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!

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.

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!

Introduce your kids to Einstein

Introduce your kids to… Einstein.

A(nother) note from Sarah: This is the first post in a series we’re calling “Introduce your kids to…”. We’ll be exploring anything from outer space to the arts to the neighbourhood park. If you’d like to see something explored, e-mail me at info@makerbloks.com – I’d love to hear your suggestions! In honour of Albert Einstein’s birthday this week, Stephen wrote this post on how to introduce your kids to Einstein, and his three most important theories.

Einstein’s theories are the ultimate example of thinking outside the box – something parents and teachers are always trying to encourage in their children and students. This is why it’s never too early to introduce your kids to Einstein; he was a trailblazer who questioned everything, and a role model for curious kids everywhere. 

3 most important theories

Even though Einstein is easily the most famous physicist in history, most people (let alone kids!) would have a hard time listing what he’s accomplished and what it all means. With the recent detection of gravitational waves,  now seems like a good time to introduce your kids to Einstein and take a look back at his work. I won’t get into his life story, as interesting as it all is – instead i’ll highlight his three most important theories, all of which still hold true today.

1. Photoelectric effect

When you introduce your kids to Einstein, you can tell them his first important contribution to physics was describing the theory behind the photoelectric effect. This is the process by which a photon (electromagnetic particle, of which light is comprised) causes an electron to be ejected from an atom.

Arguably the least important of the three listed, this was the discovery that earned him a Nobel Prize, because it could be, and was, verified experimentally.  The photoelectric effect was an important step in the early development of quantum physics.  It is still very relevant today as it is the basis for solar panels, which represent our best hope for meeting energy demands while transitioning away from fossil fuels.

2. Special relativity

The year 1905 is known as “Einstein’s big year”, and with good reason. On June 5th, he published his paper on special relativity – an idea so “outside the box” that it was given no real attention by the leading physicists of the time.

Stop and imagine this for a moment: this revolutionary idea that describes the extent to which time slows down, the faster a body moves, was basically ignored for many years.

The theory even led Einstein to the energy-mass equivalence principle that he is most known for, E = mc2. What makes special relativity “special”?  The word is there to remind us that this theory represents a “special case” for relativity: bodies moving with constant velocity.

3. General relativity

Einstein spent much of the next decade crafting the theory that most physicists consider his crowning achievement.  General relativity is a better description for gravity than Newton’s “mass attracts mass law”. It says that,

mass actually bends space itself, which explains why light, composed of those massless photons I mentioned before, follows a curved path when it passes near stars.

Any one of the theories highlighted here would make the person who published it world famous. The fact that one man was responsible for all three revolutionary works is truly incredible. helps you introduce your kids to Einstein, and the next time a curious kid asks you to sum it up you can say:

“Einstein said that light can turn into electricity, time slows down the faster we go, mass and energy are actually the same, and mass bends space.  None of these claims have been disproven in the century since he first introduced them to the world!”

You might just be planting the seeds for the world’s next greatest scientific mind.

Top 5 REAL reasons to introduce kids to coding

Top 5 REAL reasons to introduce kids to coding

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, Lisa, who will talk to you about how important it is to introduce kids to coding. You can read more about her in her bio (below), and get to know her in her many more posts to come. Welcome, Lisa!

There’s a big push right now to introduce kids to coding.  Our children are immersed in a world dominated by software and they need to understand the language of computers. We’ve all heard about the job prospects in computer science and that our children should become creators and not just consumers of technology.

But why is it important to introduce kids to coding?

As a teacher and a parent, I’ve witnessed firsthand what happens when the power of coding is unleashed in our children, and can tell you that these are the top 5 real reasons to get them into it.

When kids are coding, we are empowering them to…

1. Be Thinkers

When faced with a problem, we want kids to be able to think logically about how to solve it.  It always helps to break problems down into smaller, more manageable sections – which is what coding is!

Coding gives meaning to ideas that we wouldn’t have necessarily seen before:

What happens when time is fast forwarded by 1000 years?  What if we double the amount of goldfish in a tank?  Children can program a computer to simulate models or thoughts that they wouldn’t normally get to see- here and now – which supports abstract thinking.

2. Notice Patterns

When we introduce kids to coding, they start to create patterns or apply mathematical concepts which they will actually see in action. In a programming environment, it’s like they’re working with two giant number lines where they can make their characters move left and right (adjusting the x-coordinate) or up and down (adjusting the y-coordinate). To keep score in games requires adding and subtracting integers.  Often the math is hidden, but believe me, there is math in programming… a lot of it.

3. Be Expressive

By teaching our kids to code, we are also providing them with a new form of expression.

The only limit to programming is the child’s imagination.

Not only can they create programs for real-life, they can create programs for make-believe worlds.  They can add colour, text, movement, sound effects and music to show us their feelings and present their stories and crazy ideas.  They can add interaction and allow the user to make decisions.

When children are using a real programming language, they are truly creating something out of nothing.

4. Solve Their Own Problems

Problem solving is at the heart of computer science. When we introduce kids to coding, they get immediate feedback.  By running their programs, they will know right away if they’ve made a mistake and will be determined to fix it.  On a daily basis, I’ve witnessed groups of students huddled around computers, ignoring the bell to stay and fix problems in the program they’ve created.  They are encouraging, challenging and supporting one another.  It’s quite the celebration when they find the solution.

You may have heard that the word FAIL should be an acronym for First Attempt In Learning. Coding helps to change the mindset about failing- students are not intimidated by their mistakes, but inspired to correct them.

5. Become Creators

When we introduce kids to coding, they are always making plans, building on their ideas, and changing everything!  Often, I notice they’ll create a program that they see should exist, but doesn’t.  They can make anything from calculators to games with characters that will move faster when someone shouts.  They can share their programs online to inspire others and to encourage remixing.

When we introduce kids to coding, we are supporting them to become “engineers” – creators, doers, masters of their own domain!

Whatever you decide to use to support your kids to learn to code, just look for programs that are fun, engaging and that spark their curiosity and creativity.  Enjoy watching them discover the power of coding and maybe even consider joining in!

The true meaning of STEAM: how I helped students dance their way through math

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, Sarisa who will talk about her definition of the true meaning of STEAM. You can read more about her in her bio (below), and get to know her in her many more posts to come. Welcome, Sarisa!

Teaching dance patterns

As a dance teacher for the past 24 years, I have taught so many different styles to various age groups, from professionals to toddlers, and in several different settings from school gymnasiums to classy dance studios.

One of my favourite teaching memories is of teaching a jazz class at a downtown elementary school. This particular class had some special needs students join in for the final portion of the class, which was when I was introducing a dance called the Jitterbug Stroll.  I taught the dance as I always do, teaching the rhythm orally at first, using a call and response method to rehearse the patterns before doing any physical steps.

I got to the end of the class, having taught the whole dance and dismissed the students, promising to review the dance next lesson. I had started packing up my things when one of the teacher aids that had come in with the special needs students tapped me on the shoulder. She had brought one of her students with Autism to the class who, she explained with tears in her eyes, wanted to show me the entire dance I had just taught.

A flawless performance

The student proceeded to flawlessly perform the entire Jitterbug Stroll, proudly doing the steps and saying the rhythm of the patterns at the same time. I was amazed at how much he had picked up so quickly and his aid was baffled because he was a challenging student in many ways but somehow this dance clicked for him. Most importantly for me though, was to see how proud he was, almost triumphant in his mastery of the dance.

This was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences of my life so far, it was one of those gems in the journey of a teacher that make you feel like you have actually made a difference in someone’s life.

The true meaning of STEAM

Fast- forward at least 15 years and now, while still a dance teacher, I am also a B.Ed. student and a mother of two. As I study STEAM concepts at university and also see my children notice patterns around them, I keep seeing the correlations and possibilities of combining math concepts and dance. I often think back fondly to my experience teaching this boy, whose aid later told me about his affinity for math, and,

I’m convinced that the Jitterbug Stroll worked for him because of its repeating patterns in multiples of 12- count phrases, and the oral call and response technique that itself highlights the repeating patterns.

I’m convinced that dance may be the way to individualize math lessons for some learners. The same way that math helped this boy learn this dance, I know dance can help other students, especially kinaesthetic learners with math.

Why not get our kids and students dancing, enjoying music, activity and math all at once? Isn’t it a step towards the true meaning of STEAM?

Pet spider

My Daughter’s Pet… Spider.

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, Stephen. You can read more about him in his bio (below), and get to know him in his many more posts to come. Welcome, Steve!

A few days ago, my six-year-old daughter noticed a spider on the ceiling in her room.  From the exuberance in her voice, you’d think it was the first time it had occurred; but that is one of the things that adults admire most about children – they remind us of the beauty that is around us.

In my house, the typical protocol for an eight-legged insect sighting is Dad (me) gets the swatter and deals with it, while Mom, the arachnophobe, doesn’t watch.  But this morning was different.  My daughter expressed an affinity for this particular one, and so, she chose a large Tupperware container, and I captured the beast.

To give it a chance to live, my daughter spared a square of her morning waffle and dropped it in with the spider.

Get out of the way

Over the past few days, both of my daughters (the younger one is three) have become very excited upon their return from school.  The big question: “Is it still alive?”  It is this great ‘reveal’ we experience each day.  We are three days into this experiment, and I can report that indeed, the spider is alive and well, and the piece of waffle still appears untouched.

Some years ago, I heard famed astrophysicist and science guru Neil deGrasse Tyson address a very important question:

“What can parents do to nurture an appreciation for science within their children?”  Tyson thought about it, and declared, “Get out of their way.”

Getting out of the way of one’s children can take many forms.  Tyson said that when your toddler takes out the pots and pans and smashes them together, let them do so to their heart’s content.  Basically, let them make a mess, and get messy, and sometimes, get a little hurt.  Parents may feel the urge to sign their little ones up to an after-school science class, but the key is to let them explore the world around them, and that can happen in any number of ways.

Sometimes, encouraging your child’s curiosity in a passive way can be the most effective.

When they discover something on their own, they take ownership of the finding, and it takes on a far more significant meaning than when you present it to them on a platter.

As for my daughter’s most recent science experiment, she sees it as a kindness done to the insect, like we are delaying the inevitable, or in her words: “Don’t try to escape spider because if you do you will just be killed.”  As for my wife – our new pet may have her questioning this ‘get out of their way’ philosophy.

5 STEAM challenges and competitions for kids.

Motivation is often a key element that’s missing from our kids’ projects. Without a specific reason to get something done, we’re basically begging for them to ask the somehow-timeless-question:

“What’s the point of this?”

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent or pretty much anyone who’s ever had a conversation with a kid before, you’ve undoubtedly had to answer that question at some point, tapping into creative reasoning you probably didn’t even know you had. I think I once told a kid who was questioning why I was making him read a book that it was because he would cherish the stories from his childhood – I don’t think he bought it.

Get them excited

A better way of motivating your kids could most definitely be with interesting competitions and contests that give out all kinds of awards. There are so many organizations that issue incredible challenges, with real deadlines, rules and most excitingly – prizes. It’s an awesome way to encourage kids to get excited about what they can accomplish, if they just get to work.

Here are few great competitions you can still enter now, for 2016.

  1. The Science Without Borders Challenge is an international art competition that engages students to promote the needs to preserve, protect and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources. It’s open to all kids ages 11-19 years old, and the deadline to apply is April 25th, 2016.
  2. The Space App Challenge is NASA’s annual collaborative hackathon that takes place over 48hrs in April. Anyone can take part – there are 25 different challenges revolving around technology, robotics, outer space and much more. The deadline to apply to host an event in your city is February 24th, 2016 but registration to be an individual contributor will open soon.
  3. Collaboration Nation is a nationwide (U.S) competition that schools and school districts can enter to win up to $50,000 to support their EdTech programs. Applicants must enter a video to demonstrate a cross-departmental collaborative project by April 30th, 2016.
  4. ProjectCSGirls is aimed at encouraging girls to actively use computer science and technology to develop solutions to social problems. The deadline to register is February 15th,2016, so hurry for this one – but projects are only due in April.
  5. The Tech Challenge is a team-based design engineering challenge for kids in grades 4-12, with the aim of inspiring the next generation of Silicon Valley innovators. The competition takes places on April 23 and 24, 2016.

Do you have any others to add to the list? Let us know!

 

An Ode To The Block.

An Ode To The Block

For many of us, blocks were amongst the first toys we were introduced to. The original building piece. The tool that helped us to bring our ideas to life. The survivor of our unsteady designs and our frustrated attempts to create something from nothing.

 

Bing Nursery school
At Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School in Palo Alto, Calif., blocks play a significant role in helping children to think creatively, solve problems and think like young mathematicians. Eric Westervelt/NPR

 

The negotiation of different types of spaces, sizes and dimensions, which taught us how to be logical in our decisions and precise in our measurements. The thrill of knocking down our creations, and starting again with something completely new.

Back to the basics

Of course, we all know that advances in technology have brought us some of the best toys and games to ever exist (ahem, including a toy you might have heard of, called MakerBloks). Kids are learning about electricity, how to code, and the future of robotics. They’re learning how to design for the future. But when we strip away the power and connections, the IoT, the robots, the magnets and the batteries, we are brought back to the basics.

And sometimes it’s the simplest things that teach us the most important concepts.

Blocks teach the big concepts

In a recent NPR series, they explored iconic childhood toys and what they mean to us. They noted that while kids were having fun in free, unstructured playtime with tactile toys like blocks, they were also finding ways to make sense of the world around them. This is the beginning of learning the key elements of mathematics:

“kids working with blocks are really starting algebra – essentially they’re solving for X. They’ve got one piece on one side and one piece on the other and a distance to fill. So what is that amount going to be, what does the length of that block have to be to bridge, to sit at both edges of the block? It’s the beginning of mathematics, really.”

 

MakerBloks

 

It’s easy to forget where or when we learned how to reason through a problem when there was no clear answer, or how to incorporate logic to get the results we wanted. The block acts as a reminder that kids are still so new! They need the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and it’s our job to help them find the right tools and resources, and let them do just that.

Starting with something as simple as a block.