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Sunday, November 17th, 2013
Kids are naturally curious and drawn to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) when they’re young but so many times they lose interest as they get older. In order to keep interest high in these subjects that are so vital to the future of our country and our children’s future, gift gifts that help foster interest in STEM subjects in a fun way. From family gifts to those that are age appropriate for preschoolers and up, here are eleven of my favorite gifts to encourage a love of science, technology, engineering, and math.
Roominate— The inventors of Roominate believe that “every girl is an artist, architect, engineer, and visionary” and their wired dollhouse building kids are a blend of creativity, engineering, and fun as they encourage girls to problem solve their way into creating a dollhouse with moving parts. With the Basic Set starting at $29.99 and add-ons available from $9.99 and up, the possibilities are truly endless for girls to use their imagination and building skills as they practice engineering at the same time.
Robot Turtles— Who said preschoolers are too young to learn programming? Robot Turtles is a board game designed to teach programming fundamentals to kids ages three and up using four turtles, Beep, Dot, Pangle, and Pi who make their way across the board as young programmers put instruction cards down which guide turtles through the maze as a parent acts as the computer, executing the commands indicated on the cards. This game was fully funded by KickStarter donations earlier this fall and isn’t yet available on store shelves but you can put your name on the waiting list to get a future copy of the game.
GoldieBlox— Billed as “toys for future inventors,” GoldieBlox features a story and construction set that aids girls in developing spatial abilities through building toys that are designed for females in mind. GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine ($29.99) explores wheels and axles, force, friction and tension to build a belt drive machine while GoldieBlox and the Parade Float ($19.99) delves into wheels and axles, gear action and vehicle design. The company has future plans to explore pulleys, gears, levers, circuits, and coding in future GoldieBlox sets.
Snap Circuits— Budding engineers and those curious about the inner workings of a circuit board will enjoy Snap Circuits. Kids can learn about how currents work through hands-on play as they create over 305 electronic projects using items like snap wires, slide switch, resistor, microphone, and capacitors. Thanks to additional sets such as the flying saucer ($14.99) and musical recorder($24.95, Alternative Energy Kit ($74.95), and the RC Rover ($74.99), endless possibilities abound for the things that children can build and create when they combine multiple sets.
Energy Ball— Affordably priced at under $10 from Amazon, Energy Ball teaches children about currents and electricity in a safe way. Touch the ball’s metal strips and it will light up and create sound to demonstrate conductivity, connectivity and electrical currents. Connect multiple Energy Balls together to create an electric current.
Educational Insights Geosafari Talking Microscope— It’s fun to see things through a magnifying glass but even better to examine things under a microscope. The Geosafari Talking Microscope is a great first microscope to introduce scientific observation since it magnifies 5x and features a light for good viewing. Kids will enjoy listening to the toy’s fun facts about what’s being seen on the twelve prepared slides before having the fun of testing their knowledge through an electronic quiz where they can answer questions using buttons on the microscope.
MindWare Q-Ba-Maze— Nothing teaches the scientific process better than a toy that requires trial and error and with the endless configurations of interlocking cubes, MindWare Q-Ba-Maze ($39.99) teaches kids probability, physics, and art to get the steel balls to travel exactly the way they want.
MindWare KEVA Contraptions— Use a simple stacking plank system to create ramps, funnels, chutes, and contraptions to get a ball to roll along as kids learn balance, proportion, building, and design. $43.99 from Amazon.
City Square Off— Spatial relations, logic, and strategic thinking are challenged through this game where 2 teams or 2 players draw a shape card and fit the tile into city grids to create their city. Being able to envision the space and plan is key since there always needs to be room for the next piece since the city always needs to fit within its limits. Game play takes about 15 minutes and costs $19.99.
Minecraft for Dummies Book—Minecraft is a game that requires using cubes to create or survive in an imaginary world in an online virtual environment where game play occurs individually or collaboratively. If your child has convinced you to purchase Minecraft for them and you’ve watched them play but are feeling a little lost, Minecraft for Dummies ($8.95) written by 16 year old Jacob Cordeiro, can help. The book is a primer on everything you need to know about the virtual world. It’s an easy to read book for kids who want to know more about the game and strategy and also for parents who want to feel more educated about what their kids are doing when they’re playing Minecraft.
Family science museum membership— A great family gift that gives throughout the year is a family science museum membership that provides free admission for curious kids who want to explore their favorite science topics in hands on ways. To find science museums nearby, visit the Association of Science-Technology Centers and enter in your state to find a list of ones in your area.
Curious little boy and girl draw diagram near black microscope via
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Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
While schools send home summer packets designed to provide practice with math, reading, and other skills, interactive learning can be so much more fun. In addition to the paper and pencil work in packets, give your children the opportunity to stretch their thinking through interactive camps. The five camps below are all free and target a variety of ages to foster creative thinking around STEM topics like DIY projects, movie making, digital art, video game design, and many other fun topics.
Wonderopolis— If you feel like you could be doing more to foster your kids’ learning, Wonderopolis helps parents fit learning into everyday moments. With an anytime, anywhere philosophy the site powered by the National Center for Family Literacy provides a Wonder of the Day, a question designed for families to explore in a variety of different ways. In addition to exploring the Wonder of the Day, kids can participate in Camp What-A-Wonder. The week-long camp begins each Monday and ends on Friday and features a new theme each week. The last camp session ends on July 26.
Maker Camp on Google+— Teens are invited to participate in the free online Maker Camp on Google+ to create DIY projects using household materials. Each day there’s a different project that corresponds with the week’s theme. Kids get support through a daily Google Hangout where they can access tips from expert counselors and share their creations. They also have the opportunity to take a virtual Epic Field Trip every Friday. Themed weeks begin each Monday but teens can participate as often as they like on whatever days they’re free.
Apple Camp— Young Spielbergs can practice their movie-making skills at free workshops offered through your local Apple Store. Apple Camp is designed for ages 8-12 who want to make their own movies through hands on instruction with Apple Geniuses who serve as instructors and acquaint kids with iMovie. In 1 ½ hour sessions occurring over 3 days, kids learn to import, edit, add effects, and more to create a final short film that is viewed by parents at the third session. Parents must be in-store with their child during Apple Camp and families have to provide their own device to capture video but this could be an iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, or HD video camera.
YouthSpark Summer Camps with Microsoft— This summer kids ages 8-13 are invited to participate in free camps at Microsoft Stores around the country and in Canada. The hands-on sessions include digital movie making, storyteller studio, digital art smarts, game masters, and game app. While the times vary according to location, local stores seem to be offering classes for 2 hours a day, Monday through Friday.
Common Sense Media Digital Fun for Creative Kids— Common Sense Media asks what’s your kid’s favorite way to be creative and provides an age appropriate list of apps and websites for crafting and creating art, storytelling, coding, creating media, and building for kids ages 2-6, 7-12, and 13-17.
Image courtesy of Maker Media
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Monday, December 3rd, 2012
If you’ve ever experienced the thrill of an amusement park ride with your children, have you ever thought about what it would be like to design them as a career? It’s the job of designers who work at, and with Disney, to create rides that leave lasting impressions on us. Imagineers and lead designers integrate science, technology, engineering, math, and art to create rides that make us want to return to the parks to experience the thrills over and over again.
Disney fans know that this is the week that Walt Disney World’s New FantasyLand opens to the public and along with it, a re-imagined Test Track presented by Chevrolet at Disney’s Epcot Center.
Test Track is one my family’s favorite rides at the park. The thrill of getting in the car and going at high speeds around a track is something that we’re still talking about today so my kids were excited when they heard that I was going to be talking to Jeff Mylenek, Design Manager at General Motors, about his integral role with the new Test Track experience.
Leticia Barr (LB)— Your job is a dream to my 6-year-old son who loves Test Track. Do you have any advice for kids who want to do what you do and how parents can encourage them in such a career?
Jeff Mylenek (JM)— Parents get nervous when kids are into art and not math. My job shows that average people take their talents in drawing and other abilities and take it to the next level as a profession. When I was a kid, I didn’t think that these ideas came from an idea in a person. We didn’t have the Internet. Technology wasn’t there. You could find out about the basics, but careers in industrial design were hard to find out about. Now, hands-on time through rides like Test Track gives people an idea of what the professional career is like and provides a face to the abstract design of this work.
LB— I read that the design collaboration started 18 months ago and the new ride is personal, future-focused and optimistic. Can you tell me more about it?
JM— The basic essence of the ride itself remains the same. Guests get the same visceral experience, but the pre- and post- show has been reimagined. In the original ride, the guest was more of an observer and now they’re involved in the experience of design. The pre-show is the space where you’d wait in anticipation of the ride and now your experience demonstrates what a professional designer does. You see some amazing futuristic concepts before walking into the design studio where you get to design a car, truck, or microvehicle. You get to spend a lot of time designing it, morphing it from sleek to funky, bring the colors to life, and add unique accessories to custom design it.
LB— This is a huge departure from the original ride. What other new technologies will Test Track guests get to experience?
JM— With the design experience, we’re using some cool technology like radio frequency ID (RFID) cards to store your vehicle design and take it through with you through the ride and post-show experience. When you board the ride, you tap the RFID card and it takes your design data and puts it into the vehicle. In the post-ride experience, guests can race their vehicle at driving table, take photos with a full size version, and create a commercial of it, before sending it home to yourself.
LB— As a new father of a 6-month-old, what impact do you hope this ride will have on future generations?
JM— The technology we have now allows us to get people involved and participate while inspiring next generation of artists, designers, and creative people. It allows you to tap into creative juices and imagination and participate with friends and family in a way that you won’t do in a lot of different experiences. One day I can take Jackson through Test Track and he’ll realize that’s what I worked on before he was born. It adds a whole special element to my experience because some day Jack will know I worked on it. I want his experience to be fresh and exciting.
Test Track presented by Chevrolet at Disney’s Epcot Center in Lake Buena Vista, Florida opens on Thursday, December 6.
Image courtesy of General Motors
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