Girl-Led Teams Dominated Annual STEM-Based Competition, MOONBOTS


XPRIZE, the global leader in incentivized prize competitions, and Google today announced the winners of the 2015 MOONBOTS Challenge, also considered the “Google Lunar XPRIZE for Kids.” It is an international competition that inspires the next generation of space explorers and innovators by inviting kids ages 8-17 to design, create, and program their own lunar rover, based on a legend or theory that inspires them about the moon. 

Next month, the winning teams will embark upon a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan to meet the official teams competing for a $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, a global competition to land a privately funded robot on the moon.

Continue reading Girl-Led Teams Dominated Annual STEM-Based Competition, MOONBOTS

Here Are All 7 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lego Sets

Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.

It’s Force Friday, and that means brand new Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise is appearing all over the place. We’ve been waiting to see what Lego was going to roll out, and now the sets are here and they are EVERYTHING WE DREAMED OF. Continue reading Here Are All 7 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lego Sets

Back To School 2015: Books To Stock Your Shelves

Minecraft Enchantment Table \ Attribution Some rights reserved by flickr user brownpau
Minecraft Enchantment Table. Some rights reserved by flickr user brownpau.

It’s time to head back to school and I’ve compiled a list of books I recommend you stock your shelves with for a profitable reading year.

Books For the Very Young

The Flowers Primer \ Image Fair Use
The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer \ Image BabyLit Books

The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer, and Don Quixote: A Spanish Language Primer ($9.99)
BabyLit, who specializes in introducing kids to classic literature with beginning reader board books, just introduced their latest pair to the series. Author Jennifer Adams and artist Alison Oliver celebrate “Little Miss Burnett” and “Little Master Cervantes” with The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer and Don Quixote: A Spanish Language Primer.

The Flowers Primer shows young readers flowers featured in The Secret Garden, accompanied by a small quote. The Spanish Language Primer includes characters and items featured in Don Quixote, in both English and Spanish. This book works for both native Spanish and English speakers, with phonetic spellings on the back geared towards speakers of each language.

Both of these little gift books are a great way to get first-time students excited about reading and literature, as well as the natural world and different cultures. [Ages two and up.]

Books For Ages 8 and Up

Hamster Princess \ Image: Fair Use
Hamster Princess \ Image: Dial Books

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon  ($6.49)
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible is my favorite title on this list. It’s a graphic novel that follows Princess Harriet who learns that she cannot be harmed until her 13th birthday, thanks to a Sleeping Beauty-like curse she received as a baby. It’s a fun story about a young girl who wants the adventure and action usually reserved for the princes. Available August 18, 2015. [Ages 8 and up—though younger children will enjoy this title as well.]

Hilo Book 1 \ Image: Fair Use
Hilo: Book 1 \ Image: Random House

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth graphic novel by Judd Winick ($6.99) 
A young boy falling from space has no idea where he came from or why going to school in his underwear is a bad idea. Sound like your kind of story? Then, this is the book for you. My son’s only complaint is that the sequel doesn’t come out until next year. It ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, so if you have young ones who can’t handle waiting till next year (and who can blame them?), I’d use this as an opportunity to have them write their own sequel. Available September 1, 2015. [Ages 8 and up, although younger readers may enjoy this being read to them.]

My Brother is a Superhero \ Image: Fair Use
My Brother Is a Superhero \ Image: Viking Books

My Brother Is a Superhero by David Solomons ($10.61)
Two brothers are hanging out in their tree house, when the younger brother’s life is changed with the four little words: “I need to pee.” When he returns to the tree house, he finds that his older brother now has superpowers and he missed his chance all because “nature” was calling. It’s a fun story that my son loved so much, when I was too tired to read at night, he climbed into bed with me and read out-loud to me. [Ages 8 – 12.]

Mission Explore Food \ Image: Fair Use
Mission: Explore Food \ Image: Can of Worms Kids Press

The Geography Collective
Get kids moving and investigating with unique, pocket-sized books by The Geography Collective. Each one is packed with activities that are made to be marked up and smeared as they’re used. Try Mission: Explore Food, with over 270 pages of strangely enticing ideas. Other titles include Mission: Explore on the Road and Mission: Explore Camping. Perfect for home or travel, and teachers can use these ideas too. Also know that more titles are available in the UK. [Ages 9-12.]

Mission: Explore Food (hardcover $29.90)
Mission: Explore on the Road (paperback $7.99)
Mission: Explore Camping (paperback $7.99)

Medieval Lego \ Image: Fair Use
Medieval Lego \ Image: No Starch Press

Medieval Lego  by Greyson Beights ($11.06)
Take a journey through English history in the Middle Ages with Lego. Written with the help of medievalists and scholars, this title will keep your young knights and princesses interested in the medieval times. [Ages 8 and up.]

The Lego Adventure Vol. 3 \ Image: Fair Use
The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 3 \ Image: No Starch Press

The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 3  by Megan H. Rothrock ($18.46)
Follow the story of Megs and Brickbot as they face their toughest challenge: the return of the Destructor. On their journey, the two meet some of the world’s greatest Lego builders and show you how to build a Renaissance house, a classic movie theater, sushi, and much more. Available September 25, 2015. [Ages 9 and up.]

Young Adult

Smart Girls Guide to Privacy \ Image: Fair Use
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy \ Image: No Starch Press

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy by Violet Blue ($13.76)
In the digital age, everyone needs to be more careful about what they do online. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy takes young girls through the various ways they can protect themselves. It’s hard to believe how quickly a photo or video can spread, and this book covers what to do when you are a victim of a compromising photo online, how to fix reputation mishaps, how to act if your identity is stolen, and much more. A must-read for anyone.

Game Art \ Image: Fair Use
Game Art \ Image: No Starch Press

Game Art  by Matt Sainsbury ($28.03)
Video games are not just fun, they are a work of storytelling art. This book is ideal for art students, who will get a kick out of the art from 40 video games and interviews with their creators.

Automate with Python \ Image: Fair Use
Automate the Boring Stuff with Python \ Image: No Starch Press

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart ($22.86)
This title is perfect for anyone who has menial tasks they don’t want to spend hours doing. In this book, you can learn how to write simple programs that will help you rename files in bulk, search for text across multiple files, and add a logo to multiple files without opening each one. There’s also 18 chapters’ worth of fun programs to play with.

Math with Python \ Image: Fair Use
Doing Math with Python \ Image: No Starch Press

Doing Math with Python by Amit Saha ($15.79)
I’m all for anything that makes high school math easier. Doing Math with Python helps students learn how to do math with the help of a little programming. It’s like learning two subjects at once. Available August 25, 2015.

Start Where You Are \ Image: Fair Use
Start Where You Are \ Image: Perigee Books

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Patel ($7.97)
Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration is a hand-drawn, full-color journal by self-taught artist Meera Patel. Each left-side page offers an endearingly illustrated quote, while each right-side page asks the journal writer to answer a question in words, drawings, or both. This little book can fit easily into a backpack or dorm room, wherever it’s needed. You might want to include a package of colored pencils, because color.

Team Challenges \ Image: Fair Use
Team Challenges \ Image: Chicago Review Press

Team Challenges: 170+ Group Activities to Build Cooperation, Communication, and Creativity by Kris Bordessa ($15.10)
Former GeekMom contributor Kris Bordessa has created the best activity book out there for teachers and parents, as well as leaders of groups such as scouts, 4-H, and other enrichment programs. It’s a perfect resource to keep on hand!

Shakespeare's Star Wars  \  Image: Fair Use
Shakespeare’s Star Wars \ Image: Quirk Books

The Royal Imperial Boxed Set: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy ($26.12)
This beautifully illustrated retelling of George Lucas’ Star Wars in the style of William Shakespeare contains Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; and The Jedi Doth Return. Han shooteth first? Forsooth! Also included is a full-color poster.

Do you have a favorite book to start off the school year? Let us know in the comments!

GeekMom received review copies of these titles.

‘Lego Marvel’s Avengers’ Coming in 2016

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Image source: Lego Marvel Avengers cover art

If you’re like us, you can’t get enough of the Lego video games. Lego Dimensions comes out in September, and we just have to wait a little bit longer for the next one. Lego Marvel’s Avengers will be released on January 26, 2016 in North America and January 29, 2016 in Europe. It’s the first console game to include the stories and characters from The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

GameStop pre-orders will also get the Silver Centurion Iron Man minifig, also playable in the game. Pre-orders online will come with it, but if you buy in-store, it’s only available while supplies last.

Lego Marvel’s Avengers will be available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and Windows PC.

The game will follow the storyline of the two Avengers movies, which you can get a hint of in the peek at a few of the characters below:

Bruce Banner (Age of Ultron)
Bruce Banner, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Hulk (Age of Ultron)
The Hulk, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Speed, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Ms Marvel_Kamala Khan
Ms. Marvel, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Thor_Jane Foster
Thor, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel

Why People Are Upset About the New Disabled Lego Minifigure

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I’ve written extensively about Lego bricks. I’ve met and interviewed several Lego Master Builders. I’ve been to several of their traveling expo shows. I’ve even spent an afternoon with the talented brick artist Nathan Sawaya.

And because I’m an amputee, you’d think I’d be thrilled about the fact that Lego has finally decided to make a minifig that has a disability. But I’m not. And I guess many parents of disabled children are as disappointed as I am.

What’s the problem? The problem is that in the new Duplo set, Duplo Community People, there is a wide range of people. Many races, many job types, many skin colors. The one disabled figure is an old man in a wheelchair. In the non-disabled world, this might seem like a petty thing to be upset about. But in my world, it means a lot.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

When I was doing my research before my elective amputation, I had trouble finding a prosthetist or physical therapist who would tell me what life would be like for me, once I had one leg. Most of their stories were grim. Most of their patients were elderly. Most were not interested in keeping up with young children and going on hikes on the weekends. I started to feel even more like I would be one of the only amputees in the country.

Then, I dug a bit further. I found some online communities. In the dozen years since my surgery, the media has done a great job of featuring young amputees, and young disabled folks, involved in active lifestyles. I quickly realized I was not the only one. It’s definitely been a huge leap in the right direction.

Then, we get the first-ever disabled Lego person, and it’s back to the elderly person who needs to be pushed around by the younger figure who comes with him.

The audience for Duplo is little kids. My kids switched over to their smaller Lego sets about the time they started school. I would think that Lego would understand their demographic. So why in the world would they proudly have the first disabled figure, when they had the chance to do so much with it, and instead chose the grandfather a preschooler might visit in a nursing home?

This was their big chance to show little people what a truly diverse world looks like. For a preschooler to play with a disabled figure that is a child puts all kinds of new ideas into their heads. Yeah, some kids look different from me. Some have darker or lighter skin. And some might use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. We’re all part of the same world. And we all can be as active as we want.

Photo: Born Just Right Used with Permission
Photo: Born Just Right, used with permission.

I’m not lobbying for an amputee minifigure, although that would be awesome. But come on, Lego folks. Give me a break. Would it have been so hard to make a disabled figure, your first ever, to represent the millions of KIDS who use adaptive equipment to live their lives? Go ahead and include the grandpa. And he can even be in his wheelchair, with his grandson pushing him around. But don’t count him as your big new idea. Those ideas were old news, even a dozen years ago.

If you’d like to have your voice heard, and feel even halfway as passionately about this issue as I do, think about popping over and signing the petition on this page. It’s got a great explanation of what we’d love to see in children’s toys.

Build Your Own ‘Jurassic World’ With Lego

Image: Sarah Pinault

I’m a sucker for all things Jurassic World at the moment. So when given the chance to check out one of the associated Lego kits, well, I was on that kit like a Raptor on an Indominus Rex. Ahem.

My five-year-old’s Lego obsession has been well documented, but I have mostly stayed on the peripheries of the actual construction, since my husband shares our son’s enthusiasm and I apparently do it wrong. This time, however, nothing was keeping me from the construction site.

We checked out the T. rex Tracker kit. It has 520 pieces and is rated for 7-12 year olds. My five-year-old has great success with the kits that are rated for six and up, and we have had moderate success with the seven and up kits, so we figured this one was appropriate for his level. The kit comes with two instruction booklets and several different components.

Jurassic Lego

We put the T. rex himself together first; a handful of pieces and you’re done. In the time it took us to make the rest of the kit, my three-year-old played happily with the fully constructed dinosaur. The T. rex is quite poseable and has snapping jaws, which have become the source of endless merriment in our house. The T. rex Tracker itself is a vehicle featuring an opening cockpit, dinosaur containment cage, and a harpoon-style trap shooter. There is also a motorbike, three minifigures, and accessories such as a torch with flame, briefcase, and tranquilizer gun. For only 520 pieces, the fully constructed models are a decent size. The T. rex stands over five inches tall, the Tracker itself is 6 inches high, 8 inches long, and 3 inches wide, while the motorbike is understandably of minifigure proportions.

Right off the bat, it is obvious that this vehicle is not featured in the movie. In fact, much of the Lego line available in association with Jurassic World does not appear in the movie. Some of the dinosaurs don’t even appear in the movie. Yet, that does not diminish my, I mean, my son’s enjoyment of the kit. He is too young for the movie, so he simply enjoys that it is Lego and it is dinosaurs. I am somewhat obsessed with the movie, and the vehicle’s absence from the story itself just makes me wonder what kind of deleted scenes I’m going to see on my already-ordered DVD.

The Dilophosaurus that incapacitated Dennis Nedry in the first movie is featured in a kit, though not in this movie. The Dilophosaurus kit does contain a Gyro-sphere, heavily featured in this movie. The Indominus Rex Breakout Kit and Raptor Rampage are taken directly from prominent scenes in the movie, and contain some of the better minifigures. Then, the Pteranodon Capture Kit contains elements from the movie, but there is no Pteranodon capture scene that we know of. After talking to a fellow GeekMom who purchased kits for her family, we agreed that the T. rex and Raptor kits were the cream of the crop, for size and relevance of the kits, but also for the coolness of the dinosaurs.

Image: Sarah Pinault

This is the first Lego kit that I have sat down with from start to finish in well over a decade. As I said before, I usually observe from the sidelines. I found it be utterly addicting. The size of the instruction booklets, though daunting at first, were so well done that it was a snap (and a click) to put together. However, it is definitely not one I could have let my five-year-old free on all by himself. The volume of small pieces and peculiar arrangements would have disgruntled him very quickly without the assistance of a steadier hand, but it is definitely one you could do along with a child under seven.

The T. rex Tracker assembled logically and with great rhythm and symmetry. I have a bit of an obsession with symmetry in life, in everything really, and so watching this piece come together was remarkably soothing. Pieces were color-coded in such a way as to make them easily identifiable, and the process was laid out in an easy-to-understand way. Really, I expect no less from a brand like Lego, but it was nice to have all my assumptions from the past few years of Lego building observations confirmed.

Once fully assembled, it holds together for some quite rough play. There are one or two decorative pieces that do keep coming off, but the main body of the Tracker lends itself to being manhandled at kindergartner-miles-per-hour while chasing a toddler holding a T. rex. After a few weeks of play, we have determined that removing the cage makes it an even more malleable piece in the Lego universe. The cage remains easily attachable for dino-chasing days.

All in all, I am thoroughly impressed with this line. Now I just need to acquire a second set of dinosaurs for myself, I mean, for the younger sibling!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Check Out the Brick Marketplace for Lego Options

Image: Lego
Image: Lego

As any geek or parent knows, it’s sometimes difficult to get the Lego set that you or your kids have your/their heart set on, so it’s great to have options for where to find them. Being an authorized Lego retailer, Brick Marketplace is another viable option for fulfilling your (and your kids’) Lego dreams.

Image: Brick Marketplace
Image: Brick Marketplace

Often cheaper than the Lego online store, Brick Marketplace has featured products and special deals. You can search by theme, age, and category, and also check out minifigs, new arrivals, and sales. The website also tells you how many of each item are in stock, to help you make your purchasing decisions. I love that feature. Plus, with Lego being such a part of our lives, more places to find sets is always a good thing.

I had the chance to try out a set from Brick Marketplace, the Lego Architecture Big Ben. The box was mailed with great care, and the set arrived in perfect condition and brand new. (The Architecture sets are some of my favorites, along with the Creator sets that are houses, and of course, the Volkswagon T1 Camper Van.)

Image: Jenny Bristol
Image: Jenny Bristol

I managed to build the Big Ben set in less than an hour, since there are only 346 pieces. Some of the pieces went together in interesting ways. That’s one of my favorite parts of assembling a Lego set: learning new ways to use the bricks and pieces. “Oh, I wouldn’t have thought to use that piece in that way,” kept coming out of my mouth. As with the other Architecture sets, Big Ben comes with a thick book containing instructions and a really detailed, photo-laden history of the structure.

Image: Jenny Bristol
Image: Jenny Bristol

Next time you’re in the market for a Lego set (like, today, for instance), check out Brick Marketplace. They are competitive in the market, and you can find some real deals. You can also purchase gift certificates for loved ones, and the company has a low price guarantee.

GeekMom received a Lego set for review purposes.

Lego Ninjago Take on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

This short video of Lego Ninjago Kai, a Spinjitsu master, taking on the American Ninja Warrior course is just what you need this Monday morning.

Check out the newest season of Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu on Cartoon Network (check your local listings). Also? There are some very cool new Ninjago sets in the Lego store.

Happy Independence Day! Check Out This Lego American Flag

This past Wednesday, July 1st, Lego’s Master Builders gathered at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. to build an American flag made completely out of Lego bricks.

The event was to celebrate the opening of the museum’s Innovation Wing, and visitors were invited to help with the build. Lego Master Builder Chris Steininger led the project.

The Colvin family, from left, Adrian, 4, Riley, 7, Jack, 10, and mother Shawna, of Tiffin, Iowa, take a "selfie" after helping build the world's largest LEGO American flag to celebrate the opening of the Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Washington. More than 15,000 museum visitors helped create the 9.5-by-14-foot flag using more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for LEGO)
The Colvin family, from left, Adrian, 4, Riley, 7, Jack, 10, and mother Shawna, of Tiffin, Iowa, take a “selfie” after helping build the world’s largest LEGO American flag to celebrate the opening of the Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Washington. More than 15,000 museum visitors helped create the 9.5-by-14-foot flag using more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for LEGO)

Fun facts about the Lego flag:

  • Dimensions – 117.9” tall X 152” wide
  • Weight – 546 pounds
  • Number of LEGO bricks – 109,200
  • 16 hours to design
  • Largest LEGO American flag ever built
Rob Neill, center, of Winter Park, Fla., and his daughters Alison, left, 6, and Cecilia, 8, help build the world's largest LEGO American flag to celebrate the opening of the Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Washington. More than 15,000 museum visitors helped create the 9.5-by-14-foot flag using more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for LEGO)
Rob Neill, center, of Winter Park, Fla., and his daughters Alison, left, 6, and Cecilia, 8, help build the world’s largest LEGO American flag to celebrate the opening of the Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Washington. More than 15,000 museum visitors helped create the 9.5-by-14-foot flag using more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for LEGO)

Who doesn’t love Lego sculpture?

LEGO master builder Chris Steininger places a brick while building the world's largest LEGO American flag to celebrate the opening of the Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Washington. More than 15,000 museum visitors helped LEGO master builders create the 9.5-by-14-foot flag using more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for LEGO)
LEGO master builder Chris Steininger places a brick while building the world’s largest LEGO American flag to celebrate the opening of the Innovation Wing at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Washington. More than 15,000 museum visitors helped LEGO master builders create the 9.5-by-14-foot flag using more than 100,000 LEGO bricks. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for LEGO)

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Unlock ‘Lego Jurassic World’: Will Bricks Find a Way?

Lego Jurassic World © Warner Bros. Interactive
Lego Jurassic World © Warner Bros. Interactive

Lego Jurassic World was my first foray back to the Lego games franchise since Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. Recent offerings have put me off of the games, but the lure of my favorite ever movie being given the Lego treatment was just too strong. I was incredibly hopeful I would enjoy it.

Continue reading Unlock ‘Lego Jurassic World’: Will Bricks Find a Way?

Lego Goes Green and Launches ‘Are You a Lego Maker?’ Challenge

Makers work on a model of the United States during the National Week of Making. Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.

It’s been a busy June for Lego. This week they made the huge announcement that they’re investing $1 billion and creating 100 new jobs to find a sustainable alternative to plastic for their bricks. Lego is trying hard to reduce its carbon footprint, and we think that’s great news from a beloved company that uses 6,000 tons of plastic every year.

Then last week in Washington during the National Week of Making, Lego announced the “Are You a Lego Maker?” prototyping challenge. The company will be giving away 50 “prototyping kits” to makers ages 13 and older. Each kit includes a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit, thousands of Lego bricks and elements, access to a Lego Mindstorms Expert Builder, and a copy of the book Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation.

Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for Lego, said:

The same inventive spirit at the core of the maker movement is also at the core of every Lego building experience. The introduction of the Lego Mindstorms robotic toolkit in 1998 accelerated the Lego System of Play as a prototyping tool among builders around the world. Since that time, inventors of all ages and all levels of expertise have prototyped their inventions with Lego robotic sets and bricks, creating everything from a baseball mudder to a braille printer to a pancake maker. Many of these inventors manufactured products based on these prototypes that were often patented and sold to the public, so we look forward to seeing what the next generation of makers builds to life.

To encourage that ingenuity and love of tinkering, Lego launched this contest to give young makers the right tools.

To enter, visit the Lego Maker site and tell them what you want to build. The contest is open to U.S. residents only, and it ends July 13th.

Take Your EV3 Experience to the Next Level With ‘The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming’

The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming Book Cover
The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Progrmming book cover. Image: No Starch Press

As I embark on my second year as a FIRST Lego League coach, I am reviewing the materials that made my first year successful as well as deciding what tools to use in the upcoming year. There are several books that I used extensively during my first year, and I plan to use all of them in my second year as well.

Classroom Activities for the Busy Teacher: EV3

The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Idea Book

The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book

The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming

I wanted to take a few minutes to share what I loved in particular about The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming book. If you are new to Lego Mindstorms robotics and the EV3, this book starts from the beginning introducing you to the EV3 hardware and software. You won’t feel left behind. Each concept that is introduced builds on the prior one while preparing you for the next. As the author, Terry Griffin, states, “This book is for anyone who wants to learn how to create programs to control their EV3 robot, whether you’re a young robotics enthusiast; an adult teaching children about robotics; a parent; a FIRST Lego League coach; or a teacher using the EV3 in a classroom.”

You can use The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming with the retail EV3 set or the education EV3 set. There are some minor differences in the programs, and those differences are explained in the examples so that you can use the information relevant to the set you have.

If you already have experience programming the EV3, The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming will stretch your skills. A lot of EV3 programmers write simple programs without utilizing variables, data wires, or My Blocks, let alone attempting the use of arrays, writing/reading a file, or multitasking. If you work through all the chapters and projects in this book, you will gain a full understanding of the power of the EV3 software as well as an in-depth programming experience that makes use of all those programming constructs.

Each page of The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming contains just the right amount of text and supplemental diagrams. The reader will be able to easily create the sample programs in the EV3 software as they follow along with the programming diagrams. The use of full-color along with the detailed explanations makes it easy to transfer the programs from the page to the actual software. If you run into trouble, however, you can download the sample programs from the No Starch Press website.

Sample Page
Sample page. Image: No Starch Press

Instructions for building the TriBot robot are also included. The TriBot is simple to build, provides just the right amount of flexibility for the sample programs, and gives the reader the ability to bring their programs to life. While reading about the sensors and programming constructs in the book, the reader can create the sample programs in the software and run them to test their success at learning the concept.

EV3 TriBot
TriBot. Photo: Maryann Goldman

In my FIRST Lego League class, I used The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming to teach my kids the concept of line following with a twist. Chapter 7 the WallFollower program: navigating a maze extends on simple line following techniques by having the TriBot follow the walls of a maze. I love how the book explained the right-hand rule to traversing a maze along with breaking down the individual tasks the robot would need to handle. The TriBot needs to use the ultrasonic, or infrared, sensor to follow the wall. It must also handle running into the wall in front of it as well as dealing with an opening to the right side. The kids on my team tackled each task one at a time until they were ready to string them together and traverse the maze. It was fantastic to see how serious they were about getting  it right along with how proud they were of their success.

Maze Right-Hand Rule Algorithm
Maze right-hand rule algorithm. Image: No Starch Press

Check out this video of our robot in action as it works its way through our maze.

The Art of Lego Mindstorms EV3 Programming currently sells on Amazon for $25.84 (hardback) or $15.37 (Kindle).

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Lego Announces Release Date for Fan-Designed ‘Big Bang Theory’ Set

Image credit:
Image credit:

This week Lego announced an August 1st release date for the much-anticipated Big Bang Theory set, which was submitted and voted upon through Lego’s Cuusoo project*.

Earlier this month, Lego released preview images from the set, revealing everything from Howard’s smirky face to Raj’s dog, Cinnamon. Fans will enjoy all the details embedded throughout the set, between the Chinese food containers, one of Howard’s unique belt buckles (the press release photos are showing a game controller buckle), and the equation-filled white board.

Who do we need to thank for such creativity? Alatariel from Sweden and Glen Bricker from the USA, who both have submitted numerous other designs through Lego Ideas, came up with this great design that Lego is now bringing to life.

The set is expected to retail for $59.99.

*The Lego Cuusoo program was re-designated the “Lego Ideas” project about one year ago. Any Lego fan can design and submit ideas through the Lego Ideas website. Simply create an account, assemble a set, take lots of good photos, and garner support. You need 10,000 votes for the set to move on to the Lego review phase. With the Lego Ideas account, you can also browse submitted ideas and vote for your favorites. If your set is chosen to go into production, you can expect to earn 1% from sales.

It’s a ‘Jurassic World’ Lego Giveaway!

Image: Universal Pictures (used with permission)

If you are anything like me, you are completely stoked about the release of Jurassic World this Friday, June 12. Whether you want to see it in Real D 3D, IMAX 3D, or just as a regular film (they still show those, right?), viewers are sure to get plenty of thrills and dinosaur chills. Chris Pratt! Trained velociraptors! And more ginormous dinos than you can sink your teeth into.

In order to help celebrate the release of Jurassic World, we are holding a giveaway for one of the only things I might get more geeked out about than dinosaurs. Lego! That’s right, one winner will receive a Jurassic World Lego prize bundle with three Lego sets, valued at $90. The play sets feature the Jurassic helicopter with net shooter, T. rex Chaser with its big cage, ACU Transport with scientific equipment, Jurassic off-roader, Raptor pen, and more (may vary).

Image: Universal Pictures (used with permission)

So click on the Rafflecopter entry form and find out how you can enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image: Universal Pictures (used with permission)

About Jurassic World:

Jurassic World – The Park Opens June 12
In Theaters, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D
Steven Spielberg returns to executive produce the long-awaited next installment of his groundbreaking Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World. Colin Trevorrow directs the epic action-adventure based on characters created by Michael Crichton. The screenplay is by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly & Trevorrow, and the story is by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver. Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley join the team as producers.

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, and Irrfan Khan

Rated PG-13

Visit Jurassic World on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr! And follow the #JurassicWorld hashtag on Twitter to keep up with the exciting movie news.


Rules and disclaimer: Open to US only. Prize pack supplied by Universal Pictures/Jurassic World. GeekMom received one prize pack for personal use.

Get Inspired by the 2015 MOONBOTS Challenge!

Image: MOONBOTS. Used with permission.

Once again, GeekMom is proud to be a media partner for this wonderful competition helping to inspire kids to create the most amazing things!

Calling all Explorers, Adventurers, and Dreamers!

We are excited to announce the launch of the 2015 MOONBOTS Challenge, an international competition sponsored by XPRIZE and Google that invites kids to design, create, and program their own lunar rover. Often referred to as the Google Lunar XPRIZE for Kids, this year’s MOONBOTS Challenge is offering an extraordinary Grand Prize: a trip to Japan to meet the actual Google Lunar XPRIZE teams competing for a $30 million prize purse to land a privately funded robot on the moon. Generating excitement about the new Moon race while promoting STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and team building, MOONBOTS aims to inspire and engage the next generation of space explorers, adventurers, and innovators.

Since its inception in 2010, MOONBOTS has challenged thousands of kids from around the world to use their imagination and creativity in a game of skill that’s engaging, collaborative, and educational. Teams of 2-4 members (ages 8-17), and one team captain at least 18-years old, are asked to write a story or create a video essay explaining what inspires them about the Moon. Thirty teams are then selected by a panel of experts to move on to the next stage of the competition, where they are required to design a lunar landscape, as well as build and program a robot.

In addition, MOONBOT teams must come up with a simulated lunar mission and game play for their robots, and then demonstrate their innovation to children and adults in their community. This public outreach builds confidence for team members, teaches audiences about the Moon and the Google Lunar XPRIZE, and demonstrates how STEM education can be fun.

By inspiring and encouraging today’s youth, MOONBOTS 2015 hopes to create the next generation of coders, innovators, space explorers and dreamers. To find out more about the 2015 MOONBOTS Challenge, go to You can also follow the competition on Twitter and Facebook using #moonbots.

LEGO Classic Arcade Games Could See Production With Your Help

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

The latest cool build to go up for voting on Lego Ideas is one that’s sure to appeal to anyone who grew up in the ’80s and spent hours pumping quarters into a machine at the local arcade. It’s a set of three arcade games especially for Sega fans.

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

The first game is Space Harrier which was released in 1985 and designed by Yu Suzuki. It used what they called Super Scaler technology to give things a 3D effect. In the deluxe version of the game, the whole cabinet moved as the player moved the joystick so this Lego version moves left, right, up, down, and tilts.

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

There’s also Out Run which came out in 1986 and was also designed by Yu Suzuki. This time the cabinet moved according to how you turned the wheel in the racing game so this model moves left and right.

Image: Thunder Blade
Image: SpacySmoke

The last game is Thunder Blade which came out in 1987 and had a seat that rotated to match your motions as you piloted a helicopter. This model follows suit with a seat that rotates in a circle.

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

The set even includes three minifigs. Set designer SpacySmoke made a Male Sega Fan, Female Sega Fan, and a miniature Yu Suzuki to immortalize the game designer in Lego form.

The set needs 10,000 votes to be considered for production by Lego. You can lend your support and help make this set something that we all can play with one day.

(via NerdApproved)

Lego Large Hadron Collider

All Images: Nathan Readioff

Whatever your level of interest in particle physics, you have to admit, the Large Hadron Collider is just cool. This is the new frontier in a way that the moon was for previous generations. In the way that the edge of the world was for Pythagoras. This is the kind of thing that humanity is meant to do.

Cern2Of course, humanity is also meant to play with Lego, just because. So it is with great glee that I urge you to vote for the LHC kit at Lego Ideas. That’s right, a LHC kit made of Lego bricks. Could you get any more technical? The idea only needs to get 10,000 supporters to be reviewed by the Lego content team, so come on GeekMoms, let’s rally!

With 10,000 supporters, the project enters the LEGO review phase. The review board consists of set designers and marketing representatives. The project will then be evaluated according to Lego review criteria, following which the board will hand pick the few projects that will become new LEGO Ideas sets. Lego guarantees that every project in review gets a fair shot.

The next step is simple. Projects that are selected during the LEGO Review phase will go into production. That’s it. The originating designer will be allowed to give their input to the professional LEGO designers, who will create the final set. Then it goes to the factory, and then is shipped around the world and released for sale. The original designer gets written credit, a financial share in the project, and the joy of seeing their finished product for sale.

Cern3The designer, Nathan Readioff, is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool in England. He is currently based at CERN and working on the real ATLAS detector where he is studying the Higgs Boson. This is as real a deal as you can get.

This is the kind of kit that motivates kids—it brings science to life in a tangible way. Let them get their hands on their own LHC, feed their imagination, and who knows what the next generation of physicists will come up with.

Can’t wait for the kit to go through this process? The plans are available on the Build-Your-Own-Particle-Detector website. You just have to supply your own building materials. There is a fully comprehensive parts list to go along with the plans.

Get Ready for the Humble Brainiac Book Bundle!

Image: No Starch Press
Image: No Starch Press

Humble Bumble is a great site to get great deals and help a cause at the same time. This week they debuted the Humble Brainiac Book Bundle with over 10 titles for as little as $15 total.

Here’s how it works: Customers pay as much or as little as they want for the deal. Paying more than the average user will get you bonus titles. When you are ready to pay, you get to pick how much money from your purchase goes to the publisher and how much goes to the cause. After you complete your purchase, you are sent a link to download your titles to the computer. They are PDF copies and don’t need a special reader to work.

For this deal, Humble Bumble is supporting Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. What’s cool about this is that you can give all your money to the cause or if you don’t really care for the particular causes being supported, you could just give all your money to the publisher or Humble Bumble.

Image: No Starch Press
Image: No Starch Press

Customers can pay any amount of money and receive:

– Ruby Wizardry: An Introduction to Programming for Kids
– Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things
The Manga Guide to Electricity
– Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids
– The LEGO Adventure Book, Volume 1: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More!

Customers who pay more than the average user will also receive:

LEGO Space: Building the Future
The Manga Guide to Physics
– Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming
– Incredible LEGO Technic: Cars, Trucks, Robots & More!
– Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress

And customers who pay $15 or more will receive all of the above, plus:

– Steampunk LEGO
– JavaScript for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming
– The LEGO Neighborhood Book: Build Your Own Town!

I’ve reviewed a couple of these titles and in the process of reviewing a few others and I couldn’t be happier with them. My son is nine years old and even though he’s not quite into electricity or physics yet, he enjoyed reading the story that taught the concepts. Even if your child is not old enough to enjoy some of these titles, it’s worth the money to pick them up to have for when they are older.

Happy Holidays from the GeekMoms!!!

Can you guess what GeekMom Maryann’s friends want for Christmas? Photo: Maryann Goldman, used with permission.

All of us from GeekMom want to wish you, your family, and your friends a Happy Holiday season! We’ve enjoyed geeking out with you in 2014 and can’t wait for continued geekery in 2015!

Build a Lego Arcade Machine Christmas Ornament With The Kids

Lego Ornaments
Image: Chris McVeigh

It’s a lot of fun to get creative at the holidays and make the ornaments that decorate your Christmas tree. Artist Chris McVeigh has some great ideas for adding a little Lego flair to those decorating efforts. His latest nerdy offering is a trio of classic arcade machine ornaments in a festive red, yellow, and green.

Those aren’t the only designs that will delight your inner Christmas nerd. He’s also got a TARDIS for all you Whovians and the Death Star and Millennium Falcon for Star Wars fans still giddy over that new trailer. If you and your kids love playing with Lego bricks, then these designs are sure to provide plenty of fun getting the tree ready for the holidays.

Even better, McVeigh has made all of his designs available as completely free PDF downloads on his site. He’s got all his nerdy designs and some that look like the more traditional balls and baubles that decorate our trees.

There are also some designs available for purchase in his store that include all the bits needed to make each ornament so you don’t have to work at pulling the pieces out of that giant Lego bin overflowing in your child’s closet.

(via NerdApproved)

Watch the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer in Lego

Star Wars Screen Shot
Image: Screen Shot

The first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has only just made its debut but already people are having their way with the video. YouTuber Snooperking wasted no time putting together a Lego version of the trailer that includes everything from the trisaber to the Millennium Falcon’s triumphant return.

Don’t miss the subtitles that were not in the original trailer and add a nice dose of humor. Also, be prepared to worry over whether or not you remembered to turn off the oven.

(via NerdApproved)

DC Comics’ LEGO Variant Covers for November

© DC Comics
© DC Comics

If you and your kids love comic books and LEGO, have I got some news for you! Not only will this November bring LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham to video game stores everywhere, you can also find your favorite DC Comics characters in their LEGO form gracing their respective comic book covers throughout the month.

Stop by your local comic book store to find LEGO variants for November titles including Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Catwoman, Justice League, and more.

Check out the covers in the gallery below. Isn’t Sinestro the cutest? There’s a sentence I’d never imagined I would type…

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Enhance Your EV3 Robot Experience With The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book

Cover for The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press
Cover for The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press

I’m a rookie First Lego League (FLL) coach, so when I was offered the opportunity to review The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots by Laurens Valk, I was thrilled. I am very pleased to say that the book did not disappoint! Within 15 minutes of picking up the book, I had already learned 3 things I didn’t know. As I continued to read, I picked up many more concepts and tips to take back and share with my First Lego League team. Laurens Valk is very qualified to write about the EV3. He helps test new Mindstorms products, and one of his robot designs is featured on the EV3 packaging as a bonus project.

Johnny working on the EV3 EVR3STORM sample robot. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Johnny and friends working on the EV3 EVR3STORM sample robot. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I started working with the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot after my son, Johnny, received it for Christmas last year. Johnny and I installed the EV3 Software and set about building three of the sample robots (TRACK3R, EV3RSTORM, and R3PTAR) from the instructions. Then, in May 2014, I began the journey of organizing and coaching a FLL team. Although there are a lot of resources online, knowing what I know now, I’d recommend that each of my team members purchase a copy of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book. The book has an impressive 396 pages filled with all the information about the EV3 that you could possibly want to know. There is both a “brief” and a “detailed” table of contents covering 19 chapters that are divided into six sections. Each section contains a multitude of full color diagrams providing concise and detailed pictorial information about the topics being discussed. The book walks you through what’s in the EV3 box and the basics of using the EV3 software, then the book proceeds to explain in detail the robot sensors and more complex programs. There are additional sample robots to build (e.g., EXPLOR3R, FORMULA EV3 RACE CAR, ANTY, SNATCH3R, and LAVA R3X) as well as scores of activities to test your new found knowledge. Whether you already have some experience with the EV3 like me or are totally new to the EV3, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book has an appropriate starting point for you.

The Brief Contents of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press
The Brief Contents of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press

For a full run down on the EV3, check out GeekMom Marziah’s review. Although this book states that it requires the Lego Mindstorms EV3 retail set 31313, the vast majority of the book will also work just as well with the Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 Core Set 45544.

Here’s a short list of some of the take-aways I had from this book.  It’s amazing how much you can learn even when you’ve been working with the robot for a while. I learned:

  1. How to go back and forth between the Lobby, my program, and the Content Editor in the EV3 Software. (page 29)
  2. You can double click on a program name tab to rename the program to something more meaningful. What a relief to finally be able to give our programs a name related to what the program does instead of just “program”, “program2”, etc. (page 30)
  3. How to use the hand tool to pan around large programs. It didn’t take long before our programs became so large that they wouldn’t fit on the visible computer screen. It’s very useful to be able to quickly move around and scan our entire program.  (page 31)
  4. How to create My Blocks. These are essentially what I’ve always called procedures. You can save a group of programming blocks that perform a specific task into one block that you can insert anywhere in your programs without having to recreate all the individual blocks. My Blocks can be shared among team members or groups too. (page 53)
  5. How to view ports and sensor values, and move motors, all right on the EV3 brick. I knew you could do a lot more on the brick itself, but I hadn’t run into any text describing the specifics before this book. (page 66)
  6. Switch blocks have tabbed views. If your switch block has a lot of cases, you can use the tabbed view to tidy up your view and analyze one case at a time. (page 72)
  7. About the unregulated motor block. From the book, “When you don’t want the EV3 to supply that extra power to maintain constant speed, you can use unregulated speed.” (page 101)

As I mentioned earlier, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book is full of color images and samples. Page 52 has an awesome example program showing a loop. I love how easy these examples are to replicate on my computer in the EV3 software and try out for myself. The examples are visually accurate and taken directly from the EV3 software, and the extra write-in comment boxes make the examples easy to understand and follow.

Page 52 of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner's Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press
Page 52 of The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. Photo: No Starch Press

Besides having great example programs, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book also has fantastic exercises for you to try in the form of Discovery sections. My favorite was Discovery #32 in Chapter 7 “Using the Color Sensor” where the EV3 color sensor is used to follow a track that you can design for yourself. Check out this video of my robot in action trying to move around and stay inside a green rectangular track constructed from white poster paper and green electric tape. I would never have known to try this if it weren’t for The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book!

Whether you’re new to the EV3, a FLL coach, on a FLL team, or maybe your robot has been sitting for a while and you’re looking to breath new life into it, The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book is for you! This book would also be great to include along with the EV3 as a gift this coming holiday season.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots retails for $34.95 but currently sells on Amazon for $22.10 (hardback) or $9.78 (Kindle).

In addition to The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book, No Starch Press has a large selection of Lego books including The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Idea Book due out in November. I can’t wait to check it out!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

BrickCon 2014 Photo Gallery

All photos: Kelly Knox
All photos: Kelly Knox

BrickCon returned to Seattle this past weekend with another dazzling display of LEGO building mastery. The room was bursting with fans of all ages, eagerly crowding to get a glimpse of the amazing LEGO creations pieced together from thousands of bricks.

From a re-creation of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan to a sprawling model of Lake-town from The Hobbit, the incredible models showed off the builders’ love of LEGO.

Here are just some of the amazing works on display at BrickCon 2014.

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Introducing the Lego Store Flatiron District in New York City

All photos by Jackie Reeve.
All photos by Jackie Reeve.

New York is no stranger to Lego stores or Lego culture, but today a brand-new flagship storefront is opening on 5th Avenue. This will be the 76th Lego store in the United States, and it is impressive.

Last week I took a tour of the construction site while everyone involved was working to get the store ready for today’s soft opening. Construction on the store began in June, and the signature Lego sculptures were just being installed the morning I was there. The brick art was built by Lego Master Builders in the Czech Republic and shipped to New York as 38 pallets. The shipment just arrived last Monday.

Brick sculptures are one of the best things about the Lego shopping experience, and this store has some great New York-themed art. The Statue of Liberty arm stands eight feet tall, with minifigures at the base and in the torch. It took four union guys to lift and piece together that arm.

Lego Flatiron Liberty Arm
All photos by Jackie Reeve.

It’s a great photo op in the store.

Lego Flatiron torch closeup
All photos by Jackie Reeve.

The front windows feature the coolest New York culture- and street art-inspired brick murals. During my tour the mosaics were not yet installed in the windows, so I had to wiggle into a tight space to see them.

Lego Flatiron mosaic 1
All photos by Jackie Reeve.

I adore the mosaics. A life-size Brickley the Dragon Lego sculpture weaves around the shop’s walls as well.

The shop will feature the first ever Lego Lounge, a space with oversized couches, books, and charging stations so families can stay and play. At the heart of the lounge is a Lego replica of the entire Flatiron neighborhood, including the Lego store itself, for kids to build and play with. The lounge also includes a Duplo building area for toddlers and preschoolers.

A selection of almost 500 Lego sets and Lego-inspired items will be available for sale, which is insane when I think of the inventory at other Lego stores I’ve seen. Lego Store Flatiron District will be hosting a Monthly Mini Model Build for kids ages six to fourteen on the first Tuesday of every month. Kids can learn to build a new mini model each month and then take it home for free.

The store’s soft opening is today, but there will be a very cool grand opening celebration in Madison Square Park (just across the street from the store) throughout Columbus Day Weekend. Visitors can help Lego Master Builders with a 20-foot-tall, full Lego brick version of the Statue of Liberty and get a certificate for participating. It’s totally free, and the whole family is welcome. The celebration hours are Friday, October 10th from 4pm-6pm, and Saturday, October 11th through Monday, October 13th, 11am-6pm.

The store itself will have a different grand opening special for each day of the weekend.

Friday: Free Collectible LEGO T-Shirt with a $50 purchase
Saturday: Free Limited-Edition LEGO Store Set with a $75 purchase
Sunday: Free Exclusive LEGO Minifigure Set with a $50 purchase
Monday: Free mini Statue of Liberty Set with a $35 purchase

Lego Flatiron mosaic 2
All photos by Jackie Reeve.

If you’re in New York City this fall, the new Lego flagship is definitely worth checking out. If you’re in town before Columbus Day Weekend, you might get ahead of the almost-guaranteed crowds, too.

The Best of Dragon Con For Your Preteens

Courtesy of Dragon Con Photography © 2014 Dragon Con, Inc.

Dragon Con is known for its spectacular fan costuming and great guest lists, but it’s not always the first show you think of to take your kids to. In the past, there was on-site child care, but that’s been gone for several years. I’d still be reluctant to take very small children; partly due to admitted selfishness of wanting to be able to enjoy the con alone, but also because a wandering 5-year-old, tens of thousands of people in a small space, expensive handmade costumes, and too many shiny things to touch is a bad combination waiting to happen. But with the growing Kaleidoscope Track created for 9- to 13-year-olds, Dragon Con is an increasingly interesting place for your preteens.

Here are a few things you can look forward to in this year’s Kaleidoscope programming and other con events that are great for kids:

• The parade, of course! A highlight of the Dragon Con experience for many people, the parade starts at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, but you’ll want to be there early to get a good spot to see as many great costumes as possible.

• The first Kaleidoscope Track Book Club. Join author Bryan Young and illustrator Erin Kubinek to learn about and discuss the Children’s Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination. It was written by Young for his daughter Scout and illustrated by Kubinek.

• Build a robot. The Kell High School Robotics Team is hosting an on-site Lego® FIRST® Challenge where your kids can test their engineering skills by designing, building, and programming an autonomous robot with Lego technology.

• Get your groove on! This year, the Kaleidoscope Track will also host Dragon Con’s first Family Friendly Dance & Sing-a-Long with the theme “Everything is Awesome!”

 The second annual Geek Girls Run DragonCon Fun Run. On Friday morning, come costumed (or not) for a two-mile run to Olympic Park and back.

 Become a mad scientist. Take part in a dozen hands-on experiments during “The Science Power Hour!” on Sunday. Extract DNA from strawberries, find out if you’re a Predator or an Alien, launch soda-straw rockets, mix up some non-Newtonian fluids, and to top it all off, make ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Prefer to watch a mad scientist at work?  Don’t miss Beakman Live with the always amazing Paul Zaloom.

• Check out puppet improv. Puppeteers from Sesame Street and The Jim Henson Company will put on an improvisational puppet show. But if your kid is more the sort to hold the puppet, there will also be a puppet-making workshop, which allows them to take home their own dragon puppets.

Since you’re probably not going to stick only to the kids’ programming, I will note that if you’re the more sensitive sort of parent, deeply concerned about the words your younglings hear… well, you’re probably not bringing them to Dragon Con. But just in case, remember that your and your kids’ favorite actors are humans who sometimes tell saucy stories, and you never know when you’re going to head for the dealers’ room, only to encounter a fairy in a thong. (Most of the more adult costuming stays to the night hours, but not always.) Relax, have fun, and remember that they probably have seen and heard stranger things from their friends anyway.

See you (and your kids!) next week!

Guardians of the Galaxy Trailer Gets Lego Treatment [Video]

Guardians of the Galaxy Lego Trailer Screen Shot
Guardians of the Galaxy Lego Trailer Screen Shot

Guardians of the Galaxy officially opened this weekend and it’s pretty fair to say that people have loved the film. No, I haven’t seen it but my excuse is a really good one, as I was out of the country until Friday. I’m going with my family in about an hour so my nerd cred is firmly in tact, thank you very much.

If the rave reviews from everyone along with the trailer that has us all hooked on a feeling weren’t enough (oh come on, I had to), then this Lego version of the trailer is certain to get you into the theater if you haven’t seen the movie already. If it doesn’t, then what is wrong with you? This movie looks like a ridiculous amount of fun! Also, Lego Rocket Raccoon is adorable.

We have YouTuber forrestfire101 to thank for this scene-by-scene recreation of the movie trailer. Now, off I go to pay too much for popcorn and a vat of soda.

(via Nerd Approved)

Building the Future with Lego Space

LEGO Space: Builiding the Future \ Image: No Starch Press
Lego Space: Building the Future. Image: No Starch Press.

All kids go through learning phases where they just can’t get enough of a particular topic. For my son right now, that topic is space and what better way to learn about it than through Lego? That’s where Lego Space: Building the Future by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard comes in.

I was really excited to check this book out because: 1. My son is really into space and I knew he would love it; and 2. it puts the topic in a way that will not only teach my son, but also inspire him to get creative with his own Lego bricks.

The book doesn’t so much tell the real history of space as much as it tells it’s own story. The first 10 pages are filled with some history, but after that, the book goes its own way and takes some creative licensing. Throughout the story, the authors take some time to stop and show you how to build what you are seeing. I thought this was a neat aspect of the book, because my son already wanted to build what he saw, so this gave him a head start.

LEGO Space: Builiding the Future Sample Page \ Image: No Starch Press
Lego Space: Building the Future sample page. Image: No Starch Press.

The only downside to this book that I can tell is the price. I showed it off at my son’s science fair night and the first thing the librarian and his teacher did was note how expensive it must be. Considering the quality of the photos inside and the fact that’s a pretty hefty size, it doesn’t surprise me that it costs $24.95 retail.

Lego Space: Building the Future has inspired my son to put down the video games and instead got him to focus on his much-neglected Lego bricks. I’m not kidding when I tell you that he spent hours building space stations and looking over the book for ideas. A few times, I would hear him get really excited about a particular fact and he would read it out loud with enthusiasm that I’ve only seen when he’s in a theme park.

If your child is into Lego, space, or both, I highly recommend Lego Space: Building the Future. It might be a bit more expensive than other books, but in my opinion, it’s well worth it if it gets my son reading.

Lego Space: Building the Future is available on Amazon for $19 (hardback) and $12 (kindle).

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

You Can Now Rent Your Favorite Lego Sets

lego Rental
Image: Pley

There are lots of Lego sets, but your pockets are only so deep and your house has only so much space. What to do? Now you can rent your favorite Lego sets so your kids have new ways to explore and create all the time.

It’s sort of like Netflix, but with Lego sets and it’s a brilliant idea. Pley has hundreds of different sets from which you can choose. You simply put the sets you want in a queue, and when you send back one set, then the next goes out to you and should arrive in just 2-3 business days.

Once you sign up for the service, you get a one month free trial before your monthly subscription starts. The subscription costs are broken down into sets that are small ($15), medium($25), or large($39). The really cool part is that there’s no limit to how long you keep a set. If your kid hates it, then send it right back. If they like it, then keep it for long as you choose. If your child absolutely falls in love with a set, you can even purchase it at a discount.

They’ve already got a couple of issues covered, things I’m sure that popped into your mind right away. Each set is completely sanitized before it goes out so you’re not getting a germ-filled toy, and if you lose a piece (up to 15 pieces actually), there’s no need to panic as it’s covered.

Unfortunately, they haven’t figured out how to avoid impaling your foot on a Lego brick in the middle of the night. If that happens, then you’re on your own.

(via NerdApproved)

Reading With Lego

All Images: Sarah Pinault

The Lego Movie comes out today, and because of that everything is awesome. More bricks will be played with today than on an average day, more refrains of “Everything Is Awesome” will be sung than “Let it Go,” and, as a result, Tylenol shares will skyrocket. We won’t be watching the movie in our house today, but we will be joining Emmet and WildStyle in another way, by reading about them.

One of the things I love about Lego is its inclusivity. You can follow the directions, you can build your own design, you can make an underwater base, or build a skyscraper. Since we eat, breathe, and sleep Lego in our house at the moment, reading about them is a natural progression for us. My son loves reading and being read to, but even if he didn’t, his love of Lego would be an attraction for these books. If your child is a natural reader, this might be a way to introduce them to Lego. And vice versa, if they are naturally very tactile, this is a good introductory read.

IMG_1391With my son starting Kindergarten this year, my favorite reads with him are the two beginning to read books from Dorling Kindersley. The DK readers’ multilevel reading program is something we’ve been dipping in and out of as our son has shown more interest in learning about the words he’s looking at. Reading these two books concurrently has been a great way for me to understand more realistically what the difference is between level one and two.

The Level One book, Calling all Master Builders, tells the story of The Lego Movie using simple sentences, high frequency words, and full page pictures. It does not assume you have seen the movie and doesn’t give away too many plot points. At the same time, not having seen the movie could hinder enjoyment at this level. The book opens with Vitruvius rather than with Bricksburg or Emmett, and doesn’t set the scene particularly well until several pages in. The page depicting Vitruvius shows him as already blind, and calls him “the blind wizard” there is no backstory. The book restricts itself to descriptions of the movie and the pictures in the book.

The Level Two book, Awesome Adventures, also tells the story of The Lego Movie, but is a vastly different reading experience. The sentences are still simple, but the vocabulary is limited without being as repetitive. Descriptions of the movie, and of the pictures, are interspersed with sections of narrative that actually tell the story instead of describing it. You can really see the difference between the two levels by comparing pages concerning the same narrative (see picture of Unikitty). In the Level Two book we are given a description of Cloud Cuckoo land in which Unikitty is one aspect. It is far more detailed than in Level One. There is also a pop-out section on Unikitty’s alter ego, Angry Kitty, as opposed to one sentence and one picture. Level One focuses on Unikitty, and simply mentions where she lives. In the Level Two book, beings to take on more of the feel of the more traditional Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness books.

Level Two is absolutely full of spoilers, including the twist ending. If spoilers bother you, this book will bother you. For kids familiar with the movie this won’t be a problem.

IMG_1216To go along with these two story adventures is The Lego Movie: The Essential Guide. For all intents and purposes this is a DK Eyewitness book. Each double page spread covers a different aspect of the movie in detail, be it location, character, or plot device. In a step up from the level readers, Cloud Cuckoo land has two pages and Unikitty has two pages. This is much more detailed, but definitely not for an early reader. This has been my husband’s favorite of the new Lego books, both for himself, and to read with our son. There is a behind the scenes section that talks about the making of the movie, but it is just the two final pages. For 98% of the book, content matter is treated as fact would be in an Eyewitness book.

While I revel in learning to read, and my husband enjoys the facts and trivia, my son’s favorite of the new Lego books is easily the DK Ultimate Sticker collection. He doesn’t use the stickers to fill in the blank spaces on each page. He prefers to hand the stickers out as awards/rewards to family members. Quite appropriately for Father’s Day this weekend, his dad was gifted with what he considered to be the best sticker in the book, MetalBeard. There are more than 1,000 stickers in the book, but it seems like a lot more. In addition to the stickers for the character pages, there are extra stickers from the movie and several pages of “thumbnail” stickers, just because.

If getting the movie today didn’t meet your quota of awesome for the week, fear not! GeekMom and Dorling Kindersley have two sets of these books to giveaway to Lego fans. To enter our giveaway just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget so you can check back to see who won.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.