Zombie Starfish: Nature’s Undeadliest Catch

My four-year-old is really interested in sea creatures and in zombies. One of her very favorite water dwellers is the mysterious and lovely Sea Star (or the star formally known as fish).

In our morning search on Youtube we came across a true-to-life ‘Zombie Starfish’ mash up that peaked Ella’s curiosity. The video is from a BBC-two popular show called Nature’s Weirdest Events.

Just what is happening here? The images shows what looks to be Sea Stars actually ripping off their own limbs. If that wasn’t alarming enough, those limbs then look to crawl away, zombie like on their own. Could this be a real life undeadliest catch happening on the West Coast from Alaska to Mexico? My daughter wanted to know more. Continue reading Zombie Starfish: Nature’s Undeadliest Catch

Portcullis Peeps: What They Are and How to Find Them

Do you guys remember this post in which  I shared a story about a little boy, a garden trellis, a portcullis, and Google?

Oh, and I also used the dreaded g-word.  Continue reading Portcullis Peeps: What They Are and How to Find Them

Struggling with a solution? Make it a design challenge.

Organization is an uphill battle in our house. We’ve tried charts, checklists, storage solutions, room reorgs, consequences, and rewards. A few years ago, a particularly pernicious string of forgotten assignments and lost belongings signaled that it was time for a new game plan.
Continue reading Struggling with a solution? Make it a design challenge.

Comics Club-4-Kidz (Monthly): Kid Tested, Kid Approved Comics

Comics Club-4-Kids is a monthly club that explores comic books geared towards kids, of various age ranges. A couple of GeekMoms test different comic books on their own geeky kids. However, as geek moms, our intent is to use comic books as a source for exploring concepts used in studying classic literature in schools. Because schools need more comic books.

This month’s theme: morality.

Each comic book is broken into four sections: character, narrative structure, problem solving/plot development, visual text. Sample questions are provided to help parents, teachers, homeschool parents, or comic book enthusiasts to help their littles or bigs to learn critical thinking skills while exploring fun forms of literature: comic books.

This month’s comics: Tiny Titans—Return to the Treehouse (geared towards Littles), and Guardians of the Galaxy Issue 023 (geared towards Bigs).

Continue reading Comics Club-4-Kidz (Monthly): Kid Tested, Kid Approved Comics

If You Can Dance, You Can Code

Can you shimmy? Can you shake?
Can you step-clap-twirl to the right then the left?
Can you do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around?
Because that’s what it’s all about.

Coding, that is. Behind the intimidating circuitry hidden inside the impersonal hardshell exterior known as computers is an elegant simplicity that can unlock countless possibilities limited only by your imagination. The beauty of it is that it is so fundamentally easy to understand, yet capable of doing so, so much. Much like dancing.
Continue reading If You Can Dance, You Can Code

Free One-on-One Programming Mentorships With Recurse Center

I’m a big fan of Recurse Center (formerly known as Hacker School**), a free educational retreat for programmers. RC’s commitment to Computer Science education and diversity therein is nothing short of impressive, and they officially announced today an exciting new experimental program.

“RC Start” will provide beginning programmers with free one-on-one mentorships with an RC Retreat alum.  Continue reading Free One-on-One Programming Mentorships With Recurse Center

Alpha Workshop: Summer Solved for Teen Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Writers

Know a teen aged 14-19 whose notebooks are overflowing with spaceships and lycanthropes? Who has NASA’s New Horizons mission bookmarked as a research guide for their next novel? Maybe they (and you) should check out the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers for a summer experience that is close to out of this world.

For fifteen years, Alpha Workshop has welcomed 20 teens to the University of Pittsburgh – Greensburg campus. This summer’s session runs from July 21 to July 31, 2016. Continue reading Alpha Workshop: Summer Solved for Teen Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Writers

The Best Trick To Play On Your Children — So Sneaky!

My husband and I have this little trick we play on our children.

Every night, we try to get our three children in bed as close to 7:00 pm as possible. Our rule is that they need to stay in their rooms quietly and lights must be off. Oh, unless they feel like using this

Are you scratching your head over there? Continue reading The Best Trick To Play On Your Children — So Sneaky!

Once Upon a Torus: How I Learned to Talk Math

It began when I tested out of the math requirement as a college freshman. High school calculus had drained my confidence and scoring a pass was a tremendous relief. Nearly a decade later, I realized my mistake.

As a grad student, I rediscovered that not only was I good at math but I also kind of loved it. For reasons that made sense at the time, I didn’t allow this revelation to alter my humanities-leaning career trajectory. But it nagged at me.

A few, short years later, I had a math-mad girl of my own. And for her, I vowed that things would be different. Continue reading Once Upon a Torus: How I Learned to Talk Math

Google Takes Students on Virtual Field Trips

The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program has been visiting classrooms nationwide to help students and teachers learn more about incorporating the immersive learning opportunities of the “virtual field trip”

The program utilizes the Google Cardboard viewers to help students bring abstract concepts to live and give them a deeper, more personal understanding of the world beyond the four walls of the classroom. Continue reading Google Takes Students on Virtual Field Trips

Interview: PlayStation First and the Gaming Community

Hour of Code has come and gone; the reviews are jumping all around the interwebs (my own is coming shortly). But was it enough for your kids? Did your spawnlings savour the taste of coding … and then ask for more? And is coding really enough for them to start their career in-game development?

Continue reading Interview: PlayStation First and the Gaming Community

Never in a Million Years Did I Imagine Myself Homeschooling

There are some folks in this world who set out to homeschool. Homeschooling has always been a part of their life plan.

Then there are others who, for one reason or another, gradually make their way into the world of homeschooling.

And then there are the unexpected homeschoolers.

Folks, I never, in a million years, imagined myself hereContinue reading Never in a Million Years Did I Imagine Myself Homeschooling

Falling for Chuck, Part One: The Worst Day of My Life

One year ago today was the worst day of my life.

It was Tuesday morning, around 11:30. My husband was at work, my kids were at school, and the phone rang. It was my OB calling with my blood test results. I had gone for my nuchal screen 8 days before, and as with my first 3 kids the doctor quickly assured me that everything looked perfect.

Continue reading Falling for Chuck, Part One: The Worst Day of My Life

Coding at the Apple Store: Our Hour of Code Experience

When Ariane pointed out that Apple was sponsoring in-store Hour of Code events this week, I hopped on the free stuff in a store bandwagon. First, let me be totally honest: $Free. is my favorite price. I will do almost anything if you tell me I’m getting a free service. When I heard that the Apple store ten minutes from my house would be providing an in-store class for kids, I couldn’t get my kid signed up fast enough.

When I heard that the Apple store ten minutes from my house would be providing an in-store class for kids, I couldn’t get my kid signed up fast enough.

Up to this point, the nearest I’d come to an in-store training at the Apple store was asking questions about my own Mac because I am committed to my fully integrated Mac environment at this point. Not knowing what to expect, I went in with low expectations because that’s pretty much how I roll. However just like with my first iPod, Apple blew me away.

Continue reading Coding at the Apple Store: Our Hour of Code Experience

Half Hour of Code, Montessori Style: Check Out This Free Binary Counter

When I approached my four-year old’s teacher about Hour of Code, she invited me into the classroom to do a half hour lesson. My little ballerina goes to a Montessori, so the classroom is computer free.

“How hard can it be,” I thought. “I will just grab something off the internet and teach from that.”

So I told the teacher that I would be happy to do this.

I discovered how hard it is to plan a lesson for four-year-olds, both when following a lesson plan and making a new one.

I also created a binary counter that you can download and use with your children.

Counter
Copyright Claire Jennings

After giving a successful lesson on counting in binary and the Divide and Conquer algorithm, I have a new found respect for preschool teachers.

Continue reading Half Hour of Code, Montessori Style: Check Out This Free Binary Counter

The Ultimate List of Toys, Kits, and Books to Teach Kids Coding

Computer Science Education Week is coming to an end, but don’t let that stop your education! Earlier this week, I shared The Ultimate List of Tutorials, Apps, and Games to Teach Kids Coding. Today, I thought I’d append with a list of physical goods to teach your kids programming and electronics. Perfect for celebrating Hour of Code (better late than never), or under your Yuletide tree. Continue reading The Ultimate List of Toys, Kits, and Books to Teach Kids Coding

Hamilton: The Story of a Musical and My Six-Year-Old

Very little remains to be said about Hamilton: The Musical that Broadway blogs, mainstream media, Twitter, and every other thing haven’t already said.

Except for the story that I am about to tell.

This is the story of how a historical musical based on the founding father, Alexander Hamilton, not only helped me explore history with my six-year-old son but created a gateway into the world that gave me so much growing up.

Growing up, my parents took me to musicals all the time. I saw Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and so many others that I can’t even begin to count them. We live near Hartford, and the Bushnell always has a Broadway musical series. My parents would get subscriptions to the cheap, nosebleed seats. I loved it.

So, having my own child, I wanted to bring musical theater into his life as well. We’ve seen ballets and plays. I took him to a hip-hop Shakespeare (which was excellent!). So when streaming Hamilton on NPR made me think of my son, I, of course, played segments for him after school.

Continue reading Hamilton: The Story of a Musical and My Six-Year-Old

The Ultimate List of Tutorials, Apps, and Games to Teach Kids Coding

Welcome to the Computer Science Education Week! By now you may have heard of this little thing called Hour of Code, a global initiative from Code.org and CS Ed Week to get everyone—adults and kids alike!—to try just one hour of programming. Why? No, not so everyone can become programmers, but because exposure to programming can teach logic, problem solving, critical thinking, and demystify technology. Oh, and it’s also fun!

So if you’re ready to try programming, but you’re not quite ready to install a compiler and hack your first “Hello, World!” in a text editor, here’s a very long (and we’re thankful for that) list of online courses, tutorials, apps, and games that teach kids (and adults!) to program. Continue reading The Ultimate List of Tutorials, Apps, and Games to Teach Kids Coding

D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 1 — Getting Started

Since 1974, millions of geeks have dug their teeth into the lore, magic, and adventure of Dungeons and Dragons. Over 40 years of shenanigans and sleight of hand have carved a backbone in the Geekyverse, before many of us were born, and each of those 40 years has seen a new crop of newbies join the ranks of Dungeon-crawlers. Embracing the idea is the easy part, in the end. That hard part? Learning thousands of concepts, rules, and options.

No one can learn it all overnight, and sometimes, you won’t have a teacher. D&D for Young Players and DMs is a journal of the lessons our family learned while introducing my kids to D&D.

Continue reading D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 1 — Getting Started

54,600 Un-Birthday Wishes for Alice in Wonderland

November 26th, 2015, marked the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The origin of the Alice stories were conceived by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Oxford mathematics don, whom the world knows as Lewis Carroll.

In 1862, Dodgson constructed the basis of the Alice stories while on a boating trip with the daughters of Henry Liddell: Lorina Charlotte, Alice, and Edith. Henry Liddell’s middle daughter, Alice, requested Dodgson write the Alice stories down.

In 1864 Dodgson presented Alice Liddell with a handwritten, self-illustrated manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground on November 26th.

edited1
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND Illustration by Sir John Tenniel.

“It was all very well to say ‘Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. ‘No, I’ll look first,’ she said, ‘and see whether it’s marked poison or not’; for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.”

(Alice’s Adventures…  20-21)

Continue reading 54,600 Un-Birthday Wishes for Alice in Wonderland

Helmet Heads Can Be Cool

As the mother of four children, three of them extreme sport-loving boys, I am very familiar with the dangerous side of having fun. This is why I was thrilled to see GeekMom Ariane’s recent post about the importance of wearing helmets while ice skating. Fortunately, many people are finally realizing that flying down the hill on skis requires a good helmet, but it’s taken a bit longer to get the skating crowd on board.

I blame part of this trend on the movies and television shows. When you think about the life moments that might find you sliding around a rink, you usually envision the cute stocking cap on your head, or scarf around your neck. The skating outfit is usually a part of the winter fun scene that television and movie directors are looking for. Adding a rigid dome to the actors’ heads isn’t an option.

There is a reason life doesn’t really look like the movies. From wardrobe to relationships, most of us are smart enough to realize that the real world life is a bit messier.

It’s time for winter sports season once again. Whether you live near a scenic frozen lake or have a rink tucked conveniently in your local shopping mall or town square, a lot of people have access to skating once the winter months hit. So it’s time to talk about helmets. Continue reading Helmet Heads Can Be Cool

Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor

The excitement in our household was barely containable. Anticipation, joy, and dreams of what could be all radiated from the two geeks who live with me.

What caused such enthusiasm, you ask? Was it Christmas? Someone’s birthday? An anniversary, perhaps? The new Star Wars movie?

No, my friends. It was the announcement that Barnes & Noble, in partnership with Make Magazine, was going to be hosting a Mini Maker Faire at every single store location in the U.S. Continue reading Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor

The Davis Instruments Weather Box Fills My Need for Data

While I wouldn’t call myself a “weather geek” per se, meteorology and weather have interested me since at least high school. I love looking at weather maps, learning about low and high pressures, knowing what the marks on wind direction maps mean, and parsing the extensive data tables that come out of weather records.

Seeing how weather changes over a year for a particular spot really helps me get a feel of a place. Is it a wet winter or a rainy summer? Does it get above freezing during the winter? Is there a monsoon season? How likely are there to be mosquitoes (see: rainfall, among other things)? I’ve especially enjoyed how much more accurate weather forecasting has gotten over my (42 year) lifetime.

Before I got to try out the Davis Instruments Weather Box recently, the closest I ever got to a weather station was an outdoor temperature probe that was connected to an indoor wall clock. I loved weather data but had never had my own data to play with. So when the Weather Box arrived in the mail, I was excited to set it up. My 14-year-old daughter, equally excited, made me wait until she was available before getting started. She’s the type of weather geek who keeps a cloud journal.

Continue reading The Davis Instruments Weather Box Fills My Need for Data

To the Parents of High School Seniors

Dear Parents of High School Seniors,

You don’t know me. In about nine months, your child will walk into a classroom on a college campus. Most likely, I, or someone just like me, will be standing in front of your wide-eyed, excited child explaining what a syllabus is.

Unless your child isn’t excited. Unless your child doesn’t want to be in college. Unless your child is feeling societal and parental pressure to make the most expensive mistake of his/her life.

Are you listening to your child? Are you really? Continue reading To the Parents of High School Seniors

Kickstart Your Kids’ Confidence in Math with MathKit

Of course you read books aloud to your kids often, but have you ever thought about setting aside time to cuddle and solve math problems together?

Leslie Gilbert, a math teacher and creator of MathKit, has created a collection of games to show kids that math can be a fun way to spend family time—and give them the confidence to keep trying and learning, even when they get a problem wrong.

MathKit is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to get the kits in the hands of kids from kindergarten to third grade. My first grader and I recently had the chance to check out the games ourselves.

After a rainy day playing together, my daughter declared, “This does make math fun!”

Continue reading Kickstart Your Kids’ Confidence in Math with MathKit

Start Kids on a Coding Adventure with the ‘Minecraft’ Hour of Code

Not only will your coding Padawan have the opportunity to learn programming concepts with the help of Star Wars, this morning Microsoft released a new Minecraft coding tutorial for the Hour of Code.

The Hour of Code Minecraft tutorial, aimed at kids ages 6 and up, encourages young Minecraft fans to learn to code with Blockly, a simple drag-and-drop interface.

Continue reading Start Kids on a Coding Adventure with the ‘Minecraft’ Hour of Code

Cardboard STEM: 25 Ideas for All Those BOXES

There’s no escaping the cold, hard truth: Children love to play with cardboard boxes.

As parents, we’ve all experienced this cardboard-fueled phenomenon. It’s almost become an old adage: He played with the box more than the gift.

With the holidays on the horizon, there will be oodles of boxes to contend with especially if, like myself, you prefer to do your holiday shopping online in your jammies. And, as the holidays draw near, the to-do list increases. There are gifts to buy, presents to wrap, gatherings to organize. If your home is anything like ours, it can be tricky to get all the things done with children underfoot. Unless, of course, you have a plan.

And have I got a plan this year! This plan is sure to keep your children engaged and learning and provide you with some uninterrupted time to tackle that mounting must-do list. This plan requires your kids to get creative and to think outside of that proverbial box… while playing with all those cardboard boxes that are strewn about your home just waiting to be recycled. Continue reading Cardboard STEM: 25 Ideas for All Those BOXES

Why You and Your Children Should Read a Book With No Words

Since becoming a children’s librarian, I’ve found a new appreciation for picture books. The good ones (not the cheesy ones thrown together to cash in on a popular character or make grandparents go “awwww” that show up in the discount bin at the grocery store) are true works of art. Picture books are one kind of story you need to have in paper form, to open up and spread out in front of you, to experience as a whole. The words are chosen carefully, to say a lot with a little, like poetry (even when they don’t rhyme). The pictures don’t just illustrate the story, they enhance it, adding detail and humor that words can’t do alone. Even the page turns are considered to get the pacing right.

#picturebookmonth
http://picturebookmonth.com/

November is Picture Book Month, part of an international literacy initiative to raise awareness of and celebrate picture books as an art form that can and should be appreciated by people of all ages.

But in today’s score-driven educational environment, too many people see picture books as something to be outgrown. A year after learning to read, children are being pushed into chapter books, sometimes by teachers, but more often by parents. The more words, the better. Accelerated Reader, a program used by thousands of school districts in the U.S. to track student reading, awards students more points based not on the difficulty of the book, but on the length. Picture books, being almost all just 32 pages long, are worth exactly one-half of a point on Accelerated Reader. Kids trying to rack up points will almost always go for one longer book over several half-point books, even if the total number of words is the same.

And if there are no words at all, what’s the point? Continue reading Why You and Your Children Should Read a Book With No Words

The Hour of Code Awakens: Build Your Own Game With Star Wars

Remember in my PAX Review how I mentioned that Disney Infinity was going to be even bigger—especially with anything Star Wars related? Well, this is it.

Disney is teaming up with Code.org for this year’s Hour of Code and it is going to be big: Coding. Gaming. And, best of all, sharing!!

Continue reading The Hour of Code Awakens: Build Your Own Game With Star Wars

Can Neuroscience Explain the Popularity of The Hunger Games?

We’ve learned more about the human brain in the last ten years than the previous ten thousand. Adolescence in particular is a time of dramatic change.

I’m currently pursing a master’s in social science and as I have two daughters on either side of the teenage spectrum (10 and 19), I decided to enroll in a course on Adolescent Brain Development.  

I’ve learned that from age 10 to 25, approximately, the human brain goes through significant structural transitions as it is both built up through the maturation of various areas of the cortex and the myelination (coating) of neurons, and thinned out through synaptic pruning, a kind of knowledge specialization.

The teenage brain advances in a back-to-front pattern. The prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for executive functions such as impulse control, emotional response, decision making, planning and judgement, is not considered fully matured until the mid-twenties.

Let me put it another way: it’s a lot like the Hunger Games. Continue reading Can Neuroscience Explain the Popularity of The Hunger Games?