May The Force Be With You

Well, it isn’t May yet, but the force is strong with these students.  The content of this topic scaffolds upon grade level.  Our first graders began exploring how gravity and slope change the rate of speed an object travels.  They began building ping pong ball mazes from cardboard, making modifications to their slope for how fast or slow they wanted their ball to travel as well as alternating direction.  Week 2 was spent investigating magnetic properties of pushes and pulls.  They rescued paperclips from drowning in a cup of water, worked on their “magic” magnetism by levitating items, and testing magnetic strength via stacking materials between a magnet and magnetic object.  Then in week three, third graders focused on balance in motion.  This week was dedicated to exploring how to balance a variety of objects and what balance means.  From their they created cars out of index cards, straws, tape, and life savers in which the goal was to have a vehicle that would steer straight by looking at symmetry of vehicle design of the chassis, wheel axles, and placement of tires.

Third grade is currently using Hot Wheels to build tracks to test variables of speed, distance traveled, vehicle design, and engineering a safety harness to protect LEGO figures.  Their week two will consist of building parachutes to slow the rate of fall for ping pong golf, rubber, and Styrofoam balls.

Fifth grade engineered Slinky spring scales to calibrate the weight of objects and test their results verses the digital scale read-out.  Then the used genuine spring scales to test surfaces areas and the amount of friction produced by pulling wooden blocks across  linoleum, carpet, sandpaper, wax paper, foil, and rubber mats.  The third installment to their force unit was calculating the speed of vehicles.  For this activity fifth graders used pull back ATV’s, adding  weight after each series of three trials.  Then they compared the results and created graphs to represent the speed and distance.

Hopefully we’ll be  back before the school year lets out for another episode of Vantaztic Learning.  May the 4th be with you.

1.P.1 Understand how forces (pushes or pulls) affect the motion of an object.
1.P.1.1 Explain the importance of a push or pull to changing the motion of an object.
1.P.1.2 Explain how some forces (pushes and pulls) can be used to make things move without touching them, such as magnets.
1.P.1.3 Predict the effect of a given force on the motion of an object, including balanced forces.

3.P.1 Understand motion and factors that affect motion.
3.P.1.1 Infer changes in speed or direction resulting from forces acting on an object.
3.P.1.2 Compare the relative speeds (faster or slower) of objects that travel the same distance in different amounts of time.
3.P.1.3 Explain the effect of earth’s gravity on the motion of any object on or near the earth.

5.P.1 Understand force, motion and the relationship between them.
5.P.1.1 Explain how factors such as gravity, friction, and change in mass affect the motion of objects.
5.P.1.2 Infer the motion of objects in terms of how far they travel in a certain amount of time and the direction in which they travel.
5.P.1.3 Illustrate the motion of an object using a graph to show a change in position over a period of time.
5.P.1.4 Predict the effect of a given force or a change in mass on the motion of an object.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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 . . .

Is This The Real World? Is This Just Fantasy?

Being in my new role is borderline surreal, and if it is don’t pinch me.  It’s given me this immense feeling of fulfillment and yet a desire to achieve more.  If you vision a dad and his son riding in a truck down a country road, doing what fathers and sons do, talking about things one day to come.  The dad looks at his son, tells him one day he’ll be a grown man and when the day comes to find a job that makes him happy.  The conversation is much the same as the years pass and the boy becomes a young man. Through it all the son watches his parents hold down multiple jobs to provide for the family.  He hears the parent’s frustration and watches them endure to make sure their kids have lives better than their own.  Through the full time jobs, the moonlighting, and the third income the parents somehow created time to hold; through the time they took the kids to bitty ball, summer camps, the factory on strike;  through beginning their own business, and then selling it, to entering real estate and the flipping of houses; the son holds the phrase. Now on his drives to work the son hears the words his dad once told him so long ago as he passes the Croatan Forest, and drives over the waterways.  A smile spreads.  The goal he worked toward for the past ten years arrived as opportunity presented itself.  For the first time waking up to go to work doesn’t seem to feel like work.  He’s found the secret so many search for.  To enjoy what you do.  He’s also smart enough to know that this is the beginning, not the end.  To maintain this, he’ll need to invest more time and resources to ensure this new role develops into something greater.

With that mentioned . . . Dear readers, I present some of the Vantaztic Learning Experiences


Let’s peek in with 5th grade as these students are learning about properties of matter.  Their unit began by studying something all around us, water.  Students travelled through the water cycle transforming from the three states (solids, liquids, and gases) in a dice game created by Project WET.  Some found themselves flowing from rivers to being absorbed by plants or animals, then perhaps travelling into groundwater or becoming a glacier.  Many found they became trapped between the cloud and ocean stations while others might have been lucky to escape to a lake.  Students tallied their travels, analyzed the data, and shared individual results.  Then we collectively shared all results and wouldn’t you know the data was common amongst all four 5th grade classes with the dominate group being liquid.

After introducing the states of matter and these physical changes, we focused on the changes that occur chemically.  First the scientists listed properties of the penny including detailed illustrations.  Students removed the coverings of oxidized pennies using an acid base (vinegar) and an abrasive (salt) and then recorded the changes observed and jotting down properties of the penny after the experiment.  Following this students created carbon dioxide (a gas) by combining baking soda and vinegar.  They trapped the CO2 in a container and used syringes to measure the amount of gas produced.  Then students hypothesized how much more/less gas would be produced by changing one of the variables, meaning the amount of baking soda or the amount of vinegar.  Let the retesting begin.

As a follow-up to CO2 theme, the kids conducted hypotheses  on which type of soda would produce the greatest amount of CO2 release.  They compared soda to diet soda, lemon-lime, to diet lemon-lime, cherry to it’s diet counterpart, and Dr. P vs diet Dr.  In this activity students dropped a roll of Mentos into each 2 liter of pop.  Once the nucleation (bubbling experience) occurred, students poured the remaining soda from the 2 liter bottles into graduated cylinders to measure and record how many mL where blown out.  Results varied because one variable that was tricky for some was getting all the Mentos in the 2 Liter.  Some spilled, some got stuck in the paper made funnel, and some kids were jumpy.  Regardless all Mentos were placed in the container to make it as fair as a test as possible, but classes did receive different results (as expected in most experiments).

Below are 4th graders exploring traits.  Each tool represents a bird’s beak and on the surrounding tables are types of food that match a certain style or trait of beak.  The 4th graders researched hummingbird and woodpecker beaks to build up on their content knowledge, then made predictions as to which tool would be best suited to “eat” that given food source.  Tools (beaks): strainers, droplets, tongs, chopsticks, tweezers, scoop cup, nut crackers, scissors.  What would you use to suck nectar from a flower (graduated cylinder)?  If tearing meat from a bone (playdough off of a tube), would tweezers, scissors, or tongs be the best trait to have?  What style of beak would you need to peck at insects in tree limbs?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4th graders also explored estuaries and how important these are to our community in terms of cleaning the ecosystem as well as in commercial fishing.  A snacking card game provided by the NC Coastal Reserve is always a hit.  Have a healthy estuary?  Add fish crackers to your estuary.  Draw a polluted card?  Eat the fish.

Third grade is honed in on the solar system.  These astronomers are developing an understanding of how gravity and inertia (something that can rest will rest; something that can move will continue to move) keep our planet in orbit as well as the other planets and moons.  The demonstration below was an easy one for them to comprehend.  They understood that gravity holds us on earth and if a cup of water were to be poured upside down, the water would spill out.  We tested that and their conceptualization was true.  So then, if I use gravity and inertia together I can keep the water in the cup while turning it upside down.  They were hesitant, so we had to take the experiment  outdoors to attempt.  Check the picks of the kids swinging the cup in circles, keeping the water intact thanks to the combo.

Our current project is converting the distances from kilometers to meters and centimeters of each planet from the sum.  Students are in process of measuring these distances with tape and meter wheels and cutting string to serve as a model distance.  We will then convert the planet sizes into metric for the circumference of planet models to attach to the string.

Second grade is deep into operating weather tools.  We’re calibrating anemometers, and reading thermometers.  They’re creating hypotheses on which would hold the temperature of water the longest (foam or plastic) and keeping track of their data, then interpreting the results.

First grade is tracking the movement of shadows throughout the day to recognize patterns and movement of objects throughout the day.  Check out our friends modeling with flashlights and tracing the shadow patterns made.

And my kindergarten friends (no pics yet) are improving their coding skills using directional terms as turn, forward, stop, etc.  They helped Mr. V get from point A to Point B using these terms with a number set.  I did get a bit dizzy when the direction was turn and I kept turning in place, or if they said go forward and I’d walk across the room.  We’re working on adding the number of steps and turns, so perhaps next time when we add arrows, numbers and directional word cards it will get us where we need to be.  Footage will be taken next time.  So much good to come.