Why STEM Should Be More Than Engineering Challenges

Hey my sweet teacher friends!

I have always worked very hard to keep up with current research, and to always find a happy medium between fun and intentional. In my district, like everywhere else, programs, approaches, and expectations are communicated while many of us feel the pressure to keep up with it all, while still keeping a positive attitude.
Sounds familiar?
Well, in all honesty, many times before I have felt the pressure and have rolled my eyes at the "new" thing to do. But it is also a fact, that every single time, I  have actually learned valuable things that I can implement in my classroom with my students in order to move them forward with intention and precision.
Every. Single. Time.

For a couple of years now, I have been implementing STEM in my classroom.
Well, or so I thought.
Last school year, around St. Patrick's Day I designed the typical "leprechaun trap" STEM challenge.
We also brought in supplies, read leprechaun books, had a leprechaun snack, and even had the time to show my students an educational clip about  the facts and traditions of the holiday.
My students had a wonderful day, they gave me hugs, told me I was the best teacher ever.
Oh, bliss!
Then I happened to ask one my students, who was hugging me, the million dollar question:
"Well and what did you learn today?"


As I was driving home I felt like a total failure. I couldn't help but think that there's got to be a happy medium between the fun of  engineering challenges and actual intentional, relevant, and rigorous content integration.

And many times before life has taught me that failure is the best teacher there is.

For a couple of weeks after that, I started critically looking for content or activities related to a more intentional way to STEM.  I bought a couple of books and after a lot of reading, reflecting, observing, and thinking, I started noticing that many of the  simple experiments that I found on the web were being called STEM.
What the what?
I even saw an origami craft being called STEM.
What in the world?
Doesn't STEM stand for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math?
Well, where is the Science in that?
Where is the Technology?
Where is the Math?
Or the actual Egineering?
I know what an engineer does, my sister is an engineer. Her husband is an engineer.
And I am sorry guys, but that doesn't seem like much engineering to me. It seems like basically anything can be called STEM for the sake of educational trends.
We need to stop mislabeling STEM. It is actually quite unfair, and we need to make sure that we are providing our students with genuine STEM experiences so that they can fill those STEM jobs.
Don't you think?
Let's turn our science lessons into projects that challenge our kids to build, explore, analyze, reflect, research, and actually solve a problem.

During the subsequent months, I started creating STEM and STEAM mats for different science and social studies content.
And I realized that when I gave my students an engineering challenge in which they had to use their knowledge of content area, they truly did deepen their connections with the standards.
And here is the truth:
Engineering challenges allowed my students to practice communication skills, true collaboration, critical thinking and creativity...
These traditional challenges did not allow my students to make actual connections with the curriculum, and even though those skills are critical, it was hard for me to ACCEPT and JUSTIFY doing just engineering challenges.

As a result, I had  the idea of creating Cross-Curricular STEAM mats aligned to content area standards.  They are project based and aligned to grade level content.


The first resource I have created is tied to  the science concept of matter, specially solids and liquids:

Each section in the  S-T-E-A-M is clearly explained and all the activities are high-order! Sometimes I ask my students to work with a partner, and sometimes they work on their own. It depends on if I use the STEAM mats for my fast finishers and high achievers, or if I use them for a core activity on a two-day span.


In the science section, I have provided posters, and QR codes with videos for students to listen, watch, and learn about solids and liquids. In my classroom, I normally allow my students to visit classroom approved sites like:
Pebble Go
BrainPop Jr
Discovery Streaming

All these websites require a paid membership, which  my school gets for our students. I also allow my students to check some books out of the classroom and school libraries. In the science section their goal is to be able to compare and contrast solids and liquids

In the science section you will also find these academic vocabulary cards, they are perfect for your English Language Learners!


I have always believed that technology should be used to complement awesome classroom instruction. It should never be used to replace you, the teacher. So I am always very careful to preview and make sure that whatever websites, apps, or devices, that I provide my students with, keep a high level of relevance and rigor.
In this technology section, students will create a video  with their partners. I normally use SeeSaw for this type of tasks, but you may use a different video app. SeeSaw can be used for free, but if you want all the McDaddy options, then payments needs to be made.  The free version is perfect, though!

Students will have to chat with their accountability partners using these:


The engineering challenge is so much fun! Students will have to create a  balance scale to measure some liquids and solids

They will also use these STEAM task cards to test their prototypes:


In this art project, students will create a collage and acrostic poem craftivity for solids OR liquids.
They will have to apply their knowledge acquired from the S  and E sections of the STEAM mat. I also encourage my students to use their academic vocabulary.


In the math section, students will organize their data from weighing the solids and liquids from the S section, they will also solve a couple of problems involving solids and liquids.


Well, the unavoidable.  You are probably taking deep breaths,
rolling your eyes,
shaking your head.

Believe me, I know. I hear you.
This is not the type of diagnostic assessment, or standardized thing. I am talking about good 'ol formative assessment. The type of thing that allows us to make sure that our students are making progress. We owe it to our students and their families to make sure that they are learning, and if they are not, we need to make sure to fill in any gaps. Right?

In the assessment section, you will find a STEAM Mat contract, a constructed response, and a rubric! The rubric allows for teacher and self-assessment.

Pretty neat, intentional, and so much fun!

How to Purchase the STEAM Mats

If you would like to elevate your STEM or STEAM routines, you may take a look at my STEAM Mats in my TPT store.

I will be back later this week with another STEAM - STEM  post.


Math Sorts for First Grade

About a month or so ago, I created a set of math and grammar sorts for my 2nd graders. I normally use these math sorting activities to complement our BUILD math centers and our Daily 5 stations. A number of teachers have emailed me to ask for the first grade and third grade counterparts. Even though I am not teaching 1st grade any longer, I am pretty familiar with the standards and with what students need to know and be able to do.

What Is Included?

These math sorting activities target almost every  1st grade math standard. There are 4 sections that target operations and algebraic thinking, geometry, measurement, number sense, and place value.

Operations and Algebraic Thinking

The math sorting activities in this section focus on addition and subtraction to 20, fact families, part - part- whole relationships, and understanding the equal sign. In most of the sorts, students will have to solve different types of equations and THEN sort between true and false.

All of the sorts are differentiated without watering down the high order thinking skill or the mathematical concept.


I also included a couple of geometry sorts. Students will sort to determine the attributes and non-attributes of 3-D and 2-D shapes, as well as some fraction activities that go very well with our BUILD math centers.


In the measurement section, you will find math sorting activities for standard and non-standard units of measurement, telling time to the hour and half hour, and measurement tools.

Number Sense and Place Value

This is just about my absolute favorite section. #numbersenseismyfavoite
In this section, students will find math sorting activities to practice and review the counting sequence, tens and ones, comparing numbers, place value, ten more -ten less.

These math sorting activities are very easy prep, they will save you tons of time! If you are interested in these math sorting activities, you can find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Thank you so much for stopping by!

November Math Centers Based on BUILD

Hi everyone!

I simply wanted to let you know that the November math centers for first grade based on BUILD are up and running!

As usual, each monthly pack contains three rounds of math stations based on BUILD. Every single activity is Common Core aligned, and if you want to learn more about BUILD math stations you may click HERE!

So let me show you what is inside:

1. Addition feast --> 1.OA.C.6
2. “Gobble” fact families mathtivity --> 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.C.6
3. Various Printables that target subtraction, comparing numbers, number sense --> 1.OA.C.6, 1.NBT.A.1, 1.NBT.B.3
4. Thankful ordering numbers --> 1.NBT.B.3
5. Three mats with CGI type word problems --> 1.OA.A.1

6. Turkey Fact Families --> 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.C.6
7. Turkey and Gravy Place Value --> 1.NBT.B.2
8. Various Printables that target ordering numbers, addition and subtraction, understanding the equal sign --> 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.C.6, 1.NBT.B.3
9. Ordering numbers scoot --> 1.NBT.A.1, 1.NBT.B.3
10. Three mats with CGI type word problems --> 1.OA.A.1

11. Subtraction Scoot --> 1.OA.C.6
12.Shape Wreath Mathtivity --> 1.G.A.1
13. Various Printables that target missing number in addition situations, true and false number sentences, number sense. --> 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.D.8, 1.OA.D.7, 1.OA.C.6, 1.NBT.B.3, 1.NBTA.A.1
14. True and False Equation sorts --> 1.OA.D.7
15.Three mats with CGI type word problems --> 1.OA.A.1

These are some pics:

Gobble fact families

Place Value

Geometry wreath

Word problem mats:

Ordering numbers

Addition and subtraction

More fact families

You can purchase this resource from my TPT store. You may also be interested in the BUNDLE to save!
Actually the December pack will be uploaded earlier this month.

Tons of love and gratitude,

Grammar sorts for 2nd grade

Hey, hey teacher friends!

Who else feels like teaching royalty when they walk out of the school on Friday and ALL of their activities are ready for the week ahead!?
Now, planning time is something that we all crave big time. I actually spend most of my planning time designing  independent meaningful ,engaging, high order, activities for language arts and math.

One of our absolute favorite activities these days is sorts of all sorts.
See what I did there?
We started with math sorts not long ago, and I have seen such great progress in all of my students, that I decided to give these grammar sorts a try.
When it comes to literacy instruction, the curriculum is so dense... I really work hard at making my balanced literacy lesson plans just that: balanced. I am truly devoted to providing my students with different instructional formats to meet their needs: whole group, small groups, individual conferences, partner work, etc. Most of their time is used for comprehension and vocabulary instruction and strategies.
But how about language?
It is so fun to teach, and our students discover the beauty of parts of speech, plurals, types of sentences, word relationships.
And so much more!
When our students are aware of the structure of our language, they start to notice how the text works in close reading routines. This is just one of the many advantages! Generally speaking, my students complete these sorts independently during their literacy stations, while I meet with small groups or I do individual conferences.

Once again I am sounding like a text book. Lordy mercy!

Let me show you what is inside these grammar and language sorts:

I also teach the students to do the sorts in three different ways:

1. Cut and paste:
 Students do the traditional cut and paste in their journals or in a piece of construction paper.

2. Solve and highlight:

If you don't want to have your students cutting and pasting, you may provide them with two highlighters. This way, they can sort and enjoy some "fun pens" while learning important concepts and skills.

3. Sort and snap:
So if you are a friend of technology and want to save copies, you are going to love this. All you have to do, is to print the sorts on card stock or construction paper and laminate. Cut the sorts and place them in a safe envelope or in resealable sandwich bag.  If the student has to solve a sort before actually sorting, make sure to provide a dry erase marker. Once students have solved and sorted, they may snap a picture with an approved device/app and send it your way for review, voila! If I may say, my favorite app? Seesaw.


If you are interested in purchasing these grammar sorts, you can get them from my TPT store! You may also be interested in my Math sorts for 2nd graders, you may check them out HERE!
Thanks for reading teacher friends, until next time!

October Math Centers Based on BUILD

Howdy teacher friends!

I simply wanted to drop by and let you know that I have uploaded the October Math work stations for first grade to my shop. They are based on the BUILD  Math centers rotation system, which you can read about HERE.

These are the first grade instructional activities and Common Core standards that you can find in this October math centers pack:

1. How many more to make a ten puzzles --> CCS 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.C.6, 1.NBT.3
2. Pumpkin vine QR codes {Ordering numbers} --> CCS 1..NBT.B.3
3. Independent work printables --> 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.C.5
4. True and False spooky sorts --> 1.OA.D.7, 1.NBT.A.1
5. 3 CGI Type word problem mats --> 1.OA.A.1
6. Fact families scoot --> 1.OA.C.5
7. Classroom shape hunt booklet --> 1.G.A.1
8. Independent work printables --> 1.OA.B.3, 1.OA.C.6, 1.NBT.A.2, 1.NBT.B.3
9.Popsicle teens --> 1.NBT.B.2.B, 1.OA.C.6
10. 3 CGI Type word problem mats --> 1.OA.A.1
11. Missing number in addition and subtraction scoot --> 1.OA.C.5
12. Sums of 10 sorts --> 1.OA.C.6
13. Independent work printables --> 1.OA.C.5, 1.OA.D.7, 1.NBT.B.3, 1.OA.B.3
14. Wicth Mathtivity --> 1.G.A.1, 1.G.A.2
15. 3 CGI Type word problem mats --> 1.OA.A.1

Take a look st some pictures:

Fact families!

Place value that will help your students practice understand that a "teen" is made out of one ten and some ones.

Oh the importance of the number 10!

Practicing missing number in addition and subtraction situations.

 Ordering numbers... using iPads or any device with a QR code reader.

Hunting for shapes in the environment!

Last but not least...  CGI word problem mats!!

You can purchase this resource from my TPT store.
You may also buy the growing bundle of BUILD math centers for first grade and save! Click HERE for the bundle!

Thank you for reading teacher friends! Until next time!