How to make every day an exciting STEM adventure

I was lucky to go to a senior school which focussed heavily on the sciences with more science than arts classes at A level, so I’m thrilled that the importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) is getting more profile generally, particularly for girls. Thanks to our school, many of my female school friends are very successful doctors.

So I’m thrilled to have the amazing Suzie Olsen on my blog today. Suzie is a systems engineer in Phoenix, Arizona. She currently works on the search and rescue system for the US Coast Guard. She is also the author of Annie Aardvark, Mathematician and creator of the blog STEM Spark. Suzie’s spark is to encourage students, especially girls and minorities, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She lives with her husband and child, performing STEM experiment after STEM experiment with her own kid. Please do check out her website – it’s fantastic.

I asked Suzie to pull together three easy STEM activities we can all try with our kids. Enjoy!

 

STEM Adventures are Everywhere

In my book, Annie Aardvark, Mathematician, the main character Annie loves math so much that she decides she’s going to have a math adventure while she forages!  She finds different things to count as she hunts for her daily meal, ending with ten ants.  Annie exclaims, “What a fun math adventure!  I can’t wait until my next one!”  And just like Annie, you and your children can have a fun STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) adventure anywhere you go! Below are a couple of different ideas for your STEM adventure.

Engineering Adventure

Whether in the city or nature, there’s a couple of different ways to have an engineering adventure.  The first is look for a problem to solve: is there an area in your neighborhood that needs improving or fixing? Is there an animal having an issue with collecting food?  Is there human or animal congestion where you are at? Is trash gathering in one place on the ground?  Try engaging your kids in an impromptu brainstorm on different ideas on how to fix the problem, and then decide which idea is the best one for fixing the issue.  Give it a twist by qualifying during the brainstorm how the best idea will be judged (such as “What’s the most fun way to fix this problem?”) If possible, try building the solution, put it in the problem area and test it.  Did it work? Did it reduce or eliminate the problem?  (This process is called the engineering design process.) Another fun engineering adventure is to collect different materials from where you and your kids are, like trash, sticks, stones, forks, plates, and so on and try building a mini-house out of these materials.  Can you get the house to stand alone?  And if so, how long does the house stand?

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Science Collection Adventure

A flower or leaf collection is a fun way to have a science adventure when you and your children are out and about.  Your child could carry around a reusable bag and every time they see a leaf or flower they don’t have, they can gather it up and put it in their bag.  Then once home, you and your child can dry the leaf and flower and glue it into a scrapbook.  You can research online together the name of the flower or tree that the leaf came from and then label it in the scrapbook.  Of course, be wary of poison leaves (like Poison Ivy) or flowers (like Oleanders) and make sure you have permission before plucking a flower or leaf off a tree (anything found on the ground is probably okay).

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Math Counting Adventure

Whether taking a walk around your neighborhood or hiking a trail in the mountains, children can count the objects they come across, just like Annie did in her first math adventure.  If it’s a familiar or frequent route, try creating a pre-made checklist going from 1 specific item up to 10 specific items they must count (or just impromptu count whatever they see).  Items you can have your kids count while they’re on their walk include rocks, flowers, weeds, birds, lizards, other types of animals, insects, leaves, clouds, people, airplanes/vehicles, buildings, trees, and so on.  There’s no limit of what kind of item they count, so as long as they’re having fun hunting for that item and counting it!

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Wherever you and your children may be, I hope you have a fun time on your STEM adventure!  Happy STEM’ing!

 

 

 

 

 

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Raining during the holidays? No problem. Banish Boredom with Mrs Mactivity’s Learning Resources

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I’m sharing this great blog from Fraser’s Fun House. My kids are too old for this now, but it looks like a fabulous resource. There is masses of free stuff on the site, but the premium option that Fraser’s Fun House reviewed is only £9.97 a year and promises lots of extras.

Like most kids Leo loves colouring and writing and over the years we have purchased what feels like hundreds of books and pads to quench his thirst for creativity. Realising that we were spending a small fortune to keep him supplied we ventured online to find colouring sheets and learning resources to print off, figuring […]

via Review: Banish Boredom with Mrs Mactivity’s Learning Resources — Fraser’s Fun House

Sure fire solution to happy hiking with teenagers

It’s only the first week of the school holidays and DS has a full schedule of gaming planned. Tactics for detaching teenage DS from his gadget need to be more cunning. A spot of googling later, and I have an idea.

Me: “Shall we go for a walk?”

DS: “Nah.”

Later.

Me: “Do you fancy trying orienteering?”

DS: “Meh.”

Later.

Me: “Have you seen the App called Geocache?”

Quick text to the grandparents to announce my success. Turns out they know all about geocaching. I’m going to assume I’ve had my head under a rock for the last decade but, just in case anyone else managed to miss it, Geocaching is a global online treasure hunt. No gadget detachment required. And it’s free to join in.

All you need to do is download the App onto your phone and off you go. Perfect.

So off we went.

Then back home we went.

You also need a pen and a stash of small toys/ trinkets.

Second attempt.

DS is thoroughly enjoying himself. His nose is two inches from the screen so he may be missing the scenery, but he has map read, used a compass (albeit a virtual one), and hiked for four hours without even realising it. Virtual trophies mean the gaming addiction of always needing to reach the next “level” has kicked in. Currently Geocache are running a “Hidden Creatures” event where you get a Bigfoot for finding one cache, Unicorn for five caches, a Kraken for seven caches etc. So instead of just doing two or three caches, we’ve done seven, including retracing our steps a few times when we (he) lost the path.

This little chap from a great cache is about to travel 600 miles to be re-hidden in Scotland.

Geocache treasure

Grubby hands, great cache

Some of the caches are literally the size of a fingernail. Needle in a haystack anyone?

Nano geocache

No, the cache isn’t the large orange crystal thingy. It’s the tiny black metal capsule.

By mid afternoon, I’m carrying the dog (he clearly needs to up his fitness) and have realised flip-flops were not the best choice of footwear.

DS wants to go on. Iced coffee wins. Plus the dog is actually quite heavy.

Day Two.

I’m feeling quite experienced here and ready for the hike: I’ve got my pen, sensible shoes, and the dog is staying at home. Then DS raises the bar. Premium membership unlocks more challenges. He starts babbling about multi-caches and earth-caches for only £4.99 a month, or 12 months for £24.99. At just over £2 a month, I’m happy to take out a year’s membership based on the enthusiasm yesterday and the fact we can use it next week when we visit family in Scotland. Now he’s armed with the Premium membership whilst I have the Basic (free) one.

So today he logged eight caches, whilst I’m only able to log four. Cue much gloating that he reached the Sphinx souvenir level and I only got to Mermaid.

Geocache souvenirs

Geocache levels – just like any other online game.

Day Three.

I know we’ve only just broken up, but I want to buy new school shoes before they sell out of every sensible/ acceptable (depending on your perspective) style. So we’re doing an urban trail at the same time. This means we need to not look suspicious to “Muggles”. I now understand why people always seemed to be lurking around particular lamp posts in the town centre.

DS misreads a set of instructions as “Need to rummage in bins” causing me to grab his phone. Luckily, I confirm it actually says “No need to rummage in bins.” The bin men, taking a tea break on a bench, very kindly ask DS if he’s lost something as he crawls beneath the bench. Turns out they like Geocaching too.

By the time I’ve lugged the school shoes half way round town, I need coffee. DS discusses Geocaching with the waitress. Seriously, am I the only person in the country who didn’t know about this? And I’m not sure the shoes fit. I think DS was in a rush to find the next cache.

The good things

  • Outside
  • Suitable for all ages
  • Basic membership is free. My recommendation would be this is more than enough if you have younger children. The Premium challenges can take ages – the one in Chichester Cathedral took us about an hour – but for teenagers, I reckon the more complex puzzles are well worth the investment.
  • Stealthily educational, particularly at the Premium level. We did an earth cache which required the identification of various types of rocks in a church wall – is limestone sedimentary (which I misread as “sedentary” but I think I got away with it) or igneous? Whoever created the cache had provided loads of information and pictures.

The downsides

  • Drains phone batteries faster than I drink espresso. We took a phone on full charge plus a spare battery charger pack and totally drained it too. I was worried that it would be heavy on our data allowance (recalling a scary phone bill after an afternoon Pokemon hunting in the park a while ago), but actually it hardly used any. DH says that’s because it’s using the GPS system or something like that. No idea why that would make a difference but I’m happy enough to just nod.
  • Empty caches. This seems to be more of an issue at the Basic level. Sadly, some people haven’t understood the concept of replacing whatever you take out with something of equal, or higher, value. When we found these, DS decided to put a small toy in the cache so any younger child who comes along after us isn’t disappointed.
  • Rubbish hints. Some of the hints are great, often cryptic (“I’m always looking at you, but you can call me rocky”) or sneaking in more stealth education (“find the sycamore tree”). Others just say “It’s on the signpost, LHS” which isn’t exactly a hint, is it?
  • A simple shopping trip will take five hours.

Overall, a massive hit for all of us, except the dog. You’ve probably been geocaching for years but if, like me, you somehow missed it, this is a superb kids activity. And I really need to say a huge thanks to everyone who takes to time to create and maintain their routes.

Do let me know if you’ve had a go. Do you agree with the Premium version really being for older kids/ grown ups?

The truth about the locations in my books

Sailing gives a wonderful freedom to choosing your location. The first book, Eternal Seas, starts in a lush tropical island, passing through some ports with bustling bazaars, before returning to the rugged islands off the north west coast of Scotland via London.

None of the locations are real, but they are all based on actual places.

 

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