computers

Full Steam Ahead: STEAMLabs Maker Classes For Kids

by Samantha on September 8, 2015

How My Daughter Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Programming

 

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“I could program that!”

And with this statement, I knew that my daughter was on her way.

Having completed a summer camp program where she was challenged to learn code and build her own functioning item resulting from her programming, she succeeded  - and then some -  but not without the help of the amazing teachers at STEAMLabs.

Founded by a dad who was inspired by Gever Tulley’s Ted Talk, Andy Forrest, along with Marianne Mader started a “Tinkering Club” summer camp in their garage in 2010. Andy had a background as a web developer and a passion for “tinkering,” and was inspired to start a club that supported kids who had the same interest.

With the starting point of helping the kids learn and discover what interested them, the club launched with a group of “mini-makers” who were supported with their passion to create by Andy and Marianne.

In the spring of 2012, they opened a permanent makerspace location and formed a non-profit organization. Since then, it’s been “full steam ahead” as they provide children with the ability to see their ideas come to life, often in 3D.

When my daughter Miranda was offered the opportunity to check out one of STEAMLab’s summer maker camps, she jumped at the chance.

The program, which focuses on teaching kids Arduino programming language, also teaches eager learners the basis of HTML and CSS code. In addition, the young “Makers” were able to experience 3D printing first-hand, in the creation of their project.

Other areas that the course covers includes:

  • Learning the basics of digital design and fabrication to 3D print robot parts
  • Learning to send messages from Minecraft to the robot created in class
  • The creation of a remote-controlled creature that is activated by programming learned in class
  • Individual and group projects that facilitate learning, creating and collaboration

While my daughter was excited to start the class, she had some trepidation and nervousness about her ability to learn what she thought would be a difficult set of skills. After all, she hadn’t ever done any programming and knew very little about robotic technology, 3D printing and related topics. It was a relief, then, to see her excitement and abilities grow as she mastered new skills, learned and was supported in the positive environment that STEAMLabs provided.

My daughter testing her LED display before completion.

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As part of the Web-Controlled Arduino Robotics Summer Camp, my daughter gained not only the skills to allow her to program at a level that surprised even herself, but also provided her with the confidence to continue her interest in programming, robotics and 3D creation.

Maker culture has seen a rise in eager participants who, with the help of the latest technology (can we say 3D printing, anyone?), are able to see their imagined items come to life. With a lot of forethought, preparation, planning and coding, the young and inspired can realize their most creative inspirations come to life.

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My daughter’s project was a remote-controlled, LED display (her idea) that provided various LED lighting options for the user, via a remote control.

*NOTE* - My daughter calls it a “flashlight” but the name does not do justice to the advanced abilities that the item provides. These include colour waves, programmed flashing and colour patterns and more.

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As part of the creation project, the elements involved:

  • Writing the software/programming on a website
  • Wiring and sautering the various pieces of the item (with assistance)
  • Installation of the hardware, connecting the lights, etc.
  • Assisted with 3D printing of frame

The final product was a success!

Check out these videos that show just a couple of the many light displays that were programmed.

 

How it works: The device is controlled wirelessly, through both a wireless and Arduino chip that controls the LED grid. The program that was written also controls the colours and the brightness of the LED displays to enable them to do a number of things, including making a colour wave across the grid, sequential flashing, changing flashing colours and patterns, etc. The housing of the device frame was completely 3D printed in class - a very cool feature for the eager young students. We all know that having a child complete a project successfully gives them not only a sense of satisfaction, but the confidence to move forward with their next creative idea. This was definitely the case with my daughter’s experience with creating a fully-functioning device from scratch - programming and all.

Girls and Boys

One of the unexpected positive aspects of my daughter’s success in this course was the fact that while the class included more boys than girls, she represented the XX chromosome and then some, not letting the preconceptions of girls’ supposed inabilities to master this stuff get to her.

While the stereotypes about females not excelling in science, math, programming and related topics still persist, they’re diminishing, in large part due to classes such as the ones offered by STEAMLabs. Providing a forum where both girls and boys are supported to achieve their goals, regardless of gender is something that we as parents should support whenever we can. We’ve come a long way in terms of stereotypes and perceptions about the sexes, and while we’ve still got a long way to go, courses such as the one taken by my daughter are making a difference in providing the forum for kids of both genders to excel.

STEAMLabs is continuing to build its curriculum, with a number of new courses underway. Following are just a few that are now available for kids who are eager to see their creative ideas come to life:

If it’s not already clear, I’m a huge fan of STEAMLabs and their support and encouragement of young minds. Check them out at www.steamlabs.ca

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Kickstarting My YouTube Channel

by Samantha on May 26, 2015

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I’m kickstarting my YouTube channel.

No, not that kind of “kickstarting.”

After a long hiatus, I’m restarting my video blogging in addition to writing on this blog. Life has been busy and sadly, I’ve neglected the channel for some time now. You know how it goes - life gets in the way, and between work, kids, laundry and homework, personal pursuits tend to take a backseat to more pressing items.

That being said, I’ve realized that vlogging (as well as blogging) is something that I enjoy, a fact that I’ve realized since being away from it for the past while.

As they say, “there’s no time like the present,” so here’s to taking a second jump into the world of video blogging on one of the Internet’s most popular sites.

On my YouTube channel you’ll find parenting tips, advice, opinion and insight, as well as previous and future media appearances.

I hope you’ll check it out and subscribe - I promise to update the channel regularly with interesting and informative information, as well as timely and relevant topics related to parenting and raising kids.

See you there!

Sam

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The "Kylie Jenner Challenge" highlights the worst insecurities in tweens and teens

2014 American Music Awards - Arrivals

Have you heard of the #KylieJennerChallenge?

It’s a hashtag that’s become the call to action for young women who want to emulate the full-lipped look of the reality TV star.

One of the famous sisters on “Keeping up With the Kardashians” and the younger sister of Kim, Kylie has become admired for her full lips and fashion sense; is it any surprise that tween and teen girls want to emulate her?

Perhaps not, however the degree to which they want to be more like their idol is troubling, at best.

In an effort to emulate the young TV star, teens have responded to the “Kylie Jenner Challenge” call to action that involves “participants placing their mouth over the opening of a cup, jar or other narrow vessel and sucking in until the air vacuum causes their lips to swell up.”(Daily Mail) The desired result is the pouty look that their young celebrity idol sports, seemingly without such painful effort.

Kylie Jenner and young girls who have tried to emulate her look

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While it would be easy to write off such silly behaviour as harmless tween/teen antics, the reality is that this type of body mutilation in the quest for “beauty” is anything but.

The physical pain and frequent injury that results from the #KylieJennerChallenge are the least of these kids’ problems. Rather, as parents, we must look at the root causes of why kids feel the need to emulate their idols to such a painful degree.

So what is really going on here? Why are young girls risking physical harm in the unrealistic quest to look like a celebrity who has the means and ability to look “just so” without pain or discomfort?

Here are some of the reasons for this disturbing trend:

1) Celebrity Culture

We live in a society that is dominated by celebrity culture. Add to this fact our kids’ ability to access the latest information, gossip and trends related to their favourite stars and you’ve got the recipe for a beauty disaster - and then some. The digital age, including kids’ love of social media, smartphones and the latest updates about the celebrity of the day adds to the desire to emulate what they are seeing. The famous have also been sucked into the digital vortex, with many stars using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other channels to connect with their fans. While this may be a great marketing tool and publicity generator for the celebrity, the focus on appearance, as well as an unrealistic standard of beauty is resulting in the damaged self-esteem of vulnerable kids.

2) Insecurity and Diminished Sense of Self

Perhaps spurred on by the constant feed of information about Hollywood beauties and otherwise, is it any wonder that impressionable tweens and teens - girls in particular - feel insecure about their looks and bodies? In the age of Photoshop, Instagram and unrealistically “ideal” bodies, it’s difficult for the average tween, who is often already sensitive about their appearance, to maintain a positive self-image. Our celebrity culture doesn’t help, highlighting the “perfect” and largely unattainable body types of the rich and famous, making young fans who are already vulnerable even more insecure than they already may be.

3) Unrealistic Expectations of Beauty

It should be no surprise that insecurity and diminished body image exist in this age of “perfect” beauties, photoshop and plastic surgery. With images of celebrities being digitally altered before they are shared online and on social media, is it any wonder that our kids have a skewed sense of how real people look? Post-baby bodies that showcase washboard stomachs and curvaceous figures that echo shapes rarely found in reality feed into young girls’ doubts about themselves and perpetuate an unrealistic standard of beauty.

Tweens and teens idolizing celebrities is nothing new, but the standards of “perfection,” made possible through technological and medical manipulation most certainly are. With the bar being raised higher and higher daily, there appears to be little hope for the average young person, insecurities and all, to ever reach the pinnacle of what they see to be the norm.

As parents, we have an obligation to counter the messages and images that our children are bombarded with, particularly now. If we don’t put a stop to it, we’re destined to have a whole generation that is not only insecure, but psychologically scarred as well. Instances of eating disorders, younger and younger children going under the knife in the name of beauty and worse will become more prevalent if this celebrity trend continues.

For parents who are concerned about the emphasis on looks and unrealistic expectations conveyed through celebrity culture, here are some tips on how to help your tween/teen:

  • Discuss their fears and insecurities - Talking to your child about how they feel about themselves and countering negative or incorrect perceptions that they may have about their appearance can help them to put things in perspective
  • Show them the “real deal” - The reality of how using Photoshop, plastic surgery and other methods of altering appearances should be shown to teens who are emulating the looks of their favourite celebrities
  • Encourage their interests - Self-esteem is often increased through success and activities; help your child refocus on an interest or skill that will support their feelings of self-worth. These could include sports/athletics, reading, art, music, cooking or more
  • Focus on their abilities, not their looks - If we as parents focus on our or others’ looks, so will our children. Support and encourage their abilities and what they do, downplay the importance of appearance and how they look
  • Give praise and support - A positive word of encouragement and praise for a job well done can go a long way - especially for a tween or teen who is struggling with their self-esteem
  • Encourage independence and decision-making - There’s nothing like confidence in one’s abilities to make one feel better about themselves. Support your child’s steps towards self-reliance and good judgement
  • Do unto others - A great way of taking the focus off of oneself is to give back to others. Encourage your child to volunteer and their feelings of self-worth will increase considerably, guaranteed.

How do you feel about the #KylieJennerChallenge and the focus on celebrity appearances in general? What additional tips would you give to parents who are struggling to help their children increase their self esteem? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

To read this article on HUFFINGTON POST, click here

VIDEO: Under Pressure

Image courtesy of www.instyle.com

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CBC Radio Interview: Kids and Email

by Samantha on September 4, 2014

Should parents allow their children to have email and online accounts?

Gmail Does your child have an email account? Why or why not?

This is a question that I addressed on CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning program about kids and online access. Following a discussion on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show on a similar topic, I delved more deeply into the questions that all parents face about when they should allow their kids online access.

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Some topics discussed:

  • Should kids under 13 have an email account and online access?
  • How young is too young to be online?
  • How has parenting a child in the digital age changed from raising a child before the Internet was the norm?

As digital technology becomes the norm both at home and at school, kids are increasingly expected to have some type of access, whether it be via email or otherwise. This reality raises a number of issues and concerns for parents who worry about the safety of their kids as they venture online.

Is it okay to let a child under the age of 13 have an email account or online access? What are some of the considerations that parents should make before allowing their children online? These are just some of the questions that need to be addressed by all of us who are raising our kids in the digital age.

To listen to the full interview, click here:

What are your thoughts? Do your children have email accounts? Why or why not? How much online access do you allow your kids? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Can Kids Still Be Entertained?

by Samantha on May 10, 2014





kid playing on tablet

How do you entertain the kid who has seen and done everything?

It’s a tough question but a real concern for parents these days.

The idea of “kids’ entertainment” takes on a whole new perspective in the digital age. For those who have grown up in an age of video games, iPads and Google, the idea of being entertained is much different from that of their parents.

Part of the problem is the fact that what’s considered “entertainment” has changed considerably over the years. Gone are the days where the choices were few and far between: a movie on a Saturday afternoon, a local fair, a playdate. Nowadays, the entertainment choices that kids have are mind-boggling, all due to progress and technology. The digital age has indeed changed the playing field – literally – as kids are choosing video games over volleyball (or other outdoor sports, for that matter) and real-life.

What’s a parent to do?

Because of the prevalence of options out there, kids almost have too much choice. It’s a big old digital world out there and the possibilities are endless. Why go outside and play when one can create their own playground - and friends  - digitally?

The bar has been set fairly high in the last 10 years or so, and the old standby options for kids’ play are up against digital contenders that make an afternoon at the park seem pedestrian at best. Whether it’s choosing a movie from an extensive digital collection to watch on our large-screen TVs, or simulating downhill skiing in the Alps, a child’s expectations are much more sophisticated and extensive than ever before.

Part of the problem is that we as parents have benefited from they myriad of digital entertainment choices that are available to our kids. We have given them the tools to play, grateful that the latest technological gadgets have provided us with a few moments of peace. Why throw the baseball with your child when they can play baseball with a whole team - digitally, of course? Why build a fort in the backyard when you can build a kingdom over the ether?

We’re busy. We’re tired. We’re stressed out and frazzled. And in our haste to find a few moments of peace in our own frenetic worlds, we have passed on to our children the idea that activities that require any semblance of energy are optional. The alternative? A digital one. One that keeps them quiet and out of our hair.

If we convey to our children that something as simple as kicking around a soccer ball is not only “low-tech” but more effort than it’s worth, they’ll follow our lead and download yet another video game.

Recent calls to return to our parental roots and engage in old-fashioned play seem to echo a growing concern about this reality. I spoke about it this very topic here, with other equally concerned parents. Increasing outdoor and conventional play time in the digital age may also warrant more extreme measures for our addicted kids, including limiting screen time and in some cases getting rid of the tech tools altogether. A scary proposition which may require some of us to actually take the time ourselves to turn off our smartphones and put down our tablets.

As much as we enjoy the fact that technology has given us choices in how we entertain our children, perhaps we need to step back and reassess how much we’ve allowed this same technology to take the place of more simple pursuits - ones that allow us to bond with our kids the way no video game or app can. At the end of the day, a pixel can’t and shouldn’t replace a playdate, even in the most modern of times.

Can kids still be entertained without the use of technology? What do you think? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Image courtesy of http://www.sudocrem.co.uk

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Are “Girl Geeks” Cool?

April 22, 2014

Back when I was a kid, it wasn’t cool to be uncool.  Back then, the tech revolution wasn’t in it’s infancy; it hadn’t even begun. To be called a “Nerd” was to elicit scorn and its accompanying exclusion. You see, the “cool” kids had no time for those who were more interested in pocket protectors, […]

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An Ode to Saturday Morning Cartoons

March 15, 2014

A recent Saturday morning found me waking up to the sound of my kids’ feet scurrying down the stairs. Ahh….weekends. No school or daycare, no deadlines for getting out the door, no stressed-out parent yelling about packing lunches and backpacks. Saturday mornings are what kids live for, what I used to live for when I […]

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Dewey Decimal Death

November 22, 2013

The Dewey Decimal System is a relic of bygone days, sadly My daughter has been reading a book at school that she’s really enjoying. Of course as a parent, I think this is a great thing because reading is so important. For this reason, I was thrilled when she told me that she wanted to […]

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Babies Using iPads

November 5, 2013

They can’t talk but they know how to swipe. An iPad, or similar tablet or smartphone, that is. Perhaps not surprisingly, a recent survey revealed that 30% of children under the age of 2 use some type of a mobile device. Now: understanding that “use” is a relative term, the findings are still shocking, to […]

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The Death of Cursive

August 5, 2013

It’s all over, folks. Some of you may remember the time in public school when you got your first pencil. On a specially-lined piece of paper, you tentatively set the lead to the page and pressed. As you moved your hand slowly while concentrating on the script, shape and feel of the letter, you felt […]

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