Hello, My Name is Phil. Phil Ter.

Welcome back to the show.  This latest episode on #FullSTEAMahead is all about our innovative 4th graders and their study of detritus feeders.  These students have discovered there are benefits and drawbacks to any given environment.  This week fourth graders focused their attention to our nearest estuary, the Bogue Sound, with particular interest on a specific marine critter that generates millions of dollars ($5.5 million in 2017 to be exact) for the state of North Carolina a year.  Take’em raw or let’em boil.  You can shuck’em.  You can suck’em.  Just be careful where you get’em.  Yes faithful readers we are learning about those detritus feeders known as oysters, Mother Nature’s natural Brita system.

On Monday we engaged in an estuary card game provided by the North Carolina Coastal Reserve in which every player begins with ten goldfish crackers to represent their estuary.  There is also a pot representing a “larger estuary” to pull from if needed.  Students take turns drawing and reading the information on the cards to one another.  If lucky you might draw a card that reads something like, “Sea grass has been planted around the perimeter of the estuary, preventing erosion to creep into the water.  Add three fish from the pot.”  OR sadly one might draw a card reading, “Farmer Fred’s hog farm lagoon overflowed and the waste created an algal bloom sucking all the oxygen out of the water.  This caused a fish kill, lose all your fish.”  At this point, students would have a full belly eating all of the crackers they accumulated.

On Tuesday we were visited by a good friend and neighbor Rachel from the North Carolina Coastal Federation.  She brought her storm water runoff table to demonstrate how pollutants enter our waterways.

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On Wednesday, the class took a stroll out to the rain garden.  We identified the various plants established, discussed the rain garden’s purpose, looked for physical debris the plants have caught, and noticed the huge pile up of asphalt caked around the first line of defense (the river rock).  We will revisit the rain garden to weed out invasive plants sprouting through, trim back the Muhly Grass once the purple feathering fades, pull back the river rock to lay out more newspaper and landscape fabric, and shovel the asphalt out.  We returned to the STEAM lab to be welcomed by oysters (on loan from the Carteret County Community College’s Aquaculture Center).  Watch them clean the tank in lapsed time.


Our detritus friends stopped by to demo how they filtrated water, keeping the Bogue Sound clean.  While these critters filtered phytoplankton, our students began to brainstorm items they could use to create their own filtration system.  They sketched their model and labeled the materials they planned on using for the build day.

Finally, on Thursday the students began selecting the materials from their blueprints to begin construction.  They pulled from previous ideas from the week.  Rocks were selected much like the ones that act as a defense line around the perimeter of the rain garden.  In addition to the pebbles, sand, marbles, and bottle caps were at their use.  They recommended cotton balls, shredded paper, and coffee filters to absorb pollutants.

The end results were Vantaztic.

Filtration Systems
Oyster Filtration

Sum of Its Parts

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” – Voltaire

Fifth graders applying their know-how of when something is disassembled it should (in theory) weigh the same as when in one piece.  We borrowed a NASA activity, tweeked it a bit to tie in this standard with the objective of building a satellite.  We used Legos, with each style representing a specific instrument provided the NASA list.  In case you are wondering, the answer is an emphatic yes.  Yes I weighed every Lego piece/style to the tenth of a gram.  #Ihavenolife

Moving forward:  Here is how the spiel went . . .

“By now you’ve learned the weight of an object is equal to the weight of the sum of its parts. This is true in all closed systems. So let’s apply your knowledge of this skill to build a satellite. Each part of a satellite has a specific job, and some satellites have different jobs than others. Some are used to take photos, some satellites measure gravity, some measure temperature, and there are even satellites that scan a planet’s land formations. In fact, there are way more instruments built on satellites for many other jobs not mentioned . . . yet. One thing all human made satellites have in common, is that they are made up of different instruments (pieces) that all weigh different amounts, and all of these parts need power.”

First students watched two clips provided by NASA, then journaled responses:
Video 1 – Why is a good idea not enough to build a satellite?
Video 2 – What obstacles do you need to consider before building your satellite?

Next they create a team of four people. Their job as a team is to . . .
1. share your notes from the two videos.
2. decide what you want your satellite to do.
3. make sure everyone is included and involved in this mission.
4. develop a team name.

Notes in google classroom before moving ahead (STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP: Before you can proceed, you will need a teacher’s signature next to your notes.)

“The instruments (pieces) of a satellite not only have different jobs, but they weigh different amounts too. After deciding on the type of satellite, your team will design the satellite using Legos. “

Rules (Part 1): Refer to the Satellite Instrument Data Table. This sheet will guide you on what the different instruments are called, what they do, how much they weigh, and how much power they require.

Your team’s satellite can have . . .
a.) no more than 4 instruments.
b.) be able to fit inside the space capsule.
c.) AND once assembled, the satellite must weigh between 15-21 grams.

“You will each record the instruments you intend to use to build the satellite, include the weight of each piece, and once you pick up the pieces, sketch two views of your constructed satellite (refer to the sheet provided to you). You can weigh pieces individually. You are not allowed to assemble the satellite until after your sketches have been approved by a teacher.”

Rules (Part 2): After sketches have been approved, you will use gloves to assemble your satellite. This represents how astronauts fix and operate on satellites while in space. Each teammate will have a turn at assembly or reassembling the satellite. Weigh the satellite and compare it to your recorded data.

Rules (Part 3): Shake Test. Place your satellite inside the space capsule (Styrofoam cups) and shake the capsule rapidly for 30 seconds. Take the satellite out of the capsule and see if your satellite made it in one piece.  If not this is the time to modify your satellite and retest.

Shake Test

*If time permits, review another team’s design and complete the steps on the Quality Assurance Form.

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We finish off like most activities, where student feedback is key.

  • What did you like or dislike about this activity?
    • Explain why.
  • How would you change this activity to make it better?
  • What is something you wish you could have done?

Back In The Saddle

Our school year took a restart after Hurricane Florence, with some of the kids living in different places or with many members, to transfers of familiar faces moving and new faces joining.  Here’s to new beginnings.


STEM activities to get push pause on the stress, and puzzle our minds:

  • Coding mazes with Bee Bots.
  • Exploring how a statue’s shadow moves.
  • Building hats to protect our ears and eyes from the sun.
  • Solving the Hanoi Tower Challenge.
  • Building bridges to cross.
  • Using the power of air with a Vortex Cannon.
  • Rescuing one from a well, constructing a claw.

We’ll soon be back with full reports of the tinkerers and thinkerers.  Keep an eye and ear out for our multipurpose marine tank.

1s & 5s

A bit lazy on the title I know, but I’m running out of STEAM.  Get it!?  (cue crickets chirping)   Eh . . .  anyway . . . let’s take a gander at first graders who continue applying their know-how about forces, pushes, and pulls. This lesson centered on pulls with the use of weight and gravity; much like what pulls glaciers if we recount to the last post with 4th grade’s topic.  These first graders tinkered with adding and/or subtracting the amount of washers to their vehicle by connecting them via string & paperclips.  After exploration time with the vehicles and the weights, the students repeated the activity beginning with one washer, then 2, 4, 6, and 8 writing down observations between each trial as to which provided the greatest/fastest pull, and why they believed this to be true.  We’ll pick up with this activity and review our discoveries in the next post.

Gravity Pulls
Weight & Gravity


Moving on to 5th where our marine biologists are using bathymetric sonar technology to map the ocean floor.  NOAA’s ship, the Okeanos Explorer, uses this type of sonar which flares out onto the ocean bottom, pinging data back to the ship in a color coded scale to outline trenches, volcanoes, sunken ships, etc.  These students constructed models of the abyss and/or trenches which they are preparing for another class.  Pictures of them sampling data by use of color coded straws are models built by another 5th grade class.  The lower the straw, the deeper the coordinate.  After recording the data the next step will be to transfer the information to a color bar graph, one sheet per column (columns were from A-J).  After the bar graphs are made for each column the students will cut, and glue the data in their journals to create a three dimensional pop-up scale.  We will have pictures once this is complete, so stay tuned and until then check out the pictures and video.

Properties of Gases and Liquids

Let’s check in on 3rd and 4th graders as they tie in the basic properties of matter in the STEAM lab:

4th graders simulated the movement of glaciers across Earth’s surface using ice/sand cubes to scratch across trays covered in aluminum foil, noting how these massive natural phenomenons create valleys, mountains, and leave behind rock debris known as glacial till or moraine.  After the hands-on activity we followed up with a minds-on digital breakout about  . . . you guessed it, glaciers.  If you’ve never completed or seen one of these, it is a series of questions to unlock to proceed to the next question.  These questions include directions, vocabulary, numbers, etc.

Glacier Digital Breakout

3rd graders are investigating how air takes up space by first attempting to inflate a balloon into a bottle.  After several attempts and becoming light headed the kiddos realized that the air trapped in the bottle prevented the inflation of the balloon.  Thus, oxygen takes up space.  Poking a hole into the bottle gave students the ability to inflate the balloon by blowing the air in the bottle out, yet once they ceased inflating the balloon, the air was sucked back in taking up the space it once did.  After paired discussions, many students came to the conclusion that a second property of air is that although we cannot see oxygen we can see it when it moves something.  An air bazooka was used to model this theory by knocking over Styrofoam cups.  Challenge 1: Students built teams of three to design an air powered vehicle.  They discussed the variables teams wanted to use (long thin balloons or round, fishing line or kite string, a whole, 3/4, 1.2, or 1/4 straw).  Stipulation: The air vehicle must travel 5 yards.  Students tested their designs three times, keeping track of the distance and time it took to travel.

Air Engineering 2


Air Engineering

To expound on the idea of air taking up space, students performed an activity called Protect The Tissue, where a napkin or tissue is placed in the bottom of a plastic cup, tipped upside down and submerged into a bucket of water.  This demo allows students to see how air is trapped inside the cup, serving as a barrier between the water and the tissue.  We discussed how this might be helpful for people in real life.  Their brainstorming led to SCUBA diving, and submarines.  So the challenge is now to apply their knowledge properties of matter in creating a submarine.  After researching the term buoyancy, teams problem-solved to devise a submarine (plastic bottle) to float on the surface of water in a tub.  Then they had to figure out how to make the sub sink to the bottom of the tub.  After achieving these two stipulations teams worked on reaching a neutral buoyancy.  Material for this activity are a plastic bottle, cap, water, bubble packing wrap, and rubber bands.  We are still testing the subs, so content will be added after the naval fleet has accomplished their mission.  Until next time.

Air Engineering 3

If You Build It . . .

Let’s begin by looking at first grade’s adventure into forces of motion.  Their first activity replicates much like the tale of the Three Little Pigs.  Our inquiry:  What does a push and a pull look like?  How do we know when an object has been pushed or pulled?  Some students performed these movements to give others the vocabulary ideas of moving away or coming to you.  Then, using their pushing forces and healthy lung power, blew objects with a straw across a finish line, keeping track of their data (amount of blows per time).  They made inferences based on their results that it was easier to blow the paperclip because it was light and took more blows to move the wooden block.  We reflected on this thought process during our second gathering noting that it seemed weight did influence the motion, and then segued into using our model swing made of a pencil, tied to a string, connected to a washer.  Our goal was to look at which style of force would provide the best swing.  Would it be holding the washer directly above the pencil and letting gravity due all the work or holding the washer parallel to the pencil and releasing?

Next time we will explore if the length of an object (string) will affect the force of an object (washer), as well as continue with concept of weight by adding more washers to the swing.  Predictions on which will provide the greatest swing?


Third grade’s topic is the human body focusing specifically on the skeletal system and muscular system.  Learners manipulated model legs to see how the muscle groups work as a team to extend and retract when moving legs and feet.  This is a simple contraption made of a dowel rode, Popsicle stick, tubing, two paper clips, and two rubber bands.  By moving the Popsicle (foot) up and down, students were able to see one muscle tightening, while the other relaxes.  After recording their observations and creating diagrams, they had time to explore a model hand and compare the model to their hand in terms of how it is constructed and functions.  Next gathering they will look at the model once more, determine what materials they can add to make it more realistic, then create a mechanical hand with the objective of grasping an object.


Fifth graders take learning about weather and climate to a new level.  After researching the differences between tropical, arctic, and desert conditions they selected a region in which they had to build a dwelling with a specific roof design geared for that climate zone.  Arctic region homes needed a strong enough roof to support snow (washers) or allow them to fall off.  Desert dwellings had to keep the occupants cool (ice cube from melting), and tropical structures had to keep their folks (tissue paper) dry in torrential downpour.  Prior to testing, students judged the houses made by other teams, jotting down likes and/or what they would have done to improve the construction.  Then came the test . . .

Ask Imagine Plan Create Improve Ask Imagine Plan Create Improve Ask . . .

What’s in the box?

Model & Design

Glad you asked.  To find out you’ll need to use your sense of hearing to aid in the critical thinking process to form a judgment.  I will tell you there is  marble, which serves as the metal detector.  Since we cannot see what is inside, the marble will aid in how it hits the inside walls and corners of the box.  There is definitely something in their and it is different for each of the boxes labeled A-D.  Students had 10 minutes to manipulate their designated box independently while also taking notes and creating an illustration.  For the next 10 minutes they selected a partner to repeat the prior steps and share their thoughts and design methods, after which we collected back as a whole to share our perceived designs.  The point?  To get our thinkers thinking.  To perceive and infer without knowing for sure.  We are building on background knowledge; what we know of marbles when they hit a surface,  why/how the sound is different in certain portions of the box, what things there could be to soften or cushion a sound, etc.

Model & Design 2

This activity also served as a precursor to the next event . . .  The Cardboard Challenge.  In honor of my mother for bringing home boxes upon boxes for my sister and I to design forts, castles, body armor, etc.  This one was for you mom.  Kids could work in partners or solo.

Here are the stipulations:

  1. Students had to have a design in mind of something to build, anything of interest, and sketched into their journal.
  2. Also to be included: step by step instructions of how to piece their creation together.  This could be done in picture form and/or written expression. – Thing Lego Booklet
  3. A material list was required (cardboard and tape were provided, anything else they needed to bring in) – No Glue.  We did loop a video of the art teacher demonstrating cutting techniques to interlock pieces and had flyers for them to refer to as well.
  4. Students needed to have measurements made for the scale of their design.
  5. Last the number of pieces needed.

There is a reason it is called a challenge.  Students were given four weeks, spending a minimum of 5 minutes per day on the design process.  Some spent more time and gave more effort than others (which showed in the final outcome), and some took notes at home to paste into their journals.  On the day of the event each grade level (3rd-5th) were given two hours to construct (1:45 to build, 15 minutes to clean up).  They brought their journals in to refer to their designs and then went into controlled chaos mode.  Students that did not finish their plans by the due date were stationed in the computer lab to complete, then joined their class to construct after finalizing their designs.  Yes that put them at a disadvantage, but a life lesson to learn from.

Here is what they came up with on the day of the challenge.

Moving on . . . we have third graders taking their knowledge of the moon and expounding on it, as they develop a lunar craft able to land on such a rocky surface.  Day one was planning a design much similar to the cardboard challenge, in which their craft was engineered to hold the two astronauts (large marshmallows) and land upright.  The baseline of success was at a one foot height, then increasing one foot each time.  Watch the clips to see the outcomes.


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Side Note:  5.P.2.2 Compare the weight of an object to the sum of the weight of its parts before and after an interaction.

Our group lesson consisted of us measuring the weight of a graduated cylinder consisting in volume of 250mL of uncooked rice.  Then were weighed the rice again, only in parts of 50 mL, then adding up to see if we were close if not the same as the total weight.  Wouldn’t you know we were off by 2 grams.  We discussed what variables could have influenced this.  The two ideas that popped out were maybe a grain dropped or perhaps we were not looking directly ahead at the needle when weighing each group of 50 mL.  As a follow up the kids broke out into teams and weighed the sum of a flashlight and recorded their data.  Next the took apart the flashlight to weigh each part; the seal ring, the battery container, the light.  After weighing and recording, they compared their results to the original.  5/6 groups had the same weight for the whole flashlight as compared to the sum of the individual parts.  The 1/6 was off by 2.5 grams.  Where they got 0.5?  We’ll revisit this one for sure.  This would be a great activity to conduct at home with Legos.

You can of course check us out anytime on twitter @MrVantaztic.  Our twitter account is linked to our blog (found at the right side of the post).  Remember to hover over any of the pictures to read the captions.  Thanks for reading and subscribing.  You can also check out the newer STEAM blog (working on a sharper look) https://vantazticlearning.wordpress.com/