3 Sites That Get Kids Into STEM Learning

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is aimed to get kids excited and prepared to pursue one of these fields after high school and in college.

This great site lists over 200 resources to encourage kids grades K-12 to explore and develop an interest in STEM topics and hopefully careers. Some of the sources offer information about great summer camp opportunities, contests, and even scholarships. Some of the best information you can use today are:

1. This is a great site that can be used for any child K-12 who wants to learn the basics of coding and even expand on it and make their own app. This site is super user-friendly and has a ton of fun content. In addition, jt will really get any child hooking into coding and through creating visual stories and games.

2. This is a great site for any kid to use and get better with core math and literacy skills. As well, this site has many levels from beginner to advanced that has a gamification approach to learning necessary terms and solving problems.

3. Lastly, if you want a site that has more hands-on ideas and new science experiments to make. This one is chock full of great ideas. Furthermore, you can use their search tool to find something out of their 1100+ database of ideas and projects.

Go have fun exploring some of these great resources! Getting kids to enjoy and appreciate the fun that comes delving into these fields is the whole point of STEM  and can spark a lifelong interest in a topic they didn’t realize was so interesting.

How Does Candy Crush Work? 4 Ways to Explain Coding to Kids.

Now that the seasons are changing and kids everywhere are coming back inside, they will likely gravitate towards computer and video games. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, it happens anyways. In order to arm our kids with an understanding of how these games were built or how they work, it is important, then, to talk to them about coding:

Code is the language of the future.

Give your child a coding head start, inspire creativity, and have fun together all at the same time! There are so many coding resources available. Here are four ways to get your kids excited about coding.

1. Talk to Them About Creativity

As with anything involving kids, the first step is communication. Introduce coding vocabulary into your day to day conversation and equate it to any creative pursuit. How does a drawing become an animated movie? What’s the difference between their toy robot and the NASA Rover? How does Candy Crush work? Coding is a way to bring things to life and we see it all around us every day.

2. There’s an App for That

Hopscotch is an award winning Apple app that teaches the basic of coding to kids aged 9-11. It’s fun and super creative. Apple is set to launch a new platform called Swift Playground later this year. It’s played with an iPad and teaches serious code in a seriously fun way! These are just two of the many app options out there.

3. Keep it Social

Kids coding camps, workshops, events, and classes are popping up all over the place. Look for (usually free) activities with your local libraries, clubs, schools, and colleges. Even Apple has started hosting Coding Camps in their retail stores.

4. Build a Website Together

Are your kids passionate about cooking or dinosaurs, playing soccer or a particular TV show? Build a simple website together using a free platform like WIX, Weebly, or Squarespace that celebrates that passion. Post music, book, or movie reviews, scan and upload drawings, make gifs on simple sites like Imgur. As the website grows so will the need to research ways to accomplish her vision. This is also a great time to discuss privacy and rules about what to post on the internet.

We hope these ideas have inspired you to take advantage of all the amazing kids’ coding resources out there. Now get out there and code!

3 tips to get your kids learning in the kitchen.

I think we can all agree that STEM education is very important for the success of future generations. However, it’s hard to always find ways to give kids hands-on STEM experiences in order to help them apply their lessons to the real world. Enter: the kitchen.

If you are looking for some ideas for creative parenting that will help introduce your young child to the real-world application of their STEM skills (and get dinner on the table faster!), you need only to step into your kitchen.

The kitchen is a great place to give children the opportunity to explore science and math in a fun, exciting way.

Technology can be used in the searching for recipes, and opportunities for discussing engineering can happen every time you pull out a new appliance in the kitchen.

Here are 3 ways you can expand upon your child’s education in the kitchen:

  1. Measuring:

    From finding the correct measuring cup to weighing items on a food scale, there are so many opportunities to get measuring done in a kitchen. To grow this skill further, have older children convert measurements or double a recipe.

  2. Stirring:

    Stirring ingredients together and watching what happens is like a big science experiment.

    This is especially true if you are cooking from a recipe you have never used or if you are creating a new recipe of your own. Try adding ingredients one at a time to see what they do to the mixture individually. Try melting the butter before adding it. Does that do anything different? Encourage your child to experiment and make new discoveries!

  3. Chemistry:

    All cooking involves chemistry. While your soup is simmering or your cake is baking, discuss the ingredients you put in and throw around ideas to get kids talking about what they believe will happen based on their knowledge of the ingredients. Discuss the chemical reactions between certain ingredients in order to help your child come to their own conclusions.

    Of course, the kitchen is just one of the places you can help your child apply STEM education in their daily lives. By keeping them engaged and excited about learning, you can help improve the lives of the next generation of cooks!

5 ways to bring STEM to family game night.

Ah, game night. Setting aside some time one night a week (or month, or year – whatever works) to play games with the family. Putting the phones down, computers away and having some face-to-face interaction. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t involve STEM somehow, does it?

Bringing game night into the 21st century, without involving an app or a screen of some sort is a challenge all on it’s own.

If you don’t already know, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) is a hands on learning approach to these concepts that essentially used to just be called science or math class.

So here are some ideas on how to bring STEM concepts into your game night; low on screen-time, high on good-times.

  1. Make a boat.

    The only requirements are that it actually needs to float for a reasonable amount of time and that it has to be made from things you can find around the house. The best part of this game is the big bathtub test, of course! (main STEM concepts: Engineering and Art)

  2. Survivor! 

    Challenge your family to cooperate to make a structure you can all fit inside using only newspapers and masking tape (or whatever other miscellaneous materials you have lying around). Pretend you need it to survive. Make it even more challenging (for them, maybe not for you, ha!) by doing it without talking. Complete instructions can be found here(main STEM concepts: Engineering and Science)

  3. Invent your own game

    Create a whole new game or make up new rules for an existing game. This can be a board game, a card game or an active outdoor game. Some ideas for games and supplies you might need to make new games can be found here. (main STEM concepts: depends on what you choose, but either way you’re using your Imagination, so bonus *I!)

  4. Put a twist on games you already have.

    Play Candyland backwards. Or monopoly. Or Snakes and Ladders. Just start at the end and go to the beginning. Once you start doing this, you will be amazed at what kids can make up themselves. It also gets them thinking outside the box. (main STEM concepts: Math)

  5. Obstacle Course: 

    Create an outdoor obstacle course using pool noodles! They are wonderful to make all kinds of outdoor games. They can be cut and shaped and secured with tape to make all kinds of things. Your family will invent things, get exercise, and have a lot of laughs. Here are some more ideas for that. (main STEM concepts: Technology, Math and Art)

Game night is on!

Your kids will never know a world without the internet.

It was internaut day on August 23rd – otherwise known as the world wide web’s 25th anniversary. On this day in 1991, Tim Berners-Lee made the internet available to the world, and none of us would ever be the same.

Of course, this is mostly a good thing; we are more connected than ever before, with more information available at our fingertips. It’s also important to consider, though, that

the current generation of kids growing up now have never lived in a world without the internet.

Take a second to really absorb that information. When many adults think of our childhoods, no matter what age you are, it usually involves some mix of books, bicycles, and boredom.

More than that, if we were curious about something it took time and effort to figure out the answers. Our kids are growing up in a world where they can know almost anything at any time; this changes their problem-solving instincts. We need to manage their screen-time so that they do not become screen-zombies, and teach them positive tech skills so that they know how to navigate this post-internaut-day world.

So, today, we celebrate the internet and all the ways it has improved the lives of people around the world, and made us a globally connected, powerful community. But as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. We have a responsibility to remind our kids how the world worked before 1991, and give them the tools they need to continue having internaut day be something to celebrate.

3 tips for how to watch the Olympics with your kids

The Olympics provide an incredible opportunity for kids to not only cheer on the athletes who have mastered their favourite sports, but also to learn about the world.

Since the opening ceremonies in Rio are just two days away, here are a few activities that are designed to help your kids appreciate not only the competitive excitement of the Games but also to provide them with a cultural and geographical context for what they are watching

1.Mapping the Athletes: 

Find a world map from the local discount store and display it for the duration of the Olympics. Consider having it out during the opening and closing ceremonies, and play a family game; who will be first to find the location of each country as the teams enter the stadium (place a pin or Lego brick on each country that enters)?!

2.Mapping the Medal Count: 

For each medal awarded, have your kids place a coin on the country’s location. You can colour code for Gold (i.e., loonie), Silver (i.e., quarter) and Bronze (i.e., penny).

Your kids will essentially be creating a 3D bar graph that can be updated daily.

As the Olympics progress, this map will serve as a great discussion piece (e.g., Do larger countries earn more medals than smaller countries? Do some continents have a greater medal count than others? Does the southern or northern hemisphere have more medals won? What might this map look like during the Winter Olympics?).

3.One Country Per Day: 

For each day of the Olympics, have your kids select a country that you will “explore” together. Maybe they’ll choose a country that they are already familiar with, or maybe they’ll go for one that they know absolutely nothing about.

Let them locate the country on the map (try to place a thumbtack on all of the countries you research), draw their flag or attempt to create it in Minecraft (see below for my 7-year-old’s example of the English flag during the Euro Cup!)

Olympic Minecrafting

Other activities they can do? The list goes on: listen to the national anthem, learn about the culture of each country they are interested in, determine the population and distance from Rio (Google maps!) and maybe even eat some traditional meals (Chinese takeout, anyone?). Imagine how many interesting facts about countries your kids will learn by the end of the Olympics, giving them a whole new appreciation of the cultural contexts of each athlete.

 

What are some of your family’s favourite Olympic Games Activities?

 

Lemonade stands are for young entrepreneurs.

On a sunny Sunday last weekend I set out to empty and re-organize my garage, in what has become an annual all-day task. After this year’s experience, I have a feeling it will be forever married to another driveway activity: my daughter’s lemonade stand.

lemonade

As a parent and a teacher, I can’t help but seek out ways to allow my kids to learn new things. With the school year now a vague memory, I think a lemonade stand is an excellent way for kids to learn a vast array of skills and develop social confidence during the summer.

My daughter is right in that lemonade stand sweet spot – a cute and sometimes shy seven-year-old.

The thing is, it wasn’t just a fun activity for her to do while I sifted through old boxes all day (a not-as-fun activity). The lemonade stand actually helped her foster 5 very important entrepreneurial skills:

Planning: We made a large sign, and decided on a price of fifty cents per cup. That morning, my wife made an express shopping trip to get a dispenser and a few actual lemons to give it that much needed authentic lemonade look.

Art: Just check out her work on the sign! (some help from Dad was rendered).art

Arithmetic: At $0.50 per cup, my daughter was constantly performing the subtraction operations she just finished learning in Grade 1 to serve her customers.

Patience: She sat out under an umbrella on a hot day for three and a half hours, and there were stretches of time where she had few customers. I filled those voids by becoming a regular. I dropped $2.50 on my own driveway over the course of the day.

Teamwork: My older daughter was the leader, but I did the heavy lifting to set up the stand. My wife made lemonade all day, and my soon-to-be four-year-old sat in a chair for about an hour luring additional customers with her cuteness.

A lemonade stand allows your kid to begin to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit.

The best part? Before the stand was set up, we asked her what she thought about donating some of the profits to a charity. She decided to give it all to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. In a few hours, she raised $32.50 (after subtracting expenses (see arithmetic above)).

We kept the signs and gave some thirsty passersby a tasty drink. Most importantly, she was really proud of what she accomplished. Safe to say this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the lemonade stand on our driveway!

MakerBloks Starter Kit

4 ways of getting the most out of screen time

Parents and teachers and everyone in between have witnessed what a “good” educational app can do for our children. Kids are not only engaged, but are often developing valuable skills like problem solving, cause-effect relationship recognition, hand-eye coordination, creativity and collaboration.

They key is, getting the most out of screen time for your kids.

Inevitably, there are also a slew of apps that are simply mindless, one finger, repetitive exercises in clicking (and let’s face it, some of us adults may have succumbed to the mindless allure of these apps… Candy Crush anyone?). So what’s the basic message?

Not all apps are created equally…

Here’s a rundown of what to consider when you’re working on getting the most out of screen time for kids:

1. Create a safe and productive online environment

“Sandbox Apps”, such as ScratchJr.  allow children some freedom to be creative and to play with tools rather than restricting them to simply right or wrong answers.  By fostering creativity and encouraging planning, building, and making, these apps align with the current “maker” movement that so many educators are embracing.

 

Scratch Jr.

 

2. Combine the virtual and real worlds

For younger children, look for apps that focus on spatial reasoning. Research shows that focusing on the development of spatial reasoning can have a huge impact on children’s success in math and other subjects later in life.  For example, try selecting apps that encourage counting objects, building puzzles, mapping, or virtual building blocks.

3. Free does not always mean good.

Consider purchasing, rather than opting for the “free” apps.  By purchasing apps, we avoid the annoying and sometimes inappropriate ads that come up on games.   Some of the best apps, like Minecraft may seem expensive relatively speaking, but after hours of problem solving, creating and some serious thinking, it will end up costing only pennies per day.

4. Encourage interaction.

Try to take some time to interact with your kids as they are on the device.  Of course, you might want to take advantage to get in a little “you” time while they’re busy, but the best way to get the most out of screen time is to take a few minutes to get them to show you what they’re up to.  Interaction has shown to improve the “learning” that takes place. Talk to them about what is happening, get them to consider “what if” scenarios.

 

Interaction

 

If you have more than one child, encourage them to play together on one device.  They will naturally take turns, discuss strategies and be forced to come to a consensus on game play decisions.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you think is best for your own kids. Each child is different, with their own set of interests and preferences when it comes to play. For so many of them, no matter what their interests, part of their playtime exists inside the digital world, so let’s join them there and give them the right tools to benefit from it!

When it’s time to tell the truth about the tooth fairy.

As the parent of two young girls, aged three and six, I know a thing or two about make-believe.

I have to admit though, that when it comes to Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the like – I have mixed feelings. Spoiler alert, they are not real, and our kids are not in on the façade. Of course I’ve gone along with it, and as I lie to my children on a regular basis about these characters that don’t exist, I wonder – when is it time to tell the truth about the tooth fairy?

On one hand, the traditions that come with these characters are fun and create happy memories.  Plus, it’s not like my kids are alone in believing in these imaginary entities.

On the other hand, when they eventually figure out the truth about the tooth fairy, they may be sad.  I’m OK with that, it’ll pass.  They may lose trust in their parents too.  I think that, too, will pass though (to return with a vengeance during adolescence, but we’ll save that for another time).

My greater concern is whether such falsehoods and talk of magic and mysticism are good or bad for our children’s most important tool in life: critical thinking.

Another example: this past Christmas, my family had a first-time visitor in December – an elf on a shelf.  For the uninitiated, elf on a shelf is a small grinning stuffed doll dressed as an elf. He is motionless during the day, but visits Santa at night to give a report on the children’s behaviour and then returns before morning in some location, usually causing a bit of mischief in the house first (same lifestyle as the tooth fairy).

The kids wake up in a frenzy, search the house for him, then wake their parents (yay us!) to share the news about what elf has been up to.  Elf on the shelf was easily the highlight of this past Christmas for both of my kids.

But here’s the thing…

Right now, my six-year-old is developing a relationship with nature, and an underlying appreciation of the fundamental laws that appear to govern her world.

She knows that gravity pulls things closer to our planet.

She knows that ice and water are actually the same thing, just at different temperatures.

She now ALSO believes that an inanimate stuffed doll can come to life sporadically by way of magic, and that she could ruin that magic if she ever touches it (that’s one of the rules).

So, am I ruining her intuition for science? Does she need to know the truth about the tooth fairy, the elf, santa and everything else?

The simple version: not yet.

When my daughter asked me if I believe that elf on a shelf comes alive at night. and I lied, “Yes, but I’ve never seen him do it,” I thought to myself, maybe such lies encourage critical thinking. Eventually, the day will come when all is revealed and her “tooth fairy” world comes crashing down.

But perhaps the difference between science and mysticism will be engrained in a powerful way.  If there is magic in this world, it is not in the mystical animation of non-organic matter, but rather in the moments of joy brought about when we choose to believe in it.

Why is the maker movement good for our kids?

Why is the maker movement good for our kids?

A note from Sarah: Our community is growing! Since I first started writing this blog , I have been working hard to bring together a group of passionate teachers, parents, educators and professionals to provide you, our readers, with quality content that informs, insights and excites. This is the first post from one of our new MakerBloksBlog Contributors, Renee, who talks about why is the maker movement is good for our kids? You can read more about her in her bio (below), and get to know her in her many more posts to come. Welcome, Renee!

Much like introducing kids to coding is becoming a hot topic, the Maker Movement is also changing the way we are teaching our kids to learn and play. There are so many different interpretations of what it means to be a “maker”, but what’s at the core of this movement?

Why is the maker movement good for our kids?

To answer that, some thoughts on the 3 core principals behind the “maker” movement:

It’s about participating in technology.

More and more people, and kids especially, are defining themselves as “makers” and participating in technology rather than just consuming it. DIY is still alive and well, and the “maker-culture”  is encouraging kids to tinker and play with tangible materials like robotics and 3d printing in order to make, create and imagine. Our capacity as makers is beginning to become the way we interact with each other and the things around us. This could lead to some big shifts in our collective behaviours and attitudes, especially for our kids, as they learn to adapt to the increasingly technological world that surrounds them.

It’s about being resourceful.

In becoming makers, we activate a certain constellation of wisdom that involves resourcefulness and hope.  As makers we build an understanding of how matter and material work.  We learn that we can repair an everyday object that breaks.  Along with this very physical understanding of resourcefulness comes the deeper implied understanding for our kids that “I have an effect on the world”.

This not only means we can transform things, but we can also transform situations, approaches, methods, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs.

It’s about believing you have the solutions to the problems you face.

Any given negative situation your kids face, like bullying, can change.  Just like there are many different creative ways we can
repair a  broken pair of sunglasses, there are also many different creative ways we can work to affect a negative situation.  On a deeper level, kids who are makers can develop the understanding that they too can affect situations, and that this is not a job relegated to adults, but rather involves us all.  Our rediscovery of the idea that we are all makers and creators will grow our capacity for empowerment and hope.

So next time someone asks, why is the maker movement good for our kids? You’ll know! There are so many amazing resources to get kids involved in making, check out this great list put together by our friends at Toca Boca to get started!