Vacation Vibes!

With most schools out, and many states opened up after a year of pandemic lockdown, I’ve been seeing a lot of pictures on social media of people enjoying vacations, especially outdoors. We were fortunate enough to visit Colorado in early May and spent some time in The Garden of the Gods and Rocky Mountain National Park. After that break, I wrote about our fabulous visit to part makerspace/part game store, PlayForge, in Littleton, Colorado. While we were there, we purchased a couple of things, and one of them was National Parks Scrabble. My daughter and I are Scrabble fiends, and we were curious to see how this could converge with our adoration of National Parks. I did not expect how much we would enjoy the game! It includes cards that name different national parks (many that I had never heard of!) and a little bit about each one. The fun part is that you can use the cards to do previously prohibited actions in Scrabble, such as spell a word backwards or make any tile on your rack into a blank. It really makes the game far less predictable, and way more fun. If you are anywhere near Littleton, Colorado, head over to PlayForge and get this game. (Also, check out their Maker Camps!) If you are not near PlayForge, find an independent store near you to see if they carry it. As a last resort, you can get it online, but do your best to support an indie store if you can.

Think you know something about the United States National Parks? Try this quiz to see how much you really know!

While we’re talking about vacations, remember the Virtual Vacation website I mentioned back in March? I focused on the City Guesser game (btw, Esther Park has a free template you can use for this game — go to this link and look for the “Travel Around the World” template), but there are several other virtual vacation activities on there, including VidEarth, where you can click on a blue dot anywhere in the world and watch a video that was uploaded, and my personal favorite, Virtual Window, where you can get a “window” view of places.

For some ways to enjoy the great outdoors while learning, scroll down a bit on this page for the 4-Week Summer Camp Guide from Nature Lab. It includes hands-on activities for families. While you’re outside, encourage children to take amazing nature photos with these tips from National Geographic. Or, adapt some of these ideas from their Planet Possible Challenge.

No matter what you decide to do during vacation, don’t forget this wonderful message from Kid President way back in 2015!

Rocky Mountain National Park, May, 2021

CoBuild

Teachers and researchers came together to create the CoBuild At Home website during the Covid-19 pandemic with the goal of encouraging children and their caregivers to use common household items to build and create.  You can find multiple project ideas on the site that range from extracting DNA from food to making art from sneezes.  Most of the projects have short challenge videos, and many include downloadable resources.

In addition to the challenges offered on the CoBuild website, the Science Friday podcast is collaborating with CoBuild at Home to provide a CoBuild Camp from July 24th, 2020 – July 31st, 2020.  This free camp is designed for children in 1st-6th grades, and will include a one hour Zoom each day of the camp.  Visit the link for more details, and to fill out an interest form.  Be sure to fill out the interest form soon, as spots for this great opportunity may fill up!

Girl with Building Blocks
Image by Design_Miss_C from Pixabay

Smithsonian Summer Road Trip

The Smithsonian and USA Today have joined forces to produce a free, 40-page packet of activities, “Summer Road Trip.”  To read more about what is included, and to download the free PDF, visit this article by Darren Milligan for the Smithsonian Learning Lab. The Learning Lab is one of my favorite places to find quality educational materials, including lesson plans, videos, and professional development.  Click here to see some other posts that I’ve done on this blog about specific Smithsonian Learning Lab resources.

Map with Toy Car
Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

How Lazy Is Your Child’s Teacher?

Usually my posts are not about anything that most people would consider controversial.  I try not to sound “preachy” because I’ve been in the trenches, and I know that the majority of the educators are doing the best we can – but we all make mistakes, and we can certainly disagree on what is “best.”

I’m about to bring some hate down on me, and I know this because of a recent Twitter interaction, which definitely resulted in mixed responses.  But I want to clear the air of some misconceptions that I’ve been hearing lately, and this is the only way that I can think to do it.

I was listening to a podcast called, “Reasonable Doubt,” while walking my dog on Monday.  The show is hosted by Adam Carolla and Mark Geragos, and they discuss different current legal issues.  I find their comments intriguing, and they often open up my perspective on topics.  There are times that I don’t agree with what they have to say, but I enjoy hearing a variety of views, and they sometimes change my mind.

During the 3/28/2020 episode, the two hosts made a few comments about how teachers would be more willing for schools to open back up if they weren’t getting paid right now.  They suggested that teachers are not currently working, and that they are enjoying this paid vacation.  This was completely contrary to what I have been hearing from the teachers I know, so I decided to disagree with them in a Tweet:

Surprisingly, @adamcarolla responded with, “got it,” which is a nice way for him to say that I was heard, without necessarily agreeing with me.  Not a problem.

As one person replied, and rightly so, “You know most teachers?!  That’s a lot of people!”

I responded, “You are correct.  I should have said that as an educator of 29 years I know a lot of teachers, and many of them have shared with me the stress of switching their courses to remote learning, and that they miss face2face with their students.”

A few people have supported my response, with specific examples.  A few people have said they know teachers who are useless or are just playing video games.  One person – so far – has used an obscenity.

I’m a big Devil’s Advocate kind of person, so I often look at my own arguments and think, “What if I’m wrong?”  So, here’s the thing:  I understand that I’m in a bubble of educators who will, of course, claim they are working hard.  It’s probably not going to change anyone’s mind if we barrage social media with teachers protesting that they are working long hours, many of them also having to take care of young children simultaneously.  What I would like is for you to share this, and for anyone who parents a child currently involved in remote learning (or for any child who is old enough to respond) to tell us your perception of how hard (or not) teachers are working.  Let me know in the comments below, or let @adamcarolla and @markgeragos know (politely!) the level of effort you think teachers are making right now. 

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – beanz

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.  And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.

Despite the popularity of mobile devices and computers, I think that children still get a thrill out of getting something from a physical mailbox.  If your child is interested in making video games, reading about new technologies, and learning different programming languages, you may want to consider getting her/him a subscription to beanz, a monthly magazine about “kids, code, and computer science.”

beanz would probably appeal the most to children between 8 and 13 who are avid fans of reading and technology.  However, if you are a parent or teacher who wants to develop a child’s desire to create, this magazine could also be a huge resource for you.  This monthly periodical explains technical topics, such as coding with Python, in a way that any layperson can understand.  It gives a lot of examples, great graphics, and many suggestions for projects that children can do.

To me, it’s not just important for children to learn how to use technology responsibly but also to learn how to maximize technology’s potential for creativity and innovation.  beanz helps to inspire kids to use technology for making things – not just for consuming entertainment.

beanz is available online and as a print magazine.  You can view the latest issue here, but some articles are only available to subscribers. For $29.99/year, you can receive the print magazine and online access.  I think this is a great deal, but if you want to spend a little less you can opt for the $15/year online subscription.

For a unique gift that will delight any creatively “geeky” parent or child, you should definitely consider beanz!

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Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – Castle Panic

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here.  And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.

I’m going to admit that I debated whether or not to include Castle Panic on this year’s list due to the recommended age level (10+).  But I really think that children as young as 7 or 8 could play the game after playing a few rounds with parents or older siblings.

A friend gave our family Castle Panic as a gift last year, and it quickly became a favorite during the winter break.  Not too long before that, we had become obsessed with playing Catanso we opened Castle Panic expecting something similar.  Although there are some similarities (cards that can be traded and the importance of strategy), there is one huge difference – Castle Panic is a cooperative game.  In other words, all of the players must work together to slay monsters before the castle towers are destroyed.  This took a bit getting used to, as Catan is a game where players selfishly hang on to valuable pieces while in Castle Panic selfishness will almost certainly result in everyone’s defeat.

The main reason that Castle Panic may be rated 10+ is that there are a lot of rules.  The first few times we played, there were many rule book consultations, and that does require pretty fluent reading ability.  However, children seem to be quite good at remembering the rules – particularly when adults break them – so I don’t see that as a huge obstacle as long as adults aren’t expecting the children to play this on their own right out of the box.  Several commenters on the Amazon reviews seemed to agree with me on this point.  The only other sticking point that some people might have is that there are monsters to be destroyed.  This could pose an ethical problem for some, I suppose, and a nightmare concern for others.  To the latter point, I would say that the monsters are no worse than the ones you would see in comic books or a Marvel movie so I guess that can be your measuring stick.

The game can be played as a solitaire game, but I don’t think that is quite as much fun.  There also is a competitive version where one player can earn the most points.  But our family prefers the plain “Co-Op” version (2-6 players) and cheers heartily when we defeat the numerous monsters against all odds.

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You can find Castle Panic here!