Current Topics Covered in Mr. Russo's STEM Curricula

6th Grade Curriculum

Intro to STEM/LEGO Activity

The Importance of Directions

Spark your students creativity with a fun and engaging LEGO activity! One of the issues we face as teachers is having our students understand the importance of directions. We’ve developed an activity that connects to the real world and exposes the consequences of not following directions. Students are tasked with analyzing a LEGO structure and creating their own directions. Then they must exchange their directions with another group and try to build the structure with a bag of pieces and the instructions provided. It’s not as easy as it seems!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Balloon Rockets: Intro to Data & Inquiry Based Learning

Making Them Fly & The Vertical Climb

Every year we introduce an activity that uses the principles of propulsion and friction with a slight heir of mystery. Students are presented with a set of materials (straw, string, balloon, scissors and two pieces of tape) that they use how they see fit. Their goal is for their balloon hit the center of a target 10ft away, three times in a row.  They have to draw up a plan and create their invention. Once they are finished, they have the opportunity to test their design and collect data so that they may make modifications if any issues arise.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Force, Motion, Friction & Average Velocity

Constructing Balloon Cars

Building off of the previous actiivty, students continue to explore the affects of friction and instead of measuring it’s effects, they will utilize it in order to create a balloon car that will stop after traveling a specific distance (25ft). New concepts are introduced such as circumference (to measure the size of the balloon), propulsion, average velocity (for measuring the relationship between the distance traveled and the speed of the car) and wheel & axle (simple machines). There’s a lot to cover here, so this lesson is broken into three steps, to make sure students can not only grasp all of the concepts, but utilize them to create their own balloon car design, and fulfill the goals of the activity.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Magnetic Levitation: Magnetism and Opposing Forces with Cars

Building Maglev Vehicles w/ 5VDC motors

We have been measuring and utilizing the affects of friction, but what happens when we remove friction from a moving object? Students are tasked with measuring the affects of a frictionless vehicle by creating a car that uses magnetic levitation and a varying power source to identify changes in acceleration, magnetism and opposing forces. They will use the formula for average velocity they learned in the previous experiment to measure the displacement and time of their Maglev vehicle.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Constructing Straw Rockets (Part 1) : Measuring the affects of Aerodynamics and Wings

Aerodynamics and Rocket Wings

In the beginning of straw rockets, students are introduced to the basics of aerospace engineering through constructing their own rocket to be aerodynamic. Students are given a standard method of construction, but are able to modify it and implement their own design choices in their rockets. In order to keep a constant, all students must examine how air flow, drag, and pressure affect its movement.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Constructing Straw Rockets (Part 2) : Changing the Length and Mass of the rocket

Measuring the Affects of the Rocket's Length and Mass

After grasping the affects of their rockets aerodynamics and wings, they continue to make changes to their initial design, experimenting with the length and mass of their rockets. Students are introduced to the triple beam balance and measure the mass of their clay with slight changes of weight and length. Students are given the opportunity to change the angle and pressure of the rocket as well, but this is not mandatory. Average velocity makes a return in order to aid students with finding the best design for a rocket that can travel fast and achieve a distance of 30+ feet.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Straw Rockets (Part 3) : Engineering Challenge

Rocket Engineering Challenge

For the final activity, students are challenged to use everything they have learned to create two rockets with varying lengths that travel exactly 27ft. They are given the opportunity to analyze past launch data from the last two experiments to determine what should be the precise weight, length, angle and lift of each rocket to reach the same target.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Constructing Simple Machines in VR

Constructing Simple Machines with Fantastic Contraption (V1, V2 & VR)

Students were previously introduced to Simple Machines in the Balloon Car activity (wheel & axle) but not all types. Using the original flash games Fantastic Contraption 1& 2, students create and explore simple machines on laptops, trying to solve simple problems with their own inventions.

This is a great alternative to introducing simple machines through memory, but instead students discover them through the creation process. Unfortunately FC 1& 2 were discontinued online because of their flash requirement, so I have created and compiled the game as a EXE program that can be used on any computer running Windows. You may download my versions by clicking the icons below!

While students are discovering and creating inventions using the provided software, each student gets the opportunity to physically build a large simple machine in VR using the HTC Vive. I have found that using the software & VR in tandem has not only helped with information retention on Simple Machines, but creates a positive experience building, creating and discovering that students carry with them throughout their time in STEM.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice
Fantastic Contraption Downloads: Custom Software & VR Link

Flowchart Programming with Ozobot EVO

Learning to Code without a Computer

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Coding Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Advanced Robotics with Sphero SPRK+

Coming Soon!

Under Construction!

Originally a mini unit intended for 7th grade, all activities are being changed and re-focused for 6th grade use! These activities are NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Building their First Computer with Kano

Computer Construction & Programming Five Games with Syntax

Students will construct their first computer (using a Raspberry Pi 3) daily and learn about how a computer works! Within the Story Mode software, students will be asked to program five different challenges, each with their own levels of progression:

  • Program your own version of Pong
  • Program your own version of Snake
  • Create Art Designs using Python Coding Language
  • CMD line Adventure game (Terminal Quest)
  • Hacking Minecraft with Code

Kano is a fantastic way of closing out the year and having students use all of the programming skills they’ve learned throughout the year to program their own games on a computer they’ve built!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

7th Grade Curriculum

Intro to Nets & Spatial Reasoning in 3D Models

Exploring Portal 2's Puzzle Maker & Geometrical Scavenger Hunt

Grasping the concept of Spatial Reasoning is no easy task. The best way for students to understand the concept is by experiencing and using it! Utilizing the video game Portal 2, students can begin to grasp the concept by using two dimensional geometric shapes in the map editor to craft three dimensional renderings and models. After using the map editor, students are tasked with the geometrical challenge! They will have to not only create specific geometric shapes digitally, but also physically with limited materials.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Mapping out Geometric Shapes with Sphero

Utilizing Spatial Reasoning & Geometric Shapes in a Tangible Environment

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Exploring the Engineering Design Loop

Getting Started with Portal Bridge Designer

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Coding Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Part 1: Exploring Projectile Motion & Parabolas

Utilizing Angry Birds to explore how angles impact a projectile's distance

In introducing the concept of parabolas, projectile motion and angles, students are given the following materials to complete this task:

  • Protractor
  • Ruler
  • Touuchscreen Laptop
  • Copy of Angry Birds for PC

For this task they must measure the angle used to win using only one bird for each level. After they gather their results for the first 5 levels, they are to compare data with people at their table and hold all of their data for our group discussion. It’s a quick activity and a great way to get them hands-on with physics concepts!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Part 2: Creating Working Catapults with the Engineering Design Loop

High-Stakes Catapult Creation

For this Design Challenge, they have to design a catapult that can reach over the walls of the castle and hit specific targets for a goal of exactly 100 points. The reason that it is considered high stakes is because if their catapult does not succeed during an attempt, the catapult will be marked as destroyed during the siege and they will have to create a new catapult, going through the engineering design loop once again.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Part 1: What's a Vortex & Tool Safety 101

Close Analysis of Board Game Mechanics & Creating Engaging DLC

In the beginning students are introduced to the concepts of displacement, surface area and toroidal vorticies.  After discussing the concepts (as well as friction’s role in this activity), the teacher models all safety procedures and how to use and handle each power tool for this activity. After the demonstration, students must take a safety exam and obtain a perfect score in order to be eligible to use the tools. Once they pass, they’re given the materials needed to create their own vortex cannons and begin construction with the goal of displacing air up to 5ft.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Part 2: Testing our Vortex Cannons & Collecting Data

Close Analysis of Board Game Mechanics & Creating Engaging DLC

As the students construct their Vortex cannon, they must document their process and provide research to back up their cannons design. From the cannons volume, launch mechanism, holes and even the size and position of the opening, they must be able to justify and explain each piece of their design and how it will contribute to their cannons air displacement. For the final test we use a fog machine and a series of targets 5ft away that they must push over with their cannon to measure its success. Students are given one opportunity for revision if their initial plan goes array, so observations and data collection during testing is key!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

What is Aerospace Engineering?

Intro to Drones: Construction and Navigation

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Coding Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Intro to 3D Modeling with TinkerCad

Getting to Know TinkerCad Tutorials

Starting off their introduction to 3D modeling, students begin to create 3D models in Tinkercad using the first six Tinkercad tutorials and a guide provided by their teacher. Below are the six tutorials they must complete before moving on:

    1. Learning the Moves
    2. Camera Controls
    3. Creating Holes
    4. Scale, Copy & Paste
    5. Key Ring, Letters!
    6. Die on the Workplane

Once they’ve completed the initial tutorials they move on to getting their Tinkercad Master Certification. There are three levels they must complete:

  • Level 1
    • Let’s Learn Tinkercad
    • Build a Tinkercad House
  • Level 2
    • Basics with Japanese Architecture
    • Build Your Own Space Station
  • Level 3
    • Make a Gear in Tinkercad
    • Making Your Own Measuring Tools
STEM Lesson Design Focus
3D Modeling Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Digital Caliper Replication Challenge with TinkerCad

Using Calipers to Re-create an Object as a 3D Model

Once students have learned all the in’s and out’s, we move onto practical application. Students are given the task to replicate an object with mathematical precision by using a caliper to take measurements. After they learn how to operate and use the caliper, they have to measure three different models of their choice and recreate them in Tinkercad as a mathematically accurate full sized 3D model!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
3D Modeling Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

First Print 3D Modeling Challenge

Using Calipers to Re-create an Object as a 3D Model

In the field of 3D modeling, most designers will sketch their model before attempting to make it. With keeping perspective in mind, they will attempt to draw the model from three angles using a drawing style called orthographic sketching. In this activity students are given the freedom to create their own planned out 3D model. They must provide all measurements as well as orthographic sketches for their model within the parameters set by their instructor. If they meet all of the requirements they can submit their model as a STL to be 3D printed.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
3D Modeling Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Final 3D Modeling Challenge: Boat Design & Propulsion

3D Printing your own Design as a Functioning Boat with Electronics

For the final 3D modeling project, the goal is to test the students ability to think creatively and use all of the skills they have learned by 3d modeling and printing a working motor boat that can cross a 4ft gap. Students will be given the following materials from their instructor:

  • 9V DC Battery
  • 9V Battery Clip Connector
  • 5V DC motor

Utilizing the engineering design loop, they plan out their design with research and orthographic sketches before modeling. Once their STL’s are printed, they can waterproof their models and begin wiring and testing before final submission for grading.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
3D Modeling Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Prototyping and Programming

Combining Micro-Controllers with 3D Modeling

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Coding Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Advanced Programming with Makeblock Mbot

Part 1: Constructing your Robot

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Coding Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

8th Grade Curriculum

Understanding Game Design

Close Analysis of Board Game Mechanics & Creating Engaging DLC

Did you ever want to make your own game? The best way of starting is to analyze the design process, mechanics and details that go into making a game. Our students analyze board games (just as they are used in most universities for analysis in their introductory courses) by gathering information on three different games inner workings as well as developing additional content that’s mechanics and art style fit the game’s theme.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Intro to Level Mechanics & Art Design: Part 1

Intro to Level Mechanics and Art Design with Shovel Knight

In this activity students are tasked with deep diving into the video game Shovel Knight’s first level. In the game’s introductory level “Plains”, it showcases every mechanic that the player needs to learn in an engaging way that never outstays its welcome. Introductory levels like these teach you the basics of a games core mechanics and provide clues through thoughtful art design that can help guide the player on how to proceed through current as well as future levels.

Students are tasked with playing through the 1st level and answering a series of questions while closely analyzing what they are doing, how they are being influenced by art and design choices and why it’s necessary.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Intro to Level Mechanics & Art Design: Part 2

Analyzing Level Mechanics and Clever Art Design with The Legend of Zelda

In this activity, students are tasked with identifying key parts of a game’s developmental process that are interwoven into the mechanics and art design.

Using The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past’s development process, they undergo deep analysis of how the game’s over world (in the “Light World”) takes advantage of the players mechanics with enemy placement and patterns as well as using the art design to give the player extra information about different zones across it’s map. Each student is given a packet of five random locations (15 various locations total, see image on left) from the over world map that they’ll locate in order to answer questions about enemy types, patterns/movements and art design for each area! The reference map they use can be found under the “Games Workshop” category at: https://russosroom.com/stemtools/

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Introduction to Level Design with PGE

Becoming a Level Designer: How to use a Game Engine to Create Games

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Intro to I/O: Part 1

Getting Started with MakeyMakey

Understanding game design is not limited to the game itself but what is used to control the game. In this activity, students will deep dive into what goes into making a controller work.

Using a MakeyMakey board, we first look into how circuits, voltage and current work within game controllers. We then build into students creating several functional controllers for different games using an I/O board. The games students are asked to create controller for can be found on the Stem Tools page under the MakeyMakey Labz Test Bench.

The initial three controllers will be created using the following materials (but not limited to):

  • Play-Doh
  • Graphite
  • Tinfoil
  • Alligator Clips

Students are also encouraged to grab items form the maker bin as well as bringing in their own items to be used for their controller design challenges.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Intro to I/O: Part 2

Advanced IO with Simple Button Switches using Tinfoil

Advanced I/O takes the prior activities and puts them to the test. In this activity, students are promoted to create a working PC controller for NES games. They must create their own button switches with all of the grounding and electronics inside the controller. The following criteria must be met:

  • There must be 8 points of contact
  • All grounding must be inside the controller
  • Your controller must be able to have the user travel in four directions ( Up, Down, Left, Right)
  • You must be able to pause the game
  • An action button must be included

Students can be creative with their controller designs or use a recommended template (NES Controller), but they must cut, glue and program their controller with no assistance from outside their group. They can use independent research to aid their design.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Deep Diving into the Award Winning Portal 2 Campaign

Portal 2 Case Study

For this activity, we will review and analyze all aspects that go into creating a game. The video game Portal 2 was chosen as it has won over 11 awards from the Game Developers Choice Awards and is considered a Master Class in several categories. While we will be primarily focusing on the story development Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerto & Chet Faliszek crafted, below are the following categories the game’s chapters will be broken down into:

  • Level Mechanics
  • Clever Art Design
  • UX, UI and Animations in Games
  • Creating a Compelling Storyline
  • Video Game Sound Production

Students will play through all nine chapters of the game with a provided packet for them to gather information as they play. The ultimate goal is for them to utilize all of the strategies and resources they gathered in the development of their own video game at the end of the year.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Analyzing How User Experience & Interface Affects the Player Experience

UX, UI, Affordances and Signifiers in Different Games

Students will analyze strategies the developers of Halo, Shovel Knight, Overwatch and the Legend of Zelda used to teach and guide players through their games. UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface) are integral parts of game development, when if done properly, the player uses and interacts with them without hesitation. This can affect:

  • Currency
  • Ability Usage
  • Remaining Health
  • Game Specific Information
  • Inventory System Menu

How player may see the information depends on if the game is developed with a diegetic or non-diegetic UI. Once it is established they can start to implement their UI with the use of affordances and signifiers in games.

Students will be asked to  analyze three different games for its use of the strategies covered in their games.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Intro to Animation in Video Games

Game Animation 101: Creating your own Sprites

In this activity, students create their own pixel art and animations by researching the tools and roles of game animators in the field and applying their process using the animation program Piskel. Going through the developmental process is not just meant to give students the abilities to animate on their own, but see another avenue of game design that a student may want to pursue for a career.

Animators comprise a large part of a game’s design. While programmers and game designers lay down the fundamentals and framework, the artists & animators are the ones that can take a vision and bring it to life. In an average gaming company there are twice as many artists and animators as there are to programmers and level designers.

Students will be introduced by following a video tutorial series to create their first animation. Then they will be asked to create three different animations:

  1. Ash & Pikachu Animation (From Pokemon Blue)
  2. Megaman Animation (From Megaman 2)
  3. Random Block (From Super Mario Kart)

You can access the worksheets and video tutorial series here: Animation Challenge Guide

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Understanding Sound Production in Video Games

Video Game Sound Production 101: Creating an Original Score

In this activity, students are introduced to the intricacies that go into producing a soundtrack for a video game. We start by providing students with four different key components of music production:

  • Pitches and Keys
  • Major and Minor Scales
  • Base Lines
  • Waveforms and Layers

While our primary focus will be students creating 8-Bit tracks, it will still be important for them to have a preliminary knowledge of music production.

Our goal is to re-create an 8-bit chiptune track as well as composing one of their own. If they have never created music before, this activity will give them the basics needed to get started creating their own tracks!

Once we have covered all of the skills, students are directed to the follwing link where their 1st objective, they choose one 8-bit track from a list of 5 tracks to imitate:

→ 8-Bit Tracks

They are also encouraged to download a track they would like to imitate and use an online tool to slow down the track so they can isolate each not for reproduction using the tool at this link:

→ Online Time Adjustment Tool

For their second task, they must select a game type and an emotion to help them create your soundtrack. Your song should be at least 15 – 30 seconds long and contain at least one repeating pattern. They can choose from the following game types:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Arcade
  • Platformer
  • First-Person Shooter (FPS)
  • Role-Playing Game (RPG)

They can begin creating their track using the online tool provided here:

Beep Box Music Creation Software

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Lua Programming 101: Going Beyond the Game Engine

When the Game Engine isn't Enough: Re-Coding the Engine with Lua

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

What Does it Mean to be a Maker: Intro to Arduino

Going Beyond the Classroom: Exploring Arduino with the Engineering Design Loop

Under Construction!

This activity is NEW and in development for the 2019-2020 school year! Once the lessons have been thoroughly tested and optimized for classroom use, I will make sure to update the exact plans for implementation here!

Check back soon!

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Game Design Principles
Design Process
Student Choice

Going Back to our Roots: Rocket Physics and Design

Water Rockets: Putting Three Years of Engineering and Physics to the Test

For the final activity of the year, we discuss rocket design and propulsion as well as our previous experiments and designs from past activities. From there we take a look at the general design needed for launching a water rocket and their task. We will be measuring the airflow and resistance of student rocket designs by collecting data throughout two different challenges.

For this activity there will be two challenges:

The First challenge will be a competition for the highest rocket launch. This will be measured by creating and using an inclinometer.

The Final challenge is “Protect the Passenger” where they have to attach an egg to their rocket and have it launch and land without cracking.

STEM Lesson Design Focus
Engineering Principles
Design Process
Student Choice
UP