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Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers/From the Field, May 17, 2022

By Debra Shapiro

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers/From the Field, May 17, 2022

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: Grades K–12

Map a Mars Rover Driving Route

Challenging terrain, complex mechanics, and the vast distance between Earth and the Red Planet can make driving a Mars rover a tough job. Targeted for grades 5–12, this activity developed by educators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California teaches students about Mars and how to use a free online mapping tool, Mars Trek, so they can create their own rover path.

The activity begins with an explanation of how Mars rovers are driven, then introduces the Mars Trek mapping tool. Students then complete a tutorial to learn how to use the tool. Students use the program to explore the map layers and Martian topography; measure distances between identified landmarks on Mars; and more, concluding with a challenge for students to select a scientific target worthy of exploration and plot a course to safely reach it. The activity includes embedded links and quizzes. 

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: Elementary and Middle Level

Build to Launch: A STEAM Exploration Series

Excite elementary and middle level students about careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) with Build to Launch: A STEAM Exploration Series, a curriculum developed jointly by Lego Education and NASA. The curriculum teaches students about space exploration and introduces various careers, backgrounds, and opportunities at NASA via learning modules featuring open-ended, engineering-based projects. Through the modules’ lessons, students learn what it’s like to be part of a space exploration mission team as they solve problems like scientists working on NASA missions do. Module titles include Getting to Space, Testing and Transport, and Working in Space.

LEGO bricks are not needed to complete the lesson projects (teachers can use any available materials, including cardboard rolls, pipe cleaners, LEGO bricks, or other supplies); however, unlike with typical LEGO kits, the lessons don’t contain specific building instructions and challenge students to create their own designs. The curriculum includes support materials for educators, such as teacher guides, student materials, and videos to accompany each module, as well as printable Space Team Cards, which introduce specific careers and highlight mission roles such as flight director, program manager, ground systems technician, engineer, safety officer, command pilot, pilot, and scientist. 

A Trip Down Under: Virtual Field Trip

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site has a new virtual field trip entitled A Trip Down Under that will enable students to discover the science of soil and the mysteries beneath our feet. Appropriate for elementary and middle school students, the trip lasts for 20 minutes. Teachers should note that this soil lesson was filmed in the Sandhills region in South Carolina, so the soil in the video is slightly different from that of other parts of the country because this area was an ancient coastline. (This is stated in the video.)

Students will investigate soil, layer by layer, in the Sandhills Region of the Carolinas and Georgia; learn about weathering and the role it plays in soil creation; understand the effects of soil quality on the characteristics of an ecosystem; discover how the Earth’s materials, as natural resources, are used for common products in society; and hear about an archeological find at the Savannah River Site that remembers history through an artist known as "Dave."

This resource includes a Student Activity Guide and Teacher Answer Key and may be requested at Upon submission, you will receive resources and a link to the virtual field trip within 1–3 business days. If you have any questions, contact Education Outreach Programs staff Taylor Rice or Kim Mitchell.  

Spanish Version of Sustainable Communities! How Will We Help Our Communities Thrive? 

Sustainable Communities! is a community research guide developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center in collaboration with the InterAcademy Partnership as part of the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals. In the guide, students in grades 2–8 explore a question—How will we help our communities thrive?—through topics such as inclusion, urban planning, housing, transportation, resource use, and waste. Along the way, students are introduced to a wide variety of perspectives, develop research skills, and learn from real scientists worldwide. They then use what they know and have learned to decide and implement actions to make their communities better. 

Virtual Field Trip to the Northern Great Plains

World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Wild Classroom now offers a virtual field trip to the Northern Great Plains that allows students to explore the sights and sounds of this ecosystem. Students will travel across the grassland to learn about the abundant wildlife, plants, and people that make this region unique and so important to the entire North American continent. The trip concludes with a look at what threats this landscape faces and how students can help protect it for generations to come.

WWF has also created a “trip guide” for teachers to use with students before and after they view the video. You can find both of these resources on WWF’s Teaching Tools About the Grasslands of the Northern Great Plains web page within Wild Classroom.

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: Middle Level and High School

A Brain Comic and the Pursuit of STEM Passions

Inspire middle and high school students to pursue their STEM passions—and learn about neurotechnology projects and how they benefit society—with this life story and resulting comic from University of Houston’s Building Reliable Advances and Innovation in Neurotechnology (BRAIN) Center. The comic was created by Adriana Lopez Cajigas, a computer engineering major at the University of Houston with a passion for science and art, who nearly abandoned her STEM talents. 

Originally from Puerto Rico, Lopez Cajigas was a top STEM student who received a student award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). But when Lopez Cajigas moved to Texas as a high school sophomore, she struggled in science classes because testing techniques were unfamiliar to her. With continued support from her NCWIT advisors, who encouraged her to blend her passion for drawing with her interest in engineering and space, Lopez Cajigas ultimately created a comic book about how the planets interact with the solar system. 

On a University of Houston college tour during her senior year, Lopez Cajigas showed the comic book to the director of the BRAIN Center, who asked Lopez Cajigas to create a comic neurotechnology-themed book for the center using a grant from the National Science Foundation. The result of her efforts is this book, which describes various neurotechnology projects at the BRAIN center and shows how the projects benefit society. 

From the Field: Grades K–College

Biodiversity! How Can We Balance the Needs of People With the Needs of Other Living Things?

The Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project provides youth ages 8–17 worldwide with the knowledge and skills to understand the world’s most pressing issues and to become agents for change in their own communities. During this free virtual event, educators can explore the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals community research guide Biodiversity! How Can We Balance the Needs of People With the Needs of Other Living Things? Participants will delve deeply into the ways they can engage young people in transdisciplinary learning and action-taking in their own local communities. RSVP for this event, which will take place on May 18 at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

Project Funding From NOAA Planet Stewards

Are you focused on building science literacy so your students or community members can understand concepts in ocean, atmospheric, and Earth science; assess the scientific credibility of information; make informed and responsible decisions; and initiate actions to address pressing environmental issues? Through federal funding opportunities of up to $5,000, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Planet Stewards helps educators carry out hands-on stewardship projects with elementary through college students, as well as the general public. Stewardship projects must make a substantive and quantitatively measurable impact on an environmental issue related to the educator’s community. Projects should focus on the conservation, restoration, and/or protection of human communities and/or natural resources from environmental issues in one of the following four focus areas: marine debris; habitat conservation and restoration; carbon footprint reduction; or carbon sequestration.

Project funding from NOAA Planet Stewards is open to all formal and informal educators working with elementary through college students, as well as the general public. Funds will only be awarded to a school or school district; a not-for-profit organization; or a not-for-profit institution affiliated with the educator applicants. Funds will not be directly allocated to educators. Educators requesting funding must submit an application and supporting documents by June 5. If approved, educators will use the funds to carry out their project during the 2022–2023 academic year.

30 Never Looked So Good K–12 Teacher Competition

Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) wants to help you bring new equipment into your classroom. Teachers of any grade level or subject are invited to create and submit a 30-second video that creatively shows ORISE a piece of equipment in your classroom that you would love to have updated and explain how the update will affect your classroom. Enter by May 31. Thirty winners will be awarded a prize:

  • 3 winners can choose a piece of equipment for your classroom up to $1,000;
  • 5 winners can choose a piece of equipment for your classroom up to $750;
  • 7 winners can choose a piece of equipment for your classroom up to $500; and
  • 15 winners can choose a piece of equipment for your classroom up to $250.

From the Field: Middle Level and High School

X-STEM All Access

This free virtual conference series is designed to get middle level and high school students excited about STEM. Students will hear about the careers and personal journeys of diverse STEM role models through a lively Q&A session with a fellow STEM professional. The approximately 30-minute episodes will premiere throughout the school year and will be available on-demand to fit in your schedule. Episodes will premiere at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on the following dates—or watch on-demand any time afterward: May 18, September 21, October 5, October 19, November 9, and December 14.

Educator Voices Needed: PLACES Needs Assessment 

Formal and informal educators: Help promote student engagement in data-rich Earth science learning by sharing your experiences with PLACES (Place-Based Learning to Advance Connections, Education, and Stewardship), a NASA-funded project to support effective professional learning about place-based approaches to data-rich instruction. The PLACES project equips educators to help youth confidently use data to answer questions and solve problems, build their STEM identities, and effectively engage in civic life. The first step is to identify strengths, challenges, and needs associated with data-rich instruction. What strengths do educators, students, and their communities already have for supporting place-based approaches to data-rich science learning? What roadblocks exist that may hinder data-rich science learning? What support do educators need for engaging students in data-rich science learning?  

Educators are invited to participate in a needs assessment. The project seeks educators who

  • currently teach (or have recently taught) any Earth science topics to middle school and/or high school students; 
  • work (or have worked) in school-based or out-of-school settings; and 
  • are interested in supporting data-rich teaching and learning. 

Although not a requirement, PLACES staff hope to hear from practitioners who have experience with place-based education and/or who work with indigenous populations or recent immigrants. 

Click on to complete a 30-minute online survey. At the end of the survey, indicate your interest in participating in an optional 75-minute focus group. Respondents selected to participate in the focus group will receive a $50 gift card. 

From the Field: High School

Adventures in Veterinary Medicine Online Summer Program

Registration is open for the summer 2022 Adventures in Veterinary Medicine (AVM) online program at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. AVM is an intensive program in which students can explore the wide variety of careers available within veterinary medicine and work together virtually with faculty and veterinary students. For students who are trying to determine whether veterinary medicine is the right career path, AVM can help them gain a deeper understanding of the profession. The program is also useful for students who have already decided on a future in veterinary medicine, as it allows them to collaborate with current veterinary students and explore important topics within the field. During the one-week online session, participants will

  • partner with current veterinary students;
  • investigate specialty fields, such as wildlife and surgery;
  • practice suturing techniques; and
  • learn about the veterinary school admission process.

Tufts will offer two session options this summer: Session 1, July 11–15, and Session 2, July 25–29. Visit the website for a sample schedule, information about tuition, and the registration form.
American Chemical Society-Hach High School Chemistry Classroom Grant
This grant is awarded to support ideas that enhance classroom learning, foster student development, and reveal the wonders of chemistry. Teachers can request up to $1,500. Applicants must be high school chemistry educators teaching in a U.S. or U.S. territory school. To receive a grant for 2022–2023, submit your application by June 1.

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