Tag Archives: STEM parenting

Shameless Plug for SeaPerch

This program is run/sponsored by the Navy (Office of Naval Research, to be exact), which makes this post just a little bit of a shameless plug.  Just sayin’ that up front.

I am extremely bummed out that, due to wrist surgery, I can’t participate in the local program this year.  Since, you know, unmanned-underwater-vehicle-building with kids tends to take both hands and a mind clear of painkillers.  There’s always next year, though!

Now onto the good part – it’s a really, really awesome STEM outreach program.  I’ve participated in the program in various capacities before, and both the kids and their adult advisors loved it.  Or at least they did as far as I could tell.

The fifth graders were unabashedly enthusiastic about it, whereas the high schoolers were a bit more subdued, in that “I think this is cool, but I can’t let anyone know I think this is cool, so I’m gonna shrug a lot and doodle circles on the ground with my big toe” kind of way.

The idea is that each team builds a remote-controlled mini-submarine from a kit.  There is some leeway allowed in the design, so they can experiment a little to see what works best.  Then they can take their creation to a competition, where they are judged on how well it performs on an underwater obstacle course (usually in a local swimming pool).

Teams can be individuals or up to a whole class in size, but generally it works best with around four kids per kit.  Kits can be purchased for under $200 and a toolkit is recommended but can be shared among groups.  There is often grant money available.

A portion of the competition is also an interview segment, where judges ask questions to see how well the kids understand what they’ve built (how does the motor work, why did you place that piece there, etc.).  Points are also given for teamwork, team spirit, and how they present a record of their work – usually a log of some sort describing their efforts, and maybe a science fair type poster, depending on the team.

The competition part goes all the way up to the national level.  Teams can come from schools, church youth groups, Boys & Girls clubs, scouting organizations, JROTC units, a couple of kids from the neighborhood, you name it.

The SeaPerch challenge is adaptable to age ranges from 5th grade through college freshmen, and various size groups.  It helps develop fundamental skills in areas including physics, electronics, mechanics, engineering, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, fluid dynamics, buoyancy, robotics, and – most importantly – how to glue PVC pipe together.  Seriously, it really is both fun and educational.

For more information or to find a competition near you, check out the SeaPerch Website.

http://www.seaperch.org/index

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, STEM outreach

Encouraging a Budding Architecht

My daughter loves to build.  I mean really loves to build.  It started with tower-building, where she would build these precariously stacked towers taller than she was – and I still have no idea how she ever managed to get them to stay up.  Even built four feet high, tilted on the edge of a rug and slanting sideways all the way up, she could get the darned things to stand.  At least until the dog came by and knocked them down, after which there would be a brief period of outraged wailing, followed shortly by a new tower.

Gradually her repertoire expanded from towers to castles, castles to cities.  Mega Bloks gave way to my old set of Duplos, and the colorful small set of Melissa & Doug wood blocks was supplemented by a set of Mad Scientist alphabet blocks and a bigger, plain wood set of Melissa & Doug blocks.  We’re just about ready to move on to regular legos, so watch out world.

Almost anything can be added to a block city - even old berry baskets and hippos!

Almost anything can be added to a block city – even old berry baskets and hippos!

It warms my heart that she loves to build so much.  She has this amazing single-minded intensity when she is building things.  So with her fourth birthday coming up, I’m very excited to see what she makes of the latest additions she’s going to get to unwrap: Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys.  These were some of my childhood favorites that I was very pleased to discover have made a comeback.

Playing with building toys is a great way to encourage valuable skills in kids that are applicable in so many areas.  While my relatives and I joke that my daughter’s current building obsession must mean she will grow up to be an architect or construction worker someday, I’m really just happy that there’s an activity she likes so much that has many long-term benefits.  Building is great for spacial orientation, balance, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and planning skills.  And blocks can even be dual-hatted and used for teaching counting, ordering by size, shapes, pattern-making, and geometry.

I remember building massive lego cities as a kid, and can’t wait to do that again with my daughter (yes, I may have some ulterior motives here… there could perhaps be eventual purchases of lego sets that are things I always wanted as a kid!).  It never even occurred to me as a kid, playing with my sisters and brother and friends, that legos weren’t anything but a unisex toy.  I’ll save the new “girl” legos for another post, maybe sometime when I have had a good day and a couple glasses of wine and can talk about it calmly and rationally instead of ranting.

I also like that building toys are one of the better types of toys for playing across a span of ages.  Older kids and younger kids, parents and children, crazy uncles and grandparents – everyone can play together with these toys.   Well, when you can get the kids to share, at least.  And they are definitely a more grownup-friendly form of play for me.  I can only do so much pretending to eat plastic-food meals my kid has prepared, but I’m happy to build with her for a good long while.

And a lot of adults still play with these toys – just look at Lego conventions and competitions.  But professionals use them as work tools, too.  I remember being stunned when, as an undergraduate working a summer internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I discovered a drawerful of legos, k’nex, and Tinkertoys.  I needed something to demonstrate how an attachment mechanism on the space station moves, in order for someone to make a computer animation of it.  I had been attempting to make a moving model out of paper clips, erasers, and rolled up notebook paper.

Instead, my supervisor took me over to a nondescript cabinet, pulled it open, and showed me the toys inside.  He said it was common for engineers to use these things to demonstrate moving parts and play with new ideas.  That was the first time I realized that engineering was so very much more than the academic side I was so immersed in.  Engineering was about creatively making things work.  It’s also a job where no one will bat an eyelash if you play with legos at work.  I was sold – I had definitely picked the right major.

So I encourage you to encourage your kids to play with these types of toys.  They are sturdy, and can last through several generations of kids.  My parents kept our wooden blocks and Duplos and now the grandkids use them.  They are fun, simple, and good for group play across ages and generations.  And you never know when getting down on the floor to build a block tower or create a lego battle scene will give just the right spark to a budding young architect, engineer, astronaut, artist, or construction foreman.

What were your favorite building toys as a kid?  Have any recommendations on the latest and greatest, or fond memories of great building-toy achievements?

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, Geeking out