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.
Written by Patricia Jarvis, Ph.D. /Bixby School
We all have a wonderful challenge:
Our children are born as creators, scientists, thinkers, and makers! Yet how do we nurture and foster their natural curiosity at home? How do we create spaces at home that support their explorations and allow for the all important “messing about” and process of discovery?
Here is a short list of ideas that could turn into an amazing family experience!
- Start with a clean surface and space that can become a maker station in your home. (You so not have to have a large home to do this!). Think outside the box (Do you have an underused table or kitchen desk? Is this an indoor or outdoor space?)
- Look into possibilities with your child on how to stock the area. If it is hard to decide, use your local resources: the art store, Resource, Pinterest for ideas. What grabs a current interest? Is there something new you want to try out?
- Think big or really little! Children often enjoy building big or tinkering little. Think about the scale of what they are interested in.
- Materials do not have to be expensive! Recyclables, loose parts, and natural materials from outside are all great choices to get started.
- Make space and time for your new area of exploration. Would it be fun to go there after breakfast on weekends or at the end of a long day? Would it be fun to explore with your child before you step back and let his/her creative juices flow? Offer a “maker’s jam” to your child: get comfy in old T-shirts than can handle paint and turn on some tunes-then create, invent, and tinker away!
Challenge: How many ways can you built a table size catapult?
Possible parts and pieces for your maker’s space:
- Rubber bands (different types)
- 20 pencils
- Pompom balls
- Craft sticks
- Hot glue gun
- Elmer’s glue
- Paper clips
- Construction Paper
Send us a photo your design (email it to firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will share it here at Bixby School with our makers in their brand-new makers’ studio! You will have a chance to win a prize!
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.
Robotics and Science and Fun… Oh My!
Meet amazing maker, Andy Donaldson and his exciting new STEAM Workshop and Camp company, Innovative Experiences. Innovative Experiences provides STEAM Workshops that include robotics, science, engineering, arts, making and more!
Innovative Experience’s workshops for tween, teens, and adults with a variety of activities and costs to meet a variety of needs. They offer everything from a couple hours to play with different materials and make something, up to a 4-day Robotics camp or the weekly Innovators Club. What makes IE different from other Maker spaces or STEAM workshops is that they provide unique, thought-provoking activities that allow you to explore all the possible solutions while also expanding your understanding of how things can work together.
What workshops are offered?
Starting in September, these are the workshops that will be offered:
- Roborobo Workshop: Wednesdays Sept 21 – October 26. 6 – 8 pm. We will use the Roborobo kits to build and program many different robots throughout the week. Participants end with an activity that will requires them to use creativity to design, build and program a robot that isn’t part of the guided activities.
- Innovators Club: Each week, participants decide to start or continue the previous project. Each project will focus on inventing or improving an existing technology. Work happens individually and/or in groups to design and build something that hasn’t existed before. Participants will be an integral part of the decisions made around the activities offered at Innovative Experiences.
- Hourly workshops: Guided activities using a variety of resources and materials. Participants can take home most of what they make or just play with the materials. New activities will constantly be offered and are focused on Engineering, Arts and Science such as bridge building and other architectural projects, robotics, Little Bits, 3D printing and projection mapping, making ice cream with dry- ice and liquid nitrogen, pumpkin carving, winter activities, design a board game or invent something that solves a problem!
What happens at the RoboRobo Workshop?
In the Roborobo workshop, participants start by building basic robots and learning basic construction and programming on the first day! The second day is for exploring other robots and practice programming them. On the third day, challenges are added to make an existing robot do something new. The last day consists of working in teams to design, build and program a unique robot that can accomplish a specific task such as go over obstacles, or destroy the opposing team’s castle with a projectile. The best part is, you get to keep the robotics kit as part of the workshop and can practice building and playing at home between workshops. Parents are welcome and encouraged to join us to practice using the robots and share a new activity with your child. If you really enjoyed the workshop, don’t worry! The fun doesn’t stop there. With six levels of Roborobo kits to choose from, you can keep coming back for more fun activities and expand your robotics collection.
What makes Innovative Experiences different from a Maker space?
The goal of Innovative Experiences, says Donaldson, “is to provide experiences that inspire creativity, have real-world application and make learning fun.”
While many Maker spaces are great for exploring and learning, many teens are not aware of them or interested because there is no goal. IE will offer fun and inspirational activities to show teens how their knowledge can be applied in the real world. Finally, the costs of belonging to a Maker space and providing materials or attending similar camps/ workshops can be expensive. Innovative Experiences offers workshops in a safe atmosphere, at an affordable cost.
Andy Donaldson has spent the better part of a decade working as an educator. His passions include working with students, finding creative ways to learn, and working with his hands. Recently, Andy noticed that the growth of the STEAM movement has targeted younger age groups and provided an opportunity that hasn’t really been fulfilled in secondary education. That is the inspiration for Innovative Experiences. To offer fun, affordable activities to inspire creativity and relate to real world knowledge. Andy is also involved with the XQ Bolder Super High School project.
Please visit the website for more information and like us on Facebook.
September 21 – October 26, 2016 – Beginner Robotics Workshop – Wednesdays from 6 – 8 pm. At the Boulder Center for Conscious Community (BC3) 1637 28th Street, Boulder, CO 80301
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
What sparks your curious side?
Robotics? The mysteries of the universe? Science and creativity in action? You can find something for all curious folks of all ages at CuriosityStream.com – the world’s first and best spot to find engaging and entertaining programs to watch on your schedule, totally commercial-free.
CuriosityStream offers over 1,300 programs – more than 500 hours – of quality, nonfiction documentary-tyle shows that you can watch on any of your connected devices… from your smart phone to your tablet and TV. We have streaming apps across Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV as well as Android and iOS. And you can take CuriosityStream wherever you go… the service is global, in 196 countries worldwide.
Are you curious about a deep sea adventure?
Travel along as scientists explore the unknown in Deep Ocean: The Lost World of the Pacific. And continue your own exploration of the oceans with world renown marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle in The Health of our Oceans.
Interested in robotics?
Check out CuriosityStream’s comprehensive coverage of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, as teams from around the world compete in the biggest robotic showdown on the planet.
For younger curious minds – join the team from Quarx, three teenage pranksters who challenge the laws of physics with their superpowers, putting an entirely new spin on science education. Check out what happens if your pet black hole ends up eating the entire world!
There’s also the wild adventures of Baron Munchhausen, who takes a quirky look at the greatest inventors in history. Mind Blowing Breakthroughs puts the Baron right in the middle of those flashes of genius that changed the course of humankind…from Leonardo da Vinci to the Wright Brothers.
And coming soon: an exclusive production – Big Picture Earth. Take a journey with CuriosityStream to some of the world’s most spectacular locations. See Stonehenge, the Acropolis, New York’s Central Park, the Gateway Canyon of Colorado and more in ultra high definition 4K… visuals so stunning, you’ll be inspired to learn more about the human role on our planet.
For friends of Maker Bolder and visitors to the STEAM Fest this year, check out all that and much, much more on CuriosityStream with a complimentary 60-day trial subscription. Visit CuriosityStream Signup and use the code: STEAM.
Space – The Perfect Place for a Bedtime Story!
Story Time from Space was contributed by Dr. Jeffrey Bennett. Learn more about Dr. Bennet at Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest.
What you cannot imagine, you cannot do.
— Astronaut Alvin Drew (STS-118, STS-133)
How many people are living in space right now? I’ve found that since the end of the Space Shuttle program, most Americans think the answer is zero. But it’s not. There are generally 6 people living aboard the International Space Station, including Americans, Russians, and usually at least one crew member from another nation. All the astronauts currently get rides to and from the station on Russian rockets, but it’s still an international outpost. There’s lots of great science going on there, involving not only professional scientists but tens of thousands of students who have participated in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. And now, there’s another way for kids, parents, and teachers to be a part of the human adventure of space exploration: Story Time From Space.
Story Time From Space is a program designed to combine literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. The basic program plan is to send children’s books and related science demonstrations up to the International Space Station, where astronauts video themselves reading the books and conducting the demos. The edited videos are then posted on the web, along with suggested activities (for kids, teachers, and families) and curriculum materials that can be used in the classroom. Thousands of teachers have already signed on to make use of the Story Time From Space program, and because it is freely available on the web, it has the potential to reach tens of millions of children around the world.
I have the good fortune of being involved with the Story Time From Space program, thanks to the fact that program founders Patricia Tribe (a long-time director of education at Space Center Houston) and astronaut Alvin Drew chose my first five children’s books as the first set to send to the International Space Station. The books launched in January, 2014 and continue to orbit over head every 90 minutes, at a speed of some 17,000 miles per hour – which means they’ve now logged almost 300 million miles of travel.
A second set of books was launched in December 2015. It includes my new book, I, Humanity, and books by Levar Burton (of Star Trek and Reading Rainbow fame), Andrea Beaty, “Lost my Name,” former astronaut Danny Olivas, and two books by astronaut Mark Kelly — which were read by his brother Scott during his “year in space” mission that just ended.
The first set of science demos was launched last June (2015), but unfortunately that was aboard the SpaceX rocket that was unsuccessful. The demos have since been rebuilt and are being prepared for a launch this summer (2016).
Here’s a brief bit of text and a video introducing the overall program:
Imagine Astronauts on the International Space Station reading stories to the children of Earth as the world rotates below.
Imagine videos of the readings accessible via the web to everyone in the world, along with additional videos of educational science demonstrations conducted in weightlessness, all accompanied by lesson plans and classroom activities that teachers or families can use. .
Imagine a community of educators, scientists, and artists all working together to make this dream a reality…
Now, imagine no more…it’s Story Time from Space!
Wondering how you can get involved?
Here are a few ways:
- Learn more about the program by visiting the web site: http://StoryTimeFromSpace.com.
- “Like” the program’s Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/storytimefromspace), where you’ll find lots of additional photos and other updates.
- Twitter @storytimespace.
- Volunteer to pilot curriculum in your school district or classroom.
- And if you want to help support this exciting program, please donate with the button on the storytimefromspace.com web site.
I believe that for any form of education to be successful, we need to focus simultaneously on three things, which I like to call education, perspective, and inspiration. The education piece is the specific content that we want students to learn. The perspective piece should show them how what they are learning will help them gain perspective on their own lives and on our place in the universe. The inspiration piece should make them care about what they learn, ideally in a way that makes them dream of how much better the world could be if they get an education and become part of the solution for the future. Story Time From Space encapsulates this education-perspective-inspiration approach better than any other education program I’ve ever seen. I hope you’ll become a part of it.
Disclaimer: While I am now part of the team supporting Story Time From Space, I do not receive any compensation from this program. I support it because I’m honored to have had my books selected by the program, and because I so strongly believe in its goals.
Learn more about Dr. Jeffrey Bennett by visiting his website.
A recent headline in Wired magazine put it simply: “Schools are preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist.” After all, how many times have you found a job memorizing historical dates or filling out worksheets? That kind of education is no longer relevant.
At Watershed School, our mission is to build the character and the ability of students to take on the world’s greatest challenges. For us, that means teaching them to create original solutions to real-world problems – and develop the ability to adapt, collaborate, and create.
At Watershed, this looks very different than students sitting in rows. It means
- Starting a small business in an economics class
- Using Arduino circuits to solve a problem in engineering
- Learning Spanish by navigating the streets of small town Guatemala
- Using design thinking to reduce the amount of waste headed to landfill
As a result, kids love coming to school. Your children are natural born inventors, entrepreneurs, and creative problem solvers. Giving kids the tools to express it makes them happier and more successful.
We support STEAMFest because STEAMFest is about this different way of learning. In Boulder, we are lucky to be part of a community of technological problem-solvers, educational innovators, and open-minded parents looking for something different.
And after STEAMFest, check us out at www.realworldlearning.is, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter at @watershed_co. You could even call us on an old-fashioned phone. We’d love to show you a different kind of school.