December 2020

K-16 STEM in the NEWS

Advice on STEM School designation from McKinley STEMM Academy of Toledo Public Schools


From Ohio STEM Learning Network blog

In May 2020, 10 more schools in the Buckeye State earned the STEM/STEAM designation from the Ohio STEM Committee. The designation recognizes a school as an effective place for STEM or STEAM learning. The Ohio STEM Learning Network and Ohio Department of Education collaborate to support the designation process.

Among the schools earning the designation in May was the McKinley STEMM Academy, a K-8 elementary school in the Toledo Public Schools district. As with many schools seeking the designation, McKinley administrators applied more than once, and in the process learned much about their school and how to make it better.

As a reminder, schools seeking designation should document their intent to apply by December 15th. Learn more about this year’s designation process at last week’s post: “Key dates for schools to earn STEM/STEAM designation in 2021

To find out more about McKinley’s journey, we contacted principal Christina Ramsey, who, along with instructional coach Andrea Bennett, told us about the process:

Click here to read the full article.

Community STEM in the NEWS


Furlong Named Best Biology Teacher in Ohio 

By Marie Thomas-Baird, Sentinel-Tribune Education Editor

TONTOGANY – An Otsego High School veteran teacher has been named best in the state.

Bob Furlong recently earned the National Association of Biology Teachers’ Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for Ohio.

Furlong has been teaching for 31 years and has been leading biology and human physiology classes at Otsego High School since 1996.

“I definitely feel humbled by this and I am certainly honored,” he said.

Furlong started his career teaching high school biology at his alma mater, Fremont St. Joseph’s, in 1990, then spent one year at Elmwood.

Furlong said his desire to go into teaching dates back to a high school biology class.

“I just remember thinking every day ‘this is cool.’”

At the age of 16, he decided that whatever he did, it was going to be in biology. It wasn’t until later that a different science teacher directed him toward teaching.

“Teaching was always in the back of my mind, but the thought of teaching and biology, it was like this would be the perfect thing.”

Furlong said the high school age group is fun to teach and they are good conversationalists.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it,” he said. “It is the best job there is.”

Furlong started writing lessons on slate chalkboards at St. Joe’s, then went to the overhead projectors. In the age of PowerPoint, he now creates videos and posts them online.

He is constantly looking at how to refresh the same content year after year.

“I just love that challenge of keeping things fresh every year and changing things up.”

After completing his 25th year on the job, Furlong switched his style of teaching from a traditional method to the “flipped” method of teaching.

In the past, the traditional method had him lecturing one day and doing lab work the next.

Back around 2015, when there were nearly 20 calamity days, he started thinking there had to be a better way.

Now, he makes seven-minute videos that are posted on YouTube. The kids watch the videos and that is how they get their notes. They can pause it, rewind it, or watch it the night before a test.

“Basically, I have taken what is a fairly passive activity of just taking notes and moved that off and that is what they do at home,” Furlong said.

Students now get “active learning” when they enter the classroom and start applying what was in the video.

He has saved 49 class lectures and that allows him to focus on inquiry-based labs in the classroom that may take two or three days or occasionally an entire week.

He said he is “really trying to get like what real science is like.”

Earlier this month, Furlong had his lab set up for lessons on osmosis, or the movement of water in and out of cells. Students were going to be cutting up potatoes, weighing them, then putting the pieces in different sugar solutions.

The potatoes then would be weighed the next day and graphed. Students would have to tell Furlong how much sugar was in each solution based on its position on the graph.

As part of his “hidden curriculum,” Furlong has students using spreadsheets all the time.

“Being able to look at data, being able to analyze it, being able to come up with a conclusion is something that we do often,” he said about why his lessons are important even for those students who might not plan on furthering their science education.

He commented on all the information coming out about the coronavirus and immune system and how people are seeing science live and what they know is constantly changing.

“My first thought was I can do a whole year on the coronavirus,” Furlong said.

But he adds the topic to many of his lessons, such as how things get in and out of cells.

Furlong said he will tackle the subject more in-depth when he gets to the immune system later this year.

He wants the general population of students that may not go into science to have some level of science literacy.

“When they leave here, I hope that I can spark some kind of interest in science they may not know about,” he said. “To me, that’s everything in the world.”

Furlong earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Bowling Green State University in 1989 and his Master of Education degree in 1999.

“The Otsego student body is extremely fortunate to have Bob as their teacher,” said Otsego Superintendent Adam Koch. “He brings a wealth of knowledge to our science department and we appreciate his willingness to take risks and evolve in his teaching practices.”

He was nominated for the award by Kevin English, biology teacher at Perrysburg High School, who has known Furlong for 10 years.

“I nominated Bob because he is so dedicated to his profession,” English wrote in an email. “He loves to learn new, innovative ways to teach his students. He isn’t afraid to try new things.

“Bob also shares many of his thoughts and ideas with other teachers,” English continued. “He loves to network and help his colleagues. I have learned a lot from him over the years.”

Furlong and English worked together to develop an online biology curriculum as members of an Ohio Department of Education team. Furlong also was a member of the team that wrote the new anatomy and physiological standards for the state.

After the nomination, Furlong had to write an essay, create a video of one of his lessons and explain what the activity was about. For the nomination, he picked a lesson on how a gene can be switched on and off.

He should have received the award at the association’s national conference in Baltimore, Maryland, but was presented at the Otsego board of education meeting in October.

According to the association’s website, a major portion of the nominee’s career must have been devoted to the teaching of biology/life science, and candidates are judged on their teaching ability and experience, cooperativeness in the school and community, and student-teacher relationships.

“It couldn’t go to a more deserving teacher,” English said. “Otsego is lucky to have him.”

He added that the award is supposed to go to a teacher that promotes biology education within their own building but also reaches beyond their own classroom walls to help others.

“This is exactly what Bob has done throughout his career. In doing so, Bob’s impact can be felt on many students in Northwest Ohio,” English said.

Furlong, who lives in Perrysburg, does a lot of reading and hiking when he is not teaching. He married his Falcon Flame, Michelle, and they have three children.

Furlong figures he has another 10 years of teaching – his first five years at St. Joe’s don’t count toward retirement as it is a private school.

“As long as I can, even though I might be eligible to retire in nine years if I still feel like I’m excited about what I’m doing … I would continue to stay and teach,” he said.


STEM Opportunities

Believe in Ohio Program

The Believe in Ohio program has online STEM Professional Development Workshop Opportunities for STEM and Business/Economics teachers. Believe in Ohio provides the program curriculum in a Google Classroom for teachers. These workshops will familiarize teachers with the concepts of entrepreneurship and design-thinking ideation by engaging teachers in the resources to utilize with students to develop a STEM business or commercialization plan. Through this process of engagement, the workshop will provide instruction and activities to increase teachers' conceptual knowledge of the entrepreneurial mindset, design-thinking, and the relationship between STEM and innovation.For more information, contact: Jenna Pollock: and the website at:


RemotEDx Exchange

The RemotEDx Exchange, powered by INFOhio, is now available to parents and educators looking for easy access to all the supports, services, and resources available through RemotEDx. This includes assistance from the Connectivity Champions, powered by the Management Council and from the Support Squad Concierge Team offered by Ohio’s Educational Service Centers. The Exchange showcases high-quality, remote education tools and platforms, standards-aligned instructional materials and curricula, use-case scenarios and exemplars, and professional learning supports for remote, hybrid, and blended learning environments.


The Ohio Soybean Council Foundation awards for Science Fair Projects

Ohio Soybean Council will award up to three $100 awards at each district science fair and up to $1000 for the best individual and team projects at State Science Day. To be considered, students’ projects need to make a connection to soybeans.

Need some ideas? Click here to visit their science fair resource page with idea starters, questions to consider, and resources to explore. Also, the GrowNextGen website has FREE resources, including curriculum, connections with a teacher and industry leaders, and a place for students to publish research.


Skype a Scientist

Skype a Scientist creates a database of thousands of scientists and helps them connect with teachers, classrooms, groups, and the public all over the globe to give students the opportunity to get to know a real scientist and get the answers to their questions straight from the source.


Free Activities and Resources for K-12 Students

The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) STEM Resources webpage provides several free activities and resources for K-12 students, with an emphasis on transportation. Activities include:

  • Transportation Scavenger Hunt 
  • Preschool and Elementary School Activities
  • Middle School Activities
  • High School Activities

ITE members are also active volunteers within their communities, working to promote transportation careers through K-12 STEM outreach. ITE is always looking for more ways to reach new groups of K-12 students! Contact: and the ITE STEM Committee can connect you with volunteers from our local chapters/sections.


Science Friday

Science Friday creates free STEM activities, lessons, and resources for parents and educators.


Next Gen STEM: Space from a Distance

The Ohio STEM Learning Network proudly announces a new collaboration between science non-profit Battelle and NASA—Next Gen STEM: Space from a Distance.

At, teachers can explore NASA’s standards-aligned, hands-on STEM activities.

Starting next year on February 1st, will feature standards-aligned design challenges designed for K-12 by NASA professionals. Each week will focus on a different piece of NASA’s mission – STEM on Station, Moon to Mars, Commercial Crew, and Aeronaut-X – providing accessible resources to teachers and students in person or virtually.


Google for Education

Teach your students the importance of online privacy and cybersecurity with the free “Be Internet Awesome” online game of Tower of Treasure in Interland:


Microsoft Hack the STEM Classroom

Hack the Classroom: STEM Edition is a free virtual event series designed for K-12 educators, parents, and guardians. The sessions will feature resources and tutorials to help educators support students in learning future-ready skills.


NWO STEM Activity

Poinsettia Chemistry

Make Your Own pH Paper

What You Need

  • Poinsettia plant (several leaves for each group)
  • 400 mL Beaker Or 16 oz. Glass Jar
  • Boiling Water Or Microwave Oven
  • Toothpicks Or Eyedropper
  • Scissors
  • Coffee Filters Or Filter Paper
  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda Solution (2g / 200ml Water)
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Safety Goggles
  • Paper
  • Colored Pencils

What To Do

  1. Start by putting on gloves and safety goggles.
  2. Tear or cut the red poinsettia petals into strips, and place the strips into a beaker or glass jar.
  3. Add boiling water, just enough to cover the plant material, or add cold water to the jar and microwave it for about one minute.
  4. Allow the mixture to steep like tea for about thirty minutes.
  5. Remove the plant matter from the jar so you are only left with the poinsettia solution. Alternatively, strain the solution into another container.
  6. Soak a coffee filter or clean filter paper in the poinsettia solution for a few minutes.
  7. Remove the filter paper and allow it to dry.
  8. Cut the dry filter paper (which should be a shade of pink) with scissors to make pH test strips.
  9. To test the pH of a liquid, use an eyedropper or toothpick to apply a little liquid to a test strip or dip your test strip into small amounts of liquid.
  10. Start by using the vinegar and baking soda solution as the first two tests. Each liquid will create a different color on the pH strips.
  11. Consult a pH chart (e.g., to learn the pH of vinegar and baking soda.
  12. Use the pH numbers from the chart and the colors from your pH strips, begin to create your own pH chart using colored pencils. (The color range for acids and bases will depend on the particular plant you used to make the pH test strips.)
  13. Use the online chart to learn the pH of other liquids that you can then test and include on your own pH chart. Once you have a range of colors and pHs, you can begin to test unknown liquids.
  14. Questions to answer:
  • What color does the test strip turn when it is exposed to an acid (vinegar)?
  • What color does it turn when it is exposed to a base (baking soda solution)?
  • What other liquids would you like to test? Gather your materials and test them.

Important Safety Note: While the popular poinsettia has very low toxicity, care should be taken to minimize skin contact since some people have higher sensitivity or allergy and may develop a rash. Care should also be taken to prevent children from eating any part of the poinsettia plant since it may cause a mild stomachache, vomiting or diarrhea.

Inquiry Corner: What else could you try?

  • Compare your poinsettia paper to litmus paper in your school lab or classroom. Are the indicator colors different when you test the same liquids?
  • What if you steep the plant material longer? Does it affect the color change that occurs when different liquids are tested?
  • Compare pH paper made from the poinsettia to other plant juices such as cherries, beets, blueberries

What’s the Science?

Many different plants have pigments that are very sensitive to changes in acidity. The poinsettia is one example. When acids or bases come into contact with the paper dyed with the plant extract, a color change occurs. That color change allows us to use the poinsettia as litmus paper in this science experiment. The part of the poinsettia that most people refer to as the flowers are real leaves, or bracts. The actual flowers are the small yellow cyathia in the center of the red bracts.

Poinsettia Facts:

The Aztecs were first known to cultivate the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in Mexico long before Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere. The Aztecs used the bracts for a reddish-purple dye and latex derived from the plant to counteract fever. Franciscan priests during the 17th century observed the plant blooming during the Christmas season near Taxco, Mexico. These priests incorporated the plant into the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre nativity procession, which is believed to be how the plant became associated with Christmas and the holiday season. Joel R. Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. minister to Mexico under President James Monroe, sent some plants to his home in South Carolina in 1825 and began cultivating them here in the U.S. The popular plant is named for him.

Adapted from Poinsettia pH Paper - Holiday Chemistry Project by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Click here to download a pdf

Updated: 06/15/2021 10:26AM