'We are there to guide them'


Jonathan Craig, director of the Talcott Mountain Science Center in Avon, Connecticut, believes in the power of hands-on learning. He’s even experienced it himself.

“I was always a concrete learner,” says Craig. “I just figured things out.”

Now Craig, a 36-year veteran science teacher – and Pitsco’s August 2015 Teacher of the Month – enjoys watching students figure things out for themselves.
“Children need respect and to learn self-esteem through their accomplishments,” he explains. “We are there to guide them.”

Hands-on projects, he says, are a great way to help students develop that sense of accomplishment. As director of the science center, he gets to see firsthand the effects of hands-on learning. “The more students can make a project their own and actually put together the pieces, the more they will understand.”

Craig also trains hundreds of teachers each year at the center and is working on new curriculum for alternative energy, Earth, and environmental sciences. He cites his greatest teaching accomplishment as “working with thousands of students and teachers and sharing my love for learning often by creating new learning situations and curricula.”

Jonathan Craig, thank you for creating independent learners through your various hands-on projects. Congratulations on being named Pitsco’s August 2015 Teacher of the Month.

Learn more about Jonathan Craig here. Read about our other Teacher of the Month recipients at

STEM at its best


For the remainder of 2015, Pitsco Education will be running a series of blogs showcasing the Teacher Advisory Group (TAG). Four questions will be addressed for each TAG member in the blog series.

Laura Spence currently serves as the STEM Coordinator for Pinellas County Schools, Florida. She has established 152 after-school STEM Academies, impacting more than 3,000 students. During 1997, Laura began her postsecondary education at Rhode Island College, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in reading from Providence College, and a master’s degree in science from the University of Texas at Arlington.

For a term of three years, Laura served on the NSTA Committee of Professional Development, where she helped to feature best science instructional practices and assessed NSTA’s conference session proposals. Laura currently hosts an award-winning STEM television series on WPDS-TV14 that can also be found on YouTube, Science Rocks Pinellas, which highlights STEM concepts and events throughout the state of Florida.

In addition to hosting an educational television series, Laura is also a contributing columnist for the local newspaper, Modern Education, in which she uses her article “The STEM Effect” to address and educate families about current trends in the world of STEM. In 2008, Laura was selected by Pinellas County Schools as the Most Valuable Science Teacher and was recognized for this award during the National Science Teachers Association Conference in New Orleans.

Want some STEM solutions for the classroom? Laura has provided some great tips below.

What is something unique about your classroom?

Serving as the district’s STEM Coordinator, I don't have a classroom, but what is unique about my position is that I was able to create 152 after-school STEM Academies and 10 robotics clubs! Every afternoon I make it a point to visit an Academy to see what amazing things they are working on. These site visits provide me with an opportunity to learn from teachers and students across the district. What's unique about my office space is that I try to display STEM models and products to inspire both myself and visitors – looking at STEM materials always ignites unique conversations.

Provide a best tip for classroom management.

The biggest tip that I can provide for classroom management would be to explore your STEM materials before you share them with students. Exploring materials on your own allows you to think about potential problems, ways to enhance your existing lessons, and ways to make learning relevant to students by connecting their learning to real-world problems and careers.

What is your best piece of advice for a new teacher?

My best advice for a new teacher is to connect to technology. As a new teacher, many times you are given curriculum out of a textbook, and although it can be a great resource, technology makes learning relevant for students. Having students learn about STEM concepts through both print material and hands-on experiences will keep students engaged and wanting to learn more.

What do you hope to gain from being a member of TAG?

As a new TAG member, I am hoping to learn from others around the world so that it helps me to expand my STEM creativity! So far, I have been able to network with others who might have been otherwise out of reach to share ideas and concepts relating to Pitsco products and STEM. It is also a great opportunity for me to work with excited and like-minded people who enjoy talking about and working with STEM curriculum. In a way, it offers me a platform to receive professional development, which is critical in the role that I currently serve.

Turning up the heat with solar energy


Our main source of electricity comes from fossil fuels, which have been rising in environmental, economic, and supply concerns. For years, engineers have been working to find a solution to these complications. Alternative energy sources are the solution, but when will they begin to make a difference?

Solar energy has become a widespread source of alternative energy. Today, you might see homes with solar panels on the rooftops or solar water heaters beside them. The reasoning behind this is in the long run, solar panels can reduce your electric and gas bills dramatically. Along with economic reasons, the trend for the past couple of decades has been to “go green.”
Solar water heating, for example, has been around since the 1920s, and it is still increasing in popularity. Back in 2002, President George W. Bush added two solar water heaters to the White House in order to save energy and help the environment. What if one day, your student(s) could be the engineer producing solar water heaters and making a difference?

SolarWaterHeater_hands_0715With Pitsco’s Homeschool Solar Water Heater Pack, you can get your student(s) to start thinking like a solar engineer. When I was building this solar water heater, I learned the simplicity behind solar water heating. It’s all about that black foil layer; black absorbs sunlight, which heats whatever runs through the aluminum tubing.

As a kid, do you remember taking a magnifying glass and trying to heat a piece of grass or start a fire? Well, the purpose of the transparent plastic is the same concept. It's there to enhance the Sun’s rays and heat the black foil to a higher temperature. With the activities provided in An Engineer Looks at Solar Water Heating, your student(s) can learn how to extend this project and heat a larger tank of water. By building this kit and learning these concepts, your student(s) might spark an interest in solar energy and make a difference in how we produce electricity and heat water.

Related links:
An Engineer Looks at Solar Water Heating
Solar H2O Water Heater
Flexible Solar Panel

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