Monday, December 31, 2012

Look What We Did in 2012!

Not "we" as in the blog. I mean, I had my moments, but this is not about gazing at my navel. Rather, it's about cool things brought to life courtesy of science and tech. Pretty much every time I read the newspaper I fear for the future of the human race, and though I'm confident our planet will outlast me, I have concerns about the longevity of Mother Earth, too.

That said, I think we live in pretty amazing times. Yes, it's hard to keep up and technology has evolved more in the last 30 years than it did in the previous 300 years, and it's all somewhat dizzying, but, wow, look what we can do. Check out BuzzFeed's post on 27 items that went to science fiction to science fact in 2012.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!

Join in on Tuesday evening, January 8, for #STEMchat as we talk STEM resolutions and learning goals for the year. The hour-long chat begins at 8 PM Central.

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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, December 28, 2012

How Rube Goldberg Likes His Pop (Soda)

Earlier this month I attended the Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop along with other great Chicago-area blogger. You can click on the link to read about my experience. As I was searching for links for that post I came across this fun video. I think it's how Rube Goldberg would like his Coke delivered.

 

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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, December 27, 2012

Hey, Science Ladies It's a NASA Gangam Parody

Unlike the MIT parody, this Gangam parody features original lyrics. Check out this video from NASA's Johnson Space Center

Hey, Science Ladies this is NASA at it's coolest.


 

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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, December 26, 2012

MIT Gangam Style

Korean Rapper PSY's Gangam Style video was one of the most popular videos of 2012, so it's not surprising that it spurred a record number of parodies. MIT's take on the video was a viral hit in it's own right. After all, it's not often you see Noam Chomsky in a music video. And it's good, geeky fun.

 


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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, December 24, 2012

My STEM holiday

Photo credit: Joe Ziolkowski , Museum of Science and Industry
In addition to the traditional trappings of a Jewish Christmas, that is, going to a movie on Christmas Day followed by dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, growing up, I enjoyed a very STEM tradition on the day of Christmas Eve. On December 24, we'd trek down to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and spend the better part of the day exploring the grand, spacious halls of the nearly empty museum.

This was a STEM holiday tradition I passed on to my family, but as Chicagoland has grown and the population has become more diverse, the museum is not quite as empty as it was during my youth. The place is now filled with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and other non-Christmas observers, all beating the crowd and soaking in science. It's a good thing, and the lines are still shorter than they are on a typical weekend.

This year, however, my boys are away with my in-laws and DH and I are headed to the Art Institute of Chicago. Sadly, even at their advanced ages, my boys have a pretty low tolerance for art museums, so it will be nice to enjoy world-class art without a side of whine.

If you celebrate, have a Merry Christmas! If you don't, I'd love to hear about your holiday traditions.

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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.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

NORAD Santa Tracker

NORAD Santa Tracker
Image via NORAD
When not tracking the skies for incoming missiles, space ships and aircraft that might attack our country, the good men and women of NORAD, North American Aerospace Defense, use their high-tech devices to track Santa's progress around the globe. Click to find out when the jolly old man and his sleigh full of toys is  headed your way.

I'm Jewish and Santa didn't visit my house, but I'm a child of the 1970s and grew up watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the other holidays specials of that era. I swear I saw Santa's reindeer and sleigh pass through the sky over my house when I was about six or seven. If only I had NORAD to confirm my siting.

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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, December 21, 2012

Sifteo Cubes-Fun, Interactive play

Sifteo cubes are a new, interactive way to play. I was sent a starter kit and a bonus cubes from the company. The Sifteo starter includes a base with three interactive cubes that can be paired with neighboring cubes, tilted, flipped, shaken or pressed to play a variety of games as you'll see in the video below. It also comes with a USB cable and a small bag to store the components.

The basic set has with four games: Chroma Splash, Cube Buddies, Code Cracker, and Word Caravan. The Maker Tween, age 12, eagerly explored this gaming system. He didn't *love* any of the games, but that didn't stop him from playing with the cubes for hours on end. Maybe he'll be inspired to create his own games for Sifteo at some point.

 

Here's what my tween had to say about Sifteo.

The Sifteo cubes are a very cool way to play. Basically, you have three cubes and a home, and you can change the positions of the cubes to match things up, expand the map, etc. Additional cubes may be bought for $30. You can do many things using the cubes. Gaming becomes very interactive, making it even more fun for the user. For example, in Sandwich Kingdom, you have to find your way around a castle, and the more cubes you have, the more you can see by rearranging the cubes. 

I would recommend Sifteo for children 4-14. Although the games may be a bit childish, the way you use it is very fun, and sometimes even a bit challenging. Some of the games may be fun for adults to play, such as Code Cracker, where you have to get a few numbers to equal other numbers using multiplication, division, subtraction, and addition. Finally, the cubes are really small, as is the home, so they can easily fit in your pocket or a small bag for transportation.
 
Sifteo is available online and from fine retailers. My boys first spotted it (and started playing) at Marbles, The Brain Store. The basic set retails for $129 and additional cubes can be purchased for around $30 each.
 
Overall, Sifteo puts a unique spin on gaming systems and screen time. It's an original concept, and I'm eager to see it develop and number of games expand. It's got a futuristic feel, but I sense that Sifteo has more potential. I have a nagging feeling it's just not there yet. If you've got the budget for it and you like to have the newest and coolest games and gadgets, this is a nice addition to your family's collection. 
 

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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.

Homemade Gifts for the Holidays: December STEMchat recap


www.littlebits.cc
Thanks again to our sponsor, littleBits.
Thanks to our littleBits, our creative panelists and equally talented participants, I present you with a summary of the December 2012 #STEMchat.

What gifts are you making for the holidays?
Dalek potholders
Homemade beer bread. Or make up the mix and give with a six-pack of beer.
Neighbor gift idea: cookie-decorating kit.
Play dough.
Crayons, and decorate a plain notebook to give with it. You can find great silicone ice cube molds for different shapes at IKEA or the dollar store.
Ornaments, plus homemade soap, baking, & also give honey from DH's bees.
Travel watercolor kit. Super easy.
Framed sun prints are a great gift idea.

What are your favorite gifts to give from the kitchen?
Unique edible gift ideas from @westoftheloop.
Fun breads in the mini bread pans (like lemon bread, banana).
Herbed vinegars, butters, and oils are beautiful and precious homemade gifts as well.
@AngEngland has a new book: Backyard Garden.
Bitters are unusual & easy.
Homemade fudge sauce.
I give 'the gift of time' by wrapping a family menu of homemade choices; then deliver the meal selected.
Homemade vanilla (throw vanilla been pods in vodka or bourbon. Wait 2- 4 weeks. Strain. The trick is concentration; one vanilla bean will flavor only 8 ounces or so of vodka), homemade Kahlua and candy cane cordials.
Framed sun prints are a cool gift idea.

Where do you get supplies?
Sculpey figurines my tween made for his teacher.
Craft stores, office supply stores, big box stores, thrift, resale, and surplus stores, recycle bin. See if you have a re-use store near you.
Let family/friends/neighbors know that you would love to have any supplies they’d like to get rid of. One mom sent out a letter to her neighbors asking for extra fabric scraps and craft supplies they wanted to clear out. She left a bin on her doorstep so they could drop it off.
Join a Freecycle group.
Ask at farms/businesses that might have "scraps" (like wood/pallets/etc.) that you can use!

Other links and tutorials:
For eco, recycled, and maker projects, check out ScrapKins.
The Kitchen Pantry Scientist outlines an easy and inexpensive DIY Science Kit.
Learn to solder with the Simon Says Kit from SparkFun.
Artchoo has a comprehensive list of art supplies for kids.
Salt dough ornaments-a great project for little or big kids.
DIY Gift Tag Ornaments tutorial.
5 Fun educational gifts to donate to holiday toy drives.  

STEMchat sponsor, littleBits: a Skater project from the Holiday Kit, a flickering lantern from the Starter Kit, and a complex (but amazing) run horse run project. The littleBits staff and community share loads of fun projects on their site. Homeschoolers should know that littleBits provides a 15% educational discount to homeschoolers! Register for an account to get started.



See you in the new year on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 for our first #STEMchat of the year. Join us as we talk #STEM resolutions and learning goals for the year.


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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, December 17, 2012

Computer Science Week December 9-15

computer science education week
Wait a minute, National Computer Science Week was last week?! Yeah, I missed that, but hey, now I can share some of the week's best reads. No wonder The Maker Teen (who's got mad coding skillz) is so good at rationalizing his behavior.

Teach U.S. Kids to write code. Amen!

50 Shades of Grey in R. It doesn't get much nerdier than this. I got that link from the Urban Scientist at Scientific American who shared other good links on CSEd week.

Using LEGOs to teach computing.

Google education opportunities for high school teachers (not just CS teachers).

View more at Computer Science Education Week.



Looking for geeky holiday gifts? Check out the great STEM gifts I'm giving away this week.

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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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Marshmallow Shooter Giveaway

Welcome to another fun giveaway* that's helping me clean my office. I wound up with an extra Marshmallow Shooter Kit after July's Summer Science Fun TV segment and now I'm passing this fun in a box along (unopened) to a lucky reader.

Given recent weather patterns that make snowball fights unlikely, if not impossible, sending your kids outside with marshmallow shooters is just the thing to help them burn off excess energy.

According to my informal research, a child is 85% less likely to get harmed in a marshmallow fight than a snowball one and 98% less likely to get hurt when compared to a paintball fight (plus, those guns look a little too real for my comfort). What about Nerf guns? you ask. To which I answer marshmallow shooter ammo is more affordable, biodegradable and tastier than Nerf ammo.

This MAKE Marshmallow Shooter Kit contains everything you need to make two shooters, or one tripped out shooter. They are super easy to assemble. I often refer to kits as the gateway drug to making and this kit is no exception. It's quite likely that within weeks of opening this kit, you'll find yourself at the hardware store buying PVC to add to your weapons cache.

Win it! To enter, complete the short form below and click "submit" prior to 1:00 PM Central on Dec. 19, 2012. The information you enter will only be seen by me and will not be used for any purpose other than this giveaway.



Don't miss our other fab holiday giveaways!

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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, December 14, 2012

Snap Circuits 300 Kit Giveaway

Snap Circuits kit
Longtime readers know I'm a fan of Snap Circuits, an electronics kit that teaches kids about the basics of circuitry. Each kit comes with a variety of experiments. For example, the 300 Kit I'm giving away comes with 300 experiments, all detailed in a guide that comes with the kit.

Designed for ages 8 and up, a curious younger child could do this with adult guidance. Really, any kid who can follow a LEGO or K'Nex diagram can complete the easy-to-follow experiments.

With the 300 Kit, kids (or you) can make things fly, set alarms and do other cool things. It's so much fun, they won't realize they're learning!

The folks at Elenco, maker of Snap Circuits are graciously providing a 300 Kit for a fan of this blog.

To enter, complete the short form below and click "submit" prior to 1:00 PM Central on Dec. 19, 2012. The information you enter will only be seen by me and will not be used for any purpose other than this giveaway.



Please note that this is not the model I'm giving away, but you can see how it looks in action. 




Check out our other great holiday giveaways!

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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, December 12, 2012

MakeDo Review and Space Pod Kit Giveaway

Produced by an Australian company, MakeDo is a revolutionary set of parts that changes what it means to play and create with cardboard. I explain further in the video below, but with reusable re-clips and locking hinges, MakeDo enables a lot of creative engineering, er, play, without the need for rolls and rolls of tape.

My tween niece and I had a lot of free play fun using the basic kit for one while my teen niece created a large puppet from the robot kit.

The pieces fit together snugly enough to hold tight, but this means that taking the parts out for re-use requires a bit of work. I'd also caution that although the zip-tie device the re-clips use can unlock, you don't want to give children the impression that all zip ties work in this reversible* manner.


Win a MakeDo Space Pod Kit!

This unopened kit was shown in the background of my TV segment, but was never used.

To enter, complete the short form below and click "submit" prior to 1:00 PM Central on Dec. 19, 2012. The information you enter will only be seen by me and will not be used for any purpose other than this giveaway.




Be sure to check out The Maker Mom's other Great Chanukah Giveaways!

* I say this as a mom who was about a minute away from zipping her son to the ER after he unkowningly put an irreversible zip-tie tourniquet on his finger. To be clear, A) this was completely unrelated to the MakeDo, my son never even touched the parts, B) it's just a kick I'm on now about zip ties, C) I found a pair of scissors small and sharp enough to free his finger before the tip turned blue. I don't know if girls are like this, but my curious boys have done some really dangerous things over the years.


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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, December 11, 2012

Robotics Book Giveaway

I've mentioned Kathy Ceceri's book, Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future, several times in recent weeks. The book was part of my top picks for STEM gifts and it inspired my first robot (okay, robot-like device). As fate would have it, I was sent two copies of her book for my TV appearance, so I'm passing one along to you.

The book is full of robot history and facts, but what makes it a real gem is the 20 projects, mostly made with household materials, that helps kids learn about circuits, sensors and other things that make robots, robots.

Enter to win your copy!

To enter, complete the short form below and click "submit" prior to 1:00 PM Central on Dec. 19, 2012. The information you enter will only be seen by me and will not be used for any purpose other than this giveaway.

 
  
Be sure to check out The Maker Mom's other Great Chanukah Giveaways!
  

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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, December 10, 2012

Make Your Own Gummies Review + Giveaway

You may recall that I'm coaching the Food Science event for the Maker Tween's Science Olympiad team. So when the makers of Glee Gum asked me if I wanted to review one of their DIY candy kits, I wanted to pick one that would complement my work with the team. I chose the Make Your Own Gummies Kit, certain that there was no better way to study carageenan than to extract and use it. After all, last year carageenan, a thickening agent, was just another item on the group's 120+ word vocabulary list.

The kit came with the necessary ingredients. And the straightforward instructions were accompanied by a story highlighting seeweed as a renewable source of carageenan. I guess you could call these green (and Kosher) gummies.

Per the instructions, we set bits of dehydrated seaweed into a bowl of water. (The kit also contains a bag of seaweed powder.)


We used a "whoopie pie" or "muffin top" style baking sheet to create our candy molds. This being our first time making candy, I wasn't sure how this would work, but our finished products did have the texture and form of our cornstarch molds.


Thing got gooey when we boiled the rehydrated seaweed and seaweed powder with a bit of water.


We added sweetener and color (natural beet dye--hooray!) and I spooned the hot mess into our molds.


And a few straws to get  a gummy worm effect. Then I put everything in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.


While waiting for our candies, I scratched out some of the nutrition information from the side panel and quizzed my team on the carb content of each serving of gummies.


In no time, our gummy candies were ready. We plucked them from the molds and dusted off the remaining cornstarch. The kids dipped them into a sour coating mix that come with the kit, but I ate my straight up. A good tie was had by all. It was truly Food Science at its best.


Make Your Own Gummies a fun experience best suited to a small group. I'd suggest no more than 4 kids per kit. As you saw above, it does require the use of a stove, so adult supervision or participation is required.

Want to try you hand at making candy? Thanks to Glee, I'm giving away your choice of MYO Candy Kit!

(You can buy all three at a great price thanks to a holiday special. Click for details.)

To enter, complete the short form below and click "submit" prior to 1:00 PM Central on Dec. 19, 2012. The information you enter will only be seen by me and will not be used for any purpose other than this giveaway.



Stay connected with Glee Gum on Facebook. and on Twitter.

Be sure to check out The Maker Mom's other Great Chanukah Giveaways!

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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.

The Maker Mom's Great Chanukah Giveaways

Because I'm always looking for ways to make those 8 crazy nights event crazier, I'm hosting 5 great giveaways this week featuring some of my favorite products of 2012. I've got a few things to take care of this morning, but like the Terminator I'll be back. Look for a DIY Gummie Candy Kit review and giveaway later today.

My Food Science group, the event I coach for our middle school's Science Olympaid team, and I got to try this fun, educational process out a few weeks ago. I don't think I could have found a better tastier way to teach them about thickeners like carageenan.

The graphic above provides clues to a few of the other exciting items I'm giving away. Watch out world, it's my Oprah moment!

All giveaways end on December 19, 2012 at 1:00 PM Central.
Click to go to the giveaway.
  1. Make Your Own Gummies Kit  (Monday)
  2. Robotics book (Tuesday)
  3. MakeDo SpacePod Kit (Wednesday)
  4. Snap Circuits 300 Kit (Friday)
  5. Marshmallow Shooter Kit (Saturday)

Um, yeah, my holiday wishlist includes some graphic designs lessons.

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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.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Chanukah!

Thanks to my synagogue's hip education director, I'm sharing this video from Technion, which is like Israel's MIT. I think this is how Rube Goldberg lit his menorah.

If you're a tech innovator and entrepreneur, you might like Start-Up Nation, the story of a scrappy little country in the Middle East and their economic miracle.


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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, December 7, 2012

Zeenii, A Weekly App That Delivers: STEM Girl Friday

This week's STEM Girl Friday shines the light on recent #STEMchat panelist and children's media producer, Amy Kraft. Amy and her top-notch team have an app called Zeenii that will deliver smart weekly content to young thinkers, makers and explorers. They're looking to launch it with the help of an Indiegogo campaign.

It looks like a winner to me. Let me know what you think!


Introducing Zeenii from Tabbed Media on Vimeo.

For as low as $1 you can be a Nicey McNicerton and mvoe the campaign ahead.

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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, December 6, 2012

littleBits Holiday Kit #STEMchat Giveaway

As I mentioned, I'm thrilled to be partnering with littleBits for tonight's #MakeTheHoliday #STEMchat.

Dream up a project to make with the fun and functional electronic bits and you can win them in the littleBits Holiday Challenge.

As a special thanks our #MakeTheHoliday #STEMchat fans, littleBits is also offering  special giveaway right here, right now. They've offered up a Holiday Kit to one lucky winner.


Make an ice skater, add a high-tech spin to your dreidel game, or light up your holiday in a whole new way.

Enter to win:
You must participate in tonight's chat using #STEMchat and #MakeTheHoliday in order to be eligible.
Entries will not be taken in the comment section! The linky will ask for:
  • contest info- just put in a name (just your first name or pseudonym is fine as this will show publicly)
  • blog url (just leave it blank if you don't have one)
  • your name and email address so I can contact you if you win  (these will NOT show publicly).

This contest is open to residents of the US. Must be 18 to enter. RSVP entries will be accepted until a few minutes before #STEMchat begins. Retail value of prize is $49 US dollars. Winner will be chosen at random. littleBits or its agency will provide prize fulfillment.If winner does not respond within 24 hours of notification, a new winner will be selected.

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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.

US State Science Standards: Does Your State Measure Up?

fail
This post at Scientific American* on cruddy state science standards in the US  caught my eye recently. No time to read? Honestly, it's a brief piece, but if you're in a rush, check this map see how your state stacks up. Mine got a D! Fortunately, before I got my panties bunched up over this, I read the article and learned that:
The study’s lead authors identified four main factors: an undermining of evolution, vague goals, not enough guidance for teachers on how to integrate the history of science and the concept of scientific inquiry into their lessons, and not enough math instruction.
If that's the case, then our local schools are probably doing okay. Which is not to say I'm a fan of our middle school science curriculum. I'm not. I don't think it's suitable for academically advanced kids. But it does contain many elements that put it streets ahead** of what is out there.

The article ends with discussion about newer, more rigourous standards that some are pushing for. Read more at Next Generation Science Standards.

What do you think of your state (or school's) science standards?

*Hat tip to @ScienceGoddess for pointing this out. 
**"Community" reference. Get it?

photo credit: tveskov via photopin cc 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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Diversity, Algebra-for-All and The TALENT Act: Gifted Ed Reads

A few interesting reads I found via the Davidson Institute for Talent Development e-Newsletter.

I'm intrigued by the new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools. What does a family do when they value diversity, but also want to meet the educational needs of their gifted children? Michael Petrilli shares his family's answer. Jay Mathews provides background on the book and Petrilli over at the The Washington Post.

I remember back when my oldest was in or approaching kindergarten and I was hanging out with a group of homeschooling moms (and kids) during their gym time. As I looked around the mostly (totally?) white group, I made a comment about missing the diversity found in our broader communities if we homeschooled.

"Sometimes kids don't learn the lessons about diversity that we want them to," she replied.

We sent my son to public school and that mom's words echoed in my mind. She was right. Also, the school's leader, I'll just call him Principal Doofus, would often things along the lines of, "Mrs. Moldofsky, of course we want to give your son a great education, but the free lunch kids, the special needs kids, and the English Language Learners, they just take up so many of our resources."

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but not really embellishing. Ugh. So anyway, Petrilli's book sounds interesting.

And Principal Doofus wasn't all that crazy. Do you know the federal education budget provides ZERO, as in absolutely no, dollars for gifted education? (You should, I say it often.)

That's where the TALENT Act comes in. To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation's Teachers Act will amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to require state assessments of student proficiency to be vertically scaled and capable of measuring student proficiency above the grade level in which the student is enrolled.

The act is designed to ensure that all students make learning gains each year, that teachers receive training in gifted education, addresses the needs of under-served populations and promotes the development and dissemination of best practices in gifted education.


You likely? Click to add your name to a petition to help make this a reality.

Many high schools are moving toward a "college prep" for all model. Many educators think this is a Very Good Thing. I'm skeptical. I'm not sure that's best for all. I also think vocational education is underrated.
This article discusses research on algebra-for-all, a key part of the college-for-all model.

Spoiler alert- here's the final paragraph. "The current study, combined with our earlier study," it says, "suggests that simply mandating a college-prep curriculum for all students is not sufficient to improve the academic outcomes of all students."

You read anything interesting lately?

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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, December 4, 2012

Hack-y Holidays! A Make-It-Yourself #STEMchat December 6!

This month's #STEMchat is leaning toward our Maker roots and is more STEAM than normal, that is, STEM plus Arts. Thanks to this month's sponsor, littleBits, we'll be talking about #MakeTheHoliday- sharing tips and ideas for homemade gifts and gifts that keep on giving. Join in on Twitter on this Thursday, December 6 at 9 PM Eastern, 8 Central, 7 Mountain and 6 Pacific using the hashtags #STEMchat and #MakeTheHoliday.

In my house, the purchased gifts that keep on giving are the ones that lead to open-ended, creative exploration. They are also the most Maker and STEM-friendly toys and books. Coincidence? I think not.

December's rock star panel includes:

Kathy Cerceri @KathyCeceri is the brains behind Crafts for Learning and is co-creator of the GeekMom blog and book, author of "Robotics" and other activity books for kids, About.com's Guide to Homeschooling, and mom to two sons, 17 and 20.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods @condoblues When her technical writer, instructional designer, and DIYer powers combine she builds computers, fixes what's broken, and teaches you how you can do it too on her blog Condo Blues.

Thien-Kim Lam @ThienKim is a former costume designer who now channels her creative energy by upcycling clothes, sketching, and crafting with her kids. Check out her tutorials and general crafty goodness at My Cup of Creativi-Tea.

Rachel Tayse @RachelTayse is a hungry unschooling mom, author of Hounds In The Kitchen, who likes to know life from the ground up, doing everything from hunting, growing a particular variety of cucumbers to make pickled cornichons, and making salt from sea water when travelling.

Angela England @AngEngland is the Founder of UntrainedHousewife.com and author of the newly published Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less).

Brandie Langer @Brandie185 is a homeschooling mom of three. When not busy teaching them (or cleaning, blogging, driving, or doing laundry) you're likely to find her knitting away.

littleBits, invented by a woman, are (cute!) little electronic modules for prototyping and play. The bits snap together with magnets, so you can't mess up with them. These colorful bits take crafting projects to a new level allowing people with little or no electronics knowledge to add lights, sensors or other bells and whistles to their projects. Ayah Bdeir set out to put the tools of engineers into the hands of artists and she's succeeding. Seriously cool stuff, people.

littleBits is hosting a creative holiday challenge. It's kind of like Design Squad for adults- dream up a creative project incorporating littleBits, sketch it out and submit the sketch to win. How easy is that?

In addition to winning bits through the holiday challenge, you can win here. I'll be hosting a giveaway on this blog for a littleBits Holiday Kit., a seven bit kit designed to light up your life, during the #MakeTheHoliday #STEMchat,

Just how easy is it to use these? I made this fun robot-like device inspired by Kathy's "Robotics" book and my the set of littleBits that was provided for my TV segment on STEM gifts.



I look forward to hearing about your DIY gifting triumphs and tribulations Thursday night!

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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, December 3, 2012

Our First Vex Robotics Tournament

Vex robotics competition Sack Attack Score
Our bot scores a bonus sack during practice.
My newbie Vex team, The Makers, worked and reworked and tweaked (a bit more than they should have, IMO) to come up with a robot that would do a good job in this year's Sack Attack challenge. And they did it. In just six weeks. That said, I reinforced the fact this was was our year to learn, not to win. Still, we were all pretty proud of their bot.

And then we walked in our first tournament.

Decades ago I heard a story about a set of sisters from Chicago's inner city. They were the academic pride of their high school, set to head off to college and be role models for their peers. Only it turned out that while the girls were superstars at their school, their academic skills were really on par with those of a typical middle schooler.

When we saw the other robots in the competition, I felt like one of those girls.

When I saw the scissor lifts, the pneumatic lifts, plexiglass-like shovels and complex machines that we never even imagined, I thought, "This is going to be embarrassing." Sure, we'd seen some of these bots on YouTube, but still, yikes. The boys were similarly demoralized.

"Remember, we're here to learn. Many of the teams here have been doing this for years and have a lot of experience as well as a large stock of material from which to build their robots," I reminded the boys.

"We know, Mom," The eye-rolling Maker Tween responded with his jaw clenched.

Then we went to get our robot inspected and I had missed a key point related to hooking up a 9-volt back-up battery to the bot. It's a clear, concisely written rule that I had turned into something else in my mind and therefore glossed over. We couldn't pass inspection (i.e., participate in the competition) without it.

Blerg.

It's one thing if the team goofed up, but if I made a mistake that ruined their competition, I'd feel horrible. Guilty. Inadequate.

We didn't have a battery or the necessary connector and where was I going to buy one at 8:00 on a Saturday morning?  Luckily, Robert, a nearby young man from team 1200C overheard this and offered up a part from his team's spares. There were, I think, five or more teams from his school. Those kids have this Vex thing down. Humbly and gratefully, I accepted his offer.

Our knight in shining (Mountain Dew can) armor. 
Face blurred by PicMonkey. 



Just because dozens of hours went in to constructing a robot doesn't mean it will perform as expected. The boys put in 3-4 hours a week for about 6 weeks and clearly some of the teams with more complex machines likely at least doubled this, but most teams experienced glitches at some point during the competition. On the bright side, that's why The Makers won their first qualifying match. A win, even though it was a bit of a fluke, brightened their spirits and gave them the push they needed to move ahead in strength.

The Maker Mom Vex robotics team

I won't bore you with a play-by-play review of the matches, but I'll share a few things we learned about Vex.

The competition mats were different than the rubber gym mat on which we practiced. We need to consider buying some for next year.

The basic kit that came with our grant promised we'd have a serviceable robot, not a great one. It lived up to those expectations.

My boys could coach each other. Eventually, they borrowed took my "coach" badge so that they could support each other in the arena during the matches while I watched from the audience.

Even the best driver on the team won't do well if the robot breaks down or hits a roadblock. I'm glad my boys took turns driving during qualifying rounds. Admittedly, the rotating driver might have been a tougher decision to make if we were truly in it to win it.

It's okay to sit out the autonomous period; several other teams did.

The folks from the more experienced teams are happy to help when asked, and sometimes even before.

Competition day is long, especially if you stay through to the finals.

The most exciting competitions of the day take place at finals.

The boys are eager to compete again next year. Now we're in Science Olympiad season and Vex will have to take a back seat, though maybe we'll head out to Batavia as observers. I talked to them about adding to the team, but I'm not sure what will happen. I have to say as a group, their personalities meshed very well- there was no conflict, there was no whining or drama and I'm inclined to keep it this way.

When I asked about adding a girl or two, well, the boys just got goofy. Ugh, middle school boys. Now I'm the one rolling my eyes.

We had a great time and are thankful for the grant that got us started as well as the folks who put in time and effort to host the WildStang Tournament.

There are still four grants left for schools and organizations in Illinois to start a Vex team at almost no cost. I think it cost less than $100 including our homemade t-shirts. If I can do it, so you can you. What are you waiting for?


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.

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