The Having of Wonderful Ideas In Action (Part 1)

“Real learning, attentive, real learning, deep learning, is playful and frustrating and joyful and discouraging and exciting and sociable and private all the time, which is what makes it great.”

Eleanor Duckworth, “The Having of Wonderful Ideas and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning”

Dr. Eleanor Duckworth at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is my most important mentor for my work in STEAM education with young children. Last week I was re-reading her book and thinking about our Young Steam Inventors.  As it happened, I realized that Friday October 11 was the UN International Day of the Girl Child. The 2019 theme for the day this year was “GirlForce:  Unscripted and Unstoppable.” At the same time, several related articles came across my email feed that caught my attention, such as this one from Forbes magazine about several travel companies that are actively promoting programs and activities to inspire girls to be the next generation of leaders in the travel industry; United Airlines promoting Girls in Aviation Day, and this one about an all-female airline crew that flew 120 girls to NASA to get them excited about careers in aviation.

I was inspired by these articles and others about programs that are encouraging girls to step into the shoes of scientists, inventors, designers, naturalists, builders, and readers. My own mind was full of these ideas last week while I observed the children researching, designing, and building.  What I was able to observe that day led to further thoughts, and I realized that I was watching the having of wonderful ideas in action.  As Eleanor Duckworth says, providing young learners with the space, the environment, the encouragement and freedom to generate and test their own ideas is critical to their cognitive growth.  Balancing unstructured play time alongside the structured curriculum that is required allows young learners to be engaged in what I like to call work-play.


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Work-Play In Science

For the last three weeks, students have been imagining, wondering, and curious about what they are observing outdoors. One student said:

“The fall,’ or ‘the autumn,’ which is another way of saying fall because maybe you don’t like the word ‘fall’. That word means you fall and hurt yourself. Maybe the leaves are feeling that, too.”
They are creating, building designing, problem-solving, reflecting on their projects and sometimes making changes. One student said to me:


“I made this perfect the first time. It doesn’t need anything else. I want to make something else now and think about what my brain is thinking.”



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As I moved around the classroom, I began to observe one of our Young STEAM Inventors at work in the block area.  But as I watched, she shooed me away and said: “Ms. Alicia I have an idea. Come back later and see what I’m going to make.”


I did come back later and saw that she had built a complex block structure.  It was asymmetrical and at first glance looked off-balance, like it might fall at any time.  But before I said anything I realized that her building reminded me of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s buildings. Two famous examples are the Stata Center at MIT and the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi.

I realized that this five-year-old scientist was having her own wonderful design ideas and was able put them into action. In asking me to come back later she was letting me know that she needed the freedom and space to do this.  I praised her ideas that are very much like the ideas of this older international prize-winning architect.


K0/K1 and K2

In addition to providing the time and creative space for the young scientists to put their ideas in action, I also make sure that I am meeting the subject-area standards, being culturally proficient, and meeting and the language goals, especially for our students who are English Language Learners.

In the past week, the K0, K1 and K2 classes have been exploring the following questions:

  • What are the parts of goldfish?
  • What do goldfish need to live? What do we need to live?
  • How are goldfish and guppies different? How are they the same?
  • How can you design and build a shelter for these animals?

Next week, we will turn our attention to birds in our school yard. Our guiding question will be, “What birds visit our schoolyard?” This exploration has three sessions that will take us outside,  and we will use our five senses to observe, to draw and record in our science notebooks, and read stories about birds. I’ll present an engineering challenge for them using natural materials.

Grade 1

Our Grade 1 scientists are exploring Air and Weather.  They have been going outdoors to explore wind and weather over the last few weeks. Our guiding question has been, “What can air do?” We have explored parachutes, propellers, small and large parachutes, and airplanes.

We’ve started talking and noticing the weather and read stories about the fall/autumn season. Next week, we will explore airplanes and create a weather calendar.


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September Open House at the East Boston EEC

It was wonderful to meet parents last week at the Open House. I smiled at the wonderful stories you’ve shared about your children wanting to be scientists and inventors, how science is carrying over into your homes and how your Young STEAM Inventors can’t wait to come to class in the Science Makerspace! I feel very inspired.

HERO Elementary

I’m very excited that PBS has officially announced that their new animated series Hero Elementary will launch in the summer of 2020.  I am teamed with PSB Kids and along with Ms. Maria in the K0-K1 classroom will be piloting Hero Elementary science curriculum interactive digital activities.  Stay tuned here for more updates about this exciting project!

~Ms. Alicia


More Start of School with Making and Pourquoi Stories

The Science Makerspace at the East Boston Early Childhood Center is buzzing with lively activity from our Young STEAM Inventors!

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Cultural Explorations of “Why” and “How” Things Came to Be

During our study of Animals 2×2 Foss Science Unit, I will introduce Native American author and illustrators Joseph Bruchac and his son James Bruchac. Their children’s books share share Native American folktales known as “Pourquoi  (pour kwah) Tales.” Students will learn the characteristics of a pourquoi tale, or why, tales, a type of folktale that usually explains something in nature and is found in most world cultures. We will explore puppetry with animals from these stories and connect to our outdoor “Forest School” learning space.

Articles and Resources I Have Recently Explored


Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Retrieved from


Welcome to the 2019-2020 School Year


Dear Families:

Summer has ended, and we have just begun the 2019-20 school year at the East Boston Early Education Center! I invite you to take a look at several snapshots of our first week in school and in the Science Makerspace:

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Our kindergarten Young STEAM Inventors will begin with “Animals 2×2”. This unit provides students with close and personal interaction with some common land and water animals. Students study the phenomena by observing and describing the structures of fish, birds, snails, earthworms, and isopods. They also learn about the animals’ survival needs. The driving questions for Animals 2×2 are:

  • How are animal structures similar and different?
  • What do animals need to live and grow?

In “Materials and Motion,” students will investigate the how objects are made of materials—wood, paper, and fabric—and how the different properties of these materials determine how we use them. Students will engineer structures and apply physical science ideas. Here are the driving questions:

  • What is made of wood, paper, and fabric?
  • How are the properties of those materials useful to us?

Grade 1

For eight weeks, we will be doing lessons from the new combined curriculum with Foss and Focus on First. With this curriculum, your student’s science education will also be supported in the classroom. I will start with “Air and Weather”, then move into “Plants and Animals”, and will finish the school year with “Sound & Light”. Here are the driving questions for Unit 1 on Air and Weather:

  • Week 1:  What does a scientist look like?
  • Week 2:  What is a meteorologist? Why are they important to the community?
  • Week 3:  What are some of the tools that a meteorologist uses?
  • Week 4:  Measuring Temperature
  • Week 5:  What can clouds tell us about the weather?
  • Week 6:  Wind Speed
  • Week 7:  What happens when there is a storm?
  • Week 8:  How do we describe weather over a month? How does the temperature and weather change over time?

Forest Schools Learning

Over the summer, I was able to research “Forest Schools” and the work the Forest Schools Association does around the world to promote outdoor learning.

A Forest School is defined by the Forest School Association as “an inspirational process that offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.” You can read more about using the power of nature to increase student success in a blog article I read on the Community Playthings site. Community Playthings is a company that designs and creates furniture for child playtime and exploration.


My goal is to work with the Parent Council and students to create a space for that learning at our school. Our school had a setting that sits on Gove Street (inside the black iron fence). There, we can begin thinking about how we can develop a “forest school” for all learners. I will write more about this project and on working with the Parent School Site Council project as the year unfolds.


Best wishes to a thrilling school year!

  ~ Alicia Carroll

Farewell To The 2018-2019 School Year

Families, Friends, and Fellow Educators:

The school year has ended for Boston Public Schools! I have done some packing up and cleaning out in the Science Makerspace, and will now make sure I rest, reflect, and get ready for this upcoming school year in the next few months.

That being said, now is the time for your Young STEAM Inventor to continue being immersed in engaging and authentic learning experiences. This does not have to happen in a summer camp classroom. There are many ways to provide these experiences for your student:


  • Explore the resources on this website. My Resources page links to several apps that are great for young children to practice important skills, such as literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving. You can download the website one-pager for my top picks on educational websites and products for STEAM, such as LEGO Steam Park.



Of course, there are many more ways that I did not list here. Still, I hope that you are able to seek out these particular resources for your student and can share their experiences with me!


All the best,


Bringing Science, Technology Engineering, Math and Arts Learning All Together

In our Science Makerspace space, teaching and learning is integrated in a variety of ways.
Science, Technology and Engineering practices are incorporated throughout the centers, Foss Science Kits assigned by the Boston Public Schools Science Department and student experiences. While observing the Science Makerspace, you will see students engaged with more than one science concept and one practice. This also happens outside the East Boston EEC, such as with our recent trip to the Museum of Fine Arts. I have provided photographs and short videos below that capture these practices.

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You might ask why is Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar books and dramatic play area in the space. Literacy, math and lifecycle of the butterfly capture an integrated experience for all learners.

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Children have an opportunity to practice oral language skills, counting, sequencing and writing about their experience at our writing and drawing center. Kids learn best through a project-based approach and hands on experiences. The research indicates that children are more successful in developing their academic and social skills when they engage in project-based learning (PBL).

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Throughout the course of this school year, your Young STEAM Inventor has developed the following Science Practices and Skills:

Science and Engineering

  • Asking questions and defining problems.
  • Developing and using models.
  • Planning and carrying out investigations.
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using math and computational thinking.
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
  • Communicating information.

Art, Literacy, and Science

  • Using art as a form of expression and investigation through STEAM
  • Sequencing and counting stones (mathematical skills) after close readings of Diane Alber books (literacy skills)

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Life Science Concepts

  • Observing and communicating that animals and plants have things they need to survive.
  • Recognizing that all plants and animals grow and change over time.

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Earth and Space Science (Grade 1)

  • Using and sharing observations of weather to describe patterns.
  • How plants and animals can change the environment.
  • Gathering information/data about weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to different types of weather — both here in the United States, and in other countries of the world.

Physical Science

  • Grade 1 – Investigating and recording ideas in their scientific journals that different kinds of materials can be a liquid or solid.
  • K0/K1 and K2 – Comparing the effects of different strengths or directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object (Balls and Ramps Curriculum)

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Below is a video that documents one Young STEAM Inventor’s experiences in physics. This lesson activity went extremely well!


Here is another video of students testing their ramp in the Science Makerspace.

A Project I Consult With Wins Big

A project that I have been working on with PBS Twin Cities has recently won an award! Hero Elementary won a Presenter’s Choice Award at the “2019 STEM For All Video Showcase: Innovations in STEM Education” held May 13-20.

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I am extremely excited because I was tapped into the project after showing much enthusiasm for it during a presentation by PBS Twin Cities at MIT. We will be piloting Hero Elementary at the East Boston EEC in Fall 2019.

Here is some additional information about the project, as well as a video you can watch that explains the program:

Hero Elementary is a PBS Kids series and engaging educational media effort focused on improving school readiness in science and literacy for children grades K-2 and their families nationwide, with an emphasis on Latino communities, English Language Learners, youth with disabilities, and children from low-income households.

Hero Elementary’s transmedia universe integrates science and literacy to ignite children’s natural curiosity and broaden their understanding of how the world works and empower them to make a positive difference in their communities. All materials are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. Materials include:

  • animated children’s television episode
  • hands-on science activities and games
  • non-fiction e-books
  • Science Power Notebook where kids create their own content
  • educator guides
  • additional enrichment resources for parents and caregivers

I look forward to using this comprehensive program with our Young STEAM Inventors next school year!