Written by Micah Leinbach
Hands on Human Interaction – Wilderness classrooms can let kids tinker with society
There’s nothing that can launch you into an internal rant about “kids these days” quite like camping on a Canadian riverbank, swatting mosquitoes while your stomach suffers from a 14 year old’s culinary experimentation with “fried ramen.” But, come morning, with a belly still full of slightly burned, yet undercooked noodles, those same kids will inevitably do something pretty amazing, reminding you that the kids are all right.
As an outdoor educator, I spend most of my time thinking about the “these days” part of the “kids these days” equation. We know experience is a powerful educator. Most kid’s experiences “these days” are defined by certain conditions: routine school schedules, hyperconnectivity, and the social pressures of an age of social media. What if we could change those conditions, just for a while, and let kids write the rules of society?
We want to get more kids into wilderness classrooms in order to do exactly that, so we are launching the Bus for Outdoor Access & Teaching, or “BOAT.” We will use a custom-built school bus (which we are fundraising for right now) to build the most accessible outdoor program in America. With an outdoor program on wheels, we can put a fully-functional wilderness classroom at the front door of any school in the country, then provide the transportation, equipment, and leadership to get them out into the mountains. That means a new set of conditions: schedules the kids control, a chance to disconnect from the outside world, and a chance to play with the social rules that govern a small expedition group.
In outdoor classrooms kids face some pretty fundamental life challenges (where do I sleep? what do I eat?) with creativity, experimentation, and a healthy dose of mistake-making. That also means they learn a ton, especially about working together. After all, just look at…
…the kids who built their own government.
Kids in the wilderness don’t see a lot of candy, so it was a big deal when my crew of 20 found a bag of jolly ranchers. Of course there were only 15 pieces, and it’s hard to split a jolly rancher.
What followed was an experiment in civics that rivaled the founding of some nations, with impassioned speeches and pleas for this or that approach to resource allocation. For a moment it looked like the situation would devolve into a dictatorship of a particularly charismatic 11 year old, until she reached for the candy before her case was fully made. She was shouted down and democracy was floated next, with a vote – but a minority insisted on consensus. It took 3 hours, but they came to an agreement – the candy was shunned as “not worth the trouble,” but so was the lengthy consensus process. The group ran elections for every decision from then on.
People often imagine a government of kids turning into a nightmarish Lord of the Flies situation. Just like any invention though, social processes rarely work smoothly the first time. Turns out a government is the same way – but a few decisions in, those kids had built a model of democracy that would make those of us watching today’s national news more than a little jealous.
…the kids in the grilled cheese courtroom.
Sean made a beautiful sandwich. The toast was evenly browned, and the cheese bubbled out the edges, but not quite enough to spill. Satisfied, he left it on a plate on a log near the fire, and went to fill his water bottle in the river. When he returned half of it was in the dirt, and half of it was in Joel’s belly.
When kids are running the show, behavior management becomes a question of justice. A gang of 13 year old boys initially leaned towards punitive justice (making Joel clean up the meal) before swiftly moving through retribution (eating Joel’s sandwich), incapacitation (cutting off Joel’s hands), denunciation (simply bad mouthing Joel), before settling on a more restorative approach. Joel would make a new sandwich, and would help develop a system to separate “shared food” from “private food” moving forward. Peace reigned. Speaking of private food…
…the wisdom in the peanut butter jar.
At the beginning of a trip group gear is divided up and personal items are stowed away, and the final token of independence is bestowed up each participant. In a world of collectively owned food, one’s “personal peanut butter jar” is sacred. You revel in the knowledge that these precious 16 oz. are yours and yours alone.
You’re likely close to a food source, where control of a peanut butter jar feels small. Not so in a world where every ounce of food is carried on your back. Determining how to use it is a lesson in resource management and a master class in the psychology of gratification. Some squirrel it away – petrified of a mid-trail stomach groan, while others blaze through by the spoonful – not stopping until they hear the scrape of their utensil on the plastic bottom. There are lessons in both strategies, reinforced by satisfied (or empty) stomachs. And peanut butter is far from the only thing that becomes a more powerful teaching tool once the conditions of life become a little more rustic!
…the kids who built a fire in the rain.
After a long day of hiking, lounging on the beach during sunset is hard to resist. Despite my best efforts to teach people about the incoming cumulonimbus clouds and what they meant (storms coming!), dinner got pushed further and further back. Soon it was raining, but a fire had to be made. What followed was nothing short of an engineering marvel, as a few tarps, an old poncho, a stick, rope, and a healthy dose of volunteer human columns built a storm-proof cooking fire. The resources were sparse and the weather uncooperative, but we ate our lukewarm soup with pride.
I am a big believer that for kids to succeed in a 21st century economy they will need to tinker, make, and build, as scientists, experimenters and inventors. I’m also a big believer that for the 21st century society to be one worth succeeding in they’ll need to tinker, make, and build better systems of governance, justice, and resource allocation. That means they need practice, and we know just where they can get it – outside.
BOAT will make accessing these kinds of programs easier, but we need your help! Once our bus is built, partners in the Denver area can have a fully-functional outdoor program arrive on-site, ready to offer the outdoor experiences while sparing organizations and educators the logistical challenges of pulling them together. In prototypes of the program we were able to offer expeditions of multiple days at 50% the national average cost – we know it can work! Consider supporting BOAT’s campaign campaign for a custom bus, and a model of outdoor education that is easy for anyone to access. If we can raise $2,500 in our Indiegogo by the end of this weekend, we’ll see that amount tripled by a matching program from our board and an anonymous donor. Feel free to reach out to the author, Micah Leinbach, at micah@theBOATbus.com with questions or to get updates when BOAT launches.
Have you heard?
There is an exciting new service in the Denver area dedicated to providing hands-on and fun science education for children from preschool to fifth grade. Science Made Fun brings age appropriate, fun science experiments directly to your school, camp or party – no bus, no fuss!
Try an experiment now
This is the kind of experiment we would do in the field that you can do right in your kitchen, using things that you already have. Show your kids on a micro level how dish soap works to clean up those dinner dishes.
Items needed: One half cup of milk, a shallow bowl, a cotton swab, dish soap and multiple colors of liquid food coloring (do not use gel, it sinks).
- Directions: Place the bowl on a stable surface, pour the milk in the bowl and put a drop or two of each color in different areas of the milk. The food color should remain on the surface of the milk, but if it doesn’t it is either too heavy or the milk’s fat content is too low. Put a drop of dish soap on the cotton swab and touch the soaped end to any of the colors to see the effect. Do this with each color to see the lovely “exploding colors”.
- How to explain it: Milk has fat in it, invisibly bonded together, allowing the food coloring to float on top of the fat. Think of it like the little bits of fat all holding hands with each other, supporting the color drops. Dish soaps are great on greasy or oily dishes because it breaks the bonds in fats allowing them to separate. When you add the dish soap to the milk, the fat separates and moves, allowing your colors to expand.
Through exciting hands-on experiments Science Made Fun programs are thoughtfully designed to stimulate young minds, activate students’ innate curiosity and nurture each child’s budding imagination. Alongside our team of professionals, students are guided through the learning process, becoming REAL scientists performing REAL experiments!
Find more experiments to try at home or view our science education programs at ScienceMadeFunKIDS.
Crossbeams – Building Made Easy (and Fun!)
We caught up with Charles Sharman, creator of the most-excellent building toy, Crossbeams. His story is exactly what we’re all about at Maker Bolder – seeing an opportunity and making something to meet the need. Here’s his story.
The Aim of Crossbeams
“Dad, can we make a maglev train?” This question, posed by my five-year-old son, sparked the beginning of Crossbeams. Whether it’s a spaceship, a skyscraper, an animal, or a maglev train, all of us want to make and create. It’s in our blood. But when it comes to actually doing it, the task can be overwhelming. You may have to know trigonometry, algebra, mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, art, drafting, machining, and more. I designed Crossbeams to simplify the building task. You dream, and Crossbeams helps you create.
Many creative platforms exist for younger ages. Yet many younger active creators become passive consumers as they age, immersed in video games, social media, smart phones, and television. I designed Crossbeams to hold the interest of older and advanced creators.
Dreams to Reality
Making Crossbeams’ a reality wasn’t easy, particularly with a full-time job and family. First, I had to enhance my knowledge. During late nights and early mornings, I taught myself mechanics, gear design, and machining. I studied the limitations of current building systems and identified enhancements. A plethora of piece-types limits some building systems. According to Mark Changizi and others building system’s creativity is enhanced by minimizing piece-types an maximizing the ways pieces connect. Delicacy limits some building systems. I wanted a model car that could crash into the wall without disintegrating. Finally, straight lines and boxiness limits some building systems. I wanted to accurately replicate lines and surfaces.
Next, I needed a way to try out pieces in a complete model without blowing the bank on prototyping costs. I wanted to ensure models
looked appealing and the piece-types were minimal. I created the Crossbeams Modeller, a software tool to virtually connect Crossbeams pieces.
I started with three core models:
I believed a building toy that could closely replicate these models could closely replicate many more. Initially, the models took more than 160 piece-types. After much work, I narrowed it to the 47 piece-types used today.
Finally, I needed a sturdy joint that locks pieces much more strongly than the joints in children’s building toys. Children’s building toys use friction-based joints; the force to connect is equal to the force to disconnect. That causes an inherent trade-off. If you make it stronger, you make it harder to assemble. Instead, I based my joint on a cotter pin two-motion joint. A two-motion joint unrelates the join force and separation force. I started with a cotter pin, and it evolved into our patented, simple slide-and-twist joint.
The Future of Crossbeams
While Crossbeams has captured much of its original intent, we still have far to go. Ages 10-12 and 20+ make our largest customer base. We haven’t captured the hearts of young adults, for whom the system was intended.
We designed Crossbeams from the ground up to handle electronics but later tabled electronics to maintain our debt-free principle. Most of the electronics package is designed and ready. Once sales grow, we can make my son’s maglev.
Success won’t be judged by money in the bank but by a sampling of society. Whether it’s Crossbeams, musical compositions, stories, or painting, once young adults are known for their creating instead of their consuming, our work is done.
Connect kids with Water Conservation
When you get hot and thirsty playing outside, a cold glass water can really cool you down. But your child may not know that kids in other parts of the world don’t always have clean drinking water. This summer, teach your child the importance of conserving precious resources. You can start by learning more about fresh water scarcity. With 97 percent of the world’s supply being salt water, conservation is a great way to make a global impact.
One route to freshwater sustainability is desalination, or removing the salt from salt water. There are more than 16,000 desalination plants(1) across the globe, and that number is growing. To begin learning how desalination occurs, try Connections Academy’s educational activity with your child– and create freshwater from salt water using a few household items!
Why is Fresh Water Important?
Fresh water is an essential part of life. Water helps nutrients and oxygen in the bloodstream move around the body. Humans are generally made up of about 50 to 65 percent water.
Fresh water is a key to good health. When your body doesn’t have enough water, it is dehydrated. Dehydration can keep you from doing your best at sports, school, and whatever else the day may throw your way.
Fresh water keeps crops growing. About 70 percent of the available freshwater on earth is used to feed crops, which, in turn, feed us.
How to Conserve Water
Have your child help you check for leaks around the house.
Let the lawn grow a little longer than you normally would. This will promote retention of freshwater (from rain or sprinklers) in the soil.
Help your child plant native plants. Plant species that are native to your area which should thrive with the amount of rainfall your garden will receive and need little additional watering.
Encourage your child to cut his or her shower time by two minutes each day. Two minutes every day is 730 minutes per year. That’s a little change that can make a big difference!
Visit the Connections Academy blog to find more fun learning activities.
Colorado Connections Academy is a network of tuition-free online public schools for students in grades K-12.
1 David Talbot, “Desalination out of Desperation,” MIT Technology Review (December 2014), accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/533446/desalination-out- of-desperation/.
Bringing a Galaxy of Experiences to the Colorado Front Range
A grass-roots organization is working across the Colorado Front Range to create the coolest science and tech center in the region – the Science Galaxy Museum. The group started small but has been gaining steam (…pun intended). The team consists of scientists, educators, philanthropists and other community members who come from a wide variety of backgrounds – all of whom care about a common theme, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
Why does the Front Range need a science center?
In a time when our region lacks a sufficiently educated workforce to fill our rapidly expanding technology sector, Science Galaxy will empower a new generation of science and technology innovators. The science center’s focus of creating opportunities for people of all ages to explore open-ended activities covering a broad range of STEAM topics is shown to boost achievement in STEAM-related careers.
What is the vision for Science Galaxy?
Science Galaxy is a collaborative center that fosters educational partnerships with area schools, research institutions, tech
nology businesses, and existing non-profit science education groups. The founding committee envisions Science Galaxy as a community resource where everyone can explore science and innovation in an interactive way. Think of it as a destination for interactive science experiences.
What sets Science Galaxy apart?
Just look around you. Colorado is an amazing region, and Boulder County specifically is full of accomplished scientists, techies, and entrepreneurs. Science Galaxy is creating a place to showcase our area’s achievements and encourage curiosity for the world around us.
Who is Science Galaxy for?
In short…everyone! The team wants to encourage not just students, but all visitors to open their minds to the possibilities. In fact, core to the Center’s mission will be outreach to encourage people of all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, etc. to explore what STEAM has to offer. Broad access is essential to feeding curious minds.
Will it ever really happen?
The team is really excited about the overwhelming positive response they’ve received from the community. We recently released an online survey (still in progress, you can respond here), and the clear message is that the region will welcome a science center with open arms!
“The process of a “start-up” museum is an amazing learning experience. Every community member we meet with teaches us something new and helps us move this monumental project forward, which is extremely rewarding,” commented Kristin Lawrence, one of the leaders of the Science Galaxy effort.
What’s the next step?
The team is asking for help to build a new Science Center here in Boulder County. “It’s important to us,” said, Lawrence, “that this center is built with the greater community at the center of the design. To that end, we are actively seeking input through a variety of tools, including the online survey.”
The team is also looking for appropriate property, talking with local businesses and practitioners to learn more about what should be included in an experiential museum, and seeking funding to support construction and staffing for the effort.
People who complete the survey can elect to be entered into a drawing to win gift cards to local shops or a brand new Spark Sphero. You can also let the Science Galaxy team know that you’re interested in helping when you complete the survey.
To take the survey, click the link below or copy and paste it into a Web browser.
To learn more about Science Galaxy: www.sciencegalaxy.org
There exists a world where everything is possible; where fairies and woodland creatures rejoice together in peace and harmony. There is a place full of wonders and magic surrounded by enchanting forests, sparkle and bewilderment. Such a place does not abide only in our imagination and dreams, but it is present in our own gardens and backyards. The only thing needed for this world to come alive is just a pinch of your inspiration and wit. Here we provide you a step-by-step tutorial on how to create your own marvelous fairy garden.
Containers and Pots
The first step to creating a wondrous fairy garden is choosing the right containers and pots. This will serve as the foundation for all other details needed to complete this magical setting. First you need to decide on the amount of containers you wish to set up. Make sure to pick out bigger sized pots so you would be able to add more details. Make use of old and broken pots and turn them into fairytale houses.
The second thing you need to consider is your own choice of potting mix. This should include various choices of tiny rocks and stones, adequate type of soil and other elements such as activated carbon that will help clean and filter the water that does not get absorbed. You can also add different details like beads or pearls just to add a bit of charisma to it. Add a bit of dazzle and allure and make your trendy garden setting.
The best solution when it comes to choosing suitable plants for your magical fairy garden is making your choice diverse. The more the merrier they say. This way you will be able to create an enchanting surrounding for all the magical beings residing there. Go crazy with color and size of plants. The only thing you should keep in mind is to pick out plants that have the same growing requirements and that will grow well in your climate and area. Do not be afraid to experiment with different plant life so you would be able to design your own fairy oasis.
The last but certainly the most exciting part of the project is adding details and decoration according to your personal affinities and liking. Fairy figures, bird houses, stone paths and mushroom homes are only the beginning. Make sure to enter your own world of imagination and create a setting where everything is possible. Think of the most impressionable design ideas and use them in your miniature fairytale gardens. Miniature sculptures and figures accompanied by small details like windmills, benches, different lights and similar are also a great idea. There are no rules when it comes to decoration. It should reflect your own world of fantasy and imagery.
It does not matter if you are an adult and have your regular every day routines. We all are still part children who believe in magic and fairy tales. So every time you need to escape from your difficulties you can find shelter and comfort by visiting your magical friends. It is the perfect opportunity to relive your favorite childhood moments and become carefree and lighthearted even just for a brief period of time.
Author’s Bio: Lana Hawkins is a student of architecture and a crafty girl from Sydney, Australia. She enjoys writing about landscaping and garden décor and she is especially interested in green building. Amazing gardens created by landscape design company from Sydney inspired her to write this article. Lana loves spending her free time cooking for her friends.
Meet a Maker: Mark Moffett and the Fantastical Art Car
After a months-long struggle, we finally secured a car on August 8, 2015! A 1996 Volkswagen Golf. Thanks to Martha Lanaghen and Jeff Scott from MakerBolder!
The following night, we trekked to Denver for the Colorado Night Market. An audience participation, pop-up art show, held in the back of U-Haul Trucks! It was a very original, fun-filled evening. However, the most excitement came during our trip back to Lafayette, when we we’re pulled over by Westminister Police. Our tail-lights were on the fritz! Fortunately, they were more curious than anything. We were allowed to continue, as long as our support van had it’s flashers on! Thanks officers!
Great objects include:
- Happy Meal Toys
- Action figures
- Dolls and doll heads
- Skeletons and skulls (plastic please!)
- Multiples: shells, marbles, small rocks, corks, pennies
- Mardi Gras beads and glass beads
- Old jewelry and gems
- Any interesting plastic items
- Old damaged musical instruments
All items should be weather-proof and able to spend time in the Colorado sun.
Arieann has a long standing passion for taking ideas and running with them. Graduating with a Bachelor’s in Cell Science and a minor and Chemistry, she spent the next five years wandering the world of academic research, before starting a company of her own. She is now Founder/CEO of Kitables and Executive Director of Spark Boulder. A fan of perpetual learning and exploration, as well as an entrepreneur by nature, she loves building whether that’s an actual project, a company, or helping strengthen the amazing entrepreneurial community of Boulder.
How did you get started making and why?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been a builder. Although I was never a ”let’s take the remote apart” kinda kid. I was more “ok I have 2 pieces of plywood, an ice cube, and a piece of broccoli” I’m just gonna build something kind of kid. I cleared a 3rd grade class because I refused to read the directions on my chemistry kit and just threw some stuff together that started smoking and the teacher freaked out.
The “why” actually has a lot to do with my upbringing. My father was a fixer and a contractor professionally and my mother was very into crafts so I grew up thinking that’s just how things were done. Also I was a massively independent person from a young age and you learn how to get “it” done when you are like that.
What part of STEAM Fest are you most excited for?
Showing off Kitables new offerings, we’ve got a really cool kit coming out!
What will you be demo’ing, hacking, making, playing with at your STEAM Fest booth?
Including the repeat appearance Rubiks cube solving robot kit the RubiSolver. Our new Bismuth Crystal kit and our newest offering the Mini Origami Quad Copter! It’s the cutest coolest thing you have ever seen!
Someone wanted me to make them a life size sword out of aerogel, they were being dead serious. I started specking out what it would take but it was crazy expensive to build the machine. But I would have built it, given the money.
What is your advice to creators looking to do what you do or make what you make?
Never stop moving or learning, complacency is the death of everything. Also Boulder’s entrepreneurial community is unique and we have a “Give First” mentality. This town is crazy welcoming as long as you contribute. Funny story – Mary Anne the co-founder of Maker Boulder was the first person to get me started on my networking journey. We had coffee one morning during my first Kickstarter campaign she told me about the give first thing and I was like how do I give back I know nothing right now, she simply replied “your time.” So my advice would be to go out there and help and it comes back 10 fold, even if you think you have nothing but your time to give!
What is your favorite part about the maker movement?
The people, I know that sounds really corny but it’s true. The fact that a community like this exists is amazing to me. Makers are everywhere from your backyard auto-enthusiast to leading technology entrepreneurs. Makers love to build, they are creatives, the movers and shakers of our generation seeing opportunity where others see none. It is for these reasons the world needs more of them, and I am proud to call myself one.
Where do you see your making going in the next 3 to 5 years?
I hope to make Kitables a national household name, and really help empower the maker movement, both for those looking to do projects and the project creators. As far as Spark I hope to solidify our position as the one stop shop for young entrepreneurial talent and expand what young people think of when they hear the word entrepreneurship, it’s not just tech (although tech is awesome).
What do you wish you could make but don’t know how to (yet)?
The Forbes 30 under 30 list
But in all seriousness.. I actually don’t know how to code at all, I hope to learn at least front end web dev from our class at Spark this fall.
Wheee! Bitsbox is AWESOME and a ton of fun. Guess what else?! They’re a smashing partner of Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest and will have a booth in the exhibit hall!
What does Bitsbox do?
Bitsbox is a subscription box that teaches kids to code. Every month a package arrives to your door with dozens of programming projects. Kids go on our website and follow the instructions to type real code that makes real apps that work on real devices.
Who is your target customer?
We’re most popular with families having kids between the ages of 6 and 12, though we’ve had a few people have success with older and younger kids. If your kid can read, then they can do Bitsbox. And parents don’t need to be coders themselves. If your kid gets stuck, all you need to do is go back to the instructions and help them find where they went off track.
What is your most inspiring customer feedback?
We get wonderful feedback every day. Here’s a small sample.
“My kids spent 6 hours playing with Bitsbox last night. They’ve been playing with Scratch and Code.org — but they felt that this was much cooler and they loved the fact that they felt like they were writing real code.”
“Wow! Thank you so much! You just made his day. I thought I’d share that he had surgery on the 20th and that’s why we missed the deadline. He’s on very limited activity while he heals so he’s spending lots of time on Bits Box code. Just thought I’d share so you could see how your kind gift truly means so much to him.”
“Just so you know – I love Bitsbox. You are doing great things. I’m not teaching a computer class next year and I’m done with my programming unit this year. I am paying out of my own pocket so I can’t keep my subscription. If something changes and I teach computers again, I’ll gladly sign up.”
“I’ve got to say, my daughter is loving her first bitsbox. We’re taking it slow — I work to get her to think about what the programs will do, and encourage her to play around with changes. We just finished Tuba or not Tuba, which she loves. I am really impressed by the platform and definitely want to keep her moving forward.”
How did your company get started and why?
Our cofounders, Scott and Aidan, are a couple of ex-Googlers who wanted to build a company that really teach people. Being is edtech is both fun and satisfying.
Where do you see your company if five years?
We want to be the way that kids all over the world can learn this amazing skill of coding. No matter where they live, what language they speak, or what devices they have access to.
What is your best advice to a young entrepreneur who wants to start a company like you?
- Choose something that you love.
- Choose a cofounder you really click with.
- Build a prototype and test the heck out of it with real users.
- Get help! Accelerator and incubator programs are all over the planet these days.
What else do you want our readers to know?
Thank you Boulder! We couldn’t have gotten as far as we have without the amazing network of parents, teachers, and start-up enthusiasts we enjoy around here.
Do you have a discount code for Maker Boulder readers? If so include it here.
Come to our booth for an amazing deal! We want to meet you and show you in person what Bitsbox is all about.