Sunday, November 1, 2015

Think Tank is BUZZING!

Over the past 6 weeks, Think Tank has been a BUZZ with all things bees. From our partnership with DC Beekeepers to our Wisconsin Fast Plants unit, Think Tank learning about the partnership between honeybees and plants is in full bloom! Take a closer look at what our 3rd and 2nd graders have been up to!                   

For the second year in a row, 3rd grade partnered with master beekeeper Toni Burnham and volunteer Barry Hayman of DC Beekeepers to complete an intensive, 10 week honeybee unit. Each class is an in-depth look at a very specific part of honeybee survival. This year, we focused strongly on structural and behavioral adaptations as this is an important 3rd grade NGSS concept. Honeybees truly are our insect partners!   Take a look!

Class #1: Why are pollinators important, and why do we work with only one kind, the honeybee?
Students dissected lilies and diagrammed the reproductive parts of the flower. They explored how these parts worked in conjunction with the honeybee in the process of pollination.
Class #2: Who lives in a beehive?
Students looked at the family and physical structure of honeybees. They used an observation hive of life, working bees as well as dried honeybees to look closely at bee behavioral and structural adaptations.

Class 3: What is a beehive and what do beekeepers do?
On this day, Toni brought in a modern hive. Students took it a part and explored the way it was constructed. They compared it to the hives found in nature and looked at the reasons behind various structures. She also shared the clothes beekeepers wear to protect themselves. Always remember to put those socks over the bottom of your pants!


Class 4: Bees or Wasps or Hornets?
In this class, students explored the ways that these insects are different from one another. They looked at the structural and behavioral adaptations that each needed for survival and reinforced that the honeybee has no desire to sting us! (Did you know that if a honeybee stings it will die?)
Class 5: Are Bees in Trouble? (Hint: YES!)
Students looked at the biggest issues harming our honeybee population. Students also used math to tell the story of the bee population troubles.Take a look what these numbers show.... it's frightening!

They then learned what was contributing to the colony issues. Construction, monoculture, mass-pesticide use and disease are all killing honeybees faster than beekeepers can keep up with. They took their ideas and made posters to show how they think we can save the bees!


Class 6: What are the products of the hive and why do bees make them?
After learning about why the bees make certain things we love (honey) and use ( beeswax), students tasted raw pollen and made their own beeswax candles. 

What comes next??
When spring arrives, students will wrap up this partnership with 4 week unit putting their learning into action! Lessons include building a hive, making native pollinator nests, seed balls and harvesting their own honey!

For more information or access to this amazing curriculum, please contact Toni Burnham at . She is an amazing resource and has this entire unit ready for any teacher to use!

For 2nd grade,  rockin' classroom teachers Ms. Hipps and Ms. Fox completed completed the awesome Engineering is Elementary unit "Designing Hand Pollinators" as part of their Quarter 1 cornerstone. Students explored the issue of lack of native pollinators in various places around the world and then designed hand pollinators that worked with a variety of different plants. You can check out some pictures from their study on the class Twitter feed @maury2ndgrade !

To build on that knowledge, student then came to Think Tank where they planted, grew and tended to Wisconsin Fast Plants. As part of this process, they pollinated the plants with real, dried bees and saw the real-life outcome of pollination. While we are now in the waiting phase for our pods to dry and collect our seeds, take a look at the process we went through to get there!
Students followed a specific procedure for planting.

Each week they observed and measured and recorded data about their plants.

Plants must be kept under grow lights 24h a day.
 When the flowers bloomed, it was time to pollinate!

Students used real bees ( dried and glued to sticks) to pollinate their flowers. They identified the flower structures and make observations about the transfer of pollen too!

A week later our pods are fully forming! Petals fell off ( they are not needed to attract pollinators anymore) and students can see the seeds inside. Did you know that every seed was once one grain of pollen?


Students are now just waiting for their pods to dry out so they can collect the seeds. Next year's 2nd graders will then have seeds to do the same project! So cool!

Even though this blog post is all about these two grade levels, rest assured that exciting Think Tank units are happening in all others! All grade levels begin new units this week! 

Make sure to follow our thinking on Twitter @maurythinktank and I'll be back with a blog post about our Project Lead the Way units in the coming weeks!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

STEM-Tastic Start 2015

1st Day of School Excitement
We are headed into our 4th week of school tomorrow and Think Tank is off to a STEM-tastic start! From new programs to continuing partnerships, this year is shaping up to be one of the most exciting yet for our students.

As many of you know, due to space constraints, the Think Tank was moved to a much smaller space. Thanks to help from parent volunteers, a new storage shed, and a lot of organization... this year's Think Tank space will again be a great place for students to explore

Take a look at the 5 day set- up in 7 seconds!

Now that the space is up and running, it has also become the new hub of thinking, problem-solving and collaboration.  Take a look at what your children have been doing in Think Tank so far this year, and get a glimpse of what's to come. It's going to be a GREAT year!

K-5: Knowing our Smarts


This year, all students in K-5 completed a "smarts page" the first week of school. Mutliple intelligences are valued and supported in Think Tank, and students worked to identify what their three strongest "smarts" were. They placed these on the cover pages of their journals. Grades 3-5 also made a bar graph showing the best smarts of the class. What wonderful diversity of strengths our students have!

Preschool and PreK
The base of all scientific and engineering work, is the ability to collaborate, problem-solve and ask questions and looking for patterns. For the first two months of school, our youngest students are working on just that.

Pattern making  

With a variety of materials to chose from ( Legos, gears, Keva blocks, pattern blocks, crayons and more) students are learning the mantra " When we put our ideas together, our ideas get even better!".
From one model to a collaborative model! 

"When we put our ideas together, our ideas get even better!"- 3yo students practicing collaboration
This coming week, all Preschool3 and Pre-K4 students will vote on what their first major study will be! Stay tuned to what they will chose!

Kindergarten and 1st Grade 

Rosie Revere Engineer has helped us kick off our year as ENGINEERS! ( Ms. Metzer, the para-professional in Ms. Wolfe's K-1 split was a real engineer before a career change too!) In this great children's book, Rosie learns to see failure as an important part of the engineer design process. Rosie kept an engineer journal made of "engineer paper" ( aka graph paper on the top, lines on the bottom) so the students have received their first "Engineer Journals" too!

Students use these journals to plan what they will make, record any observations and draw their models.  These journals will help them prepare for use of their Project Lead the Way Launch Logs coming up in the next unit! They will be exploring the Sun, Moon and Stars ( so will 5th grade by the way) so get ready for some night-time viewing with your children! ( More information on our Project Lead the Way program is below!)

2nd Grade

Observing the natural world and making close observations is a critical skill for budding STEM leaders. 2nd grade is halfway into their "Observe Everything" unit. Inspired by Science Friday's Observe Everything challenge in 2014,  students are using various methods for exploring our outdoor classroom. This mini-unit allows students to look past the obvious first observations to notice small difference. Next week we will explore how macro photography can help us understand even more!


Please stop back in a few weeks to see their work and reflections on how photography helped them look more closely at the natural world.

Following this unit, we will jump into planting, pollinating and harvesting our Wisconsin Fast Plants! This unit will support the Engineering is Elementary Unit: Best of Bugs that students are completing their classrooms for a Cornerstone project!

3rd Grade:
 Somehow I've missed photographing our awesome 3rd graders so far this year! Perhaps we have been too engaged in getting ready to begin our Junior Beekeepers Program with DC Beekeepers! This quarter is all about plant and animal adaptations and survival. They are finishing up a 3 week unit on "discovering" their own animal in a specific environment and sharing with the world what adaptations it has to survive. We will finish the project this week so stay tuned for their discoveries!

4th Grade:

How does water, wind and ice shape the land? This is the question that has launched our first quarter Earth Science study. We kicked it off by inviting the DC Department of Energy and Environment to bring their stream table. Students are asked to plan river that slows the water and protects homes floods and landslides.


After planning, students head to the stream table and build their models.... and test them!

We plan to bring the stream table back at the end of our unit to see how student designs are impacted by their increased knowledge! Starting this week, students will jump into their first Project Lead the Way unit called "Changing Earth" too!

5th Grade:
The big buzz about 5th grade is that it's their year to get to Space Camp! They will be working all year to raise enough funds to attend in June. Students wrapped up their personal behavior, academic and fundraising goals this week and are ready to shift gears. This week we will begin our first Project Lead the Way unit on the Sun, Moon and Stars!

What is Project Lead the Way: Launch??????

Project Lead the Way has long been known for their middle and high school programs, but last year they finished piloting their new K-5 curriculum called Launch! Maury is one of 8 schools in DC (and all of the East Coast) to implement this program! Thanks to a grant from Lockheed Martin to DC Public Schools, we get to put this program into action!

Every grade level K-5 will complete at least one unit this school year, with some grade-levels completing more. You can read more about each of the units here. 

You may notice some grade levels are completing units that PLTW notes are for another grade. If this is the case, the units and activities are modified depending on the grade level.


PLTW: Pushes and Pulls

PLTW: Ob. Sun, Moon and Stars

PLTW:Light and Sound


PLTW: Changing Earth

PLTW: Properties of Matter

PLTW: Animal Adaptations
PLTW: Forces and Interactions
PLTW: Changing Earth
LTW: Energy Collisions
PLTW: Energy Conversions

PLTW: Sun, Moon and Starts

PLTW: Automation and Robotics
PLTW: Automations and Robotics Challenge

But where is Engineering is Elementary?
Thanks to the new DC Cornerstone initiative, all grade levels will get to do an EiE unit this year... in their classrooms! I will support be supporting classrooms when they teach these. This means that students will get DOUBLE engineering curricula plus Think Tank!

In other Think Tank news...
Backstage at with Alice Bowman, Samantha Garcia, Mark Hofer and Kathleen Schwille 

 I recently was awarded the 2015 Educational Activities Board Pre University Educator Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for " developing the Think Tank program to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists". I will get to travel to New Brunswick, NJ in November to receive this and share your children's wonderful work. 

I also was asked to be a panelist at The Washington Post's "Balancing the Equation" event on September 10th. It is always a joy to share the work I am lucky enough to do with your children and gain support of elementary STEM education! A video of the panel, and the other panels, can be seen at .

Phew! I think that update covers most of the exciting happenings in Think Tank!  

Until next time thinkers!
-Mrs. Ford

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Space Camp 2015 in Review!

The dream of taking our 5th grade class to Space Camp all started after I returned from the life changing Honeywell Educator @ Space Academy in June 2014. I knew, that our students deserved this opportunity and that we would ( somehow) make it happen. My dream quickly became theirs and this group of students worked to make it a reality... 

                                                 Space Camp 2015: 3 days in 3 minutes

Ensuring that every student, regardless of the family's ability to pay, could attend Space Camp was the foundation for this trip. For this reason, every penny raised went towards the total class goal, not that of the individual child who raised it. The class community worked towards this goal together.

So how did 25 ten year olds raise over $24,000 to make their dream come true? It certainly was not a solo effort.  The students made a newscast, explaining what this would mean to them, they busked at local markets, wrote letters to potential funders and held bake-sales every Friday of the year. They came early to school, stayed late, donated allowances and worked together as a community of learners to meet their goal.

In addition to every amount donated by individuals around the country who were inspired by our students, we also had amazing support from The Capitol Hill Community FoundationRaytheon and AIAA Mid-Atlantic .  Without the support of these organizations, and the countless adults who volunteered their time and talents ( thank you Aunt Lizzy!) we would have had a much more difficult time reaching our goal.

As fundraising continued tirelessly each week of the school year, the students explored science and
engineering in their preparation to attend. We were visited by amazing astronaut Don Thomas who volunteered his time to speak with our students ( another shout out to Honeywell Educator @ Space Academy as it was there where I met him for the first time!).  He shared his experiences getting into the space program and on his multiple missions into space.

Posing with an astronaut!
Students studied the movement of the Earth in space and kept record of the questions they would ask at Space Camp. In addition, we had the amazing opportunity to participate in #SoSTEM2015 at the White House! This event really pushed them to work even harder for their goal. After that, they wrote goals for themselves-- personal and academic-- and then, on June 3, 2015, we LAUNCHED!

Gathering for a 5:30am departure

Perhaps the first time 25 ten year olds are all on time for something.... at 5:30am!

For many of our students, this was the first time on a plane, or the first time away from home. For all, this was the first time at Space Camp or on an overnight trip with classmates. The staff at National Airport and US Airways took amazing care of us, expediting the check-in process and making sure we were taken care of!

On the way back, Nancy, an amazing flight attendant for Republic Airlines, upgraded 3 of our students to 1st class and treated us as royalty. She gave a beautiful shoutout to our group and even worked it out so one of our students could sit in the cockpit upon landing and welcome us all home. 

What was Space Camp really like? Take a look at each of the videos below. Each day I made a video to send home to families to share our adventures. These are filled with pictures and videos of our amazing experience.


(Not sure why this is the chosen picture but th kids sure did love the food and Space Camp staff!)

                                                                          DAY 2

                                                                           DAY 3

Do you, or your organization want to help make this trip a reality for next year's cohort of amazing 5th graders? Their task is even larger! They have many more students and again, we want to make sure that ALL can attend regardless of family's ability to pay. You can visit to donate. Check back in September when students return to school to get to know each of our incoming class!

Thank you!
Vanessa Ford