Session 1 of Physics is Fun: Forces March 21, 2018

Preschool STEAM Class met for it's first class devoted to Physics.  Students had lots of fun exploring forces all around them:  pushes, pulls, friction, gravity, and drag.  They ended the class with a STEAM challenge which incorporated what they had learned about forces:  design a stomp rocket that will fly as high as possible.  Who knew physics could be so entertaining?!?  Pictures are below.  



Session 6 of Can Do Chemistry: Kitchen Chemistry

Our last session of Chemistry allowed the lessons and and techniques learned in class to be put to use to make food!  We followed recipes and instructions for yeast rolls, butter, chocolate cake and ice cream.  And at the end, we had a tasty feast!  Pictures are below!  Enjoy!


Session 5 of Can Do Chemistry: Reactions

Today's class focused on the most exciting part of Chemistry:  Reactions!  We started out slow, cleaning dirty pennies with salt and vinegar.  We then got some bubbles going with three different baking soda experiments: Hidden Gems, Floating Glove, and Citrus Explosions.  Next, things really got going when yeast and hydrogen peroxide combined to make Elephant Toothpaste!  And the big finale was supposed to be amazing when Mentos were added to Diet Coke - but the Mentos jammed up in the tube after only one or two were added and a very minor reaction resulted.  Oh well, we will just have to keep experimenting!   Pictures are below!  Enjoy!




STEM Expo and Girl Scouts

STEM Expo and Girl Scouts

Over the weekend 212 STEAM Labs had two great opportunities to spread some STEAM love to the local area. 

Saturday morning we had a chance to share a room with Victory VR at the Bettendorf STEM Expo. This is an amazing event held every year at Bettendorf Middle School where hundreds of families come out to learn and explore all things STEM. There are over 50 displays and activities for families to enjoy.

Of course I had to have a LEGO table setup for kids to build! But that was not all we had.








We had a room where we showcased the work we are doing down in the non-profit. Of course we had to bring something awesome so I brought my beta project of Micro:bit controlled Minecraft Steve head that takes your picture and imports your selfie into a Minecraft world by converting pixels into Minecraft blocks. I wanted to showcase that students are learning Python and will be able to write programs just like this!


By the end of the day we had a ton of Minecraft worlds full of selfies!


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It was great to show students the power of code. It was powerful watch their eyes light up when the picture came into view. There was a ton of great questions and conversations that took place over the three hours we were on display. 


When this event ended we packed up quickly and head back to 212 as we had 2nd grade Girl Scouts waiting for their own learning to take place.

We had part of a troop who came to visit the space where we learned about batteries and electricity. The girls made some binder bling and toothbrush robots.


Before we started the girls were locked into the LEGO wall. They were constructing a video game, a maze, and some other contraptions. I think they could have worked on the wall the entire session if we let them. It was wonderful to watch their imagination go wild.

We started off with making some binder bling to help them understand how batteries and LED works together. From there they dove right into adding all sorts of decorations to make their ring/bracelet/nightlight/backpack decoration come alive. These girls were full of energy and excited to learn. It reminded how important it is to ensure that kids do not lose this passion for life and learning. They just could not contain all their ideas and thoughts and concepts for what they wanted to do.


After they had time to get their designs just right we moved into making the toothbrush robots. Many of the girls had seen something like this before whether in the version of a Hexbug or some other device. This project is one of my favorites with young kids because success happens quick, but just as soon as they have success they have to endure problem solving as the robot falls over or falls apart. Maybe the battery dies or what happens if I put too much weight on the bot? What happens if the weight is lopsided? They constantly run through a problem solving process to get the robot just right. This really pushes their thinking and confidence in themselves to try new ideas and not give up.

For this group we tried a new challenge of the Bridge. Could they get their robot across the bridge without falling over?

We had a blast! This was one full day of learning and sharing. I am glad I get to this work for a living as both part of my nonprofit as well as working with schools through the AEA. 

I cannot wait to continue to do more work by sharing and learning with others.

See more here

We have classes open for registration as well!

Session 4 of Can Do Chemistry: Mixtures

Today's class allowed students the opportunity to mix things up!  They began by mixing simple dry ingredients:  beads, pompoms, sand, salt, sugar, and gelatin.  Then, they added water to see which of dry ingredients would dissolve and form a solution.  From there, things got messy as mixtures of ooblek (corn starch and water), gak (glue, water and borax) and sewer slime (guar gum, water and borax)  were made and played with by all of the students.  All Chemistry Classes should be this much fun!  Pictures are below!  Enjoy!


Session 3 of Can Do Chemistry: States of Matter

The third Chemistry Class focused on the 3 states of matter:  solid, liquid, and gas.  We first focused on water and how it exists in all of these 3 states.  We melted solid ice and recovered coins frozen inside.  We used pipettes to transfer liquid water from one container to another.  And we watched water in the form of steam as it came out of a humidifier.  After watching a short video further explaining solids, liquids and gasses, it was time to conduct experiments!  We made a cloud in a bottle using a 2 liter bottle, rubbing alcohol and a tire pump.  We melted crayons on paper and created beautiful artwork.  And we used sodium acetate to make "hot ice."  It was a busy but productive day learning about the states of matter.  Pictures are below.  Enjoy!


Session 2 of Can Do Chemistry!: Measurement Matters

Our 2nd session of Can Do Chemistry focused on measuring matter.  Students used scales, tape measures and thermometers to measure their height, weight and body temperatures.  They then practiced measuring length with a tape measure to see how far Hot Wheels cars rolled on the floor. 

The science of Chemistry often requires the measurement of the volume of materials so students learned how to use measuring spoons, cups and graduated cylinders to measure the volume of salt, sugar and water.  They put their new skills to work to make a crystal solution to take home and observe.  Can't wait to hear about the results of that experiment!

Our last activity involved observing how the density of different liquids affects a material's ability to either sink or float.  The different liquids included water, corn oil, baby oil, dish soap, vinegar and rubbing alcohol. It was interesting to see the different results!

A lot of fun was had learning about measurement!  Enjoy the pictures below!


K-2 Adding the R(eading) to STEAM!


We just launched our new program at 212 STEAM Labs. We are now proud to offer services to grades preschool - adults. Our new program is focused on grades K-2. We have a new format for this age group that we believe is effective, engaging, and providing learning opportunities that capture all subject areas.

What we are doing is following a format that follows this format:

1. Create curiosity with a question prompt

2. Read a picture about focused on the creativity prompt

3. Discuss the book and question what is happening in the story

4. Discuss the issues in the book

5. Explore potential solutions to the problem in the book through hands on learning and making

For our first class we read the book, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Many students have already read this book which is good as a foundation of common understanding.

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Here in Iowa it has been very cold outside and we have had a nice layer of snow on the ground. We explored the question, Why is snow white?

For our first class we wanted to get a feel for what the students prior experiences have been and what their skillsets they were bringing to the class. We tapped into the resource Mystery Science to use their format for the class.

Our instructor was amazing. He was kind, gentle, and really connected to the students. He read the book with great emotion.

We started by asking why is snow white. It was so fascinating to hear their responses. The most common was that snow falls from clouds and clouds are white.

After we finished reading, he went outside and fogged up the window to help them understand our breath has moisture.

He shared how he was snowed in during winter break. From there we created our own clouds using shaving cream and food coloring. This was designed to help them think further about water and rain and snow.

We then moved into the activity in Mystery Science exploring if snow is actually white using wax paper. When the paper was close to the snowflake could we see it? Could we see it when further away? Rolled up? Folded? Cut up into strips?

This brings up the concept of transparency and connecting it to snow. This was a big moment of learning.

As time started to escape from us as we were having so much cutting, folding, talking about snow and more we had to pause our snowflake creations.

We will come back to explore snow in our next session. In the end we discussed snow and ice and ended up by making some ice cream for them all to sample.

It was a great first class with lots of energy and excitement by the students. We look forward to really expanding building out this program as we think this is going to be a huge hit in learning for everyone.


Below is a slideshow of some images. Click the image to see the next one.

Session 1 of Can Do Chemistry!: Elements of Matter

The first session of "Can Do Chemistry!" was a success!  We began by focusing our attention on "little things" that when put together make "big things."  We put "little" puzzle pieces together to complete a "big" picture.  We put "little" beads together to make a "big" necklace.  And we looked at pictures of things like a doll, a bicycle, a fruit salad and a vegetable salad and identified the "little" things that went together to make them.  This all helped to introduce the fact that in Chemistry, "little" things called elements go together to make everyday things all around us.  From there, we looked at a Pictorial Periodic Table of Elements and an "Element Collection."  And finally, we made atomic models of things using marshmallows and toothpicks and one of the classes had time to play with a element called aluminum.  

It was a simple introduction to a complex subject.  More fun to come is planned in the lessons ahead!  Pictures of our first class are below.  Enjoy!


LEGO Challenge #1: Halloween Creations

Just a few days ago we launched our first LEGO build challenge that anyone can do from home, school, or afterschool program.

The goal is to have fun building and making while sharing our work to inspire others.

The rules are simple:

1. Use whatever LEGO pieces you have available
2. Your own creation. We are not looking for purchased models, but you can surely use those pieces to craft your own. Let your imagination come alive!
3. Send you image of your work to
Include your name and age so I can feature you in the upcoming newsletters. 

Today I would like to feature Miles. He is a six year old who knocked out these designs in about 10 minutes.


How cool are these awesome designs? The imagination of children never ceases to amaze me.




As his mother states, "He’s six years old and LIVES FOR LEGOS. "


Feel free to continue to submit your Halloween designs. I know today is Halloween, but we don't have deadlines in creativity, we build when inspired.

Tomorrow I will post the November Challenge. Until then, happy building!

Jaw Snapping Pumpkin Tutorial

In our October classes for middle school, high school, and adults we have been exploring how to write code for our Arduino. We have worked through a variety of projects and codes in the past two classes(find all tutorials here).

We are now to the point of carving out our pumpkins and wiring up the LED lights and servo.

I made a short tutorial explaining how to do this at home.

Here is a tutorial about how to carve and wire your pumpkin Arduino so you can experiment from home.

Enjoy! I cannot wait to showcase what we were making in class!

In our final class week I will have more pumpkins for us to carve. Additionally, we will explore some advanced coding using a remote control, ultrasonic sensor, noise sensor, and more.


Preschool Steam Biology Class - 10/18/2017

Today was our last Preschool Steam Class!  Our focus was all on pumpkins.  Here is what we did:

-Watched a video and learned a song on How Pumpkins Grow.

Pretended to pick pretend "cotton ball" pumpkins using two tongue depressors.  It started out slowly only picking one at a time.  By the end, the students had figured out a way to do as many as 4, 5, or 6 at a time.  

-Measured and compared pumpkins - height, weight and distance around.

-Used a felt board to tell the story, "5 Little Pumpkins Sitting on A Gate."

-Made gates to hold 5 Little Pumpkins.  First using clothes pins and popsicle sticks to hold pretend "cotton ball "pumpkins.  Then, the students used cups and sign boards to construct bigger, multi-story pumpkins to hold 5 real pumpkins.

Read the story "The Runaway Pumpkin."

Rolled pumpkins down a ramp and used engineering skills to figure out how to stop them at the bottom.  Ended up rolling a huge pumpkin and believe it or not - it didn't break!

We had lots of fun studying pumpkins!  Pictures will be posted next Wednesday - sorry about that but sometimes technology takes time!




Arduino Pumpkin Classes 1 & 2

So much is happening at 212 STEAM Labs that there is barely time to write and document. The last two weeks we have been running Arduino coding classes to help people learn how to code along with physical computing.

We started out in class one understanding the basics of Arduino and how it works. We started to explore how to code an LED light in a variety of ways - blinking, multiple LED, push button activation, potentiometer adjustments, and more.

During class 2 we refreshed our skills with the LED lights and added in a servo motor component. These two basic functions will be enough to begin to create, carve, and code our very own robotic pumpkins during the next two weeks of class.

We are learning that coding takes time. It does not come easy and like anything in life it requires practice and patience. 

If you want to learn more about what we are doing, then check out these two videos.


Additionally, if you want to learn more we have created tutorials of the work we are doing in class to help guide you at home.

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 1: What is in the kit?

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 2: What is an Arduino?

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 3: Download the Software

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 4: Syncing Arduino with Software

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 5: LED Light on Pin 13


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 6: Coding Variables for LED


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 7: LED Challenge

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 7: LED Challenge Answer


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 8: Potentiometer Basics


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 9: Push Button


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 10: Multiple LED Marquee Style


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 11: Single Servo



Preschool Steam Class 10/11/2017: Habitats

Our Preschool Steam Class met today and learned about habitats.  Here is what we did:

- Played a game which had students matching animals to their habitats.

- Watched a video on penguins, their habitats, and adaptations.

- Conducted 2 experiments demonstrating how penguins stay dry.

              1)Colored a penguin with crayons then sprayed it with water.  The wax in the crayon                     kept the penguin dry.

               2)Put oil and water and a few drops of food coloring in a baggie and saw that the                        two do not mix.  Penguin feathers are coated with a special oily substance that                          repels water and helps to keep them dry in their habitat.

- Conducted 2 experiments to better understand how penguins stay warm.

                 1)Touched ice water with a bare hand and then a "blubber" glove to feel the                                  difference insulation makes in keeping things warm. 

                  2)Placed 9 feathers in a square centimeter of play dough to understand how                                 densely packed a penguin's feathers are in an effort to keep them warm.

After our experiments, we played games.  One had us waddling like a penguin with a balloon between our legs.  Another had us sliding on our stomachs while lying on a towel to simulate how penguins slide or "tobaggan" on the ice.

Learning about habitats was lots of fun!  We have one more class scheduled in this session on Biology - pumpkins.  After that, we take a break until January 3rd.  At that time we will focus on topics related to the science of Chemistry.  Registration forms will be available next week.  Space will be limited so sign up early to save your space!

Pictures from today are below.  Enjoy!





Elementary Makey Makey Class Begins

This week we kicked off our Robotic Halloween courses for elementary, middle, high school, and adult classes.

In our younger elementary class we are focusing on the Makey Makey. The Makey Makey is a perfect starting point when we begin to discuss coding and physical computing. Additionally, Makey Makey is Arduino based which funnels perfectly into our other classes where we are exploring Arduino.



We started out our class with some very quick and basic foundation discussion. We believe that the best way to learn is to DO! We provide a little background and then help students begin to trust in themselves to experiment, tinker, and design.

We explained what a Makey Makey is and how circuits work. After that we sent them on their way to attempt to make their first circuit by turning on a LED.


We also discuss the culture of learning at 212. These items above are not rules, but just the way we operate. If we want our students to have the confidence to experiment and try things then we must be sure the space is safe for them to do so. We start off each class discussing these items.


Each student was provided their own space to work and they were able to work at their own pace through a series of design challenges.


Students were provided many materials such as bananas to make a banana piano, washers, conductive tape, foil, graphite pencil, construction paper, and more. We wanted students to explore.

In the end students were able to make a LED circuit, a people circuit(check the video), and a banana piano.

Next week we will begin to explore coding the Makey Makey with Scratch and start to assemble their Halloween props.

Be sure to check the video to watch what was happening in class.


October 4, 2017 Preschool Steam Biology Beginnings

The Preschool Steam Biology Class focused on life cycles today!  Here is what we did:

-Discovered and played with seeds from a milk weed and discussed the lifecycle of plants.

-Read a book and watched a video on the life cycle of a frog.

-Played the Frog Life Cycle Memory Game.

-Had a frog jumping contest. (with plastic frogs!)

-Watched a video on the life cycle of a butterfly.

-Matched 4 different pasta shapes to 4 different stages in the life cycle of a butterfly.

-Became "human chrysalises" by being wrapped up in toilet paper and breaking out as a butterfly.

-Used ribbons to fly and flap our wings as if we were butterflies.

Learning about life cycles was one of our favorite lessons.  Pictures are below. Enjoy!


Discovery in Learning via Ancient Engineering


“The scandal of education is that every time you teach something you deprive a child of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.” Papert, S. (1996)

This video showcases our final class of making trebuchets and catapults and more. Through discovery of tinkering, experimenting, prototyping, and asking "What if?" students were able to take their ideas from paper and transform to the real world.

This is the beauty of STEM and STEAM education and the core of makerspaces and learning that sticks.

Sep 27 Preschool STEAM

The Preschool Steam Class studied vertebrates and invertebrates today.  Here is what we did:

  1. Built structures out of blocks.
  2. Examined the structure of a skeleton.
  3. Studied pictures of animals that when put in light revealed their skeletons.
  4. Learned that animals with skeletons are called vertebrates.
  5. Watched a video that identifies vertebrates, invertebrates and their differences.
  6. Did a Steam Challenge using play dough to build animals with and without a backbone to determine which would hold the most blocks.
  7. Played a relay game matching animals with their skeletons.

Who knew preschoolers could have so much fun learning about such a complicated topic!?!

Pictures are below.  Enjoy!



PVC Trebuchet Construction Begins

Our PVC catapult design challenge has begun! Who will be the king of fling? This is the challenge we have set out to discover. We want to take our learning from our previous two classes of Ancient Engineering and apply these skills and ideas into our biggest project yet.

Students were provided a document to process over the last week to help them think through the challenge of designing their very own catapult.

The document provided a playlist of resources as well as the criteria that they had to work under in order to create their catapult.

As students began to sketch out their plans once they were provided an overview of the project they began to realize that this might not be as easy as they thought. Taking the ideas from their head and getting it on paper is not as easy as one might think. Especially when they are limited in the parts available.

After developing a plan we were able to see all sorts of really cool designs. We have catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, and more. I cannot wait to see how they turn out and work.

As the night went on students were able to begin to measure and cut their parts. Once again taking ideas from a 2D surface and converting to the 3D world is not as easy as we think. We are developing some critical skills such as

  • mental imagery
  • visual perception
  • spatial visualization
  • cognitive flexibility

Of course we have our science and math skills being woven in. I was teaching the Pythagorean theorem and everything in between.

I wish there was a way to measure the brain activity as these kids were in full immersion. They were doing some serious problem solving and application of learning. It was awesome!

Once again, class flew by. We had to clean up all of our work and now we wait for our final class to finish building, testing, and prototyping our designs.

This is what learning is all about. Hands on immersive approach. I was impressed by their designs and allowed them the freedom to develop their own ideas. It will be interesting to see how they turn out in the end when we meet next week for our final class. The beauty of a project like this is that nobody knows until we try!


Preschool STEAM class - Plants vs. Animals


The Preschool Steam class learned about classification today.  Here is what we did:

-Examined real plants and animals in observation containers.

-Played a classification game which asked the students to find pictures, classify them as plants or animals, and glue them onto a poster.

-Studied seeds from different plant - harvested them, looked at them under a microscope, and made their own seed collection.

-Made a seed starter to take home and watch grow.

-Studied animals and classified them based on fur/no fur, big/little, fast/slow, etc.

-Participated in a Steam Challenge asking the students to build a tree with provided materials to hold several birds

A great time was had by all learning and practicing classification!  

Enjoy the pictures below!