Friday, November 30, 2012

Top Resources for Tweens and Engineering: #STEMchat Summary

We had a great time at the Tweens and Engineering #STEMchat. In fact, the chat was so lively it trended on Twitter! And as you will see below everyone shared so many great links and ideas. Many thanks to our sponsor and source of many excellent resources for emerging tween engineers, Design Squad. Thanks also to panelists Beth Blecherman, Amy Kraft, and Christy Matte. Kudos also to Jen Merrill bringing a sense of order from a rambling transcript.

Join us on Tuesday evening, December 11 Thursday, December 6 for a Hack-y Holiday discussion about homemade gifts and gifts to buy that keep on giving. Sign up for a monthly #STEMchat reminder here. To be part of the #STEMchat brain trust, sign up here.

Q1 At what age did your child first start displaying engineering skills? What was he/she doing?

In general, engineering skills and interests were obvious between ages 2 and 5, sometimes earlier.


Q2 What resources help your child build engineering skills?

 (There was no question 3)
Q4 What examples can we share with our kids to show that engineering actually does change the world?


Q5 How have you been able to set yp an environment for your kids that is conducive to engineering?  
  • We always ask why and search for answers, and we participate in local STEM-related events.
  • Give them some different projects and let them pick. Let them decide what the final product will be able to do. Give kids a real problem to solve. Provide lots of materials. Encourage a lot of possible solutions
  • We provide the time to experiment and create, as well as the mental space. Kids are natural engineers. For older kids, gentle guidance and suggestions, but still a lot of space and time to fail. Failure is good.
  • Lots of the good supplies. All different kinds of tape is a big one in our house. We have special bins for collecting raw materials, recyclables, etc... for building.  Need materials on hand for inspiration. Duct tape. Rulers. Lots of pencils and cool paper handy. String (yep). Crazy Machine type software. Tape, foam, markers, cardboard and random bits. In addition to having raw materials, having an age appropriate tool kit / bin with tools, tape, etc…
  • We added on to our house to make a "play room". It's more maker space and science lab now.
  • Watching Last Lecture by Randy Pausch helped me realize that my daughter's STEM "mess" should be supported.
  • Libraries and Makerspaces--great for families that don't have space or budget for lots of projects.
  • Sometimes an online environment for designing and building can cut down clutter.
  • We visit manufacturing facilities to see how things are made.
  • Take photos of completed projects and putting in album. Bonus of making it easier to retire old projects. Great site for ideas and storing pics.
  • One of my favorite sites: Adafruit.


Q6 What advice would you give other parents who want to get their kids interested in engineering?
  • Let kids play. They naturally want to question everything.  Help them figure things out, but don't do it for them. Show them cool things and then empower them to make their own versions.
  • Find something that interest your kids and find people that are in engineering that do just that
  • Kids need down time, to think, let their minds wander and be bored. Creativity emerges after all the whining is over. 
  • Encourage kids to ask good questions about a problem and brainstorm possible solutions as a start
  • Start small. Here is a SUPER easy and fun project: The Unpoppable Balloon!
  • Ask questions... How could we improve this object?
  • Science-based drop-off play. Storefront Science in my neighborhood, and Brooklyn Robot Foundry
  • Model your grownup love of engineering with spirit of play & curiosity.
  • Find a topic that they are interested in. If they like cars. have them try to build a Balloon Car.
  • We've attended the US Science & Engineering Fest for 2 years running now. Love how kids can see STEM use in diff ways
  • Ask kids questions to get them thinking + problem solving. How things work, why they do what they do, other ways to do it, etc.
  • Show them STEM websites & projects, but let kids decide which projects to do.
  • Tape Measure cars are cool.  Strap a tape onto four wheels, call out measurement.  Once kids get it they race by letting go.
  • Going to Italy was a huge game changer for my daughter. Seeing that Engineering existed 2000 years ago was a "whoa" moment.
  • Google Earth is a nice virtual way to show engineering; can see 3D models of some of the world's greatest engineering marvels

Q7 What challenges do you face as a parent in helping your child build his/her skills?
  • I always wish I could explain the science behind why things work better.
  • Some of it is time. Some of it is finding age and knowledge appropriate ways to explain things. Or the space to leave works in progress out over an extended period of time.
  • It can be hard to have the patience to let kids complete a project on their own, wanting to jump in to help speed things along.
  • I think a lot of parents don't have the knowledge to help their kids. They're intimidated.
  • Make sure you rotate projects to find ones that are interesting to all siblings.
  • Coming up with fresh ideas is difficult. Also keeping a balance between order and chaos. 
  • Frustration when we can't find the answer - digging in until we do.
  • Keeping them focused on the goal.  Engineering is not easy and it takes going through the hard times to get to the good rewards
  • It's tough finding time to do extra STEM stuff when regular school homework takes up more and more time each year.
  • Sometimes there's a pressure parents feel to sign their kids up for expensive classes, but there's a lot that can be done at home


Q8 Do you think anything special needs to be done to get girls interested in engineering?
  • In science class boys grab spotlight and take the lead in hands-on naturally. May have to push girls to engage. My DD and girls in her class are constantly struggling to get the boys to stop interrupting them.
  • I think girls are more afraid of making a mistake and "looking dumb." They may need more guidance and support to get started.
  • Showing how women have been successful in engineering. Also bring engineering activities into things that girls typically.
  • Let girls embrace STEM in their own way! Make engineering "cool" and FUN!
  • It's great if you can find projects that match their other hobbies so they see how engineering relates to them.
  • Set up girl science clubs in your neighborhood.
  • If you've got a girl who likes dolls and dollhouses, check out Roominate.
  • Also, these super cool open source circuit modules, littleBits, for kids (and adults). The CEO is a woman.
  • Introduce to different types of engineering. Bio, environmental, genetic, etc. Don't have to construct physical object to engineer.
  • We also love the PBS show SciGirl.
  • I think finding the right kind of role model is key to attracting girls and boys both to Engineering Fields.
Thanks again to our sponsor, Design Squad Nation, be sure to check out their new Facebook page for STEM educators.


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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

RoboBrrd: STEM Girl Friday

robobrrd
I first learned about RobotGrrl and her RoboBrrds from last summer's Maker Camp Already a Maker Faire fave and host of a weekly G+ Robot party hangout, she's taking it to the next level with an Indiegogo (a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter) campaign.

Erin, a Canadian with interests in robots, programming, artificial intelligence, and sociable robots, has already reached her initial funding, and is now working on her stretch goal. With just a few days left, she might make it. Take a look at the Robobrrd project and consider helping her out (you might get a nifty holiday gift for your efforts).

Today's a bonus day on the blog--two posts. Check out the summary of the November #STEMchat. It's chock full of amazing resources burgeoning engineers.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Visualizing Vastness

carbon nanotube scaled up. It's hard to visualize the nanoscale
In my post on teaching naontechnology, I noted that I (and many others) have trouble visualizing life scaled down to the nano level (10 to the -9 meters), but also really big things, like the vastness of  space, so I was excited to see this piece in The New York Times by Steven Strogantz. Visualizing vastness is a problem from many of us.

Interestingly, he shifts from talking about the distribution of planets in our solar systems to the distribution of wealth in America and why we have a hard time understanding the vast difference in wealth between our nation's poorest and richest.

It's all about the powers of 10, baby.

This video on Powers of 10 was posted with the piece. It's an old, but classic glimpse of both large and small scale world.



Am I the only one who feels desperately lonely glimpsing the universe at 10 to the 14th?


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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

littleBits Electronics Fun for Girls and Boys (and Mom and Dads)

girls playing with littleBits electronic modules
I was delighted to include littleBits in my STEM gift round-up for kids on WGN Morning News yesterday. Part of the fun was incorporating the small electronic modules into some of the other items I was showing off. For example, knowing my display already had a lot of moving parts and pieces, I used the littleBits vibrating motor from the starter kit for my Art Bot instead of bringing wires and batteries.

It was so easy, I created a quick video recap at home. Note that this project was inspired by Kathy Cerceri's book, Robotics.


At the risk of sounding girly, littleBits are the cutest electronics components I've ever seen. The splashes of color used to code the components, or bits, make them zippy, fun and inviting, especially for girls. And because they connect with tiny magnets, it's impossible to connect them improperly.

Which is not to say that they can't be assembled in a the "wrong" order, but the kids I showed the kit to learned pretty quickly through play (experimentation) that input, the pink bits, needed to precede output, or green bits, in order to do their job.

So maybe this is what happens when a woman is behind a product like this. Shout out to Ayah Bdeir!

Even the packing is attractive. Not only can the littleBits box sit right on my increasingly crowded makerspace shelves, but each bit rests neatly inside the box in its own little nest.  I <3. Are you listening, Arduino?

Seriously, whether trying to organize a workshop or simply fit in with the rest of a child's toys and art supplies, the littleBits packaging is a plus.

LittleBits are good for general exploration and play, but they can also be incorporated in arts and crafts projects to add a bit of sparkle. For all the buzz created by Roominate as the great new electronics project for girls, especially among my friends with daughters (I liked it enough, but am part of the MOB, Moms Of Boys), I'd say get your girls a few bits and a couple of shoe boxes or scrap wood and go to town. Or build one.

I'm looking forward to playing around with these even more.

The Starter Kit is $89, the Extended Kit shown in the segment sells for $149. Bits are also sold individually to suit your creative and budgetary needs.

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Disclosure: littleBits provided me with a starter kit and an extender kit for review. All opinions are my own.

Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hot Holiday STEM Gifts for Kids. P.S. I'm on TV!

Did you see me on WGN Morning News earlier today? You can watch here. I was thrilled to share some of 2012's best STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) and tech gifts for kids (of all ages). If you like what you see here, join me on Twitter on December 6 at 9 PM for #STEMchat. This month's topic: Hack-y Holidays.

Click to see my STEM gift picks for 2013!

MakeDo 
Three simple, re-usable parts that lead to a whole lot of open-ended creative play. A safe-saw lets kids cut and punch holes, a re-clip clamps material together (say goodbye to tape and scissors!) and lock-hinge creates joints that are hinged in set position or can swing freely. Available in "make anything kits" and "guided kits." Prices range from $25 for Make Anything Kit for One to $15 and up for the guided kits.

My nieces and I had fun making items for segment. I'll share more about our experience in a future post.

makedo robot kit contains a safe saw, lock-hinge, and re-clip clamps plus other items to create a fun robot.  STEM gifts for kids
Guided Kit for a robot.
Check out this fun contest with MakeDo and Chicago-based Threadless.


Snap Circuits Light Set from Elenco
The light set retails for about $70. I was thrilled to be among the first to try it a few months ago. Read about my thoughts to the light set and watch a video here.

snap circuits light set  STEM gifts for kids
Snap Circuits Light Set


littleBits
Founded by Ayah Bdeir, (a woman!), littleBits is a system of modular electronics that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping and play. Orinigally intended for adults, they're quite a hit with kids, too. The littleBits starter kit (below) gets you started with a variety of functional "bits" and almost no learning curve. Just connect and play. Color coded modules (power, input, output, and wire) magnetically stick together to make larger circuits.

The Starter Kit is $89, the Extended Kit shown in the segment sells for $149. Bits are also sold individually to suit your creative and budgetary needs.

littlebits starter kit STEM gifts for kids

Bonus: all the of the components nest in their own spot within the sturdy box. This makes it easy clean up and be ready to create again when you subsequently open the box.


Lego Mindstorms
The box contains everything needed to build a programmable robot, several of them actually.  The Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 contains  619 elements including LEGO TECHNIC building elements, gears, wheels, tracks and tires, as well as an NXT micro-computer that acts as the brain of the robot. The NXT can be programmed to take inputs from sensors and activate the servo motors.

2012 STEM Tech holiday gifts for tweens

The set includes touch sensors, an ultrasonic sensor, a color sensor and three interactive servo motors, building instructions for the first robot (other instructions can be found online) and an introduction to the hardware and software (an icon-based programming language called NXT-G) and a test pad.

The LEGO Mindstorms set retails for $279.00.


Robotics by Kathy Cerceri
This low-tech book will help your child (and you) understand high-tech robots and even build a few of your own. I first mentioned the book here. Robotics provides a great overview of robots with 20 related projects that can be completed with objects from around your house and maybe a trip to Radio Shack for a few basic components. (Click for seasonal Radio Shack coupon.)



Makey Makey by SparkFun
The brainchild of Jay "hack the world" Silver and Eric Rosenbaum both of MIT's famed Media Lab, this no-frills kit lets you turn anything into a keyboard. Why? It's cool! And if you know Arduino programming you can take the action up notch or five. My twelve-year-old really wanted to come on-air with me to demonstrate how he wired the Makey Makey into a MineCraft game controller, but being a mean mom, I made him go to school and instead showed how to play a keyboard with marshmallows (lame, I know, but bananas don't always travel well). The basic kit sells for $49.95.
Watch the video below to truly appreciate the Makey Makey. Of course, we'll be making our own videos with this soon enough, so be sure to check back on the blog or subscribe to our YouTube channel.




Hack your holidays with gifts like these that keep on giving because they grow with your child!

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updated 11/12 to make the post more Pinterest-friendly with this shot:



Disclosure: I was provided with these items for review. All opinions are my own. I do not participate in any affiliate programs, therefore, I do not receive any compensation for items purchased via the links above.

Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Getting Girls to Dig Laser Technology: STEM Girl Friday

There's a campaign on IndieGoGo, a crowd funding site similar to Kickstarter, aimed at "making light coherent for girls." The goal is to create a fun video game to help middle school girls learn about laser physics and technology.

Sarah Boisvert wants to produce a video game on the topic that provides a good challenge with "cute, cuddly" creatures that girls will find endearing and without the extraneous violence that turns girls off.

Why? As with other STEM areas, there's a dearth of girls in laser physics. In fact, it appears that a typical gathering of laser physicists looks a lot like images from the Republican National Convention--lots of white men. (That's an observation, not an interpretation, people.)

The idea is worthwhile, but the project details are vague and the pitch video (below) lacks the pizzazz of what I typically see on Kickstarter. You can donate to the project through December 1, 2012.

If the project fails to meet its fundraising goals, I hope Ms. Boisvert will add a bit of sparkle as well as more details (character sketches, storyline for the video game and how it tests with her target audience and STEM educators) and relaunch the campaign in 2013.

 

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey with a Side of Math

YouTube Math sensation Vi Hart doesn't mess around when she plans a Thanksgiving dinner.

Wishing my American friends a happy holiday!


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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No More Twinkies, No More Science?

twinkies and science
When Hostess announced their closing the other day, there was a run on Twinkies in stores across the country. Why not stock up on the golden, spongy cakes rumored to be able to survive months years in a closet and still be edible? While many share personal stories about the loss of Twinkies, we need to look at what this means for science.

As my friend Rebecca Levey pointed out to me, Twinkies have played a critical role in scientific research. Take, for instance, the archive of Twinkie experiments performed at Rice University in 1995.

Indeed, a Google search of "Twinkie Science Experiements" yields near 1.5 million results!

One of the results leads back to a report from NPR's Science Desk. Recorded early in 2012, the post hints at Twinkies' demise (though not, apparently, in a vat of Mountain Dew). It seems that in the eyes of Millennials, the Twinkie is "an abstract object, a toy, even, to play or experiment with - not real food." As opposed to those of us who grew up eagerly chowing down on them at any time of day. (Yes, I ate Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs and Suzy Qs for breakfast.)

Here's another fun one: the Twinkie equivalent of Space Jump. This kid did his homework. And I'll let you search around to find your own scientific Twinkie gems. But first, one last video.



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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vex Robotics Team Takes it to School

When the boys mentioned that they wanted to show their Vex competition robot to one of the Project Lead the Way (engineering) classes at their middle school, I appreciated their enthusiasm and told them I'd be happy to bring the robot to school. What I didn't realize is that I'd be at school with the bot just three days later.

This turned out to be both a brilliant and frustrating move.

It was brilliant in that The Maker Tween put together a basic Power Point presentation explaining Vex and this will give the team a head start when they go in to the community in the future to spread the word about Vex and robotics or if they try to appeal to a civic group for funds to buy more equipment. (I expect us to remain a private team for at least one more year.)


And the move was also brilliant in that we've never taken the robot out before. It turned out that it needed some tweaks. Fortunately, The Maker Tween thought to include a couple of wrenches along with the robot when he packed it up.


They boys did a good job of making quick fixes to the robot, presenting and showing it off, especially considering my son was the only one who'd seen the Power Point. Several PLTW students asked good questions about the robot and the team. Of course, the robot was a hit.

All in all, it was great. As I said, though, there were a few frustrations. One is double-edged: my boy did a great job organizing and presenting on short notice, but I realize I need to make some space for the other boys to step up, too. Maybe I'll gag him during our next practice.

Actually, the other frustration is also double-edged. The robot was so enthusiastically received that a few kids asked about joining our team. Uh....

Like my son and his Power Point, I quickly threw together this team because I couldn't let the grant to start a Vex  team at almost no cost pass me by. I knew we'd have to compete in Vex early on to minimize crossover with Science Olympiad, a group that both the students and parents in this house are committed to. I started with a small group of motivated boys that I sensed would get along with each other. It's gone pretty well so far.

What would it mean to go big? It certainly would introduce scheduling difficulties. And what about selection? Would I need to hold try-outs? How would roles get determined? Although Vex teams can have up to 15 kids, only a handful can really build or drive the robot. Granted there are auxiliary positions that can help the team, but I'm not really up for having kids (or their parents) whine at me that they'd prefer a different position. I've been involved  with Science Olympiad long enough to know this is inevitable.

With our competition less than two weeks away, it's a no-brainer: no one is joining the team right now. But looking to the future I'm not sure what to do. At least I have lots of time to plan for it.

In the meantime, the boys are enthused about entering the RECF video competition, I'm sure we can use extra talent for that. And I'm thinking about starting a robotics club at school or the library to help assess and grow talent. Well, I'll think about doing this until DH reminds me I don't have time for it and by the way, we have bills to pay.

Help! Do you have any suggestions on how to tap into this enthusiasm without turning this from a fun outside project into something that sucks up too much of my time and energy?



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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Discovery World Museum Milwaukee

kid friendly science and STEM exhibits at Discovery World Museum Milwaukee, WI
My parents first turned us on to Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when The Maker Boys were young. I was not a part of those early trips up there, likely enjoying a bit freedom while my little guys sojourned up in the land of cheese. But I did eventually make it up there with my crew, and we had a blast learning and playing.

So when The Maker Tween's grade took a field trip to Springfield that replicated our Lincoln-centric 2010 visit, he and I headed north to Milwaukee to see the latest and greatest at Discovery World (with a quick stop at the Bucketworks makerspace). We were provided with press passes to see the museum.

Compared to Chicago's grand museum's with their large, airy great halls, Discovery World is small, but it's packed with interactive exhibits on engineering, science, technology and marine life. It's fabulous, but might not be a great fit for a child who is prone to sensory overload. There's a lot going on; plan to spend the better part of a day if you've got curious kids. Or many days, broken into small chunks if you're local.


Gears at Discovery World Museum Milwaukee, WI

We started out by checking out the industrial gears and automatons on the main floor, ending up near a flight simulator. The Maker Tween couldn't pass up the chance to try it out. A full virtual reality experience where the seat moves in synch with the screen elements, all guided by my son, he couldn't resist the need for speed. Of course, that led to a crash landing. Hold me; it's only 3 years before he gets his first driving permit.

It was only a simulation, so my son walked away unscathed and we headed to other exhibits like Dream Machine, where we watched industrial machines like a CNC in action and took home a free souvenir.

We headed up to the second floor the via 2 spiral staircases surrounding a giant kinetic DNA sculpture, an adventure in itself. Speaking of kinetic, once upstairs, we learned about energy and produced a bit of our own.



My son took a quick rest on a bed of nails, explored the world of sound + technology. He especially enjoyed the Reactable shown below. He created a unique soundscape using coded blocks placed on the interactive surface. Each sound each block produces varies based on its code as well as interaction with neighboring blocks. At times the results were rather cacophonous, but it was fascinating to watch him manipulate the blocks and understand patterns and relationships as he conducted the hi-tech symphony.

Reactable Discovery World Museum Milwaukee


Thanks to a near infrared camera, we got a better glimpse of the veins in his hand. In medical settings, this instrument makes it easier to find just the right spot to draw blood.



Admission to Discovery World includes entry to the Reiman Aquarium, which highlights Great Lakes and aquatic life around the world. The area is also home to Challenge, an in-house life-size schooner floating above the world's largest scale model of the Great Lakes. Challenge is available for kids of all ages to explore and the Great Lakes model is surrounded by exhibits of local fish and wildlife.

In addition, every 30 minutes or so, guests can create a dramatic (read: exciting, but potentially scary) thunderstorm. Dark shades drop and cover the windows you see in the background of the photo below. Once the light is dim rain begins to fall and a storm, complete with simulated thunder and lightning, runs for a few minutes.


Down below are more exciting exhibits including a touch tank where kids can get personal with stingrays and a bamboo shark. The excited squeals of Midwestern children touching a shark is music to my ears. The area also boasts a 360 walkway with fish above, below and to the sides of visitors, and a simulated research vessel.

On weekends, Discovery World offers a Tesla Live show and the Design It! Lab.

Discovery World also offers seasonal educational trips on The SV Denis Sullivan, a recreation of a three-masted Great Lakes schooner, as well as classes for kids, scout troops, and adults (beer brewing, anyone?).

Discovery World is closed on Mondays, open Tuesday-Friday 9-4 and weekends 10-5.

Admission runs $16.95 for adults, $12.95 kids 3-17, and children under 3 are free. They have special pricing for college students, seniors, and members of the military--and if you're a member of another museum or aquarium, be sure to check for reciprocal admission.



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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bucketworks Milwaukee Co-Working and Maker Space

MIlwaukee Bucketworks makerspace Jesse DiPonto 3D Creations

Last week The Maker Tween skipped out on his school field trip and he and I had a special day of our own. We left the Land of Lincoln and headed north to America's Dairyland to marvel at the delights o Discovery World Museum, but first we stopped off at Buckeworks, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin co-working, maker and conference space.

I first met Bucketworks member Jesse DePinto of 3D Creations (pictured)at the Evanston Mini Maker Faire. He graciously showed us around the space. I'm pretty sure it's one of the coolest co-working spaces around. I mean, where else can you run your business alongside artisan soap makers, a beepod maker and a puppet troupe that produces zombie puppet shows complete with a gun-toting fetus?

Milwaukee Bucketworks makerspace Bee Pods

MIlwaukee Bucketworks maker space Angry Young Men Puppets


Bucketworks is host to many conferences (and unconferences), classes, gallery shows and gatherings. It's a huge old space with worn wooden floors, high ceilings and a rooftop deck located in what is apparently Milwaukee's Latin Quarter.

Jesse and I talked about 3D printers, which I believe is going to be one of the most disruptive technologies ever. There's going to be a manufacturing revolution. I look at a MakerBot and recall the old green screen TRS-80 my dad brought home back in the day. He was able to find an innovative use for that early technology within his field and developed a groundbreaking best-in-class product. When I think about 3D printers, I'm itching do the same. I just don't know what the Big Idea is yet.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The VEX Robotics Update

As of last Friday I was convinced our team's cortex, the part that controls the robot's actions, was a dud. I spent more than an hour on the phone with Vex tech support downloading and compiling, rebooting and reconfiguring only to have the patient tech suggest I send him the unit for further examination.

Only this process would take about a week and we only have a couple of weeks until our competition.

(commence nail biting)

I should have express shipped the cortex to him last Friday, but instead ran off to Milwaukee with The Maker Tween (more about our fun day later).

Of course I was fretting over my delay in shipping out the cortex, thinking now I'd have to spend more money and overnight it to Vex HQ, but fate intervened.

(cue chorus of heavenly angels)

Our Canadian cousin and her husband paid us a visit. Because my housekeeping skills are minimal, the robot was pushed off to the side of our living room and her dear husband spotted it at which point I told him my tale of woe.

He offered to try to get things going again, so I booted up the computer and made the necessary connections. After hovering over his shoulder saying, "I tried that. Yep, I tried that, too." I finally walked away.

When I came back our robot was fixed!

Back in business, the boys met for practice that evening, at which point I snapped the shot above. It reveals a lot about our small team. The boys are having fun...and they're not always terribly focused. And yet, they are. They're already disassembling the Clawbot and eagerly working on Robot 2.0.

I think we're going to skip the autonomous programming portion this time around because I'm afraid of wiping out the cortex again and therefore missing out of the rest of the competition.

We discussed some of the Design Challenges related to, but separate from, the robotics competition and the boys seemed eager to tackle a couple of those. In addition, they're making plans to show the robot to their school's Project Lead the Way classes for 7th and 8th graders.

My hope is that our team is like a pebble tossed in the water creating far-reaching ripples. Looks like we're on our way.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like a Christmas/Holiday Segment is in the Works

It's beginning to look a lot like the holidays around here as I prepare for another segment for WGN Morning News. I'm thrilled to be sharing the coolest kid-friendly STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) gifts I could find. Seriously, don't start your CyberMonday shopping spree until you've seen my segment, scheduled for Monday, November 26 around 8:45 AM.

The mystery items have started arriving at our house, much to my kids' delight. While I certainly rely on the boys to help me put the the STEM toys through their paces and make sure they earn the crucial "kid-approved" seal, I also need to make sure the boys don't break anything or lose key parts.

So for now, everything remains boxed up and carefully accounted for.


The Big Reveal will take place on this blog at the same time I do my segment, but tune in to the TV if you can.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

#STEMchat on Engineering and Tweens is Tonight

STEM mom bloggers, engineering and tweens, mommybloggers
Join tonight's STEM discussion on tweens and engineering at 9 Eastern (8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6 Pacific) for an hour of engaging discussion about the Big E.

Follow our panelists:

Beth Blecherman @TechMamaChristy Matte @QuirkyFusionAmy Kraft @mediamacaroni@KimMoldofsky (@STEMchat if I land in Twitter jail) and our sponsor, @DesignSquad.

Click for full details about the chat. Check back in about a week for a summary of tonight's discussion.

Like The Maker Mom on Facebook. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Follow us on Pinterest and YouTube.

Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Chicago Toy and Game Week!

Chicago Toy and Game WeekIt's Chicago Toy and Game Week and there's a whole lot of fun going on. I'll be getting my game on Saturday at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTag).ChiTag takes place November 17 and 18 at Navy Pier.

Now in its 10th year, the fair keeps growing. This year, attendees can participate in on-site tournaments, enjoy a Star Wars character lunch and learn about what's new and exciting in the world of play.

Saturday the 17th is also young inventor day at ChiTag, it's the culmination of the Young Inventor Challenge, a competition for children ages 6 to 18. The kids exhibit an original toy or game which they get to show off to game industry reps and yes, there are prizes.

Ticket information is available here. Note the generous free admission policy for scouts in uniform, teachers, librarians and more.

I found a handful of items that piqued my interest last year at ChiTag. The game that continues to rock my world is Telestrations- part classic telephone game, part Pictionary and all fun. We've played Telestrations many, many times with friends and family and it leads to lots of laughs.

I'll be sure to share a favorite find or two with you. In the meantime, tell me about a favorite family game, you know, one that doesn't leave you checking the time or your Twitter feed in between turns.

Speaking of Twitter feed, please join in for #STEMchat on 11/13 at 8 PM Central as we discuss tweens and engineering.

Note: I have and will receive a media pass to ChiTag. And I received a review copy of Telestrations in conjunction with ChiTag. I reviewed it last year, but mention it here because it really is streets ahead. This year's media preview s sponsored by another family favorite--Banangrams.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Help A Mama Hack: STEM Girl Friday

Before there was The Maker Mom, there was a veeeery short-lived blog called Arduino Mom. When I launched it (thankfully without much fanfare, since it morphed into this blog just a few weeks later) I searched online for like-minded moms and came across The Mothership, a cool hackerspace for moms.

Their site in Berkeley, CA is a mom-friendly makerspace (can you say dedicated nursing area?) and business incubator. It's the world's first women's hackerspace and both the space and concept leave me drooling. They're looking to fill their lovely space with a few more pieces of equipment and tools as well as expand their outreach program, so they've launched a Kickstarter campaign.

There's no need for me to blather on, this video says it all.
They've actually met their initial goal and are now working on their STRETCH goal.


Cool, huh? I love this and I'm sure it's just the beginning for these daring, creative women. I can't wait to see what comes out of their space.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Two Great Reads About Gifted Kids

I think about gifted education a lot, but haven't been writing much on the topic. Still, I found two great reads on gifted kids that I had to share. As so often happens in popular media, I thought this post, I don't care if you kid is smarter than mine, was going to slam gifted kids, but it turned out to be a spot-on piece about what smart kids need to succeed as adults.


This piece from The New York Times Magazine is framed on raising a musical prodigy, but has some gems that will leave any parent of a highly or profoundly gifted child nodding in agreement. Thanks to Alyson English for pointing it out.

The money quote? 
I found that stigmatized differences — having Down syndrome, autism or deafness; being a dwarf or being transgender — are often clouds with silver linings. Families grappling with these apparent problems may find profound meaning, even beauty, in them. Prodigiousness, conversely, looks from a distance like silver, but it comes with banks of clouds... 
Amen to that.

This also spoke to me:
Many gifted kids have A.D.D. or O.C.D. or Asperger’s. When the parents are confronted with two sides of a kid, they’re so quick to acknowledge the positive, the talented, the exceptional; they are often in denial over everything else.” 
That was a huge issue for us when my boys attended a private school for gifted children The school favored the "Columbus" definition of giftedness, which notes the asynchronous development of gifted children. I subscribe to this definition as well, but the school leadership seemed to explain away a lot of quirky, sometimes inappropriate or potentially dangerous, behaviors that might have been better addressed through a type of therapy and/or medication rather than brushed off as a byproduct of giftedness.

and
There is no federal mandate for gifted education. But if we recognize the importance of special programs for students whose atypical brains encode less-accepted differences, we should extrapolate to create programs for those whose atypical brains encode remarkable abilities. 
I've been singing that song for a few years now. Though there are meaningful exceptions, for the most part, NCLB has been horrible for gifted children. 

More importantly, there is no funding for gifted education. Zero federal education dollars. Can you image if that was true for other forms of special education?

Go read the full article. It's worth your time.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Trouble with My Brain

What? Like you don't build robots in your kitchen?
Things were going smoothly, too smoothly, with our VEX robot, so fate intervened. The boys built the Clawbot and only needed to make a few minor adjustments to their design. Granted, it was the basic design laid out in the instructions from VEX, but we're newbies.

While they built, I synched up the joystick and the cortex, or microprocessor. The cortex is the robot's "brain" and the boys have taken to referring to it as such.Then we attached the cortex and the joystick to make the clawbot go and...

Nothing.

We brainstormed, we tweaked, we tried again (and again) and still, not a single movement.

I assumed, that the robot would work once we connected the cortex and the joystick, but decided that perhaps we needed to program even the basic joystick motions.

So I decided maybe it was time to watch a few tutorials on the programming language, RobotC. We gathered round the Inspiron to watch a number of videos and get programming.

For better or worse, we were able to program a few autonomous movements, but that was it. The joystick still didn't work.

Commence freak out.

One of the boys frantically insisted we need someone from the high school to help us out, I frantically tried to get in touch with Kelly, whose husband is an experienced VEX coach, but it was bedtime in her house. The next day I emailed the coordinator of our local high school's engineering program (haven't heard back yet), scoured the Vex online help forums, and had a helpful exchange with my VEX Regional Rep, Marc Couture, which led to a call to Vex tech support.

I wound up calling about 30 seconds before tech support closed for the day and received helpful advice. It was a quick call, so the kind man only had end his work day a few minutes late. He told me how to reinstall the default code on our robot's brain, which I did. Then I "re-mated" the cortex and the joystick and then...more problems.

I am seriously non-techy (really), but I think I've done a good job of staying calm and carrying on. I had my son uninstall the cortex from the clawbot in order to test out one more thing (on my troubleshooting journey I learned we should have tested the motors and brain out before putting it into the bot--a newbie mistake).

As it stands now, I think the problem lies not with MY brain, but the robot's cortex. 




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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tweens and Engineering: November #STEMchat Sponsored by Design Squad Nation

Design Squad Nation engineering for tweensWe're talking about the "E" in STEM this month as #STEMchat tackles engineering. Engineering uses principles of science, math, and design to create things- systems, objects, and processes. We'll be sharing ideas and resources to turn your tween on to engineering concepts.

Join in for #STEMchat on Tuesday, November 13 at 9 Eastern (8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6 Pacific) for an hour of engaging discussion about the Big E.

This month's panel of moms who are raising STEM-loving kids consists of:

Beth Blecherman @TechMama: founder of TechMamas.com and author of My Parent Plan.

Christy Matte @QuirkyFusion: blogger at Quirky Fusion and Quirky-Tech.com. She's spent most of her professional life sharing her passion for technology with kids and adults around the world, making it more accessible and helping them turn their ideas into action.

Amy Kraft @mediamacaroni: kids' media producer, writer, and game designer living in New York City. She writes the kids' media blog Media Macaroni and is a core contributor for Wired's GeekMom blog.

Yours truly, @KimMoldofsky: STEMchat founder, floundering robotics coach. I may also appear as my alter-ego, @STEMchat, if I land in Twitter jail due to excessive Tweeting.

Our sponsor, @DesignSquad: inspires tweens from all backgrounds to imagine, design, and engineer cool, creative things.

Design Squad Nation has resources for parents, educators and kids. In addition to watching archived episodes of Design Squad, tweens can join the lively online community to share ideas as well as give and get feedback, play games and enter contests. The site also features engineering insights and projects a-plenty for your burgeoning engineer.

Follow Design Squad Nation on Facebook, Twitter, and on YouTube.

Want a reminder? Sign up for The Maker Month's monthly newsletter. It will land in your inbox the day before #STEMchat.


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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Helping The Maker Vex Team Do More

In September I wrote about the sleek Dell Inspiron the Maker Tween received as part of the Dell Ambassador Program. My hope was that the Inspiron would be his homework computer as opposed to a gaming outlet, but that hope was dashed after just a few weeks.

Sigh.

But now that were in robotics mode, the computer has an important use somewhere between homework and gaming.

We received a student copy of Autodesk Inventor as part of our Vex Robotics team kit. The design software can be used to help build our robot. For now, though, we're sticking with the generic robot plans for a basic clawbot. However, the more the boys on team learn and understand, the more they want to push the limits. For now, my tween has simply been exploring the software capabilities creating 3D models for all sorts of interesting items. (If only we had a 3D printer.)

Each round of a Vex tournament starts of with 15 seconds of autonomous movement on behalf of the robots.We'll also be downloading RobotC so the boys can program the their robot in a virtual environment. Hopefully it will translate properly to the real world and they'll score a few extra points during their competition.  

Thanks to Dell, the Inspiron is now the official team computer. I'm sure glad I don't have to share mine.

Now I just have to figure out which version of RobotC to install...

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I received Dell Technology and compensation for my role in the ambassador program. All opinions are my own.

Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Does a Math Genius Slice a Bagel?

I'm no math genius, don't ask me. But George Hart knows a thing to two about applied math. Watch the video below to see him apply his math skills to a bagel and click to see his mobious bagel and trefoil knot bagel.




Have a lovely Sunday brunch!

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Libraries as Makerspaces: October #STEMchat Summary

American Library Association LogoThe October #STEMchat on the topic of libraries as makerspaces was quite energizing. There's a summary below, followed by links. You may notice the summary is presented in a different format than in the past. Let me know what you think of it.

Our opening talk was inspiring as we discussed what we love about libraries. It was interesting to learn that many librarians take their jobs seriously and see themselves as an important part of a free, democratic society.

They are!

Libraries are educational equalizers, they provide information and opportunities for all. Libraries provide books, magazines, classes, technology and craft projects for free or very low cost.

There was a bit of reminiscing over getting our first library cards and it's heartening to know that, even in the age of Google and Siri, getting that first library card is a still an important rite of passage for young children and their parents.

For many of us, our first library card was made of cardstock. They did not last through the wash! Now that cards are plastic, kids will never know the sadness of seeing a wadded up piece of now worthless paper tumble out of a clean pocket.

Libraries today are much different than those of even a few decades ago. They are much more high-tech now, compared to the days of microfilm and microfiche. Information may be easier to find on the internet today, but lacks the “remember when” amusement of old store ads and newspaper stories still visible on the microfiche roll.

Today’s libraries are focused on being places of learning. How that learning happens (books, internet, makerspaces) varies. Participants in the chat shared the different kinds of programs their libraries offer.

Programs include:

“Making” classes (how to write a book, stamping classes)
A “How It Works” series
CrafterNoon
Robotics
Graphic design classes
Bristlebots
Bicycle repair
LEGO classes where kids are let loose with bricks
Tech classes
Arduino classes
Using 3D printers.
It seems that more libraries are doing Science After School classes with hands-on STEM activities.

Ideally, libraries would offer a makerspace where STEM professionals or local makers could lead talks and hold hands-on workshops. Libraries can create a space where kids can do things that aren’t easy to do at school and they may not have the space or guidance to do at home.

How can libraries get started? How can patrons help?

Start small and inexpensively. Gather interested community members and just start. Show your library what other libraries are doing as inspiration, and partner with local makerspaces. Just give it a go; even if it doesn’t take off, just try it once.

Links:

Detroit Public Library HYPE Makerspace

DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Review of Super Scratch Programming Adventure!: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games

Articles on libraries and makerspaces

The Coalition for Science After School, promoting high-quality afterschool science education 

STEAM: science, tech, engineering, ART, math. Talk by Adam Savage from the Maker Fair 2012

Find a makerspace

Learn more about the October #STEMchat panelists here.

November's #STEMchat will take place on Tuesday night, November 13 at 9 Eastern, 8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6 Pacific. We're going to discuss Tweens and Engineering thanks to our fab sponsor Design Squad Nation


Sign up here. for a monthly #STEMchat alert.

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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"The Makers" Vex Robotics Team

building a vex robot
What's that about STEM clubs for tweens? Just days after the first meeting with my Food Science team for Science Olympiad I was making calls and sending emails to kick-off the Vex Robotics team I'm coaching.

Yes, it's a bit much, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to start one (if not the) first robotics team in my neighborhood with almost no out-of-pocket expenses. The soon-to-be-renamed Makers team consists of four boys I know, one of whom is my son.

I kept it small and manageable knowing that we're hightailing it to be ready for our first competition in just one month.

My son got a feel for Vex Sack Attack at OSMOCES. In addition, he and one of the other boys participated in a summer engineering enrichment program offered at a local school where they build robots with a Vex kit, or something very similar.

I'm an ideal facilitator for the group because they're better at constructing the bot than I am. I mostly just answer questions and snap pictures.

Building a VEX robot

Case in point, another Vex package arrived today. It contained more wheels, two bumper switches, and a bunch of other stuff that sounds really exciting, but I have no idea how to use.

I think the boys are going to be excited to incorporate things like the "ultrasonic range finder" into their machine.

An ignorant coach makes for a wise team.

And lest I sound like I'm setting the kids up for failure, this year is all about the low hanging fruit. Our goal to experience the Vex competition and learn more about the league so we can kick butt next year.

In other news, I baked meringues for the Food Science kids to aid in our discussion of air as a leavening agent. At least I have a clue in that department.


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Kim MoldofskyKim Moldofsky
Kim is a blogger, vlogger, baker, and maker, as well as a trend spotter and founder of #STEMchat. She is passionate about raising STEM-loving kids. to your Google+ circles.

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