Tag Archives: STEAM

Monday Musings: Working together to make a difference in the world

27 Feb
Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you'll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect at Western Hills Middle School.

Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you’ll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect team at Western Hills Middle School.

I know I say it often, but I truly love my job as a newspaper reporter. I love what I do every day, even on the busiest, toughest days. One of the reasons I love it is that as a reporter who focuses on school news for the Cranston Herald, I get to see some really amazing things being done in the schools. Another reason I love it is that I often get a glimpse into the educational goings-on for my own three children as I get to cover many of the big things they are involved in at school. Today’s post shares the news about a story which combines both of those perks.

My second daughter Liz has been involved in the after school extra-curricular STEM program at her middle school for both of the years she has been enrolled at the school. My youngest daughter has also joined this school year as a new sixth-grader. The club usually meets a couple of times a week and over the past four years or so that it’s been in existence the group has worked with app development, coding, drones, 3D printing, and more. The club has had a team of their students win the Verizon App Challenge “Best in State” title for several years in a row and the “Best in Region” title once as well. They have had a great reputation for winning this challenge, which provided money for the program and prizes for the kids, and over the years the club has grown to 100 or more members, with a second faculty advisor, John Worthington, recently stepping in to help out the founder, Michael Blackburn, because the numbers were so big.

This past fall, the students finished up the annual Verizon App Challenge and went right into a new challenge, the Lexus Eco Challenge. Multiple teams ranging from approximately four to six students had just two weeks to complete the Lexus Eco Challenge. This was a brand new challenge that the STEM club had never tried before and they were under the gun with just two weeks to complete the challenge before the deadline. The challenge asked the students to choose from a variety of environmental issues, such as pollution and poor air quality. They then had to work together as a team to find a possible innovative solution for the chosen problem, create a PowerPoint presentation, a prototype, a video and a Public Service Announcement (PSA) if they had extra time. You can read about all of the teams and their innovative ideas for the Lexus Eco Challenge in this article.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect. Here she is, stunned, shortly after receiving the news that their team had won.

On Friday, January 13th, Liz got an urgent request from a student at her school on behalf of Mr. Blackburn, to take a Facetime call at 3:15 pm, just minutes after she’d gotten off the school bus. It seemed odd, unusual, almost concerning, so she took the call and was given the news from Mr. Blackburn: her team, The Greenhouse Effect had won the Lexus Eco Challenge! She was stunned. We were thrilled for her. In winning, her team became one of just four middle schools and four high schools across the country to win. Each child was given a cash prize, splitting $7,000 between them. The school and the teachers were also given cash prizes. When the check arrived, along with it was a memo that said, “Thank you for making a difference in the world.” You can read about the winning team and their reactions to the news here. They are a special group of amazingly smart students.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

Now, the students are continuing their mission to make a difference in the world. The Greenhouse Effect team has taken on the next and final stage of the Lexus Eco Challenge. They are working to feed the world, and to save the world. Visiting their team recently, speaking to them, listening to them describing their project, their prototype and their end goal was humbling. I don’t think I was ever this smart as a child, this forward-thinking. I am proud to know these kids, and grateful for their teachers who go above and beyond, and then above and beyond that, every single day. You can read about their final challenge project here. I wish them all the best as a reporter, and I am proud to be able to help them spread the word about what they are doing and what they have already accomplished. I am also proud as a parent and thankful that I have the privilege to take an occasional peek into the world in which my kids spend much of their day.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project.

If you would, please also take a moment to check out The Greenhouse Effect on their blog and on a variety of social media platforms. Like them on Facebook. Read their blog. Part of their challenge involves spreading the word about their project and let everyone, everywhere know what they are doing. Please help them change the world, do your little part to help them out by visiting their sites:

Facebook

Blog

Twitter: @LexusEco,  Instagram: @The_Greenhouseeffect

Snapchat: Greenhouse_whms,  and on their YouTube channel.

Congratulations again, and best of luck to The Greenhouse Effect and to their amazing, wonderful teachers, Mr. Michael Blackburn and Mr. John Worthington.

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

 

*Thanks to The Greenhouse Effect for the use of their photos for this blog post!*

 

 

 

Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.

****

It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.

 

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GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine

9 Feb
Stuck inside again? Make your own animation with the GoldiBlox Movie Maker kit!

Stuck inside again? Make your own animation with the GoldieBlox Movie Maker kit!

Is it snowing where you are? Since I heard a crazy statistic last night that something like 42 million people across the country were expecting snow, I’m going to guess that there is a good chance that you, like me, are watching snowflakes fall right at this very moment.

Again.

It’s snowing here this morning, and I’ve begun to get very used to all these days out of school and work. Too used to them actually, and I worry for the next full week of school, which isn’t for two more weeks still. It’s going to be a harsh, harsh reality for all of us when it happens though, of that I am sure.

In the meantime, this weekend we brought back all our unused batteries and unused hand, foot and body warmers from the January 25 blizzard, and instead, we bought new sleds to replace our broken ones. A good purchase, in my opinion, given that by the end of this week’s storm we will have something like 50 inches of snow in total since the middle of January.

We’ve been doing fine on the days off. We haven’t been stuck inside too many days in a row, so we’re not even really going stir crazy. We’ve had enough work to do to keep us busy part of the time and enough other things to do inside to keep everyone relaxed and occupied. I work from home oftentimes no matter what the weather, so I’ve been able to basically maintain my schedule for the most part. I can’t say I’m not enjoying the less stressful weeks either. A cancellation here and there is one less thing on my crazy list of things to do, and I can’t say I hate that. It’s been a nice break.

This was the GoldieBlox kit that had my daughter the most intrigued when she first heard about Goldie and all she had to offer.

This was the GoldieBlox kit that had my daughter the most intrigued when she first heard about Goldie and all she had to offer.

If you’re looking for something to occupy your kids during the days at home, especially if you have daughters like we do, I have the perfect answer for you. I recently reviewed a GoldieBlox Zipline toy and when I did, I mentioned that I had one more GoldieBlox toy to review at a later date. Welcome to my later date.

When my daughter first discovered the GoldieBlox product line, she researched them all and she was very interested in several of them, one of them being the Zipline kit, and one of them being the Movie Machine kit, pictured here. It was this kit that she used her Christmas money to buy just a few days after Christmas had passed. She was so excited to have it in hand, that the very first night we had it, she put almost the whole thing together while still wearing her winter coat. She came in the door and just got started right away.

This kit combines many things my kids love: hands on STEAM activities, history, and literacy. It teaches them the history of the zoetrope, which is the very first type of animation, and teaches them step-by-step how to make their own animated movies in their own zoetrope.

It’s amazing. Truly. When you watch our YouTube video showing one of the animations my daughter made that day, you might actually hear me gasp out loud. It.was.so.cool.  Of course, you might also hear my youngest daughter at the end, telling me that the dog just walked through the room during the video, but that’s okay too, that’s real life.

Making the video of her step-by-step animation actually shows her movie as an animated video, taking the zoetrope project even one step further, which we really enjoyed doing each time she created her animation.

Our very own zoetrope! How cool is that?!?!

Our very own zoetrope! How cool is that?!?!

The kit comes with everything you need to make your own zoetrope and lots of opportunities to make various animated movies, some that are provided and some ideas for creating your own. Each one is more fabulous than the next.

I love that there’s “an app for that” for everything, but I also love when our kids can find out the history and the workings behind the originals for things just like this. My girls love making “Video Star” movies using an app, but I really enjoyed watching them learn about the very first type of animation and see for themselves just how to make images move. One of my favorite animations that came with the kit is the jumping animation shown in our YouTube video link, but one of my favorites that she did on her own was a clock. She made the exact same clock twelve times, moving one hour ahead each time.

So. Amazing.

This kit was affordable enough that my daughter could use her own money to buy it, and it was challenging yet not at all frustrating, so she could create the zoetrope, learn about it, learn how it works and why, and create her animations and enjoy every minute. The kit comes with a box in which you can store all your parts and pieces when not in use, and the zoetrope rolls right back up for easy storage in that same box, which is great for organizational purposes.

If you’re looking for something new and exciting to do on your kids’ next snow day, I’d say definitely check out the GoldieBlox product line and give their kits a try! It’ll be a nice change from being stuck inside with nothing to do but watch TV or play video games. And I guarantee, your kids won’t look at the next animated movie they see, quite the same way ever again.

 

 

Got a future engineer? Try the Young Architect kit!

2 Feb

This project takes some time to complete, which is something I like about it. It shows just how much time and thought is involved in creating house plans.

I spent much of last month discussing many of the STEAM-focused gifts my girls received for Christmas, but there was one that I held off reviewing because although we’d opened it and played with it, it’s not a one-and-done type of project. It’s something that takes some time, and as my nine year-old daughter worked on it, I watched her and took pictures, but I wanted the project to be more complete than not, when I shared it in a blog post. We’re finally getting to that point where she’s almost done, not 100%, but enough where I can share it and you can get the whole picture.

After watching her do some pretty complex house plans on the old Etch-a-Sketch toy, it was clear she was ready for the next step.

After watching our nine year-old do some pretty complex house plans on the old Etch-a-Sketch toy, it was clear she was ready for the next step.

At our house we watch a lot of house hunting/renovating/designing types of shows. We’re big fans of “Love It or List It” and other shows like that. Our youngest daughter in particular has been quite inspired by the house planning and design portions of those types of shows. She’s on the edge of her seat, watching the blueprints take shape and it’s really influenced how she plays and the thing she likes to do in her spare time. She started off this fall, playing with our old Etch-a-Sketch, creating blueprints of imaginary houses, and announced that she’d like to be an engineer when she grows up (she’s also wanted to be a real estate agent, a dog groomer, and a veterinarian in the past, so things could change at any moment, and we get that.)

We know that engineering, like many other math, science and technology jobs, is a career in which women are a minority, and we’ve talked about that with her, but that doesn’t seem to scare her off, at least not so far, which is great. We work hard to keep our kids’ love for these subjects going as they approach their teenage years because we know that it’s often at that time where they get scared away and lose their confidence as compared to males in that same age bracket. We talk a lot about future careers and programs, even at a young age. We’ve already taken her to see the Computer Aided Design department at our local high school’s Career and Technical Center to check out what’s available for her in a few more years. Her mouth dropped when she saw the drafting tables and computer technology available to her there. She was amazed by the 3D houses on display that the students had created. Had she been able to enroll that day at age nine, I think she would’ve signed right up; she was in her glory during that visit. She looked up at the sign that said, “Architectural Engineering” and she said, “That’s me. That’s what I want to be.”

This kit includes everything you need to go from a paper design to a 3D design.

This kit includes everything you need to go from a paper design to a 3D design.

In November last year, as the girls were making their Santa lists, our daughter found a similar kit in a magazine catalog to the Alex brand Scientific Explorer Young Architects kit pictured here, and she put it on her list. At the time, it could be found for $55 on the Walmart website, and ran about $75 in the other catalog where she first saw it.

Watching and listening to the thought process and problem solving that goes into these house plans was amazing.

Watching and listening to the thought process and problem solving that goes into these house plans was amazing.

The kit came with everything she’d need to create a blueprint house design on paper, fill it with furniture and then add walls, windows and doors using plexiglass fixtures, creating an entire 3D house plan. It was very exciting when she opened it on Christmas morning. She was so thrilled and could not wait to get started.

Over the vacation weeks she began

It was fascinating to watch the project go from its beginning stages of using stencils to outline the rooms to the more complex stages.

It was fascinating to watch the project go from its beginning stages of using stencils to outline the rooms to the more complex stages.

working, using the stencils to lay out her walls and determine what spaces would be which kinds of rooms. That alone, took some time. It was fascinating for me to be a fly on the wall, watching her figure things out, thinking out loud and problem solving as she went along. She worked for hours at a time, several nights in a row, until she had all the rooms drawn out. She asked me for little post it-notes to label each room so she wouldn’t forget what was what when it came time to add in furniture. Picturing the doors for each room as a little half circle was a little confusing for her, so we went into our bedrooms and I showed her how the doors made the half circle marks on the rugs, which on paper would indicate where an actual door would be, and then she got it, adding them in and figuring out in which direction they opened and closed in or out of a room.

The kit has absolutely everything she needs to create a very comprehensive house plan.

The kit has absolutely everything she needs to create a very comprehensive house plan.

The kit included a plexiglass table-top board, extra-large pieces of tracing paper, stencils for outlining the rooms, diagrams for tracing all kinds of furniture, doors and appliances into the rooms, colored pencils for coloring the furniture (we added in a bigger variety of colored pencils), and plexiglass walls of all sizes, along with the cubes to connect them and keep them standing upright, which creates the 3D effect, as is seen at the top of the blog post.

When we had our blizzard last week, she took out her kit and finished up coloring in her furniture and began placing the cubes in the corners of each room so that she could put up her walls. Her house plan currently looks just as the photo shows it at the top of this blog post. I couldn’t be more proud, and more amazed at her work, at the level of the complexity of her thinking, and at her talent. The only step she really has left is to use the included removable decals to add in windows and doors on the walls of her rooms. We can’t wait to see the finished product, and I think she’s already looking forward to having it on display for a little while and then taking it all apart in order to start all over again. Thankfully there are six pieces of tracing paper in the kit so that she can do up to six different house designs before I have to find more paper for her.

I’d highly recommend this Alex Young Architect design kit for all your aspiring young architects and engineers whether they are boys are girls. The kit is moderately priced, and is well stocked with everything they need for hours and hours of creating and designing. It’s been a perfect, perfect STEAM gift for our aspiring female architectural engineer, and I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Young Architect Kit 7

 

 

 

 

Fun Friday: A surprising teachable moment

16 Jan
Freaky, yes. Educational? Who knew?

Freaky, yes. Educational? Who knew?

Have you seen them? Have you seen the Monster High dolls yet?

They are bizarre-looking, zombie-like dolls, about the size and shape of a Barbie doll, but clearly *not* a Barbie.

My younger kids love them. They have lots of them. The Monster High dolls room with their Ever After High dolls downstairs in the Barbie Dreamhouse, lounging by the pool together. The Monster High dolls have grey, green or blue skin colors (there might even be other skin colors, but these are the ones we have) and some really monster-ish features to them. They’re unique for sure, and we don’t discriminate on skin color at our house, no matter what color it is. That in itself is a good lesson.

But whatever, not everything can be a stellar STEM/STEAM learning toy, right?

Or can it?

Surprisingly, it can, and no one was more shocked by this fact than I was, believe me.

Now clearly, we don’t have any kind of toy rule or anything, where every toy we buy has to be educational in nature, or STEM/STEAM related. A toy can just be a toy, too, so I was shocked when it turned out that my daughter’s recent purchase of a Freaky Fusion Monster High doll, the newest in the Monster High collection, was found at Barnes and Noble Bookstore. Usually the bookstore sells, well…books. And devices, and learning toys. But a Monster High Freaky Fusion doll? That must’ve been a mistake.

We do have a toy rule with our kids that leading up to the holidays they are not to use their own money to make any frivolous purchases. They need to wait until after the holidays, see what they’ve received, see what old toys need to be given to someone who will make good use of them, and only then can they take their money they’ve saved as well as any money they received as a gift for Christmas and then they can make some spending choices.

Oh my goodness....

Oh my goodness….

The day after Christmas, my youngest wanted to purchase one of the things that was not brought by Santa, and not given to her from anyone else: a Freaky Fusion doll and a Recharge Chamber. This is when we say, “It’s your money, you saved it and if this is how you want to spend it, that’s up to you.” Sometimes we hope they’ll reconsider and think that it’s a silly way to blow twenty bucks, or in this case almost $50, but it doesn’t always happen that way. To me though, the true-er lesson is a week or two later when they have nothing left in their spending money and they see something they like, but now can’t buy because they own whatever it was they so desperately “needed” two weeks prior.  Financial responsibility…it’s a work in progress. They earn their money, they save it, they spend it, sometimes they’re happy they did, sometimes they wish they didn’t. It’s an on-going thing.

Anyway, I digress….

On December 27 we happened to be in Barnes and Noble looking for a different toy that was supposed to be educational for another daughter who desperately wanted it (and you’ll see that one on here next week). They didn’t have it, but lo and behold, there on the shelf was Frankie Stein and her Recharge Chamber. I just happened to have daughter #3’s money envelope in my pocketbook. We counted, we checked the price, and she had enough money. She didn’t want to shop around for a cheaper price or a better deal. She had the money, she wanted the doll, wanted the chamber and she got it.

Well now....wait a minute, what's that say?

Well now….wait a minute, what’s that say?

Imagine my surprise when I see the note on the box that talks about the fact that this toy employs the use of static electricity and then gives a spot on their website where the kids can go and watch some videos to learn more about static electricity! Well now…that’s kind of cool.

Did I make her go home and immediately find the link, watch it and learn about static?

No. By the time we got to the car, I was already on to the next thing, and I really didn’t care if this was a learning toy or not. That wasn’t my objective this time.

Did she do it on her own, unbeknownst to me?

Got Static?

Got Static?

Yes, and she actually learned something.

I know this because later on, on a different day when she was playing with the toy at the dining room table, holding her hand up to the doll’s hair as it flew out all over the place from the static, she told me about the Recharge Chamber, and how it worked and what static was, and why.

I must say, I was impressed, and surprised.

Shocked, you might say.

Get it? It’s a static electricity pun!

So…although this was not our goal, to buy a STEM doll of the Monster High Freaky Fusion sort, it turns out that we did. I say “we,” but really it was my daughter. She saved her money, chose what she wanted to buy, and chose an educational, unique toy and she was pretty happy with her choice.

Who knew?!

 

 

Post-holiday review: 6 in 1 Solar Robotikits

12 Jan
There's nothing more rewarding than working on something mechanical and seeing it do what it's supposed to do!

There’s nothing more rewarding than working on something mechanical and seeing it do what it’s supposed to do!

As I’ve been mentioning over the past week or so during my post-holiday reviews, our over-arching theme for gifts this year was definitely a STEAM theme: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. Today’s review is for the Robotikits 6 in 1 Educational Solar Kit. I know that  we’ve often seen this kit in catalogs, especially the Mindwares catalog, and my kids have always thought it looked like a cool toy, but the kit we received from Santa this year was a less expensive kit, kind of an overstocks type of deal such as this one where you get the barebones supplies for a very low cost and your item is shipped to you just in a clear plastic bag with the supplies and directions enclosed. Not pretty in the packaging, but it’s very budget-friendly and you still have everything you need. I believe that this particular kit cost Santa less than $5.00.

This kit allows you to use one gear box and one solar panel and 21 plastic pieces to create six different solar powered machines: a windmill, a dog, a revolving plane, an airboat, a car and a plane. You can also use the pieces enclosed to try creating your own inventions.

The kit is for ages 10 and up, and our 9 year old was on the receiving end. It was definitely not something that she could do on her own yet, and we had to end up calling Dad to the rescue due to some initial confusion on my part. But, they worked on the project she chose to be her first one, a windmill, and then took it outside in the sunshine to give it a try. Seeing her face light up when it began spinning was priceless. You can catch a quick glimpse of it spinning in this short YouTube video. Even I was amazed, watching it go. It was fascinating watching it stop as you moved it out of the direct sunlight and then go again when you moved it back into the direct sunlight. You can hear my amazement and a little bit of our discussion about direct sunlight vs. indirect sunlight in this short video.

I think that projects that cause you to go outside of your comfort zone, that allow parents and kids to problem-solve together, and that produce a tangible result are great. This is one of those gifts. For now, our daughter’s windmill is proudly displayed in her bedroom, but she’ll eventually change it up and choose another solar powered machine to create. She may need some help with it, but she’s learning great hands-on lessons about the mechanics of solar power, and I think she’s really loving her gift.

I would definitely recommend this gift, and whether you choose to go with pretty packaging or bare bones, I think you’ll be pleased with the product itself. It’s been a great learning experience for all of our daughters.

Post-holiday review: Crayola Virtual Design Pro Fashion Collection

9 Jan
Art, technology and affordability all in one. More STEAM gifts for my kids this Christmas.

Art, technology and affordability all in one. More STEAM gifts for my kids this Christmas.

In my first holiday review post on Wednesday, I talked a bit about how my kids love both science and art, and how this year their Christmas gifts were a great combination of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Math, not just the STEM area alone. Today’s product is a gift that is quite artistic and creative in nature, and yet uses technology as well.

The Crayola Virtual Design Pro Fashion Collection is something the kids saw on TV in a commercial prior to Christmas. It appealed to them immensely because for two years now, they have all three been students at Jerilyn’s Sewing School here in our city. It’s a sewing school primarily for kids, although it’s expanding now to include adults as well, since moving from Jerilyn’s basement out into an actual storefront facility, and it’s the only one in our state licensed to teach the Kids Can Sew and Fashion Design curriculum, which is a kid-friendly, step-by-step sewing curriculum. It’s a school I stumbled upon as part of my job when I was asked to cover their 2013 fashion show at the end of the school year. It’s an annual event that allows the kids to walk the runway, modeling all of the items they made during that school year. I was astounded as I saw dozens of kids of all ages from first grade through high school showing off items as simple as funky pillow cases, to as complicated as floor-length prom gowns for a senior prom. My kids had been asking to sew for years, but I don’t know how and I had no idea this even existed. I signed them all up the next month and it’s been an amazing experience, opening up a whole new creative avenue for them as well as a whole new option for a future career path in the fashion design and merchandising world, if they so desire.

As it is, sewing is a technical and mathematical skill but it’s also a creative, artistic skill. My most favorite thing of all, besides seeing their finished products, is watching them the day we go to the fabric store to pick out the fabrics for whatever their next project will be. I love watching their creative thought process play out in front of me as the compare fabrics and choose something that’s either “so me” or something that’s so unusual and out-of-the-box, that I can’t wait to see it come together in their next piece.

Designing on paper is only the first half of the fun!

Designing on paper is only the first half of the fun!

The Crayola Virtual Design Fashion Collection (which also has a car collection for boys) is a complete art set in a hard carrying case, which allows you to download an app so that once you have completed your designs on paper, you can see them on a model on the runway, virtually. We allowed the kids to download the app on one of our phones, since the younger ones don’t have their own phones until middle school. That piece is the technology piece and is consistent with real life. There’s an “app for that” for everything, including room design and fashion design, so seeing the virtual models walk the runway in the clothes they’ve designed is a great parallel to a real life experience in a career like fashion design.

Priced at less than $30, and with frequent coupons and sales dropping the price even lower leading up to the holidays, I think this makes a great, affordable gift for kids who are into design. With the advent of shows such as Threads and Project Runway, which make sewing “cool” and “trendy,” this gives kids a chance to do a little bit of what they see on some of the television shows, especially my own kids who not only can draw it on paper, and see it on the virtual runway, but also now have the skills to go in their room and create it for real, and even model it in a real fashion show through Jerilyn’s.

Virtual Design Pro 2

There’s an app for that!! See your designs walk down the runway, turning around to show both front and back, once your designs are complete!

As an added bonus at our house, our television has a Chromecast set up with it, allowing you to “cast” what’s on your phone screen (or other device such as a Nook for example) onto the big screen television. So not only do they see the virtual fashion show of model after model walking down the runway in all of their own designs, but they can see it here on the big screen. It was beyond exciting the first time we did it and saw it come to life on television.

Initially upon opening up the art portfolio, we thought that you could only use the types of media that were found in the case. However, my friend Gina, whose daughter also received this for Christmas, let me know that she tried glitter pens and metallic markers and those worked as well. The model shown here is modeling a dress which used a silver metallic marker and red glitter glue pens in the design, a perfect dress for the holidays!

The more designs you create, the more models that participate in your fashion show, encouraging kids to keep up the great work.

I’ve been so pleased with this gift, another A+ for Santa! I highly recommend it for girls interested in the world of fashion and design. It goes perfectly with our mission of keeping girls moving forward in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math!