Adventures with Missile Defense (Part I)

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Even if you don’t care about science or STEM, I still need you to read this; it could be a matter of national defense. This three-part Adventure asks which is easier; getting one million students in STEM careers in 10 years or intercepting a missile in space with no warning? Ever since I returned from a week of packed professional development with the Missile Defense Agency in the quaint town of Huntsville, Alabama last summer, the question has been on my mind. The Executive Director of the Missile Defense Agency asked me to do my part; now I’m asking you to do yours. Read this, and maybe you’ll understand why.

Resources are in order through the SPECTRUM Acrostic

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Quick! Throw a small ball in the air, and then try to intercept that ball with another small ball, all in the split second both are in the air. Tough, right? Next time, try the same thing except use a paper airplane instead of the small intercepting ball. Got it? Great! Now, this time I want you to try it with tons of metal at hypersonic speed, above the atmosphere, and little to no warning. This is a bullet-to-bullet interception, and it’s precisely what thousands of people at Missile Defense Agency (MDA) prepare for every day on a global scale. This branch of the Department of Defense is not fed solely by the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Instead, it requires extensive collaboration with all military branches, even NASA!

Unlike NASA, however, MDA is not concerned with sending a rocket to space solely for exploration. There’s no satellite on top of their rocket, nor an astronaut. MDA rockets aren’t wheeled majestically, albeit slowly, to a launch pad for all to watch. They are instead buried under silos 65′ underground at various Air Force Bases. They deploy with minutes or even seconds’ notice and, yes, actually intercept something traveling the exact opposite direction of it, somewhere in space at hyper-balistic speeds. Regardless of threat, the STEM involved with such a feat is real.

MDA can’t boast “practice makes perfect,” either. Test missions are expensive; few and far between. Yet, somehow, these folks are expected to protect us should the unthinkable happen and a nuclear warhead is launched in our direction. According to Executive Director John H. James, “if or when it happens, we will stop it.” Before my week with MDA’s brilliant STEM Ed team this summer, I would’ve scoffed at the prospect, thinking I don’t like war movies so none of this applies to me anyway. After hearing his somber and precise keynote inside MDA’s board room, I’m forced to agree and fuel the mission of peace in my own – and considerably less-pressured – way.

Thanks to the STEM education initiative by the Missile Defense Agency, my mission this year is to design approaches, implement activities, and meaningfully reflect on student engagement in STEM. Ms. Rowell (I’m the T in this picture), 6th grade science teacher, arriving for duty.

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We need one million people to pursue STEM careers to remain the powerful tech society the great folks from the Apollo days built. We’re still riding the wave from the Space Race and we haven’t replaced those retiring heroes. By the way, we need to do this in the next 10 years.

Somehow in the 50 years since we landed on the Moon, USA’s engineering workforce fell behind. According to University of Alabama Huntsville’s professor Dr. PJ Benfield, we need 34% more STEM careers filled in the USA and have currently filled 2%. His unique mixture of humor and serious banter delivered the dire messages of the global helium shortage and other dwindling resources. He’s a great connection for education technology by the way, and he specifically asked you to contact him if you need support to fill this mission.

Who can build the tallest structure? (Remind me to tell you about redesign and flow next time.)

Us science (et al) teachers, we think we know it all, right? I mean, we literally show children how to learn how the world works; from the atom to the cell to the universe. Maybe make it fun, too. Just this is enough, right? (Well, no one knows how hard it is until they actually do it.) Also, we rarely know what becomes of the students as they continue down the assembly line of education. In this manufacturing analogy, my work is akin to adding the steering wheel column to a chasis while a high school teacher staples upholstery and installs wheels. It’s ok that we don’t know how the final product drives, because we installed our part correctly and efficiently. This is enough, no?

No. My mind was blown by the additional call to produce one million STEM-career candidates in an ever-changing world. To clarify, MDA did not direct this. They gave us an overwhelming show of support and asked only to spread the word of STEM Education in return. It’s me who took the rest to action. How will I ever know the impact of my work?

Speaking of support, I now have a community of teachers from our summer cohort and a huge box of supplies from the kit by MDA. What’s inside? Come to my STEM clubs, and the Adventures Parts II and III, to find out.

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Meet Stan. Stan is a director for Targets and Countermeasures at MDA who helped me understand the importance of bringing “the why” to all engineering in my science and STEM classes. “Demanding a threshold,” he called it. Injecting pedagogy in teaching STEM – from never giving up on a kid to enriching discourse with building groups – is just some of what Stan does to promote our work with students. As we all know, engineering is more than the design and build cycle. His inspiring words, particularly around how to foster an environment with risk-based mistakes and growth mindset, helped me reverse-engineer my entire approach to inquiry learning. The results are tangible, or else I wouldn’t be able to tell these Adventures. Thanks Stan.

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As Stan confirmed, the general consensus to getting anyone to learn anything – from table manners to swimming to reading – is to start ‘em young. So getting students engaged in science concepts and engineering solutions can and should start in Kinder, right? We all know the importance of starting reading and math, so learning it through the lens, and curiosity, of science should be a reasonable and favorable shift. I teach 6th grade where some students haven’t even experienced science yet, let alone know what it is. Me and my tye-dye labcoat are likely their first exposure to it, even though we’re in middle school.

Filled with strategies to dispel any preconceptions about science, I now teach children to “put some science in it” whenever we need to solve a problem. With a school-based initiative to seek and measure 100% student engagement on the daily, I immediately benefitted from rebooting my tool box this summer. My life got a lot better when I changed my classroom to a place where you can learn anything you want about science, not where Ms. Rowell will teach science itself. If you’re interested in learning and sharing strategies along the many paths to student-centered classrooms, please join our STEMJourneys Facebook Group.

Oh! Stay tuned for my new project: STEM(Fun), where putting the fun in STEM is, well, fun.

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With all my professional development (both as a provider and learner), this was a rare opportunity to experience a 45-hour program solely as a teacher. We had rich, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, discourse while building Project-Based Learning lessons. We teachers are all somewhere on the path to building student-centered – maybe even student-driven – classrooms, so it’s natural to have some bumps along the way. Experiencing this, as well as reading up on best practices like these, helped me see where I am along the journey to 100% student engagement, and immediately paid off in my practices this school year.

As students, we launched biodegradable weather balloons and tracked them using weather apps, built free-standing structures in multiple stages to encourage redesign and flow, simulated precise rocket launches using straw rockets, and experimented with concepts of density, friction, forces and motion, and properties of matter. We toured facilities like U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Boeing Defense Training Facility. Pictures weren’t allowed in the latter, but I’ll post what I can when they are released by MDA 🙂

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In my third formal year in the classroom, I now understand I’m not sure who learns more in education; the student or the teacher. The results of this week, other than the daunting one million STEM careers call to action, included a broader understanding of the military and our current defense strategies. My own scientific literacy about the “lurking threat” to our nation’s security, particularly cyber threats, increased as did my weariness. I read more now, and track the events of meetings with North Korea, China, and Russia. I seek to understand more about foreign policy and how the lives of others are affected by our decisions (and vice versa).

Best of all, I have my new materials kit which has an arsenal of activities; including tendon-based robotics with hydraulic syringes, balsam wood gliders, flex mirrors and LightBlox, and my favorite, straw rocket launchers (pictured here). I’ll be sharing the results of these lessons in Parts II and III, and for ideas on how to use these lessons you can download my DRAFT lesson plan on light called “Star Wars & STEM” in the free download section.

Launching straw rockets with happy children.

According to the National Science & Technology Council’s Strategy for STEM Literacy in December 2018, “all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.” I think we can more easily guide students to the paths of STEM, and my question is WOULDN’T we choose a career in STEM? The choices are limitless, and the material is FUN 🙂

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I do not have an Undo for this experience, other than perhaps what got us to this shortage of STEM professionals to begin with. Missile defense is always going to be in our lives, and their task is of course more daunting than mine. I’m so impressed by their STEM Education initiative, and appreciate the opportunity to be at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center during the 50th anniversary of Apollo. Try to apply y’all.

(New life goal: Go to all the NASAs. Two down, eight to go.)


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Among the many special guest keynotes we met throughout the packed week, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Shery Welsh, a director for Science and Technology. Her presentation for “The Importance of STEM Education” was not preaching to the choir. It was a token given to us science teachers on how we on the right path with the right heading. If we’re going to get one million people in STEM careers in the next 10 years, then we as educators need support, and more folks like her, no? Yes.

To end Part I of this Adventure, I share this: I recently experienced a former 8th-grader telling me she chose to go into aerospace engineering because of my love of space education. 1 down, 999,999 to go.

Download & Thanks

Once, while walking on the Great Wall of China touring a group of engineers through career-immersion trip, a student told me I’m kind to everyone I meet along the way. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.

Inspired by Rise of Skywalker and all things Star Wars lately (Baby Yoda!), I wrote this lesson on light with every intention of providing the WOW factor for my 6th graders.Also, I wanted to play with our LightBlox from the kit. I implemented the lesson just this week so haven’t yet included my final reflections (pardon the pun). There’s much to improve, including adding more discrepant events and more competition, etc. “Be kind,” I tell all my students, as I then tell myself along my own humbling writing journey.

STEMJourneys Activity, Star Wars & STEM

This Adventure is dedicated to the very nice person (Lara) who gave me compostable straws for my straw rockets in my materials kit. You know who you are 🙂

The mission of is to engage teachers as they cultivate student-centered classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2020 Jess Rowell, All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike #stemjourneys and #mdastemed.

Adventures in Wellness!

“The roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet.”

– Aristotle

My fellow teachers and counselors, I know I am not the only teacher chronically near burn-out by the end of each year. All summer I’ve reflected on the rocky year I just had – being yelled at by teenagers, seeing loss or violence in their lives, gaining or losing ground with my most challenging students… I felt like I might not be ready for another year. This is why I think it’s so important to tell this story now, right before school begins again. I needed more than just resting by the pool before going back into the classroom (although who can afford that?). I was so exhausted, I knew I needed therapy on a whole new level. So, I started a new adventure in teaching and learning, and it’s not in science. This Adventure in Wellness helped me respond to a significant call for action in bringing social and emotional skills to my science students. Be the change, right?

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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This Adventure is not about science or STEM; it’s about Wellness! Granted, there is a science to wellness and there are amazing advancements in understanding brain chemistry. Just one example is the burgeoning evidence of increased learning when physical movement starts the day, just like Dr. Ratey expressed in SPARK, the Revolutionary New science of Exercise and the Brain. Regardless of the physiological benefits of exercise which promote health and wellness, and hence academics, I found a hard truth this year. I know there are students who are hungry, abused, truant, bullied (and bullying), assaulted, traumatized, and worse, violent. That’s not even counting the extreme psychological toll school and mass shootings are sweeping our nation. Things seem like they are going out of control, and stress and anxiety is DEFINITELY affecting people of all ages. Sometimes, the last thing on these kids’ minds is science, especially if they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from.

I can’t teach science if my students aren’t available.

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This hard truth, and a concern for my own wellbeing in such a demanding profession, caused me to take a big step back and look at the how violence in schools may be trending in the USA. Even if we aren’t worried about violence and seek to promote student achievement, it’s hard to know where to start.

Is teaching wellness even worth it? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotion Learning, or CASEL, there is a tangible return of investment to bringing teachers to teach social and emotional skills in schools, $11 per student actually. In a recent scientific report from the Aspen Institute, we need to be a Nation at Hope and “accelerate and strengthen efforts to support the whole learner in local communities through recommendations for researchers, educators, and policymakers.” So, when I heard our county was ushering in a new Be Well 365 program, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. I see the value of 12,000 teachers approaching instruction with a common language using the 6 Essentials for wellness, particularly through the lens of equity. I teach in the most international town of the USA, representing 150 languages with 33% on Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS). Perhaps if we, as a county, were more synchronized in our approach to content AND social/emotional instruction, students would achieve more. Just the effort alone helps increase awareness for mindfulness in our schools, no?

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Let’s talk about engineering the synchronized approach by the development of Learning Experiences and Global Experiencers. These are two documents aligned to each of the wellness Essentials, which we’ll get to in a bit. The problem is teachers and counselors can’t ADD anything new to the already heaping tray of responsibilities they carry every day. What is a way teachers and counselors can strengthen an already existing lesson which embeds one or more of the 6 Essentials?

The solution is building Learning Experiences and Global Experiences teachers and counselors can access while working in existing curricula, respectively. Teaching physics and debating climate change? Why not use a Learning Experience and strengthen the lesson by modeling the debate using Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices, an Essential aligned to helping students see the merits of discourse among peers. Teaching middle school social studies and reviewing the merits of services provided for war veterans? Imagine all social studies teachers using an exit ticket aligned to Mental and Emotional Health. Elementary art? How about the Learning Experience called “Diversity of Life, Diversity of Us” which ties into their science lessons on ecosystems in 2nd grade and promotes Culturally Responsive Relationship Building?

Available preK-12, individual teaching Learning Experiences for art, science, health and PE, reading, and even math are in production. Global Experiences are for school-wide use with themes to approach all 6 Essentials:

  • Positive Character Development and Empathy
  • Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices
  • Physical Health and Wellness
  • Trauma-Informed Practices
  • Culturally Responsive Relationship Building
  • Mental and Emotional Health

My favorite example of a Learning Experience is from 4rd grade art, but I’m stealing it for my 6th graders. “Zentangle Hands & Therapeutic Art” is an extension aligned to Trauma-Informed Practices where students make Zentangle shapes of their hands. Not only are students learning about positive and negative space (or in my science adaptation, scale and proportionality), but it promotes calmness. I’ll make more examples with animals.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis summer, our classroom was full of teachers as we provided Professional Development for hundreds of teachers. Even though Be Well 365 is still being developed, I got to help teachers and counselors brainstorm ways they can use the Learning/Global Experiences in everyday instruction. It’s been about a year since I got to spread my Professional Development provider wings with fellow teachers, and it felt GREAT to co-present with such an awesome team!

I thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up with teachers and finding where our practices and challenges are similar. Our work is overwhelming, but we are all in this together!

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The beauty of this program is no one is being asked to do more during instruction, just do the same great stuff the same way other peers are doing it. Asking a teacher to engage in a best practice has a very different ring than asking a teacher to do something more (or even different). The program also houses a lot of existing best practices, like suicide prevention and personal body safety, through these “nuggets,” (my nickname for Learning Experiences). So far, we have a couple hundred of these nuggets, each being prepared and edited for implementation and improvements. Who is behind that job? Yours truly.

As a result of reviewing and revising hundreds of Learning Experiences, I got a glimpse into other curricula from subjects I don’t teach nor have a background in. I’ve worked with K-12 science curriculum before, but not art, social studies, health, reading, etc. SO INTERESTING, and my extensive curriculum background came in handy. The most important thing I found during this compilation process was to assure inclusive language for all learners and teachers alike. Using a Learning Experience should empower the teacher to build in transparency of their own wellness and instruction; in a way it’s another type of modeling. This project has made me proud of how hard teachers and counselors work to build the whole child.

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What will this look like when I bring it back to my own classroom and campus? I’m happy to report this project has helped rejuvenate my planning and you can expect to see major updates to my management plans, both for behavioral and academic success.

Sure, part of this recharging is from the simple science of having summer to (barely) regroup. However, the bulk of this inspiration comes from working with so many people to pull the Be Well 365 vision together. Now, it’s go time. I’ll post some results after I see how the county involves professional staff through the process, as well as from my own classroom once we get rolling.

In the meantime, I’m picking up some strategies I got from Trauma-Informed Practices training and upgrading my lesson sequencing with a set schedule for transitions. Using my easy FOCUS acrostic to help students keep time, we will be excited (for 10 minutes), calm (for 10 minutes), and then concentrate (for 20 minutes) every day regardless of the type of lesson. Here’s the mechanism for class segments that leverage student energy!

Seeing as I’m switching to 6th grade this year, I think the shorter, timed, and predictable segments will be even more helpful. Especially as I complete my positive behavioral management plan!

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Based on some community input this year, I think it’s true that over 10,000 other teachers need more training, especially in Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices. This is an area I intend to strengthen this year, as well as more effective approaches using Trauma-Informed Practices. I can’t Undo the past, there is no Undo. I do, however, recognize and applaud my own resilience. Maybe last I year I struggled with thriving, not just surviving… it’s hard to know for sure, especially since secondary trauma IS REAL. I can improve my craft, in both content and pedagogy, ever year. Oh, and I can use, which is free for educators 🙂 

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 is a great resource for digital citizenship. Don’t have the same kinds of resources available? Perhaps try this organization to bring webs of support into your school. My favorite video from training this year is from Jacob Hamm on the “Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain,” included here to remind me us that we are all mama elephants working together.

This Adventure is not about how using Wellness changed my instruction (yet), since school hasn’t begun. It’s about how changing my approach to instruction, as well as updating my own healthy habits, saved my summer. I happened to be in the right spot at the right time to find this program at its start, and everyone has to begin somewhere. No matter how challenging our professions are, we have a real opportunity to bring wellness into our everyday lives.

Be well, y’all.

Download & Thanks

In the spirit of preparation, I’m building some signs for science and STEM identity, included here as a download. Good luck out there and enjoy teaching!


This Adventure is dedicated to my most challenging students. You know who you are. Thank you for making me stronger and smarter. Here’s to another great year of teaching and learning!

The mission of is to engage teachers cultivating student-centered classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2019 Jess Rowell. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow my adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike and #bewell365

Adventures to Invent the Future!

“If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day.”

– Elon Musk

It started with an empty cafeteria and my principal’s vision to involve students from all backgrounds in STEM. After all, it’s our first time bringing “Invent the Future” to our school. Really, how many students would be interested in doing this expanded engineering club? How many parents would show for Parent Information Night? 5? 15? When over 40 families arrived and over 30 commitments resulted, we realized we had our work cut out for us.

Together with a special partnership between Bethesda’s Kid Museum and Montgomery County Public Schools, our principal, Dr. Murray, shepherded in our school’s first-time involvement for the “Invent the Future!” county-wide engineering showcase and competition. At the helm of this Adventure was yours truly. I should have been overwhelmed, starting a new program from the ground up with nothing but a directive, but for the first time in years, I was finally back in my element.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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In one semester, 30 of our “middle” middle school students – all with a wide ranges of abilities and no prior experience in engineering – designed, built, and presented something to help the environment. The beauty of the Invent the Future program is it challenges students to think about solutions to “protect life on Earth.” The immediate connection to life science challenges the misconception that middle school engineering is only reserved to coding, mechanics, or design for the sake of building for physical machines. Inventions must be directly linked to how they are solving environmental problems affecting plants and animals on Earth. Great integration!

Click on the gallery below to see our Orange Team in action!

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Another significant attribute to Invent the Future is enrollment. For all 40 middle schools, a certain percentage of students must be enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meals program, contain a lower-middle GPA, and otherwise include populations underrepresented in STEM. Our school also represented a 50/50 split of female/male. Not once were these students screened for their interest in a future of science or engineering. Instead, they were recruited for their passion in finding solutions in our future on and off this planet. Even if none of those students shown aptitude in a STEM-related career, all of them were simply invested in a project important for everyone. And we did it with cardboard, hot glue, and iterations through the Engineering Design Process.

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Even though it was extra-curricular, I got to see students with little exposure to engineering come up with, design and build ideas with teams. This is what my classroom should look like! My favorite part was requiring detailed sketches and redesign notes in their journals. The collaboration which came over these students was what a science teacher pines for in her science class.

Since these were not typical students on an engineering track, many were not familiar with the concepts of engineering save what they’d done for their embedded science units. I used a simplified Engineering Design Process model and a lot of open-ended journaling techniques.


Most importantly, I focused on presenting ideas through practice presentations, introductions, and weekly updates through Google Classroom.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis project allowed me to work with students from all three grades, and join them on five field trips to the Kid Museum maker space for a sequence of hands-on building workshops. Since I’ve been in the science classroom exclusively for the last two years, this was a chance for me to get out of my room and into a creative maker space as well.

Our “classroom” was filled with tools, drills and saws. We used Tinkcad and Arduinos with buzzers and lights to build robotics components, with sensors even. It was great seeing students actually designing and building!

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Two things culminated on a brilliant Challenge Summit May 11, 2019. First, grouping teams by major environment group (deserts, forests, marine animals, insects, etc.) was a quick decision I made which cemented the concept of our work. Second, my task was actually to run two clubs – one monthly engineering design challenge for regular students (“Blue Team”) and Invent the Future (“Orange Team”). The duality of involvement through this process was astonishing. Sometimes Blue Team events built incredible structures in an hour but didn’t know how to communicate their findings, and sometimes Orange Team got stuck because they’d spent so much time on one topic they couldn’t see the big picture. I simultaneously facilitated both processes, and kept ushering Orange Team toward the May 11 Challenge Summit to prepare them to present their findings to a small group of judges.

I mentioned I was in my element. Building new programs is my thing, and I have 15 years experience in just this thing. Fortunately, Invent the Future itself was a year old, so I was able to enter the program with some existing structure at the county level, even through our school’s involvement was new. It was a ton of startup work, but when it came to students CREATING and PRESENTING their work, well, let’s just say I enjoyed letting my 15 years experience pay off. They are the ones on stage, they had roles getting to it, and they’d been rewarded for their perseverance. All I had to do was pave the path for them, and stand back as they ran by me!

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This once-abandoned display case at school now houses the students’ inventions, journals, and materials for all to see. Most importantly, I filled it with books about endangered species, not just about coding and engineering.

Also, here’s our Spring 2019 Newsletter for our Middle School. Go Orange Team! I’m so proud of you!





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If I have an Undo, or moment I wish I could change about this experience – which I don’t, but if I did – it would be to involve more staff and actual engineers in the process. Since I’ve now seen a full cycle, I’d like to bring more community in to the process and see how students are learning to Invent their Future, and vice versa. Additionally, the science teacher in my pined for a room of the enthusiastic collaboration I saw in the engineering club. I’m trained to bring this into the science classroom, and yet in practice it’s not always this way. I’d like every science classroom to have the student-centered autonomous learning we experienced in Invent the Future. It’s why I started this career to begin with!

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 PMPart of the entry process for groups was to provide real-world problems and open-ended videos to help guide their thinking toward inventions. I started with this video on the Engineering Design Process, then assigned each interest group various videos like the ones enclosed. BirdsDeserts, Humans (below), etc. Finally, I included as much biomimicry independent research as possible.

Below are just some of entry videos used to capture each group’s ideas for current issues facing humans, insects, marine animals, deserts, etc.



Other resources:

Download & Thanks

This Adventure’s free download is an open-ended STEM Journal I created for both Blue and Orange Teams (Orange Team eventually kept their own journal). It’s aligned to the Kid Museum Markers of Success around Ideas, Solutions, and Presentations.

STEM Journal

The mission of is to engage teachers who are cultivating student-centered STEM classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2019 Jess Rowell. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

This Adventure is dedicated to Ms. Argentina Valencia, a beloved support staffer from our middle school campus, lost too soon. To me, she is forever a lesson to be kind to everyone, everyday.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike #kidmuseum #inventthefuture #wannastem

Adventures in Climate Science!

“I’m often asked whether I believe in global warming. I now just reply to the question, do you believe in gravity?”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

While playing a game of “Who can teach climate science better?” Kim won and I lost. It wasn’t a game we were playing for fun, or even knew we were playing at all. As you’ll find by the end of this Adventure, Kim and our friendship is centered around a sense of what’s right, good, and works. Oh, and she has to the best at wins just about any game she plays. Her loyalty to helping students and teachers is an inspiration and included as the free download. In return, please take our resources and teach climate science. Win, lose, or draw.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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I can’t speak for Kim, but I’m going to save the world by bringing students to STEM so they choose STEM careers and save us from ourselves. At the very least, I intend on cultivating millions of scientifically-literate citizens. As an 8th grade science teacher for an impacted middle school in the DC area, I try to do this by building student-centered opportunities, yet sometimes I wonder who is teaching who. We’ll get to issues around student engagement and restorative justice later. Right now, and I mean right now, we must talk about and teach climate change in the context of dynamic interactions of the atmosphere and biosphere. Global warming might be depressing, yet it’s the most valuable lesson I’ve taught this year (and I lost!). Sure, it may be challenging with student resistance, information overload, or in my case, data interpretation issues, but it was also the most rewarding process in spite of this. So… I won?

The metrics of success around teaching climate change are tricky. Progress means different things to different people. Is progress really measured by the amount of buildings we build or, ideally, forests we save? What about student progress while teaching climate change? It’s a depressing yet oddly rewarding process. Yet, what EXACTLY equals success when teaching climate science? This year, it’s the fact that we actually taught it at all, using graphs and charts. I thought, as a colleague recently counseled me,”done is enough.” Until I saw what Kim developed for her lesson.

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Who is Kim, anyway? Good question. She just came out of nowhere one day early in my work at Space Center Houston ten years ago. If you’re lucky enough to know someone like Kim, you understand how loyalty and honesty, let alone sheer strength, can and will transform your life forever.

Her loyalty to me came before our friendship. One day she just introduced herself to me, in between space classes for NASA’s many visiting groups, and that was it. Our work soon moved to Rice University’s aggressive curriculum building projects, and now finally to the classroom- hers in MA, mine in MD.

To say we have similar interests is redundant at best. While I was teaching international space school, she was running space day camps. While I was writing Biology curriculum, she was running its teacher feedback programs. While I was reading David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo, Kim was reading The Sixth Extinction. She’s the first person I called, yelling from a literal mountaintop, when I successfully defended my thesis in interactive reading passage development. We are the virtual Cagney and Lacey of curriculum development, the Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy of science education, the Grace and Frankie of STEM.

You’re almost caught up. There’s one last thing you need to know about Kim and I. We may be friendly, but we are fierce competitors. Well, she’s more competitive than I, so she wins this one, too. She may empower you more than any other human (because apparently she’s also the best at this), except she will also win any game placed in front of her, including out-teaching you. This year, it was 7th grade science using IQWST for her, and 8th grade science using a homespun curriculum for me (we had to skip climate change last year, so the playing field is level). Both in early NGSS-adoption states, we didn’t need to worry about whether we could teach climate change, just when and how we would teach it. Without planning it, our schedules synched up for the Weather and Climate units. Let the games begin.

Since my school had to abandon the climate change lesson last year during an already train wreck unit on Weather and Climate, I thought just teaching it at all was a win. Over the summer, we committed to not repeating this mistake and overhauled major portions of our calendar to allow for the lesson this year. Every curriculum improvement – from streamlining paper-usage and differentiating with scaffolds, enhancing language with less complexity and more relevance, and increasing culturally-proficiency and real-world scenarios with multimedia and literacy – was an effort to assure four valuable days of climate science. Our storyline reflected the conceptual flow of a scientist launching a rocket to explore not only our solar system, and also using extensive satellite imagery to inspect our own planet. I even made a word wall! Aren’t these strides in getting the Weather and Climate unit JUST TO par enough? Nope.

Improving the behind-the-scenes stuff is great, except to effectively teach climate change, you’re going to need much more than a more organized curriculum. The data, graphs, or even aiching stories of losses in biodiversity help instruction, but you’re going to need even more than that. You’re going to need literacy strategies, cooperative learning opportunities like PBL and ways for students to feel connected to the world around them.

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This is a commercial break for an upcoming Adventure to “Invent the Future.” I’m fortunate enough to run our school’s first-time involvementwith Kid Museum and the Montgomery County Public Schools. Together with 30 students from under-represented populations in STEM, we are bringing our inventions to “protect life on Earth” and showcase prototypes, journals, andamazing “Orange Team” collaborative spirit with all 40 middle schools in a Challenge Summit soon. Stay tuned!

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMIn a classroom intended to focus on graph interpretation during the most challenging time of year for 8th graders, I was instead immersed in an education for teaching and learning equity. Some schools are transforming to a restorative justice school, growth pains and all. Restorative Justice helps give all people a voice without holding anyone accountable. In my experience, it’s helped in some areas yet leads to unintended consequences in others, particularly in perceptions of race and equitable teaching practices. Here I was, just trying to teach the graphs for climate change, when I discovered how inaccessible the lesson was for all learners and how planning for both academics and behavioral progress is nearly equal this time of year. Here are the important lessons I’ve learned in this critical journey of teaching equitably:

  • The intent of action can make an unintended impact with individuals of any gender, race, or ethnicity. What seem like a small drop in a pond to one may seem like a tsunami for another (regardless of age).
  • The process of achieving equity needs to be transparent and issues need to be resolved quickly through early-intervention, but may not be. That said, sometimes things have a way of working themselves out over time.
  • We can’t confuse apathy for science with caring for learning in the class. Kids are constantly learning what’s in the room, regardless if they getting the science content.
  • Kids can’t learn science, let alone how to interpret a real-world graph on climate change, if they aren’t available to learn at all.

The wellness of students and educators – from cultural proficiency to trauma or character-building, is essential to learning. This humbling lesson has forced me to take a BIG step back and look at the landscape before me. I now see the journey I am beginning to empower empathy – for others and our environment – in all learners.

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Next stumbling block of my career – graphing instruction. I thought my passion on the topic would be enough for effective instruction. It wasn’t (Kim, meanwhile, has weekly graphing activators using a variety of data sets). If you made a Venn diagram for my passion and my competency of teaching graphing interpretation last month, you’d have two circles with no overlap, and it made me very sad.

We need more graphing instruction professional development for science teachers. Our PLC unpacked the NGSS standards for students identifying and describing evidence of changes in climate AND comparing the many figures provided by Climate Central from the curriculum. As we did, it became apparent students are being asked to appreciate the width of data available, not each topic at expert level. This is good, because our PLC had GREAT difficulty teaching even the SPECIFICS from graphs like the following. Wanna try?

I think the basic gist is clear from the graphs… yet in 8th grade concrete terms, it’s unclear how to explain them or get students to explain them, even with prompts and discussion. As a temporary solution, they listed figure names with summaries and ask questions.

This is a fine solution for now, but MUCH room for improvement in the future. Maybe that’s why I was so happy with Kim’s solution, the obvious winner today, and have included it below as the free download.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Margaret Mead

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This is not completely climate science-related, I’m throwing in a celebration for awareness and our environment! While serving on our campus’s School Energy and Recycling Team (SERT) Committee, I had a win by initiating the “Skip a Straw, Save a Turtle” coloring contest for all three grades. It was quick to build, easy to implement, and made the intended impact, plus some.

Here’s the 6th grade winner, pictured behind me:


Weeks after the contest was over, I walked into an art class where a 7th grade student shared with me her latest creation. It was her own watercolor rendition of a turtle in its ocean, soon-to-be uncluttered from straws.

This is progress measured one more aware student – and one less plastic straw – at a time. Also, what a great way to bring the art in STEM – full STEAM ahead!



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If you’re not careful (and you don’t have a Kim), it can be easy to fall into traps of doubt or regret. There will always be a parent, student, admin, family member, friend or peer who steps on your mojo, even inadvertently. I’ve learned there will be times where we feel well-supported or under-supported, betrayed even. The world’s getting smaller, we have less space to navigate on our own, so it’s all about how we treat ourselves and others when, not if, unfavorable things happen to us. Sometimes it will feels like adults and students give us a hard time, but they are just having a hard time. Big difference.

It might not always be easy to meet people where they are, but we’ll get there eventually, we just gotta try. If people take things away from you, take the lesson and run with it. It’s impossible to hold on to a loss anyway. So, if you eff up your first time teaching climate science, do it better next time. And if you really do fail at something, then be the best at it and make that shit a success.

This Undo is dedicated to the lesson of not only meeting kids where they are, but going to get them where they are. If they are all falling down at different points on the trail, I cannot wait patiently until they all arrive. I need to go pick up each and every one of them and teach each one separately while they get caught up on the trail. Every reading, video, and especially graph. Otherwise, they aren’t available to learn, no matter how patiently we wait. It’s a tooooouugh lesson to learn and stinks when you fail teaching it the first time, and it’s a very ‘sophomore slump’ type of lesson. Except it’s a valuable one to own and move on. Actually, not move on, per say, move forward.

“We have a single mission: To protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.”

Francois Hollande
President of France

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There’s a special section below for the many resources available to teach climate science, beyond the GLOBE, Bill Nye, National Geographic, and interactives available. If not enough resources are provided, please comment and we’ll post more. Climate science is a great way to hook everyone, and as you’ll see in Kim’s lesson, everyone can relate to it. It hits all modalities. Kim won, and now you can, too.

Download & Thanks

Get full student engagement with Climate Science From All Angles Lesson 2019, now available as a free download for us all.Many thanks and safe travels!

Special Segment: More Resources

NASA For Educators: Global Climate Change
Climate Resources for Educators

Alliance for Climate Education has a multimedia resource called Our Climate Our Future, plus more resources for educators and several action programs for youth.

The American Association of Geographers has free online professional development resources for teachers.

American Reading Co. sells an English Language Arts curriculum called ARCCore that includes climate change themes.

Biointeractive, created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has hundreds of free online education resources, including many on education and the environment, and it offers professional development for teachers.

Climate Generation offers professional development for educators nationwide and a youth network in Minnesota.

CLEAN (Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network) has a collection of resources organized in part by the Next Generation Science Standard it is aligned with.

Global Oneness Project offers lesson plans which come with films and videos of climate impacts around the world.

Google offers free online environmental sustainability lesson plans for grades 5-8.

The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has a group of 19 lessons for K-12.

“We believe that the social and emotional skills we help strengthen in young people and adults are sorely needed to combat the fear and avoidance we and students experience around climate change,” spokesperson Laura McClure told NPR.

The National Center for Science Education has free climate change lessons which focus on combating misinformation. They also have a “scientist in the classroom”program.

The National Science Teachers Association has a comprehensive curriculum.

The Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, N.Y., has a book called the Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

Ripple Effect “creates STEM curriculum” for K-6 “about real people and places impacted by climate change,” starting with New Orleans.

Ten Strands offers professional learning to educators in California in partnership with the state’s recycling authority and an outdoor-education program, among others.

Think Earth offers 9 environmental education units from preschool through middle school.

The Zinn Education Project (based on the work of Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History Of The United States) has launched a group of 18 lessons aimed specifically at climate justice. Some are drawn from this book: A People’s Curriculum For The Earth: Teaching Climate Change And The Environmental Crisis.

This Adventure is dedicated to my long-time colleague and daily inspiration, Kim C. Without her, I would not be able to navigate the world and its break-neck pace, let alone teach. Without planning it, we both put our money where our mouth is by returning to the classroom with over 25 years combined experience. I’ll speak for both of us; when it comes to teaching climate science, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It only matters that you play the game at all.

The mission of is to build and share opportunities for teachers which share journeys in cultivating STEM classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike

Do what’s right, good, and what works.

Adventures in Geology & Growth Mindset

Coming Soon 🙂

The mission of is to build opportunities and share opportunities for teachers to share their journey in creating STEM classrooms. document Adventures in cultivating student-centered classrooms in STEM and beyond. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright 2018 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #onejobtwoclassrooms and #crazybusiness.