All Articles Education Edtech Mr. Koga’s RadLabs and other adventures in STEM

Mr. Koga’s RadLabs and other adventures in STEM

How teachers are pulling out the stops (and blond mullet wigs) and getting creative to make STEM learning stick.

6 min read


Mr. Koga’s RadLabs and other adventures in STEM

Mr. Koga's RadLabs on YouTube. Screenshot with permission.

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“Mr. Koga wore a wig. It was blond.”

I cocked my head and raised an eyebrow at my seven-year-old granddaughter Kalei. We were in her playroom at my house, restocking her snack fridge and chatting about school. Kalei is a second grader at a local STEAM academy and her teacher is Mr. Koga.

“Why was Mr. Koga in a wig? Was this on Zoom?”

“Yes. It was a long wig. At first me and my friend were like, ‘What is he doing?’ but we thought it was funny.”

She went on to explain that Mr. Koga, pretending to be someone else, did a science experiment for the class — something “cool” that involved an obstacle course, a box and a “swirly thing that Mr.Koga swooshed” to make the box fall. I was surprised by the level of detail she gave me. Kalei is very bright but hasn’t warmed to distance learning; she loves school and misses being in class. So I was intrigued that she remembered so much about the experiment. My daughter-in-law told me I could find it on Mr. Koga’s Twitter feed

And there it was — Mr. Koga’s RadLabs, a virtual science experiment about erosion taught by Chip Beacherson, an erosion expert and “gnarly dude.” Mr. Koga, as Beacherson, dons sunglasses and a Dog the Bounty Hunter-like wig, and uses a wave machine — modeled after a local beach — to demonstrate the phases of erosion and its impact on beaches and homes. His enthusiastic delivery and witty banter kept the students engaged and participating throughout the lesson. It’s genius.

We need stories like this right now. With headlines screaming about failed reopenings and the challenges of remote learning, we need good news. We need to hear about the Mr. Kogas of the world who are overhauling their practice, pumping fresh energy into their virtual classrooms and helping students — including bright, feisty 7-year-olds — enjoy learning again. 

It’s in this spirit that we bring you this roundup of stories focused on STEM and invite you to join us October 22 for our annual SmartBrief Education STEM Pathways Summit. The event, like these stories, looks at ways STEM can help address urgent issues in society and showcases smart, creative ways educators are teaching about STEM and exposing students to careers in these fields.

Second graders conduct a firefly experiment — in space. Second-grade students at an Indiana elementary school used Blue Origin, started by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, to fly a science experiment about fireflies into space. Steven Collicott, an aerospace professor at Purdue University who connected the class to the program, says the $8,000 price tag makes the technology accessible to schools. 

Teacher explains math with football, toilet paper. Sixth-grade math teacher Stephanie Britton from Franklin County, Ky., strives to make the subject interesting for her students by explaining it in terms of real-world applications. She’s created lessons about the football season and has even used toilet paper in examples. 

Remote learning prompts changes to STEM learning. STEM learning centers have had to re-evaluate their approach since the pandemic closed schools to in-person learning. While the pivot toward remote learning has been a challenge, some educators say the shift to online learning has presented opportunities to refresh what they teach and how they teach it. 

Teacher puts science, baseball on the same team. Teacher Jamie Ewing, who has developed a baseball-inspired curriculum for the Washington Nationals baseball team to share with schools, explains how sports, math and science make great teammates in the classroom. Ewing, who teaches at an elementary school in the Bronx, N.Y., says student-made ball launchers have helped them learn about strike zones and angles for hitting a ball, and they also are learning about the science of hockey. 

Ideas for STEM lessons found in the great outdoors. Teachers can design engaging STEM lessons that integrate project-based lessons outdoors during this period of remote instruction, according to Jacie Maslyk, an assistant superintendent, and longtime educator Kristen Nan. They offer four ideas for outdoor-based STEM lessons, including observing, documenting and reporting on the weather and planting flowers or vegetables.

Teachers share top math apps, online resources. Apps offering math skills practice, rich math, open math and simulation tools can aid teachers working either in person or virtually. For example, secondary math specialist Ashley Taplin of Texas has used Desmos to let students graph their feelings, and Hawaii Department of Education math specialist Joseph Manfre says the Visual Patterns app allows teachers to “ask deeper questions … and engage students with mathematics in its more natural, visual form.”

Program improves families’ attitudes about math. Parents’ attitudes about math can affect students’ performance, asserts Carol Buckley, an associate professor of mathematics at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. In this blog post, Buckley describes how a program to engage families in math teaching and learning boosted parents’ confidence and attitudes about math, improving outcomes for students. 

Math class is more than formulas, equations. Math class is more than solving equations and memorizing formulas, according to first-year teacher Kyla Kalugdan, who teaches Algebra I to eighth-graders. In this interview for World Teachers’ Day, Kalugdan explains why math is important regardless of whether students pursue a career in STEM and shares her excitement for teaching and connecting with students through humor and having fun. 

Support vital for underrepresented chemistry students. Underrepresented students often struggle with chemistry, which can lead to them abandon their STEM studies, but even small successes can boost their tenacity. University of Washington researchers found that inclusive teaching and other measures to make these students feel more welcome in the classroom can improve outcomes for them. 

Penn professor discusses how to make STEM more diverse. Mentorship, difficult conversations and buy-in from individuals from all backgrounds will help improve diversity and reduce inequities in STEM, says Kellie Jurado, a presidential assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Being a diverse scientist in academia, I understand the importance inclusive acts and environments have had in my success and therefore have an intense desire to provide this for others,” Jurado says. 

Is “neurotrash” hindering women in STEM? Stereotypes about women are limiting opportunities for female students who pursue careers in STEM fields while also slowing the progress of science, says Gina Rippon, an author and professor of Neuroscience at Aston University. In this article about women in STEM, psychologist Nancy Doyle writes about assumptions related to the cognitive abilities of men and women and what Rippon calls “neurotrash” about the brains of women. 

Kanoe Namahoe is the director of content for SmartBrief Education and Workforce. Contact her at [email protected].


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