STEM work

Yes, as in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (and maybe some Art, down the line, for the new STEAM moniker).

At the Las Cruces Academy, I’m a co-founder with my wife, Dr. Lou Ellen Kay, our son, David Gutschick, and several original and continuing board members.  I’ve taught middle-school science and technology since 2013 and computer programming for grades 3-8 since 2020 (and tennis for all ages, until COVID-19 hit).

This page starts right here with a blog (Content View).  You might want to jump to a long story, very important in our school’s STEM history, about students working to build a periodic table of the chemical elements, controlled by a tiny Raspberry Pi computer that they programmed and presenting both visual guides (LEDs that light up behind element cells) and narrations they researched and recorded.

Rapid electrical discharge experiment

17 November 2020.  We ran an experiment in the middle-school science lab today.  We discharged a big electrical capacitor through ...
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Fun learning chemical kinetics

Our students in grades 4-7 at the Las Cruces Academy, our non-profit private school, enjoyed tracking the decolorization of phenolphtalein ...
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Falling skydiver

A skydiver jumps from a plane. How fast is he or she going at any time? There is a fairly ...
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Model rocketry – equations and tests

Sort of a one-stop-shop for model rocketry theory, experiments, and data analysis for a high-school class, or an advanced middle-school ...
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The archive of all posts from this page is available (useful when more than 6 posts have been made); the full content of each blog is present there.

17 November 2020 We ran an experiment in the middle-school science lab today.  We discharged a big electrical capacitor through a tiny wire.  The energy deposited in the wire obliterated it.  We went way beyond the “Gee! Wow!” aspect of the experiment.  We use lots of physics and math in analyzing the results.  We use equipment uncommon in school labs for setting up the experiment and measuring the voltages.  We also used a high-speed video camera to catch the demise of the wire in action.  This revealed interesting details, including the huge power and huge current coming out the capacitor.

The write-up with lots of images is here:

Learning from a demonstration of an electrical spark vaporizing a bit of copper wire

19 March 2017. One of the most intensive and rewarding teaching efforts spanned 3 years, from December 2013 through December 2016.  Four students began a student project, building a light-up periodic table of the chemical elements, as we call it.

Some new students entered in the middle years. We were inspired by a simpler museum display at the Arecibo Radio Observatory.  With four buttons, a user can go through over 350 stories about the chemical elements – their discovery, abundance,  nucleosynthesis, and interesting facts as ordered by atomic number.  LEDs light up behind the appropriate element(s) on a big chart, and a narration researched and recorded by the students plays. The link here explains the long, intense, and mostly enjoyable work, in which students worked with me on every aspect: design of the user experience, physical construction, wiring, electronics, Python programming, and more.  If you’d like a DVD with the full story and all the narrations, please email me at

Early on, students learned everything from wiring and soldering to programming:

Here are links to all the pieces, other than the student’s narrations, which occupy over 0.5 GB:

  • The full story of the LUPT, as a PDF file.
  • A shorter version, also PDF.
  • A link to the 8-minute video on YouTube.
  • A sample of the narrations.  Remember, these were written and recorded by students in 4th to 6th grade at the time:
    • From the session on nucleosythesis: supernova
    • From the session on elements by atomic number: cerium
    • From the session on discovery of the elements: fluorine
    • From the session on abundance of elements in the human body: calcium; catch the one oversight
    • From the session of abundance of elements in the Earth’s crust: lithium
  • The final Python program we all wrote:
    • As used with our own special logic board, our small TFT display for the user’s options, and the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi computer
    • A version that uses keyboard input on Windows and that plays narrations, but doesn’t light up LEDs or show on a TFT display.  You can see the program logic
    • A similar version, for Linux
    • Instructions for installing and using Python
  • And, to be sure, a table of contents of the DVD, should you want one.
  • Our logic board


Coming soon: A short and (sort-of) straightforward exercise used the data from our (alas, temporarily down) satellite ground station that received imagery from the NOAA-18 and -19 satellites.  I drew on  my experience with much process modeling and field work on plant canopies, studying their fluxes – CO2, water vapor, energy, momentum.  I decided to show the students the strong relation of leaf cover (as NDVI = normalized difference vegetation index) and surface temperature, Ts.  This meant making visual identification of a nice string of satellite image pixels covering wide variations in NDVI (easy to find, near our school, which the students liked to see) and retrieving both NDVI and Ts.  This was a bit tedious, since we had to find the lat/long coordinates in the big files.  In the end, there was a striking negative correlation of Ts with NDVI, with a slope indicating a drop of Ts from 70°C on our bare desert soils to 30°C at the top of a full canopy, on one summer day.  I’ve attached a small Excel spreadsheet.