? Chipmunks, moles, voles, rabbits, foxes, groundhogs, badgers, armadillos, and skunks live in burrows. Some crustaceans, insects (ants and yellow jackets), spiders, frogs, worms, turtles, and snakes also burrow underground. While many animals dig their own burrows, others will move into another animal’s burrow when it is abandoned. Underground tunnels provide a safe place to store food and raise young, a means to escape from predators, and protection from hot or cold temperatures.

Click here for the Safeshare link.

Click here for the Safeshare link.

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I just ordered this book about burrowing animals.

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Tape boxes together to make underground tunnels for a fun extension to your study of burrowing animals. I saw this at

To tie in STEM, build mazes with blocks, Legos, or paper towel tubes. Design an underground home for yourself. A German architectural firm, ZA Architects, is designing plans for subterranean living on Mars. This is also the perfect time to provide digging activities for your young scientists. Click here to inspire them.

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February 5

Rube Goldberg

A Rube Goldberg Machine (RGM) is a crazy contraption which accomplishes a simple task in the most complicated and funniest way possible. They are based on the “invention” cartoons of the famous, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoonist, Rube Goldberg. To go to the Rube Goldberg site, click here.

The 2022 machine contest has been announced. Click here for the entry form. Be an engineer and create a Rube Goldberg machine!

Check out this biography about Rube Goldberg. Click here. What perseverance!

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Click here to read Rube Goldberg’s Simple Hum Drum School Day. Draw a crazy contraption! What a fun way to demonstrate cause and effect relationships and apply force and motion concepts! All ages will enjoy this creative task!

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January 25

Telescopes and Engineering

Click here and here to visit NASA to learn about the James Webb Space Telescope and track its progress.

The James Webb Space Telescope has deployed all of its mirrors and is now 850,000 miles into its million-mile journey through space, NASA revealed

In this humorous story, Peter attempts to build the tallest possible tower to search the stars. Use this tale to springboard a tower engineering challenge. Ask your students to use available materials to build the tallest (or a given height) freestanding tower. Click here for the Safeshare link. After the story, identify the real and make-believe elements (characters, setting, problem, and resolution).

January 1

You’re Going to Want to Make These!

I’ve always loved paper engineering! These paper 3D snowflakes or stars are so simple to make and look beautiful and professional! Hang them at home or in your classroom. They make great party decorations. All you need is glue, scissors, paper lunch bags, and twine, fishing line, or ribbon to hang them.

Glue nine paper lunch bags together. Brown paper bags create a different look. What happens if you use less or more bags? In the video below, she used only seven.

Place glue across the bottom of the bag and a strip up the middle to the top to create an upside-down T. Be sure to glue the bags in the same manner. Don’t turn any of the bags over and match the corners of the bags carefully. Press between each bag to secure your glue. I have used Elmers’s glue and glue sticks. Allow the glue time to dry before cutting.

To make smaller snowflakes, trim off the top.

Begin cutting shapes in your glued bags. Cutting through so many layers can be challenging, so children may need assistance, or you can cut through several layers at a time. My favorite scissors are Fiskars.

After you finish cutting, take hold of the two inside bags and pull around to create a large circle. Attach the two ends together. I found double-sided tape works well or you can use the suggestion in the video below.  Make another because it’s hard to make just one!

Click here for video directions.

December 3

Another Use for Amazon Boxes

Many of us are receiving boxes this time of year. They are a great tool for engineers! Create something with boxes as a family or assign the activity as a virtual assignment. Use the following books for inspiration:

Click here and here for the Safeshare links.

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Click here for the Safeshare link.

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Because she isn’t able to purchase a dollhouse like her friend, this young girl decides to make her own with cardboard.

See the source image
Click here for the Safeshare link.

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There are many ways to attach cardboard with minimal tape and glue.

Check out a kit called makedo. The kit includes screwdrivers, screws, saws, and a variety of other items to build with cardboard. Click here for more information about makedo.

Click here to learn about five tools to cut cardboard safely. Children can easily and safely make straight cuts with Klever Kutters.

I have found canary scissors a useful tool for home and school. If cardboard boxes are too difficult for little hands to cut, use cereal and other food cartons.

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Click here for additional inspiration!

November 14

A Gift Idea for Young Engineers

As the holidays approach, parents are searching for creativity-inspiring toys that will grow with their children. KEVA planks is an open-ended engineering kit consisting of wooden planks. As children of all ages build, they apply math and science concepts while developing problem solving and fine motor skills.

KEVA Maple: 50 Plank Set

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Click here to go to the official website. There are numerous resources for Keva planks online.

“KEVA planks is a small, family owned business nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We are a family of educators, inventors, and social workers. Ken, the founder, saw the educational possibilities with simple building blocks and started the company with a mission to bring families closer together and inspire the creative spirit in people of all ages. American technology along with our great KEVA team enable us to make practically perfect planks.”

Click here for the Safeshare link for the video below:

September 3

The Importance of Blocks

I am resharing this post about block play (from several years ago) with a few updates:

My undergraduate degree is in early childhood education (birth through seven years old) and I taught kindergarten for twelve years and second grade for eight. I experienced firsthand the value and benefits of block play. Blocks provide an opportunity to explore math concepts including shapes, measurement, mass, symmetry, patterns, and fractions! Eye hand coordination and small muscle movements are refined. Children develop awareness of space, balance, and cause and effect. As children plan and make representations of their ideas, creativity and problem solving skills blossom. They intuitively apply the Engineer Design Process. Children also learn to effectively communicate their ideas and to work collaboratively with their peers.

As you look at the pictures of the block structures below, look for examples of balance, patterns, and symmetry. Block building is considered a STEAM activity and schools with Makerspaces and STEM labs always include various types of blocks. You are never too old to build with blocks! My second grade classes always found blocks a favorite activity. For more fun, add plastic animals, cars, and people, as well as natural objects.

Click here to read an article about block play from NAEYC. Block play is important work!

The developmental stages of block building:








Unit blocks are divided into fractional parts.

This preschool had a “Block Party”. It would be a fun birthday theme too!

Click here for a Safeshare link for this video.

September 2

Quality STEM Program

Among educators, there is still confusion and debate about how to recognize and implement excellent STEM programs. I believe this is an accurate description of its components:

The goal of a quality STEM program is to produce scientifically and technologically literate citizens who can solve complex, multi-disciplinary problems through analytical and innovative thinking in real-world applications needed for college and career success. (National Research Council 2012) These goals are often met through Project-Based Learning.