Encouraging Girls in STEM

Today is Girl Day, a movement that shows girls how creative and collaborative engineering is and how engineers are changing our world. With hundreds of events happening each year, together we are driving the conversation about girls and engineering. The culture is changing .. there is no better time to encourage the young girls in your life to pursue their interests in science.

STEMEnroll Her in Science Clubs

When I was a kid in school, there weren’t a whole lot of academic clubs that related to science and engineering. Thankfully, things have changed. Many schools and community groups now sponsor robotics clubs (First Lego League) and even host special events specifically for girls (Wow! That’s Engineering!).  Additionally, the Girl Scouts incorporate STEM-oriented activities as a major part of their overall programming, and there are conferences like AAUW’s Women in STEM that are designed to attract and interest young girls.

My dad would always say, just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you aren’t good at it.

To find out if a group exists in your community, start with your local science teachers. Even if there are no local clubs, your interest may be able to help spark something that would benefit girls throughout your community. In addition to local events, look into introducing girls to aspects of the national STEM movement.  Getting the girl in your life involved with other future women engineers doesn’t have to be limited to the school year either. The number of engineering-related summer camps is growing each year. Do your research.

Give Her a Hero

When little girls envision their futures, they often use women they admire as a role model for their own dreams. At a Roots & Shoots conference in 2011, Jane Goodall spoke about reaching for the moon as opposed to Mt Everest. My daughter told me later that she felt like Jane looked right at her when she spoke these words and she’s always tried to live up to that ever since.  Because of Jane’s influence, she has aspired to make a difference.

Similarly, if the girl in your life doesn’t know any famous female chemists, chances are she’s not going dream of being the next Marie Curie. So do what you can to introduce her to women whose legacies are just as important as those of George Washington Carver or Neil Armstrong, whom we all know and love.

Every hour you invest in the girl in your life will not only help improve her chance of success but also make her a more well-rounded, engaged citizen, whether she pursues a STEM-related field or not.

Encouraging Girls in STEM – More Ideas

  • How many girls go into STEM because someone told them they can’t do it? Tell them they can!
  • Take field trips to engineering departments.
  • Enroll in a welding course.
  • Visit an engineering office and visit with the female engineering team members who work there. Ask them about projects they are working on.
  • Take pictures female engineers and scientists and start a scrapbook to remind your girls of the cool women who work in engineering.
  • Take lots of math and physics classes early. Physics is a great way to show how to apply math.
  • Try to make STEM interesting for her – incorporate physics and engineering activities into your science curriculum. For example:

How I Teach Middle School … A Video Essay

I’m going to go out on a limb and try something new this year.  Yay for new goals! Instead of writing about how I teach numerous subjects, I am going to show you.  That’s right! I’m going to create a video to literately show you how I teach my kiddos everything from beginning algebra to cellular structure.  Everyone says pictures say a thousand words.  A video then can say so much more.

Each day this week, I will share a new video whereby I highlight how we integrate a variety of curriculum choices and learning styles into our curriculum.  I’ll keep each short and sweet.

How I Teach Middle School

How I Teach Middle School Language Arts

How I Teach Middle School Math

How I Teach Middle School Science

How I Teach Middle School History

How I Teach Middle School Fine Arts

Admin Note:  I apologize.  I am struggling with technology.  The program I have used for years, iMovie, hasn’t been working properly despite all my efforts. It is very erratic.

As a result, I have been unable to complete these videos as I had hoped.  You can imagine my frustration.   I will post these videos as soon as I am able.  Again, I am so very sorry.

iHomeschool Network January 2014 Hopscotch

Interested in discovering how other homeschool bloggers teach the different content areas? Check out iHomeschool Network’s How I Teach hopscotch.

Nature Study: Fly Agaric Fungi

Upon observing a tremendously diverse number of fungi species last month, I asked the kiddos to select one to journal about.  It wasn’t surprising that Sweetie selected Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric Fungi).  Whether of mutual  interest or simply thinking it would be easier, Buddy chose the same.

In children’s picture books and whimsy illustrations of fairies, the Amanita family of fungi is probably the most notorious.  Garden ornaments and even video games depicting gnomes and fairies often show Amanita muscaria used as seats or homes.

Fly Agaric Fungi

The beautiful Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) is unmistakable with its bright red cap covered with white scales (remnants of the membranous universal veil that once enveloped the entire stalk and umbrella-like cap). The family is comprised of only 2 genera, Amanita and the rare Limacella.  Most species grow on the ground in forests or woodlands and though they are stately and colorful, they can be deadly.

fly_agaric fungi

Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the southern hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous (birch, live oak, & madrone) and coniferous trees (pine & spruce). Commonly referred to as a toadstool, it is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually red mushroom, one of the most recognizable.

fly agaric fungi

Amanita muscaria is probably humanity’s oldest entheogen, containing the toxic, psychoactive alkaloid muscimole. In Europe, it has been used as an insecticide (when mixed with milk), hence it’s common name, Fly Agaric.  Despite it’s toxicity, some do use it for food and medicinal purposes. The active constituents of this species are water soluble, and boiling and then discarding the cooking water at least partly detoxifies it. Drying may increase potency, as the process facilitates the conversion of ibotenic acid to the more potent muscimol.  According to some sources, once detoxified, the mushroom becomes edible.

Some authors in the 1700s have recorded the distortions of the size of perceived objects while intoxicated by the fungus. This observation is thought to have formed the basis of the effects of eating the mushroom in the 1865 popular story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Amanita mascara (Fly Agaric Fungi) is a fascinating example of how our observations on a nature walk can lead us in so many directions.  From ecology, chemistry, taxonomy, and even cultural / historical uses.


Submitted to the December Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge.

STEM Club: Goldfish Lab

I have been teaching a science course over the past few weeks for local homeschool kids.  Though the course is designed for upper elementary kids (the target age is that of my own kids), the level of science experience and background knowledge varies. The only unifying characteristics are that they all have an interest in science and a passion for learning.

As a result, I have been struggling to squeeze in as much content as I can in the 90 minute class time. As expected, each activity is rushed and I know that the kids aren’t digesting the content as well as they could.  I thereby decided to slow down and focus on quality rather than quantity.  Seems so simple now that I can hardly believe I didn’t take this approach from the beginning.  The goldfish lab that we did last week was the perfect lab with which to slow down and focus on quality observations and data collection.

goldfish lab

Our focus this week was on the vertebrate class – bony fish. Rather than spend any time in class taking notes, I encouraged the kids to complete the vertebrate animal chart on their own. I wanted to use class time for the hands-on activity – this was how I had envisioned the class to begin with.

Fish belong to a larger group of animals called chordates and they make up a special group or class of the vertebrates called Aves. The vast majority of fish belong to the superclass Osteichthyes, the Latin word for bony fish.  With this age group, however, I didn’t go into detail about the taxonomy.

Generally, a scientist would do research or make an observation in nature before deciding upon an experiment.  I had chosen the experimental question for the group to tie it in to our curriculum but also to provide an opportunity to teach the scientific method.  We thereby used our prior knowledge and past experiences to develop our own hypothesis (which I encouraged them to write down in their notebook without sharing with one another so as not to influence anyone).

Goldfish Lab

Experimental Question

How does the temperature of the water affect the gill beats of a fish?


Answer the experimental question based upon what you know.  As you answer the question, provide a reason or explanation for your answer.  Why do you think the gills will beast faster/slower?


  • goldfish
  • small jar or glass beaker
  • larger beaker or container in which the small beaker will fit
  • thermometer
  • water
  • stopwatch
  • lab worksheet free download (optional)


  1. Place the fish in a small jar. Record the temperature of the water in your notebook.  (Room Temp)
  2. Count the number of gill beats for 1 minute.
  3. Repeat step #2 twice more.  Find the average number of gill beats for room temperature.
  4. Add ice water to the larger beaker. Place the small jar into the larger container.
  5. After a few minutes, record the temperature of the water in your notebook.  (Cold)
  6. Repeat step #2 and #3.  Find the average number of gill beats for cold temperature.
  7. Discard the ice water – perhaps you have a plant you could water?
  8. Add warm water (it doesn’t need to be hot, just enough to raise the temperature of the small beaker a few degrees) to the larger beaker. Place the small jar into the larger container.
  9. After a few minutes, record the temperature of the water in your notebook.  (Warm)
  10. Repeat step #2 and #3.  Find the average number of gill beats for warm temperature.


Record your data as you proceed in your notebook.  You may wish to create a table with a column for each trial and one for the average.


Look at your data and reflect on your experimental question.  Did the results surprise you?  What new questions do you have? Are there any possible errors? How could you improve this experiment if you were to do it again?


Those that complete the goldfish lab at home — please share your data by leaving a comment.  If we pool our data together, we can increase our sample size and thereby have a stronger conclusion.

Barnesklubb: The Finnish Craft of Himmeli

Himmeli is a traditional Finnish handcraft that is generally done at Christmas time.  Back in the day it would be hung above the dinner table to ensure that next year’s rye crop would be plentiful.  Traditionally, himmel ornaments were made by threading string through cereal straw and creating 3-dimensional sculptures.  Himmeli are generally rotationally symmetrical and they are hung from the top point by thin sewing thread upon the ceiling. Himmeli will spin with a slight flow of air.  The name himmeli comes from the Germanic word himmel (sky).

How to Craft Himmeli / Barnesklubb @ Eva Varga.netFor Barnesklubb this month, we explored this traditional handcraft and everyone – adults and children alike – enjoyed creating their own unique sculptures.  For convenience sake, we utilized common plastic straws.  Each family brought their own, so we had a large variety of colors and sizes.


  • straight plastic straws (snip off any bendy parts)
  • embroidery floss
  • scissors
  • long wooden BBQ skewers (or a needle and a magnet) to aid in threading string through the straws (optional)

There are numerous online tutorials.  With the kids, we started out with a simple 4-Sided Pyramid or tetrahedron. For a challenge, you may wish to try a Decahedron Himmeli Mobile or the Himmeli Star Mobile.

Get creative!  Try using straws of varying lengths to create different geometric shapes and linking numerous pyramids, hexagons, and decahedrons together to create more elaborate mobiles.  In Finland, it was believed that the larger the himmeli, the larger the crop in the coming year.

I loved that this activity integrated culture, history, mathematics (geometry), art, and homemaking (decorating).  We all had a great time and have continued creating additions to our mobiles for days.

Wobbly Wednesday: Raising Awareness One Cupcake at a Time

November 6th was International Nystagmus Awareness Day or more affectionately, Wobbly Wednesday. Nystagmus is an involuntary movement of the eyes which often seriously reduces vision.  For those unfamiliar with the condition, they have the impression that the person is always shaking their head as if to say, “no”.

Wobbly Wednesday

My son was diagnosed with Congenital Nystagmus when he was just an infant. I have written about our experiences previously, Raising Awareness for Nystagmus.  To help raise awareness as well as funds for research and scholarships, my son asked to bake cupcakes.

My kids love cupcakes and with the inspiration of Pinterest, they worked together to bake three delicious varieties and raised $68.  I am so very proud of their efforts!