Corvallis students build, launch balloons

Corvallis Middle School seventh grade students spent three days of designing, cutting and gluing to create a hot-air balloon from tissue paper.


On Thursday morning, they tested the air-worthiness of their creations with a launch at the school’s football field and track.


Educator Stacy Jessop said the annual event is a 20-year tradition.

“We used to do an entire unit on aviation,” Jessop said. “Now there are so many other things to teach we just have a few days for this. We talk about structure, panels, design and the history of flight. We view the hot-air balloon show that happens each year in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”


Each balloon has a sign that says “If found return to Corvallis Middle School.”

“We have had a few fly away and we want to track how high and how far they go,” Jessop said. “We have had them go as far as Woodside, a mile or two.”


The 137 students were launching, chasing and repairing their balloons in groups of two and three. With the heat at 65 degrees and no breeze, most of the balloons did not fly farther than the field. The few that went further stuck in trees of homes in East Corvallis.

Teacher Dave Bradshaw said students were creative.


“Students make their own design,” Bradshaw said. “They glue the panels together and use a template to cut it out then they glue the pieces together. The balloons are very delicate. If there is any little hole the kids will find out when they put the hot air in there.”

Corvallis Middle School science teacher Chris Maul-Smith said he looks forward to the balloon project.


“It is a great way to celebrate the end of the year for students and for the teachers as well,” he said. “It is a way to bring everyone together and have fun constructing a balloon.”

Maul-Smith said the balloons rise up to 200 feet and travel usually 200 to 300 yards, depending on the weather. The colder the day the higher the balloons fly.

“We fill each balloon with hot air from a stove pipe that is attached to a heater donated from Mom’s Rentals in Hamilton,” he said. “They do this every year and make this possible. We hold the opening of each balloon over the stovepipe until it is super-filled and super-warm and then let it go. If there is enough temperature difference, they fly really well. Today is a much better temperature than yesterday.”


Maul-Smith and Dave Chimo filled the balloons and released them into the air.

The balloon team of Amanda Boelman and Madelyn Shepherd said it was a fun project.

“We learned about hot-air balloons and it was great,” Boelman said.


Stephanie Weber and Alexa Sunderland said creating and launching their balloon was cool.

“I was hoping it would go higher,” Weber said. “We’ve got the streamers on ours to make it extra fancy.”


Sunderland said, “It went farther than I thought but it would have been cool to go further and out of the field.”  Ramsey Snider and Carter Humphrey repaired their balloon’s several holes after their first launch.  This is Jennifer Powell’s first year to teach seventh grade. She was delighted to be included in this project that she has heard about for years.

  “Both my own children participated in this fun science project,” she said. “It is just the perfect day and the perfect ending to a great year of school.”




AUTHOR: RHETT ALLAIN, March 30, 2016

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Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System Is The Best In The World

Business Insider

Adam Taylor

Nov. 27, 2012,

A new global league table, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Pearson, has found Finland to be the best education system in the world.

The rankings combined international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, the BBC reports.

For Finland, this is no fluke. Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, the country’s school system has consistently come in at the top for the international rankings for education systems.

But how do they do it?

It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.
Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7.

They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.

There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.

Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.
30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.

66 percent of students go to college.  The highest rate in Europe.
The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.

Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class.
93 percent of Finns graduate from high school.  17.5 percent higher than the US.

43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.

Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development.”
Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students.  600,000 students compared to 1.1 million in NYC.

The school system is 100% state funded.
All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.

The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.

In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots
The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008.  Compared with $36,000 in the United States.

However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make.  In the US, this figure is 62%.
There is no merit pay for teachers

Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers
In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came in at the top, or very close to the top, for science, reading and mathematics.  It’s consistently come in at the top or very near every time since.

And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic.  Neighbor Norway, of a similar size and featuring a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same strategies as the USA and achieves similar rankings in international studies.

An Earth Day Event for Building Community

An Integrated Middle School STEM Program

Denver Post

By Josie Klemaier
YourHub Reporter

POSTED:   01/29/2015 

Emily Stec, 12, designs a replica of a school workshop during her iSTEM engineering class at Bell Middle School on Jan. 21, in Golden. The school

Emily Stec, 12, designs a replica of a school workshop during her iSTEM engineering class at Bell Middle School on Jan. 21, in Golden. The school implemented an iSTEM program three years ago and has seen a strong response from parents and students alike. This year, seventh-grade students enrolled in the program will submit designs to overhaul the outdoor property at the school.(Anya Semenoff, YourHub)

GOLDEN — The recess area at Bell Middle School is being redesigned — by the students themselves.

“We want you to think big,” Bell Middle School principal Bridget Jones told the students in Jesse Swift’s pre-engineering class when she announced the plan last week.

Students in Bell’s integrative science, technology, engineering and math program, called iSTEM, will design a dream schoolyard on what adds up to more than 90,000 square feet, according to Swift.

But with these lofty ambitions, Jones also warned students of the realities of safety, budget constraints and time.

“This is real life, guys,” she said.

Jones said it is an example of the real-world experience at the heart of Bell’s iSTEM program, which is similar to an honors program but with STEM focuses. The program, which began three years ago, was the first for a middle school in the Jefferson County Public School District. It is also what Jones partly credits for a rise in school choice applications received for the next school year — more than double last year’s number.

Bell’s iSTEM program is unique because it was wholly developed by Bell teachers and staff, instead of pulling from a prepackaged curriculum.

“We opted to go with our own program and we really had the right teachers at the right time to take this on,” Jones said.

As more Jeffco schools pursue STEM for their students, Matt Flores, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Jefferson County Public Schools, said they are looking at Bell as an example.

“Bell as a middle school is a leader in STEM,” said

Bell’s program started with sixth-graders, now eighth-graders, who worked this year with professionals at Texas A&M and NASA to see how worms compost in space. The program is heavy on teamwork, communication and critical thinking, Jones said, and the school works closely with outside entities such as Colorado School of Mines and the city of Golden to keep kids connected with the community.

Katarina Chaffee, a seventh-grader in Swift’s class, came to Bell this year for the iSTEM program and said she has really liked it so far.

“It’s very interactive and it’s very social, you get a lot of opportunities you think you would never get to do,” she said.

For the schoolyard’s redesign, $70,000 in funding will come from cash-in-lieu financing from Golden that Bell’s PTA identified following a similar project at Mitchell Elementary. PTA members went to Bell’s students to see what they needed, which led to the idea for the STEM project.

“A lot of the kids complained there’s nothing to do, there’s no shade,” said Cheryl Ludford, a former Mitchell Parent-Teacher Association member and now on Bell’s PTA.

By the end of the semester, the students will submit their design plans to a parent-teacher committee, which will fine-tune and select one for the district to put to bid this summer, in time for construction in the fall.

That’s the goal, at least.

“Will we get the playground designed before the end of the year? We don’t know,” Jones said. “But that’s part of the real-world experience.”

Josie Klemaier: 303-954-2465, or

STEM 2015: Are We Losing Our Focus?

Middle Web

A MiddleWeb Blog

1 stem_design_logoMy fingers are crossed for 2015 as the best STEM year ever! I’ve been looking around to see what directions STEM programs seem to be taking this year. At first glance, it appears that deciding what a STEM programshould look like is an ongoing conundrum for the K-12 education world.

I decided to scrutinize what’s being described as “STEM” these days using resources from the National Academies and the American Society for Engineering Education, as well as my own work with the Engaging Youth through Engineering project.

stem integration coverIf you’d like to have a good look at some basic STEM principles, you might start with these three publications.  (Note that you can download the PDFs for free.)

Successful STEM Education Programs (National Research Council)

► Examination of Integrated STEM Curricula as a Means Toward Quality K-12 Engineering Education (Research to Practice)

► STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research (National Academies Press). [PDF]

According to studies and writings about the STEM “idea” at its onset, certain criteria and principles would be common to all STEM lessons and programs. I made a list of some of these criteria to help me weigh how well our various STEM programs today are meeting them:

✔︎ Criteria for STEM Programs

1. Focus on integrating science, technology, engineering – preferably all four, although true integration of even two would be an acceptable step toward STEM.
2. Focus on a real-world problem or engineering challenge.
3. Use Inquiry-based, student-centered learning approaches.
4. Engage students in using an engineering design process that leads to developing a product or process to solve the engineering challenge.
5. Emphasize teamwork and communication.
6. Build rich content knowledge of science and mathematics.

Note that these are not the only criteria, but according to the National Research Council, these elements should all be present in K-12 STEM curricula. Also keep in mind that technology in STEM involves creating devices to satisfy human wants and needs. It’s not a discipline in the strict sense of the word. Engineering includes a process for solving problems and integrates science and math content to devise technologies. 

STEM Schools, Plus and Minus

So what’s going on in the way of STEM in middle schools this year? I found some schools that do, indeed, have programs that meet the STEM criteria. The Engaging Youth through Engineeringprogram (right) provides integrated STEM curriculum modules to all middle schoolers in Mobile County, AL. And STEMWorks lists a group of other STEM initiatives that have meet some or all of thedesign principles developed by Change the Equation.

In reality, however, the schools implementing STEM programs with fidelity are few and far between. Most of the schools fall into one of two categories:

STEM Minus schools (STEM-). In these schools the STEM programs leave out one or more of the four STEM ingredients. Admittedly, the challenge of connecting the four (three disciplines + technology) is hard. If the job of teaching STEM falls to just one teacher, that person may lack in-depth content knowledge in both science and math to provide the necessary rigor and integration needed.

Note, however, that STEM lessons don’t necessarily teach the specific content in math and science – they may apply content that has already been taught. The key point is whether a STEM program applies math and science concepts to solve an engineering challenge and provide students with opportunities to integrate learning.

Here are examples of some STEM- schools I found.

Schools that focus only on digital technology and technical skills. Some schools are focusing on an engaging new initiative – coding – and yet claim to be teaching STEM. Those schools are actually teaching one STEM-friendly component that may be incorporated into STEM curriculum. These schools meet few if any of the Criteria for STEM programs.

anne boy surrounded by numbers► Schools focused only on offering advanced math and science coursework. Again, these schools are teaching a component of STEM – the “S” or the “M” – and not an integrated STEM curriculum. After all, schools have been teaching science and math for well over a century. Developing rigorous math and science knowledge is a goal of STEM; however, this approach scores a minus on five of the six Criteria for STEM programs.

► Schools focused on Maker Education initiatives. This worthwhile initiative involves kids in a great deal of personal exploration and innovation based on their interests. When correctly implemented, the Maker approach makes for highly engaged learners. Maker projects, however, are not intended to substitute as STEM programs. They frequently accomplish Criteria #2 and #3 and touch on other criteria to some degree. But their goals and focus differ from STEM.

► Schools focused on robotics. These schools may or may not offer true STEM programs, depending on whether or not the robotics program meets the STEM criteria. Some robotics classes are highly directive, with kids following a prescribed procedure for building robots. Some are a great deal like Maker projects, with students having freedom to create robots that interest them but without an intentional focus on math or science content. Students may work in teams or they may work alone. So to determine if your robotics program is a STEM program, or simply a good program through which students can create and invent, take a look at theCriteria for STEM programs.

STEM Plus schools (STEM+). A great many programs that can be identified as STEM+ involve other disciplines. Probably the best known example is STEAM, which adds the arts to the original four ingredients of STEM. (Not a bad idea, since understanding how to create attractive and appealing products is important in the engineering world. When included strategically, arts fit naturally.)

Then we have STREAM (+ reading and art), STEMM (STEM + Medicine), STEMSS (STEM + social studies), and even STREAMSS (STEM + just about everything.) It would be difficult to tell if these STEM+ programs meet STEM criteria because the program elements are scattered throughout the curriculum.

Remember, STEM as originally conceived is intended to get kids up to speed on science and math using an engineering design approach, emphasizing teamwork and real-world problems.


So Where Does STEM Stand?

A recent Education Week topic asks, Is STEM Too Broad a Category? I have that concern when we see  other coursework becoming part of STEM. Can juggling other coursework give short shrift to STEM subjects that were the initial focus of the initiative? And, we already have a perfectly fine initiative that does integrate all subjects –project based learning (PBL). Are we trying to reinvent PBL and call it STEM – possibly to the detriment of math, science, and the other subjects as well?

Goals for STEM 2015

If I had to develop a goal for STEM schools and programs in 2015, I’d recommend something like this:

Research, study, identify, and implement effective approaches for improving STEM teaching and learning in your school. Decide what STEM will be in your school and remain true to the basic criteria of STEM programs.

A lot of good STEM stuff is going on in schools. Share it, and let’s keep talking about what STEM should be and why it deserves its own place in our ever-expanding school curriculum.

Mayfield Middle School begins district’s STEM era; classes emphasize problem solving, technology

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — On a recent morning at Mayfield Middle School eighth-graders in lab coats examined a taped outlined on the floor of a large room.

In the vicinity of the space where a “body” fell dead, yellow police tape cordoned off the area. The students went about their work, examining and gathering evidence from the “crime scene” as one might see on an episode of TV’s CSI.

Meanwhile, in another classroom, eighth-graders engineered, designed and built a mechanical assembly line, this after constructing items such as a miniature moving bridge, and a properly sequenced traffic light.

Along the way, students in both classes were given a series of challenges, handed the tools and taught the know-how needed to deal with those challenges, then worked to solve them.

Such things described above are a far cry from typical science classes many Americans have experienced, in which a teacher lectures and several students within the class, head in hand, try to remain awake.

One-hundred-and-sixty Mayfield Middle School eighth-grade students, beginning with the current school year nine weeks ago, were welcomed into the educational world of STEM2M. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Mayfield City Schools added the final “M,” which stands for Medical.

STEM is a nationally recognized educational program that emphasizes the use of technology and replaces the standard teacher-driven classroom with one powered by problem-solving, exploration and discovery. It requires the students to actively engage a situation in finding a solution.

The hands-on, problem-solving classes described at Mayfield Middle School emphasize teamwork. Projects are done in small teams and produce skills that today’s and tomorrow’s employers seek. They also make learning fun.

“They eat it up,” science teacher Vicki McGarry said of students in her Automation and Robotics class. “They’re intense when they’re working on their projects. They’re focused.

“They don’t want to leave class when it’s over. I have to tell them they have to leave because I have another class.”

For McGarry, who has taught for 20 years, having such response from students has made her job a pleasure.

“It’s ridiculous how much I love my job,” she said of her first year teaching STEM2M.

For Dave Lammert, who teaches the “Medical Detectives” portion of Mayfield Middle School’s STEM2M, the feeling is similar.

“I’ve never seen kids so enthusiastic about a subject,” Lammert said. “Instead of doing things by rote, it’s about interacting and investigating things, which I love. They come in and ask, ‘What are we doing today?'”

Assistant Superintendent Joelle Magyar said STEM2M classes taken this year by eighth graders serve as an introduction to the STEM method. The school district planned the program so that eighth graders can continue on with STEM as ninth graders, and for the remainder of their school careers at Mayfield High School. The program will grow to eventually include all high school grade levels.

Once in high school, students can choose a path into biomedical research or engineering and take classes pertaining to their chosen field for the entire school year.

Next year, STEM will be introduced to seventh graders so that they can begin in the eighth grade preparing for an in-demand career path.

“We opened STEM2M to all of our eighth graders this year,” Magyar said. “We anticipated about 100 kids signing up. We got 160 who signed up.”

Mayfield Middle School Principal Paul Destino, in his ninth year at the helm, said 160 students is equivalent to 56 percent of the class.

“STEM is a philosophy to have kids engaged in learning,” Magyar said. “We did it in kind of a unique way by opening it up to all of our eighth graders.”

In Akron, for example, Magyar said one school is dedicated for STEM students. The few school districts that have STEM may further differentiate who can enter the program.

The uniqueness is furthered because Mayfield Schools added the medical aspect to accommodate the district’s relationship with Hillcrest Hospital and Cleveland Clinic.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Kelly said he has heard enthusiastic response about the program from parents as well as local businesses that are part of the Mayfield Alliance of businesses, Progressive Insurance, and the Cleveland Clinic.

“In Mayfield, we have some great companies,” Kelly said. “(STEM2M) gets students interested and gets them thinking in a way where they can go where there are jobs, and that’s the point.

“These companies need people with certain skills that are needed in the future and who know how solve problems and challenges, and they see us as a potential employee pipeline.”

Speaking of STEM2M, Kelly repeated the phrase, “It’s a way, not a place,” meaning STEM2M is about teaching students to think and problem solve in a modern world, and does not refer to a building or location where the program takes place.

McGarry, for example, said that most of her students, upon the start of the school year, had no idea how simple mechanisms work and could not identify a bevel gear, simple gear or U-joint. Now, having been made to examine how these mechanisms work, and design and build their own, students have become more aware of inner workings.

“They say things like, ‘My ice cream scoop operates with a rack and pinion,'” she said.

After actually making their own moving objects, she said, “They’re so proud of themselves. They have a feeling of accomplishment. We take pictures and they tell their parents about what they did.”

In Lammert’s class, he said, students must gather evidence, compare it to DNA samples of “suspects,” then make a case as to why criminal charges should be pressed against one of the suspects. The nine-week course culminates in a trial in which the student teams must present their evidence in a court in which Lammert serves as judge.

“They’re having fun. The kids make reference that it’s just like CSI,” he said.

In addition, construction is expected to begin in December to renovate the former Mayfield library building, next to the high school at 6110 Wilson Mills Road, into the Mayfield Innovation Center,

Set to open next school year, the Mayfield Innovation Center will be home to STEM2M computer assisted design and drafting (CAD), and medical technology classes. Magyar said teachers and students can work on projects there. Also, the building can be eventually used so that students can give presentations to professionals in their chosen fields.

Magyar said the Cleveland Clinic and Progressive Insurance will likely provide speakers so that students can learn of choices within a medical or insurance career.