K’nex Builds Interest In STEM

There was much celebration!
There was much celebration!

We received six K’nex sets for my kids to test and review. We have two girls, aged 9.5 and 8, and a 5-year-old son. My son immediately opened a treasure chest full of parts and a book of 70 model ideas and started building. He was beyond excited for a K’nexosaurus Rex set, a motorized dinosaur build. The four other sets were aimed specifically at girls, and after a few minutes of looking at everything we’d received, my son wanted to open them all ASAP.

The sets aimed at the girls are meant to encourage interest in STEM. The sets included activities such as framing a house, building simple machines, and building a car with a motor. We received a plane and hang glider set, a carnival set with manual carousel, a set with two different houses, and a clubhouse set with a simple elevator, zip line, and the aforementioned car.

As soon as the girls got home, we started the build on the houses. I never played with K’nex as a kid, and as a LEGO builder I was very impressed with the packaging. The sets are well packed, with both the rods and the connectors color coded by length and shape. The pieces are also well-bagged in intuitive ways; main connectors were in their own bag and the pieces were organized in the order they’re used.

We had two main issues with the sets. First, some of the diagrams were really hard to mimic. As a 36-year-old, I found myself studying the pictures, trying to figure out which way pieces went and how they connected. While I wanted the kids to build independently, there were times that they really needed help.

More frustrating, though, was that the figurines in the girls’ sets kept falling apart. Legs and arms were popping out. The dolls’ hands were also not able to grip the zipline, and when using the elevator, the side of the clubhouse hit the figurine’s head multiple times. The company assured me that the loose limb issue has been fixed in the new sets they’re releasing, and I look forward to testing them to verify.

Much to my son’s disappointment, all the figurines are girls. K’nex has no plans at this time to add boys to the line as the sets are specifically targeting girls. The kids had a great time building, and my 9.5-year-old daughter was ultimately able to do a few full builds by herself. Every kid who has walked into our house for the last week has salivated at these sets and sat down to play for hours. Having played with the review sets, the new K’nex are on my list of things to buy for our home.

Sets can be purchased at multiple retailers; prices range from $12-$40.

Photos: Dani Weiss-Bronstein

Review: ‘Space Match’

We are a gaming family. We love ’em, all four of us. Card, board, RPG, you name it, we have at least one example of the type; we’ve even played most of them at least once. Our six year old is patient enough for Doctor Who RiskGloom, and the Imperial Assault training missions (we haven’t tried the longer missions yet). Even our rightfully shorter-in-the-attention-span three year old will play Trouble, Surprise Slidesand King of Tokyo.

Finding time to game as a family can be challenging, however, with my weird and irregular nurse schedule, which includes a fair number of weekends and evenings, and the boy being in school full-time plus attending Hebrew School on Sunday mornings. In an effort to increase playing opportunity, nights we’re all here, we’ve been trying to take the half hour between dinner and bedtime once devoted to the day’s non-educational television (except on Dinner and Rebels night; nothing shall replace Dinner and Rebels night so long as there are episodes of Rebels to watch) to play a family game. Not that there’s anything wrong with TV. There isn’t. I love the stuff, probably too much, but it’s more fun for the four of us to spend that half-hour engaged with one another when we can, especially since we don’t have that time as regularly as many families.

Continue reading Review: ‘Space Match’

STEM Strewing

You can’t go very far these days without hearing someone talk about STEM.

Or STEAM.

Or STREAM.

Why is STEM so important? Are your kids getting enough STEM at home? Should you incorporate more STEM into your day? And, if so, how? Continue reading STEM Strewing

How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

You know how I don’t like to spend Saturday? Watching kids play with Lego bricks. Especially if I’m not allowed to play with them myself. So how I found myself driving three sixth grade Montessori boys (one of them my own spawn) and offering to spend the entire day in an auditorium watching nineteen teams of four build Lego robots, then watch them try to push three other Lego robots out of a taped circle again and again, is beyond me.

Continue reading How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

A Second Half of Life College Degree

I’ve always been a big believer in the fact that most 18-year-olds have no idea what they really want to do with their lives. Three out of our four children have hit that age and we have another who will wrestle with this problem soon. I’m sympathetic. I was there once too, and I even had the benefit of thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career.

When I was finishing high school I knew I’d study Elementary Education in college. From the time I was a little girl I loved the idea of teaching little people. I was fortunate to be able to do a high school senior year internship where I co-taught with a childhood mentor, in her first-grade classroom. I loved every minute of it.

Continue reading A Second Half of Life College Degree

10 Reasons You Need to Drop Everything and Build a Fort… Right Now

One time, as a child, I built a fantastic fort that withstood four New England winters.

I was so proud of it! I would spend entire afternoons holed up in that sacred place. I’d get lost in an imaginary world, or while away the hours lost in a favorite book. I’d love to know how many books were read in that space!

Of course, my brothers and I built many forts over the years, both indoors and outdoors, but the outdoor forts reigned supreme. Continue reading 10 Reasons You Need to Drop Everything and Build a Fort… Right Now

Gather ‘Round, Padawans (Part Thirteen) — Kanan: The Last Padawan Redux Boogaloo

All I need to know in life I learned from Star Wars

Okay, not strictly speaking true, although the various Star Wars properties are serving to remind me of many important lessons I’ve picked up along the way many of which, to my mind, are those most important to pass along to my children.

I’ve tried to delve into different parts of the universe, the illustrative characters ranging from Ezra Bridger to Vader, the books from Obi-Wan & Anakin to those featuring the original trinity.

I find myself returning for the third time (and no walking carpets have torn my arms from my sockets to make it happen), however, to Kanan Jarrus (featured, for those following or catching up, in both part two and part six).

I guess Kanan has a lot to say, as do the writers responsible for bringing him to both screen and comic.

Property of Marvel Comics
Property of Marvel Comics

As a reader, I’m bummed that there’s only one issue left in Kanan: The Last Padawan (though I’m grateful it was extended to twelve from the originally intended five). Good news: Rebels has already been renewed for a third season, and I don’t see the journey ending anytime soon, so there are many more journeys on which we’ll be accompanying the Ghost and her crew.

I think anyone who’s been following Kanan in print will agree, however, there’s something very special about this glimpse into the past of one of the few Jedi to survive the execution of Order 66 and about the character himself who, by all rights, should have ended up a depressed hermit on some crappy border world or in thrall to the Sith.

Continue reading Gather ‘Round, Padawans (Part Thirteen) — Kanan: The Last Padawan Redux Boogaloo

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

Comics Club-4-Kids is a monthly club exploring comic books for a variety of  age ranges. Since some families have multiple age ranges, Comics Club-4-Kidz helps parents by finding similar themes across varying content so that families can have conversations together. Our intent is to approach literary analysis and information literacy through the use of comics. Character, narrative structure, problem solving/plot development, and visual text were chosen as the focus discussion points to help mirror what our kids are learning in school. Our goal is to help kids in schools or kids homeschooling find new ways to approach literacy.

This month’s theme: gender.

This month’s comics:  Power UP, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, and Superman/Wonder Woman.

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

The House of Chaos: Surviving Family ADHD

One of the first articles I pitched to GeekMom, in the application to be a writer here, was a piece on the incentive program we’d set up in our house, so our children would earn their screentime through chores and good behavior.

But by the time I actually started here, our program required a complete overhaul, on account of it no longer working.

Maybe I’d wait until the new plan took hold and write about the evolution of the process. But other topics distracted me before I got around to it, and now the new improved program has tapered off, too.

Well. I could hardly be the one to plug a successful incentive program now. Not that that’s the program’s fault. It’s all on me. You see, you need a grown-up to administer an incentive program.

And I need a grown-up. It’s possible this entire household needs a grown-up. Continue reading The House of Chaos: Surviving Family ADHD

A Look at Computer Science For All

For my generation, reading, writing and arithmetic provided a base skill set. It opened the way for any number of careers. For my daughter, it will not be enough.

She still needs these skills. However, they will not grant her admission as they did me. She needs more. She needs a computer science understanding to control the technology and devices around her.

It is a reality President Obama recognizes. He wants to facilitate the changes needed to address this new world.

It is a simple enough of a concept, educate our children for the realities of tomorrow, and we will build a strong tomorrow. Because of this, I commend President Obama for his Computer Science for All initiative. My question remains, will it provide the base he hopes it well? Or is it too one size fits all?

Continue reading A Look at Computer Science For All

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