Summer Week 9

Day 59 New/Old Job

This picture is not from today.  It’s from the first week of school six years ago.  I’m excited to share that I’ll be returning to this classroom next week after two years as our school’s STREAM Lab teacher.  My year of math specialist courses has left me wishing in a big way that I was teaching math again.  So when this position unexpectedly came open the week before, I asked if I could make the move.  I have learned so many new things in my VCU classes that I need to try out before I try to coach someone else to do them.  I’m going to miss working with students and teachers all over the building, but I’m looking forward to building deep relationships with the 50ish kids that I will teach.

Day 60 Melt Down

I finished my morning run today by reflecting to Ruth about my kids’ recent growth.  I told her about them playing outside the day before.  Twice Bubba came in upset.  He flopped down on the sofa and announced some injustice inflicted on him by his sister or neighbor friend.  But this day was slightly different than the days and weeks before.  First, he hadn’t said the words I have been trying to erase from his vocabulary:  I’m going to tell.  Jay and I have been preaching to him that those words never result in anything good.  Finally it appeared that this message go through to him, and he just came inside when he needed help instead of extending the problem with those four fighting words.  This day was also different because he accepted help.  He calmed down quickly, and we rehearsed how he would communicate what he needed to Chica and his friend.  He went back outside quickly, said his piece, and kept on playing.  This is progress, people.

Well, nothing like an hour-long meltdown the following day to keep you humble in your parenting skills.  We got through it, but it wasn’t pretty.  Here’s a screenshot of a text conversation I had with Ruth in the middle of that mess.  Every mom needs a friend who is a few years ahead on the journey to remind her that she will one day see the other side of the hard parts.

 

 

 

Day 61 Sewing Class

 

 

 

 

Rachel invited Chica to join her daughter for a sewing class at Sew Simple.  They had a fabulous time and each sewed a tiny cover for a pouch of tissues.  She came home anxious to try something else, so I talked her into working on a stuffed animal pattern I gave her probably two years ago.  She didn’t at all follow the directions, but her finished product is super cute nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

Day 62 Birthday

 

 

 

My birthday started off great with math nerd gifts from my family.  There was no avoiding homework on my birthday, but friends and a cake pop at the Y made it better.

I spent my birthday evening here with 25 of my closest online grad school friends.  At one point I messaged them something like, “Yikes.  Bad storm here.  My ceiling is leaking.  BRB.”  I rounded up a bunch of trashcans (after calling our custodian in a slight panic….I overreacted) and carried on with class.  Little did I know at that point, however, that there was major flooding happening all over our city.  I had to go the long, long way home because of blocked roads, but I realize that inconvenience is nothing compared to what many people faced.

Day 63 Game Night

It took me over two years to follow my friend’s advice, but I finally made an appointment for a real haircut at a real salon.  I took this super awkward picture on my way home.  Isn’t that what you do when you get a good haircut!?!

What I really wish I had a picture of was game night with our sweet friends from church.  We parent leveled up that night.  Chica entertained their youngest, pretending that she was the babysitter.  The four boys got along beautifully in the basement doing who knows what, and we enjoyed playing games with almost no kid refereeing.  It was glorious.

Day 64 Fun Day

I started the day with 11 soggy, sweaty miles with Ruth.  I promise we weren’t twinning on purpose.  This just seems to be everyone’s favorite tank these days.

 

 

Earlier in the week I made a deal with my kids that I was sure they weren’t going to keep.  Except they did, so I had to follow through and take them to FunQuest.  Misery loves company, so I was thankful that Alicia was willing to bring her kids to tag along.  Guess what….it wasn’t all that bad.  Chica actually thanked me without prompting on the way out the door.  Bubba often gets angry when we have to leave something fun and complains with his “worst-day-ever-I-didn’t-have-any-fun” refrain.  This time, instead, he walked out holding my hand, telling me how much fun he had.  My mom heart was happy.

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Summer Week 1

My typical back to school conversation goes like this:

Friend:  How was your summer?
Me: Great!
Friend:  Did you do anything fun?
Me:  Yes!  We went camping.  We visited my parents in Richmond and went to Kings Dominion.  We swam at the Y.  I took classes.  It went by too fast.

Yes, camping and Kings Dominion are highlights for me, and much of my time will be taken up with grad school, but each summer has so many other small moments worth remembering.  Moments like eating ice cream for dinner and baseball games and bike rides.

So I’ve decided to try to post at least one photo and memory each day this summer.  This way I can look back on August 7th and remember that the summer was more than our two trips and studying.  I fully realize that this plan might go the way of summer chore lists and never make it past the first week, but it can’t hurt to try, right?  So here goes….

Day 1  Last Day of School

The hours and hours of work I put into the end of year video certainly felt worth it when I watched students sing along:

This lovely lady will be a senior next year, and we ran into her at the GO Center picnic.  Michelle taught her in third grade, and I taught her the next year in fourth.  She made such an impression on both of us.  I’ve always known she will accomplish big things in life!  I had another favorite student stop by the day before with her mom, and two more on Friday.  It’s such a gift to watch our students grow up and become the amazing humans that they are.

 

And I got this letter from a current student.  Day made.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2 Code Girls

As soon as my semester at VCU ended, I decided to tackle my summer reading list.  Up first was Code Girls because I wanted to hear Dorothy Braden Bruce speak during the Randolph College Reunion.  At 98, she was witty, charming, and fascinating.  My favorite moment was when the interviewer asked her if she was scared to head to Washington to do a job that she knew nothing about.  In a very matter of fact way, she said, “No.”  She felt fully prepared for whatever she might face because of the education she had received at R-MWC.  I certainly knew that feeling, and I think so many of the other women in the room did too.

As an added bonus, I ran into two class of ’03 friends who where enjoying their 15th year reunion.  What a great surprise!

Day 3  Conquer the Cove 25K

 

I spent the first 8 miles with Ruth and Rhonda.  Their company made the miles pass quickly and put me in a good mood.  I didn’t really mean to, but I pulled ahead of Ruth when we hit the long, uphill fire road.  I’ve decided, for now, that I like fire road climbs better than single track climbs.  I think that the hilly downtown run that (the other) Ruth and I do a few mornings each week paid off!  I ate lots of pickles, saw one tiny turtle, tried to run with gratitude, and stayed mostly dry and clean-ish until the last 5 minutes.  Maddy coming up from behind motivated me to keep pushing all the way to the finish.  Being kid-free after the race allowed Jay and I to hang around, cheer for our friends finishing the marathon, and take the long way home.  It was a perfect day.

Day 4 Small Victories

I accomplished something this morning that I’ve been wanting to do for months….I cleaned off our porch.  It had accumulated an unruly collection of toys, tools, and broken junk, and there were weeds climbing up from both sides.  Tonight Jay and I enjoyed the first of many hours of summer porch sitting.

We spent an hour at the YMCA pool this afternoon.  The last time we went, Bubba got up the nerve to try the swim test, but he didn’t pass.  He tried again today and earned the red band, granting him access to their super cool slide!  I’m proud of that kid!!

Day 5 Enchiladas

During the school year I forget how much I like to cook.  We get stuck in a rut of Chic-fil-A, pizza, hamburgers, and waaaay too many Lunchables.  At least for now, while I’m not taking classes, I’m enjoying cooking again.  Last night Chica helped me make chicken piccata, and tonight Bubba helped me with enchiladas.  Neither of them was really a fan of what we cooked, but they’re not a fan of much when it comes to food.

 

 

Day 6 Gifts

This morning when I returned from my morning run, I found some out-of-the-blue gifts in my chair on the porch.  That Jay Proffitt is one smart dude.  He knows I like practical gifts, hence the work gloves and shovels.  He also knows that my enthusiasm for weeding our flowerbeds might last longer if I have the right tools to use.  And finally, he knows I lose stuff….hence the triple pack of gloves.  Love.  For the last few mornings he’s enjoyed his coffee on the porch while I pull weeds.  I think he’s always wanted to keep me company like this when I cook, but I have to concentrate way too much.  Weeding is mindless, so we’ve enjoyed those few cool minutes just chatting before the sun comes up and over the house.

After dinner tonight we went for a one mile walk on the Creekside Trail starting at the Farm Basket.  I think Bubba’s the only one that’s not afraid of the swinging bridge, but he was not so sure about the big sinkhole right before the steps.  I was so thankful that Jay put his video editing work on hold for an evening and came with us!

Day 7 Home

 

 

 

 

This was the first day we didn’t go to the pool at the Y.  I had great intentions of cleaning up and planning for the summer camp sessions I’m leading next week, but it just didn’t happen.  I read a bunch and played Carcassonne with Bubba while Chica played Minecraft.  In the afternoon we invited friends over to play in the sprinkler, and after dinner we rode up to New Covenant to let Chica learn how to get on and off her new to her (and almost too tall) bike.  We got it earlier this week from a Facebook Marketplace post.  She fell that day while trying to stop and scraped up her knees, so she was pretty hesitant to get back on it.  But as you can see in the picture, she got over that today and was thrilled with herself for learning how to stop and work the gears.  Watching them both finally ride confidently makes me so excited for our trip to Damascus in the fall.  It will be our first go at the Creeper Trail with no one being pulled in a buggy!

The kids are spending the night with Nana and Papa, so Jay and I enjoyed the best kind of date at Mr. Goodies.  I didn’t snap a picture, but we both commented like 17 times about how good it was.  I’m pretty sure it tastes even better than normal when you are kid-free. 🙂

 

Cheerleaders

This week for my biotechnology course I had to build a bioreactor and its subsystems that would allow me to capture and measure the carbon dioxide gas produced in order to determine the volume of ethanol in my dextrose and yeast solution.

Translation:  I had to use yeast and sugar water to make alcohol and tell how much I had made by capturing the CO2.

Needless to say, with more than a decade between me and my last biology and chemistry courses, this was a challenge.  (And that was an understatement.)

I’ve been working on this project for about three weeks now.  Here is a rundown of the steps:

  1. Attempted to not freak out by assuring myself that all other elementary teachers in the class are in the same boat.  “He won’t let us fail,” was my frequent self-talk.
  2. Started a list of, “What I Know.”  For many minutes that list consisted of one statement:  Yeast is a fungus.  This is all I could remember from teaching fifth grade science.
  3. Began research.  I alternated between YouTube home brew videos, that were probably not credible sources, and scholarly articles that I could not understand.
  4. Drew first plan.  It was a joke.
  5. Met with my 5 person planning team via video conference.  One I couldn’t see, one I couldn’t hear, and the other two were nearly as clueless as I was.
  6. Spent a week revising plan after plan, muddling my way through mole calculations and projected volume.
  7. Found a God-send in Cheryl, a like-minded fourth grade teacher who doesn’t make me feel dumb.  We have sent countless Facebook messages and emails, shared chicken scratch calculations, and used Google Hangouts at all sorts of odd hours of the day.
  8. Consulted two other people who don’t usually make me feel dumb:  Jay and Papa.  One night I even made them both talk to Cheryl over Hangouts after dinner.
  9. Submitted a plan and received very vague feedback.
  10. Gathered all of the materials.  This consisted of very grouchy trips to Walmart, the pet store, and Michael’s with my two little people.  After dinner I made Jay continue the shopping, with them, while I wrote a paper for another class.  No rest for the weary….him or me!
  11. Felt pretty ready when class started.  We were supposed to build it in class, and I had about 95% of what I needed.  Except my ideas were all wrong.  My containers were too huge, and I spent most of our building time trying to find new materials in the lab while editing my design.  I shed the first of many tears over this thing that night.
  12. Forgot about it for almost a week while I Love Math Day happened.
  13. Day 2 of in-class building went so much better.  Something said in class made me think of a way to stir the solution:  LittleBits.

So the listing the steps idea sounded like a great plan when I started this post, but now I realize if I keep going, probably only my mom (and maybe Cheryl) will keep reading.  So let me just skip straight to the point:

I had a decent trial run, but my first and second, “Ok….let’s do this for real!” were complete flops.  I came home in tears last night, puddled on the sofa while Jay tried to talk me back to life.  I was doing every last thing that I don’t want to see my students or own kids do when they face a challenge.

But this morning I was at it again.  Fueled by enough hours of sleep and the promise of an entire free day ahead of me, I started in on the research again, determined to figure out the trick of immobilization.

And it worked. Tiny, glorious CO2 bubbles floating up a clear tube into my graduated cylinder brought me some ridiculous joy.

So this afternoon as I was prancing downtown to meet my family during my one hour break from data collection, I couldn’t help but consider those truly crappy moments of this challenge and what had gotten me through:

The cheerleaders.

*Jay with his calm spirit, reassuring words, and frequent reminders of, “I’m proud of you.”
*Cheryl who understood what I was going through and said, “I feel like I’m in the waiting room at labor an delivery,” while waiting to hear if my design was working.
*Chica who asked me fantastic questions about what I was doing this morning on the phone.  “What did you do differently?” and “Can you make it thinner?” she asked. Her sweet questions helped to slowly bring me out of the dizziness and back into the problem solving mode.
*Alissa and Rachel, my running amigas who are also both in grad school.  They text me about translation theory and Sherlock, I send them pictures of my moonshine creator, and we all laugh at how different but the same our lives really are.
*My students who seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing, and the sweet little guy who told me I had inspired him to build something one day.
*My mom and mother-in-law who are relentless in their support.

May this project be a reminder to me of what my kids need next time it seems impossible.  Most of the time they don’t need a, “Suck it up,” or a lecture on how failure is just an opportunity to learn something.

They need a cheerleader, and hopefully I can be that for them.

(Ok….back to tending my graduated cylinders and watching bubbles trickle up.  1060 mL of CO2 and counting.)

My Ten New Things

Last week my friend Brittany wrote a post about the ten (terrifying!) NEW things she tried in 2016.  Her words got me wondering if I could think of my own ten new things from 2016.  Here goes!

1. Running Buddies:

What began as my most terrifying new thing turned out to be my absolute favorite part of 2016. I heard about the No-Pressure Running Group from a friend when training for the Richmond Marathon in 2015.  For whatever reason, I pictured a perfectly manicured group of Boonsboro mamas prancing up the Monument Terrace steps like it was no biggie.  I just knew they would be too fast and too cool for me.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016 when a sweet friend from church invited me to run with this same group.  At that point I wasn’t even sure if I could run the 5 miles they had planned, but I sucked up my fears and agreed to meet her anyway.  I quickly learned that this group was not at all what I had expected.  These women are real and flawed and smart and supportive and strong and amazing.  So for about six months now, the promise of good company has helped to drag my rear out of bed at 4:50 (or 5:00, or 5:13) a few mornings each week.  They’ve kept me running through the cold and pushed me to run faster and longer.  But more importantly, I now have a great new group of friends that have each been a tremendous blessing in my life.

nprg

2. A New Job:

At the start of this school year I took a new position as the STREAM Coach & Math Remediation Specialist.  That’s a big-ol’ crazy mouthful that means I get to help kids build stuff and get better at math all day…what could be better than that?  The hard parts have been getting the room ready in time for school to start, missing working closely everyday with teammates, learning 500+ names, and figuring out how to respond to students with love and understanding when expectations aren’t met .  The best parts have been witnessing growth among both the students and teachers, the excitement I see as students get to collaborate and create, and nights (every once in a while) where I don’t come home to hours of prep or grading or emails.  Oh….and a schedule that makes those 5:30am runs possible!

stream

3. A New Degree

In April I finished my Master’s in Math Education K-6 from WGU.  At the end of this program, I was convinced that higher education is where I eventually wanted to land.  I knew that this degree was only going to get me so far, so I immediately started looking for the what-next.  For now the what-next is Integrative STEM Education classes online through Virginia Tech.  For me this has meant many late nights in the library at LC fueled by gummy worms.  For Jay this has meant countless nights of holding down the fort on his own.  I tell him and tell him, but I so hope he realizes how thankful I am for him.

jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


4. Blue Apron

A friend of my parents gifted us with a free trial of this meal service.  I had fully intended to get the free box and then cancel the subscription because it’s so expensive.  However, we really liked it!  The recipes were simple but interesting.  They forced us to slow down and eat at home.  We got some recipes that we liked so much we’ve repeated them several times with ingredients we’ve bought at the store.  Also, the portions are generally good sizes so neither of us overeats.  We were getting a box once a month, but now we’ve bumped back to every few months because we can reuse the recipes we already have.

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5. Mountain Biking

Whenever I run on the Peaks View Park trails, I get the mountain biking itch.  Before this year, I’ve never really tried it, but these trails (more than the ones at Candler’s) make it look like fun to me.  I remember thinking after a run this summer, “I wish there was a way I could learn to mountain bike….like a class or something.”  Well whadayaknow?!?  A few days later I ran across an ad for a beginner mountain biking class that would be offered through Parks and Rec.  It was super cheap and at a time when Jay could watch the kids, so I signed up!  I loved the class, but I left convinced that my bike from circa eighth grade just wasn’t going to cut it for many more rides.  I got a new bike for my birthday, followed promptly by a new school year that took up every free minute of time I might have had to ride.  I’m hoping that 2017 will bring more rides…and maybe a friend or two that will go with me!

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6. LuLaRoe

legginsSoooo….yeah.  I seriously debated whether or not to include this in my ten new things list, but I finally decided that ten years from now rereading this would probably give me a good chuckle.  At some point this year the Facebooks blew up with the LuLaRoe.  It somehow went from one college friend selling it to a gazillion sales every week.  I’ve never been a fan of buying something I haven’t tried on, so I waited until I got invited to a real-live party to buy any.  Somehow I got out of there with a bright orange pair of tights with blue paper airplanes.  What in the world?  And while they do actually feel as good on as everyone says they do, I can’t help but wonder what we’ll say about ourselves in 2026.  “Ahh….remember those leggings we all used to wear!?!  With unicorns and spaceships and flamingos and pineapples….what were we thinking?!”

7. Pokemon Goimg_2187

As usual, I’m a little late to this trend.  We just downloaded it over Christmas break, and I finally see what all the fuss is about.  It’s fun!  Grandma and I have been texting each other back and forth about our current level and how many we’ve caught.  She’s currently skunking me on level 14.  As soon as this post is up, I think we’re headed out to LC to try to catch up to her.  🙂

8. Twitter

twitterYep…also late on this one.  I started tweeting in March after hearing George Couros at LC.  While I was certainly hesitant to get started, so many good things came from tweeting the second half of our school year.  I think it’s fun to look back and have a record of what we did, but the best part was collaborating with a class in Canada through Twitter.  This school year I haven’t used it nearly as much because I’ve been sharing what we’re doing at school through Facebook instead.

9. Tutoring

A friend at school asked me to help tutor her in math for a few weeks over the summer.  She wanted help getting ready for a math placement test she had to take at CVCC.  Until this year I have never tutored adults, or hardly anyone for that matter, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help her.  It was such a rewarding experience to watch her grasp concepts and gain confidence.  I hope to do more of this in the future!

10. Aid Station-ing

There are people who run 60+ miles in below-freezing temperatures, in the mountains, just for fun.  There are also people who stand outside in those below-freezing temperatures to feed hungry runners, thaw out their bottles, and cheer them on….just for fun.  So while I was not crazy enough (yet) to run the Hellgate race, I did help with three aid stations for this ridiculous event.  It was so inspiring.  And cold.

cold

 

How about you….what did you do new in 2016?   

Thanks, Brittany, for the inspiration!  Follow her at TheBamBlog.com.

 

2016 STEM Toy Gift Guide

Recently I received a Facebook question from a friend:
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This was such a fun question to answer!  I’ve spent the last year combing catalogs, blogs, and conferences for this very thing in order to stock the STREAM Lab with engaging tools and toys.  I’ve been able to watch how my students react to each of these items, plus what my own kids (5 & 8) choose to play with each day after school.  So in case there’s another mom or teacher out there trying to navigate the multitude of STEM toy choices, I offer you my kid-tested, teacher-approved list:

A Definite YES:
My top 6…

 

 

  • Sphero SPRK Edition Around $80sphero_sprk_edition
    This works with easy to use, free apps.  Don’t ever buy a remote control anything again…buy this instead!  My kids are getting another Sphero product for Christmas, the Ollie, because you can use it outside.  (Shhh….don’t tell them!)

 

  • Ozobot 2.0 Bit Around $50ozobot-bit
    I like this one because not only can kids code using Ozobot’s apps, but it also reads code drawn on paper with regular Crayola markers.  And it’s so darn cute.  Check out what my students created for our Ozobots in class!

 

 

  • Microscope Around $85microscope
    This microscope had great reviews on Amazon when Grandma was picking one out for Chica, and it didn’t disappoint.  We have quite the collection of dead bugs and plant parts in containers around the house thanks to this gift.  These prepared slides turned out to be fascinating too.

 

  • Zoobs $55 or lesszoobs
    Like the Keva planks, these are virtually indestructible and hard to lose.  With a little imagination, you can make almost anything, but hats and glasses are a favorite in our house.  The set I’ve linked is what I have in my classroom, but you could easily get by with a smaller set for home.

 

  • Prime Climb Around $30prime-climb
    I found this game thanks to a tweet for a Kickstarter campaign.  It’s a math nerd’s dream.  If a board game can be beautiful, this is.

 

Yes, But…$$$
These are all highly recommended, but I feel like they are a little pricey.  I would suggest holding out for a good deal.

  • Legos Price Varieslegos
    In our house, one can never have too many.  One of the best deals I have found is Black Friday at Walmart.  They usually have a really big set of basic blocks as a door buster.  It’s worth waiting in the line.

 

 

  • Magna-Tiles or Magformers Price Variesmagnatiles
    If either of these are ever the Amazon Deal of the Day, let me know!  Bubba has a small set, but I want more for the lab.

 

  • Big Ball of Whacks Around $25big-ball-of-whacks-6-colors
    I have to admit, I think I like this toy more than the kids do.  It’s great for anybody that likes to fidget.

 

 

 

  • Goobi $100 or lessgoobi
    Hmmm….do you see a pattern?  Three out of four of my “too expensive” items are magnets.  Stay away from this toy if you have a little one that still put things in his or her mouth.

 

Yes
All of these are things I highly recommend, just not enough to make my Top Six list.  

  • Marble Run Around $40marble-run
    This particular set is good quality and has lots of interesting pieces.  Bubba especially likes this toy, but he still has a hard time building it on his own.  This is a favorite toy to pull out when we have a babysitter or Grandpa over to play.  You HAVE to watch this!

 

 

  • Makey Makey Around $50makey-makey
    If your kids are into Scratch, this is a great add-on.  Chica still needs some help with this one, so I’d recommend it for older kids.

 

  • GeoPlay  Around $25geoplay
    These seem to take a while for kids to get into, maybe because they don’t go together in the same way as other building toys.  I think the longer kids play, the more they like them.

 

 

  • Snap Circuits $18 and up
    The fourth grade science teacher in me loves these sets.  The mom in me worries about the pieces being broken or lost.  I would recommend them for at least 8 and up, and check out this adapter that lets you bypass the need for batteries.
  • Sewing Kit, Price Variessewing-kit
    I taught Chica how to sew by hand a couple of years ago.  Then she kept wanting to borrow my stuff and leave it all over the house.  If I ever wanted to use my materials again, I knew I had to get her her own.  I didn’t find a pre-packaged set that I really liked, so I put one together for her.  It included a sewing box, good quality scissors, thread, needles, pins, big scraps of fabric, a seam ripper, measuring tape, pin cushion, and a yo-yo maker.  (That last one was thanks to our CrossRoads friend Peggy!)
  • Root-Vue Farm Around $30root-vue
    This is not exactly a toy, but it’s such a neat contraption for learning about germination, roots, and how plants grow.

 

 

  • Qwirkle & Blockers Around $20 each
    blockersqwirkleThese are two strategy games that our family likes, but they’re definitely best for older kids or adults.

 

 

  • Drill Around $50drill
    I’m a fan of letting kids use real tools as soon as they are able to do it safely.  Papa built Bubba his own mini workbench, and he received a hammer, measuring tape, and screwdrivers that he uses with supervision.  He’s used my cordless drill from school recently too.

 

  • Hot Wheels tracks  Around $60hot-wheels
    A few years ago I stumbled upon an offer for a free classroom set.  I pulled it out for two different classes this week, and I remembered again how much kids like it!  The exact set I have is not available anymore, but you could create something similar with the one I’ve linked above plus these extra track pieces.

 

  • Tumble Trax Around $25tumle-trax
    This is probably the most used toy in the STREAM Lab.  We mounted a huge piece of metal that we got for less than $40 from BMG Metals, much like this tutorial, but a big fridge would work well too. Together with this folding stool, you have hours and hours fun.

 

Quality toys….but not our favorite
So many times I pick out something just knowing that my students or my own kids are going to LOVE it, only to be surprised when they quickly lose interest.  That’s the case with each of these final 4 toys.  Your kids might love them, but they haven’t gotten much play in our house and/or my classroom.

  • Goldibloxs  $15 and upgoldiblocks
    I love the idea behind this toy, but the kit we put together seemed difficult to modify beyond the design offered in the instructions.  I like toys that encourage kids to keep trying new things.  We had one of the very first kits made, so it’s possible that newer models have improved.

 

  • Gears! Gears! Gears! Around $40gears
    This toy seemed great for little guys, but it turned out it was harder to make interesting designs than I had expected.  By the time kids are able to really build with it, I think it seems more like a baby toy.

 

 

  • Q-BA-Maze $25 and upq-ba-maze
    These look SO cool, but both my kids and I find them hard to manipulate.  Because the connections are a bit confusing, the most interesting pieces seem to get broken easily when kids try to force them.  This is definitely geared to older kids.

 

  • K’Nex Price Variesknex
    I bought a bunch of these at yard sales over the summer.  Now I know why I could find K’Nex and never Legos…..kids are so much more drawn to Legos.  I have a brand new classroom set that I plan to break out soon in a small group…maybe I can change a few kids’ minds!

One Final Suggestion
Haven’t we all witnessed the fact that some of the best toys are not toys at all?  They’re trash…..shoe boxes, wrapping paper rolls, bubble wrap, etc.  Check out a leftover Kindergarten small group project that kept Bubba busy most of the afternoon one day this week:

So if you haven’t already, you may want to consider collecting a bin of supplies that could be your kid’s own mini engineering kit.  For tools I’d suggest tacky glue, glue stick, low temperature glue gun, hole puncher, small scissors and big scissors, a ruler, masking tape, Scotch tape, and duct tape.  I’d also get a box cutter, but store this away for only supervised use.  For basic materials consider popsicle sticks, string, cotton balls, rubber bands, clay, straws, and pipe cleaners.  Finally, get a big empty tub where your budding engineer can store all sorts of interesting recycled materials until they’re ready to create the next project.

Then sit back and watch.

How about you?  Which STEM toys are your family’s favorite?  Which weren’t worth it?  Which toys are you considering but aren’t quite sure yet if you’re going to pull the trigger?  I’d love to hear from you!

Rested and Thankful

I’m two weeks into my summer break, and I’ve already enjoyed two vacations.  I feel so very rested and thankful for the time off.

The Monday after school let out I flew to Boulder, Colorado for NASA’s MAVEN Elementary Teachers’ Summit.  In a nutshell….teacher nerd camp.  I planned a free day on either end of the four day workshop to explore Boulder on my own.  It was glorious.

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Then this past Friday my family of four headed out for a camping trip at James River State Park.  The weekend was full of hammock swinging, hunting bugs, and S’MORES!  This trip was also glorious.

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On one particularly slow stroll back from the bathhouse this weekend I started to contemplate just how different these two trips were, but how I still thoroughly enjoyed both.  Below are a few of the more interesting comparisons….

Dinners
CO: I ate all but one dinner by myself in a restaurant along downtown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.  I was that person who took a picture of my meal each time.  I spent the first few nights feeling self-conscious for dining alone, but I eventually ended up enjoying the freedom of choosing a spot to eat without having to consider anyone else.

I had a picture of all six dinners here, but I decided to spare you.  These were just two of my favorites…some cheesy goodness from Pasta Jay’s and empanadas from the farmer’s market.
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JRSP:  I ate each cooked-over-the-fire dinner with my sweet family at our tent site.  Chicken hobo packets, pizza on naan, and hot dogs, all washed down with perfectly roasted marshmallows.  This time I was too busy enjoying it to snap any pictures.

Dishes
CO: None.  I tried to tip well out of thankfulness for this fact.
JRSP:  I willingly took this job under our unspoken division of labor.  My introvert self rather liked the few minutes at the bathhouse all alone.  I’ll admit there was no rushing this task.

Accommodations
CO: A-  I stayed in University of Colorado Boulder dorms called Williams Village North.  We each got our own room and shared a hall bathroom.  I would have given them an A if they had just sprung for a fitted sheet.
JRSP:  A.  When you spend a night in the pouring rain and wake up with just the normal amount of Virginia summer stickiness, that’s a sign of a winner of a tent.  Thank you Nana and Papa for the loaner!

Learning
CO:  So much!  We learned about the history of Mars, planetary magnetism, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, the geology of Mars, and on and on and on.  I also learned a ton just from comparing stories over lunch with like-minded teachers from all around the country.  While our acronyms and standards might be slightly different, we all face the same challenges and posses the same passion for what we do.
JRSP:  Camp songs still motivate tired or scared hikers.  Two nights in a row we hiked to an overlook on a trail that was mostly uphill.  On the first night there was much grumbling and begging Bubba to keep up.  On the second night I remembered the magic of Herman the Worm and Fruit of the Spirit’s Not a Coconut, and we were up that hill in hot minute (or 30??).  On the way back down in the dark, let’s just be honest, Mommy and Daddy were scared.  So we sang every song we could think of, as loud as we could manage while carrying kids on our backs, in an effort to scare away anything that might be lurking.  It worked.

Hiking
CO: On the final day of my trip, I got up early to go for a hike in Chautauqua Park.  Actually, I thought I was going for a trail run, but that quickly turned into a big ol’ JK when I saw the trails.  Straight up and mostly rocks make for a better hike than run.  Anyways, it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and I completed two different trails: Royal Arch and the 1st and 2nd Flatirons.

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JRSP: The kids found a trail behind our campsite and we decided to explore it this morning.  The Cabel Trail was a multi-use trail, and I quickly learned that Bubba didn’t recognize horse poop.  Fun times.

Biking
CO:  This was my transportation method of choice thanks to Boulder B-Cycle.  The program keeps track of your miles, and I rode over 25 miles during the week.  Boulder has bike trails every where, so this was very easy to do!
JRSP:  My kiddos are still trying to figure out the whole bike thing.  We brought bikes and rode them once, but there was much drama involved.  We’ll need a few more years, I think, before this will really be fun as a family.

Reading
CO:  While I started a book on the plane, I ended up perusing the Facebooks and emails each night before bed.  Blah.
JRSP:  There was basically no cell service.  Yaaaaaaay!  (That was a for realz cheer…no sarcasm.)  I finished The Outcasts of 19 Schulyer Place and started Elijah of Buxton.  And yes, these are both books I snagged from my classroom library shelf when I packed up my room.

And last but not least…

Showers
CO: One a day.
JRSP: One.

Summer on, friends.

P.S. Saw this in Boulder.  Can you read the yellow sign?  Guess that’s a thing now.
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These Days…

Bubba sings all the wrong words to Toby Mac from the back seat of the van.
We eat a $5 dinner on Wednesday nights with friends.
Chica asks questions about Star Wars I can’t understand, much less answer.
My trail shoes are collecting dust in the back of the closet, wishing for spring.
Little people pant legs are getting farther and farther from the floor.
My everydayallday mantra is, “Choose joy.”
I crawl in the bed before the little people are asleep.
I have almost perfected the buzz cut.  I only missed two spots this week.
I spend the free time that I don’t really have making my STREAM lab wishlist.
I marvel at my students who make our crazy ideas work.
Jay does about ten times more housework than I do.
I can’t wait for my master’s to be done, but I’m already scoping out what’s next.
Bubba’s first words to us in the morning are often, “Did you read the Bible yet?”
We eat more pizza than I’d ever care to admit.
My pants don’t fit.
Jay takes Bubba to school some days.  This is glorious.
Bubba begs for “homework” to do in the evenings.
Chica has started to pick outfits out for herself that almost match.
Jay loves his new job.
We visit the library every week.
I don’t make enough time to see friends.
Bubba can buckle himself.
I check my email too often.
Chica’s favorite toys are Keva planks.
We move slowly through the book of Genesis.
Bubba asks me to grow my hair long.
We still serve popcorn as our Sunday night dinner.
When there’s a choice to make, Bubba asks Chica what she wants first.
Bubba and I want sauce on everything.  Chica never wants it.
Bubba gives hugs freely.  I just got one.
I wish for more time to write.