EXPLORING STEM @ NYA February 2020

Exploring STEM @ NYA is a resource for Lower and Middle School teachers, parents, and students. Here you can explore STEM offerings at NYA and learn about what’s happening in the Innovation Lab.

Engineer’s Week 2020

February 17 – 21 is Engineer’s Week! In honor of the occasion, all students are invited to the Innovation Lab to take part in this year’s Fluor Engineering Challenge. Materials will be provided to build a Wicket Knockdown machine and be entered into the national drawing of participants for one of ten $1,000 prizes for the school. This challenge is open to ALL K-12 students, with different scoring categories at each grade level. Students can work alone or in teams, and the challenge runs through March 16th.

The share of young adults who are not engaged in work or education is now at its lowest point in 30 years.Pew Research Center, 2019


PI day is coming

March 14th is Pi Day (3.14). It is the annual celebration of the mathematical constant pi. Did you know that Einstein was born on March 14th? Here are some Pi Day activities that you can use in any classroom.

Pi Poems. Written in Haiku style, where the number of words on each line is based on the value of pi (3 words on first line, 1 word on second, 4 words on next, etc.) I had my seniors write them on electromagnetism!

Pilish writing. Students can write about any topic in a format where each successive word represents the digits of the number pi. Or, give them a sentence written this way and see if they can see the pattern.

JPL Pi in the Sky. This is a math, engineering & science activity for grades 6-12.

…and of course, you could eat pie! But before you do, measure the circumference and the diameter of the pie and find an experimental value of pi first! The circumference divided by the area SHOULD equal pi.

Is It Too Early to Think Spring?

Greenhouse news

I was pleased to find out that our account with Garbage to Garden entitles us to a supply of compost, once the compost piles thaw! This is great news, because a supply of compost will really help give our plants a strong start. I’m going with the “If you build it, they will come” approach. Once there are things growing, students can help maintain the greenhouse or start experimenting with growing processes and techniques. Look for an X-block opportunity to work those green thumbs!

Maine’s level of career and technical education (CTE) students is half of the level of participation of New England, and one-third the national average. – Making Maine Work, 2018 report   


There are many opportunities for student challenges this spring (below). If one of these might tie into something you are doing in the classroom, could one of these challenges provide an opportunity to assess some students on mastery of material?

3D printing challenge. Design and print an object that solves some kind of problem and  has some connection to the state of Maine.

Scholastic Plant Mash-Up contest. Create a hybrid plant that solves a problem in the community.

Maine State Middle School science fair is coming in May.

Junior Solar Sprint Challenge. Students design and build solar cars. We will hold a race in May, and top performing cars can advance to the state final. Opportunities will be provided during X-block, but students can arrange to come in at another time and work on designs.

Problem Solving and Normalizing Struggle

How often do you ask a student to do something open-ended, and they seem to get a bit panicked and proceed to ask you a thousand questions so they know exactly what they need to do? We often want specific deliverables from them, and therefore give specific instructions. But there are times we want them to figure it out what they should do on their own, right? As adults, we recognize the value of struggle. In life, many problems are complex, not well-defined, and lack a clear answer.  But how do we create a classroom of problem-solvers who are not intimidated by the idea of struggle?

When we get stuck, our instincts are to stop and ask for help. Here is a funny video that can introduce the concept to young students. In the classroom, we share with students the strategies for how to proceed when we are stuck. However, if we are not giving them lots of opportunities to practice these strategies, they will not easily acquire the skill. We can give students work and tell them “This might make many of you feel  stuck! Your job is to LET yourself get stuck, and pay attention to what you do to get UNSTUCK.”

This doesn’t have to be part of a lesson. It could be a daily warm up, a digital breakout or a logic puzzle. It could be something like 101qs.com, where students look at a picture or short video and try to wonder what it means. We all want our students to be good problem solvers, regardless of what topics we are learning in our individual classrooms.

Some STEM stats: The US placed 38th of 74 countries in math, and 24th in science, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment. (via Pew Research Center, 11/2019). Only 36% of all high school grads are ready to take college-level science courses (via the National Math and Science Initiative).


How long does it take to assemble fifty pens? Students evaluated all of the pieces needed to assembly a spring loaded pen, and worked in teams to see who could develop a process that was both efficient AND effective. They worked together to determine where the bottlenecks were in the process, and learned about quality control and continuous improvement along the way. Afterwards, we compared methods and discussed what worked well and what did not.

North Yarmouth Academy is an independent, college preparatory, coeducational school for toddlers to students in grade twelve with an enrollment of over 360 students. Since 1814, NYA has fostered integrity, character, and intellect in its students. For more information, please contact NYA at 207-846-9051 or information@nya.org.