Technology Bites Back Sometimes.. Who decides what is STEM and what expectations should we have for teachers using technology?

I am glad I am mentoring teachers for technology use with a solution for their technology problems. The online course that I decided to take after reading posts on the ECTC Journal was a wrong turn that I took recently. I went in unprepared to be found wanting.

ETC Journal

A journal for educational technology & change has great articles and so I was convinced I needed to make sure my technology was up to date.

Because I am not currently taking a course and did not go to ISTE, I decided to re-up my skills by taking the Certification Course for the National Geographic. It’s new, it’s different and I have been working with the National Geographic for a long time. Who could have predicted that I would be found wanting? But let me explain. There is a new technical divide and I could not qualify.

Here is the course National Geographic Educator Certification and it is a good one. You meet international people and explorers and you have a group of people who support you in your work. I am working in a community based organization with nothing but my laptop and tools and my intent was to start new technologies and inspire kids with all of the resources that National Geographic has to offer. I ran into a technical divide.

Who knew that some of the course was misleading?I do videos of field trips on the way back from the field trips. I used Google Glass to make a video for a school in Russia when I was working in exchange. So listening to the cohorts and viewing the expectations, I surely did not worry. They passed off the video as a minor kind of thing. But what they referenced as tools to work with . ouch!!!

Here is what they said…

Bringing it All Together: Teaching About the World

“At National Geographic, we believe that a well-rounded education provides young people with the knowledge of how the human and natural worlds work at local, regional, and global scales. This type of education also teaches young people to use different perspectives to understand the world.”

So I jumped at it. The course was beautiful until I got to the Capstone part. If there had been a real person or a time when you were face to face with a mentor I would not have failed. I believed them when they said that creating a video was not a big deal. It was a big deal. It was a painful learning process which I learned. Relearned , relearned, relearned..until I got tired.

They said “
We know that for many of you this will be your first experience creating, editing, and sharing your work in video format. Not to worry: most certified educators made their first movie in this course! We want the certification experience to challenge and push you, and the capstone video is a compelling way to tell your story. At National Geographic we have a long history of storytelling through a variety of media, and we are excited to welcome you into the National Geographic family through this valued tradition. Just like you ask your students every day to learn something new and take risks, we hope this helps you go further in your own work as an educator, storyteller, learner, change maker, and explorer. They estimated nine hours of work/ I don’t think so.

Nowhere did it say that the tools that they suggested would cost if you published them. I worked on a Powtoon for my submission ( Free)well free until you wanted to download it. A matter of money. And the tool was not thoroughly vetted . On one browser it had voice over, on another different qualities for color , and there was always the subtle suggestion that for a fiver, they would do it for you. IMovie is excellent except it kept going dark. Why? I did not have time to find out.

When you have spent hours learning to do something and you have to pay to use it and you did not expect to.. that’s a bummer. I spent about a hundred dollars trying to make a Powtoon video. I actually made a pretty good one but I could not regulate the sound and the instructor complained.

I did not expect that. I expected a guiding question to help me know what was wrong.

So I chose another one that was suggested. Many programs, after you create have , had a paywall. ARRGH!! $210.00 and we have a Movavi Video.

Here is what I said…

I was pretty sure of my use of technology before this course. With the video I was a basket case. I had gotten used to making animated sharings and small movies on Google pictures. I struggled with the video. Why? I guess I did not know the components of what. The instructions were clear, but inside some of the offered programs were paywalls and valuable time was wasted. The video I submitted was probably not my best. I had a beautiful one on Powtoon but the sound was so loud I could not share it. I had no way , except to pay some more to get that adjusted. I used every program they listed in the course to find one that was comfortable. I did not have IT support. I wanted it to be me based, or teacher based like we often are across the digital divide. That did not work.

I stumbled through several programs and really liked a few, but paused when the paywall came up and I knew that it would be published since it was “free” One of my baby steps in creating a video is sadly available.

Things I did not do that would have made it better. I should have changed to the PC when I could not right click instead of asking what was wrong. I should have upgraded my browsers and I did. I loved the IMovie. It was awesome. But since I have toys, IPad, Mac, IPhone before this course, I used them very separately for the most part. I learned the value of integrating them into a system. I actually completed a video using IMovie, but I kept getting a dark screen from time to time. Technology mistakes gave me and everyone around me a headache. I had a friend who is the ultimate in tech support but I felt that I should be able to do it without cheating.

There were ideas offered but I saw those before I went down the video trail. MP4? I think I suggested a boot camp for video but as in education, each person has their own store and set of tools, and know how and individualized learning even with stumbles was invaluable. The journey to completion or acceptance of a certain system is personal. It helps a lot if an IT professional is in person.

I have never so believed in ISTE or GenYES.

My students did outstanding work from understanding what our sources of water are our watershed, to understanding what an estuary was , to creating a watershed runoff model, to understanding global water needs and how to be a citizen scientist.

Not bad for a community activist trying to make a difference. Amount of technology where I work? Zero. At the aquarium,in ecosystems and exhibits.

How do I know they understand run off? We made a model city and polluted it and collected the water for evaluation. See above.

We learned about the Global Impact of Water. We loved this book and the online video.

The Water Princess – YouTube

How do I know that they understand shorelines and estuary?

Where did I learn my teaching techniques, well working for the National Geographic KidsNetwork.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center was outstanding .

Here is what we did…

This program was adapted for a range of ages. It focused on science as narrative, and a collection of facts, procedures, and observations that lead to understanding the world. The guiding question of the trip was, “How do scientists tell the story of clean water, and how do people fit into that story.” We focused on science as fact based, though hands-on inquiry at each station.

Plankton/ Microscopes
Students began with a short introduction about the difference between clean water, dirty water, and treated water. They then discovered how plankton plays a role in clean and dirty water, specifically related to humans. Students were given a plankton sample and filamentous algae from the Bay, and then were asked to sort phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Oysters and Model Oyster Reef Sorting
Students began by exploring the different types of bivalves that live in the Bay, and then learned about how oysters live together and their biological function. They then attempted to build a model oyster reef to determine its habitat structure and then sort through a model reef that has been colonized by fish and invertebrates from the Bay. They sorted the organisms and learned about the role that oysters play in clean water and Bay habitat.

Students began by discussing how researchers might study nearshore organisms, and learn how SERC researchers use seining nets to catch fish and invertebrates. They will discuss the term “biodiversity” and how biodiversity might be an indicator of water’s health.

They then collected data by donning waders and use seining nets to sample the populations. Students concluded with a short discussion about their findings and what they might mean.  

Students explored how a watershed works through narrative and a 3D watershed model. They then demonstrated how material gets into and is carried through a watershed. After this they discussed how the properties of water can be described, and then demonstrated by using a secchi disc and sounding lead as well as a hydrometer.

Blue Crabs
At this station students were introduced to the anatomy and biology of blue crabs. They learned about their natural history, from what they eat to when and where they migrate. Students then visited with a live blue crab and studied its anatomy and movement up close. They then finished with a short discussion about blue crab research here at SERC and look at crab pots with excluders. I had cooked crabs on ice for them to take home to eat.Eat a crab lab if you will.

Science should be inclusive, not exclusive.

I believe in the seven E’s .There are seven stages which include elicit, engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate and extend.

SERC.. a wonderful Smithsonian Adventure STEM Science on the River



One of my favorite field trips, is not too far away from DC. It is environmental , historical, beautiful, and all STEM and STEAM. It links the students and parents to the Chesapeake Bay in wonderful and unforgettable ways. Parents want to go, and take workshops to qualify to go on the trip. What is great is that those parents also create the possibility for re-visits. It is just that great a place.


We begin the year planning to write grants to cover the cost for all students.
I like to do a covered dish orientation for parents and their families about the Chesapeake Bay. I ask them to bring in dishes from around the Chesapeake Bay and one copy of their recipe. We eat, we have fun singing and making up Chesapeake Bay Cinquains.
We create a year-long committee to plan the SERC trip/
We display books, posters and resources about the Chesapeake Bay and share the information about SERC. We share their Powerpoint.

I have an invited speaker from Fish and Wildlife, NSF , National Geographic , ESRI or Earthwatch.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
(SERC) leads the Nation in research on linkages
of land and water ecosystems in the coastal zone and provides society with knowledge to meet critical environmental challenges
in the 21st century.


Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Why should you go?

This is a place that serves lots of learning communities.

There are programs for various age groups , internships, and serious scientific work going on.

GPS, GIS comes to urban students in a neighborhood setting

ESRI , and National Geographic provide resources for all.

This is one of the most interesting, fascinating place to take children to learn about the environment. There is a fully equipped lab with lessons and things for them to learn, and there are several hiking trails. The children love the learning activities especially the seining, which is one of several exercises that they learn about before they come.4894_115870586326_2833140_n

They go out on a pier with a leader and do several exercises, a turbidity study, a study of microscope things in the Rhode River, the study of winds and tides.. the seining activity.. and they carefully take notes on their findings.
I combine this work with the “Living in Water”curriculum from the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
The geography of and interconnection of the places around the bay are highlighted in this interactive presentation.|timePeriod=1|tourStop=0
We use a map and mark the various locations. We do some of the locations from time to time. We also have a table full of books on the Chesapeake Bay.
The center is a beautiful wild place away from the main road on the river.

Teachers and parents have to do a workshop which is shared here. This is from the website( About Estuary) Chesapeake Estuary Chesapeake is SERC’s most popular education program and involves a series of five stations at SERC’s dock and the Java History Trail. The class is divided into 5 groups that each rotate through all stations.

The five stations of Estuary Chesapeake are: About Crabs, Water Testing, Oyster Bar Community, Investigating Plankton, and Going Fishing (seining). For parents and teachers there on the site a training presentation powerpoint.

Check out the Parent/Teacher Training Presentation — this powerpoint teaches you all you need to know about SERC, the Estuary Chesapeake program, and how to be a Station Leader.


About Crabs Using hand lines and a hand trap, students catch their own crabs and study them to learn about their anatomy and behavior. Crab habitat is also discussed. Resources are shared so that leaders can have good information to share with students from the Estuary Chesapeake Manual about the crab station, and for Blue Crab talking points.
Here are most of the Blue Crab Talking Points

Station 1: About Crabs

Learn ways to catch crabs and study
their anatomy and behavior
The blue crab is a well known inhabitant of the Chesapeake Bay. Crabs can tolerate water that ranges from very salty to nearly fresh and are well-suited to live in the ever-changing salinity of the estuary. Because they are abundant and also a popular food, they are an important commercial and recreational resource.
Most often crabs act as predators and eat live clams, fish, and other crabs.However, they also act as scavengers by eating dead organisms, which helps to clean up the Bay. They will eat bait such as raw chicken and can be caught with baited lines, collapsible traps,and commercial traps.The abundance of crabs varies seasonally.
In April they begin to enter rivers and creeks, and,throughout the summer, they increase in numbers at these locations. In the fall they go to warmer, deeper Bay waters, where they burrow into the sand.
Key Points to Emphasize
Parts of the crab include the shell, abdomen, mouth, eye stalk, claws, swim paddles, and walking legs.
Crabs are both predators and scavengers.Crabs swim, however they spend most of their time on the floor of the Bay.
A crab can be identified as female or male by the appearance of its abdomen. The shape
of a male’s abdomen resembles the shape of the Washington Monument. An immature
female’s abdomen is triangular shaped. Once matured,she carries her eggs in her abdomen and therefore a mature female has a wider abdomen. It has a shape similar to the shape of the Capitol Dome.

Water Quality

Water Testing Using a variety of tests, students will measure the water quality parameters salinity, pH, turbidity, and temperature, and discuss the results. The dock where we will do our water testing is right on the Rhode River in Edgewater, MD.

Oyster Bar Community Students learn about the habitat that oyster shells provide for small crabs, fish, and invertebrates. They also will learn about oysters’ ability to filter water. (Fun fact: Oysters can filter about 50 gallons of water a day!) Investigating Plankton After completing a plankton tow from the dock, students use microscopes to observe plant and animal plankton found in the Chesapeake Bay.

Seining (Going Fishing) Donning chest waders, students wade into the water to catch fish and other organisms with a seine net.Think high waders, a big sweep of a net, and walking in the river to collect what you can.. you gotta do this. It is awesome.The students then identify the animals they find. Physiological aspects of fish anatomy are also discussed. We put the things we find back into the water.