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Full Steam Ahead: STEAMLabs Maker Classes For Kids

by Samantha on September 8, 2015

How My Daughter Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Programming

 

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“I could program that!”

And with this statement, I knew that my daughter was on her way.

Having completed a summer camp program where she was challenged to learn code and build her own functioning item resulting from her programming, she succeeded  - and then some -  but not without the help of the amazing teachers at STEAMLabs.

Founded by a dad who was inspired by Gever Tulley’s Ted Talk, Andy Forrest, along with Marianne Mader started a “Tinkering Club” summer camp in their garage in 2010. Andy had a background as a web developer and a passion for “tinkering,” and was inspired to start a club that supported kids who had the same interest.

With the starting point of helping the kids learn and discover what interested them, the club launched with a group of “mini-makers” who were supported with their passion to create by Andy and Marianne.

In the spring of 2012, they opened a permanent makerspace location and formed a non-profit organization. Since then, it’s been “full steam ahead” as they provide children with the ability to see their ideas come to life, often in 3D.

When my daughter Miranda was offered the opportunity to check out one of STEAMLab’s summer maker camps, she jumped at the chance.

The program, which focuses on teaching kids Arduino programming language, also teaches eager learners the basis of HTML and CSS code. In addition, the young “Makers” were able to experience 3D printing first-hand, in the creation of their project.

Other areas that the course covers includes:

  • Learning the basics of digital design and fabrication to 3D print robot parts
  • Learning to send messages from Minecraft to the robot created in class
  • The creation of a remote-controlled creature that is activated by programming learned in class
  • Individual and group projects that facilitate learning, creating and collaboration

While my daughter was excited to start the class, she had some trepidation and nervousness about her ability to learn what she thought would be a difficult set of skills. After all, she hadn’t ever done any programming and knew very little about robotic technology, 3D printing and related topics. It was a relief, then, to see her excitement and abilities grow as she mastered new skills, learned and was supported in the positive environment that STEAMLabs provided.

My daughter testing her LED display before completion.

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As part of the Web-Controlled Arduino Robotics Summer Camp, my daughter gained not only the skills to allow her to program at a level that surprised even herself, but also provided her with the confidence to continue her interest in programming, robotics and 3D creation.

Maker culture has seen a rise in eager participants who, with the help of the latest technology (can we say 3D printing, anyone?), are able to see their imagined items come to life. With a lot of forethought, preparation, planning and coding, the young and inspired can realize their most creative inspirations come to life.

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My daughter’s project was a remote-controlled, LED display (her idea) that provided various LED lighting options for the user, via a remote control.

*NOTE* - My daughter calls it a “flashlight” but the name does not do justice to the advanced abilities that the item provides. These include colour waves, programmed flashing and colour patterns and more.

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As part of the creation project, the elements involved:

  • Writing the software/programming on a website
  • Wiring and sautering the various pieces of the item (with assistance)
  • Installation of the hardware, connecting the lights, etc.
  • Assisted with 3D printing of frame

The final product was a success!

Check out these videos that show just a couple of the many light displays that were programmed.

 

How it works: The device is controlled wirelessly, through both a wireless and Arduino chip that controls the LED grid. The program that was written also controls the colours and the brightness of the LED displays to enable them to do a number of things, including making a colour wave across the grid, sequential flashing, changing flashing colours and patterns, etc. The housing of the device frame was completely 3D printed in class - a very cool feature for the eager young students. We all know that having a child complete a project successfully gives them not only a sense of satisfaction, but the confidence to move forward with their next creative idea. This was definitely the case with my daughter’s experience with creating a fully-functioning device from scratch - programming and all.

Girls and Boys

One of the unexpected positive aspects of my daughter’s success in this course was the fact that while the class included more boys than girls, she represented the XX chromosome and then some, not letting the preconceptions of girls’ supposed inabilities to master this stuff get to her.

While the stereotypes about females not excelling in science, math, programming and related topics still persist, they’re diminishing, in large part due to classes such as the ones offered by STEAMLabs. Providing a forum where both girls and boys are supported to achieve their goals, regardless of gender is something that we as parents should support whenever we can. We’ve come a long way in terms of stereotypes and perceptions about the sexes, and while we’ve still got a long way to go, courses such as the one taken by my daughter are making a difference in providing the forum for kids of both genders to excel.

STEAMLabs is continuing to build its curriculum, with a number of new courses underway. Following are just a few that are now available for kids who are eager to see their creative ideas come to life:

If it’s not already clear, I’m a huge fan of STEAMLabs and their support and encouragement of young minds. Check them out at www.steamlabs.ca

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As kids return to school, educators and parents are split on the use of popular technology tools in class

As the kids return to school, the topic of technology use in the classroom is one that will once again be discussed amongst parents and educators alike. In a time where kids of all ages carry what amounts to a mini-computer in their back pockets, there is no longer the option to decide whether or not this is a topic that’s worthy of discussion. The time is now, and all of us who have a vested interest in how our kids learn will need to step up to the plate to determine how, when and what tools will be used in the learning process.

Smartphone use among kids is continuing to grow, as parents grapple with the question of how old their child should be before they become attached to an electronic device. With access to the latest technology now an expectation by most kids (often as young as elementary school), the answer to this and other related questions must be addressed.

I was recently interviewed by The Canadian Press for perspective on the topics of school, educators, the classroom and technology, specifically the use of smartphones in class. You can read the full article here:

Debate grows over using smartphones and social media in classrooms

 

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What do you think? Are you comfortable with your child’s access to technology in the classroom, including cellphones, computers and other devices? Why or why not? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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IN THE NEWS: Your Baby Monitor Can Be Hacked

by Samantha on August 1, 2015

Who's listening to your baby? Parents urged to take precautions with monitor technology

 

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Who’s listening to your baby?

Are you safe? Is your baby safe?

The intersection of technology and parenting continues to expand as we increasingly rely on digital tools to make our roles as parents easier. We use tech more than ever to live our daily lives, from watching our babies to entertaining them; from reading to our kids to monitoring them (texting and cell phones). It all seems great, right? Granted, the convenience provided by technology can’t be denied, but there is a dark side to its usage as well.

As hacking becomes more commonplace in our daily lives, the instances of our digital tools being compromised will also increase. We’ve seen a rise of incidents where personal information has been hacked via email, cell phones and cloud accounts, but did anyone really anticipate that baby monitors would be a target too?

It’s scary to think that our most precious assets could be open to being spied on, secretly viewed, spoken to by strangers, or worse.

I recently provided my thoughts on this disturbing trend in an interview on Global News. You can watch the full segment below. There are also some simple tips that parents can follow to make sure that their babies remain safe and secure.

What you do to avoid hacking via baby monitors or similar devices:

1) Educate Yourself - Make sure that you fully understand the technology that you’re using, especially in their children’s rooms.

2) Err on the Side of Caution - When in doubt, don’t. If you have any concerns or misgivings about the technology behind any particular device, don’t use it until you are sure about it’s security, or chose another option altogether.

3) Choose a Secure Password - Don’t make the password for your device too easy. Remember to use a login that is not easily-guessed, that is changed frequently, and that includes a non-sensical string of letters (both upper and lower case) and numbers. For more information on how to choose a secure password, visit this page: How to Create a Secure Password.

4) Limit the Use of Devices - The less amount of devices used to monitor our kids, the less likely hackers will be able to successfully gain access where they don’t belong.

Global News Segment - Baby Monitor Hacked!


 

What other tips do you have for parents who are concerned about being hacked? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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At what age is it okay for kids to have an email and social media accounts?

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Does your child have an email address? How about a Facebook account? How do you feel about your child being online at all?

Those were some of the questions posed in an interview that I did with CBC Metro Morning.

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As a parent raising kids in a digital age, as well as someone who is both a lover and avid user of social media, digital technology and online communications, the questions gave me pause.

For many, the thought of allowing their children online presents a conundrum, a Pandora’s Box of sorts. While there are many benefits to having access to the online world (can we say “Google?”), there are some real risks as well. This is particularly the case for those who are younger and more impressionable.

Parents worry about a lot of things when they consider their children’s potential online activities not the least of which include:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Exposure to inappropriate images, videos, information (pornography, violence, etc.)
  • Online stalking
  • Phishing and related scams

Yet, there’s no denying that digital communications is the standard these days. Try to get around finding information without some type of online element; I suspect it would be quite the task.

I allow my ten-year-old daughter to have an email account for a number of reasons, the least of which is that  she can communicate with her close family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles) and teachers - yes, teachers. It is quite the standard these days that teachers email information to both parents and students about school assignments, homework and activities. Implicit in these actions is the expectation that the child will have an email account and that the parents are in approval, and my daughter is no exception. For the most part, her peers have email accounts as well, with the full support of their parents.

That being said, there are some best practices that parents should follow when allowing their children online, whether it’s just for email purposes, or more. I talk about these, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), in the interview.

Here’s the full interview, below (first link is to Metro Morning’s website, second is to the segment via CBC Player).

What are your thoughts? At what age is it okay for kids to be online? Is email for a child under 13 okay? Why or why not? How about Facebook? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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madonna vogue image

“Strike a pose.”

Remember that edict that Madonna pronounced to us so many lifetimes ago?

In the song “Vogue,” she challenged us to go big or go home. “Strike a pose” was the battle cry for some heavy-duty showing off, if that’s what you want to call it. “Voguing” was the rage and narcissistic vanity was at its core.

Fast forward more than 20 years later and here we are, striking poses like it’s nobody’s business. This is particularly the case with the younger set – those in the tween and teen ranges are especially attuned to vain behaviour. The culture of narcissism has been facilitated in large part by those very handy little items that many of us tote around with us every time we leave the house: the smartphone. No longer just a vehicle for making and receiving calls, the ability to take pictures and share them almost instantaneously, has made even the most timid folks into showoffs.

“Look at me at the mall!”

“Here I am in the waiting room at the doctor’s office!”

“Check out my style at the grocery store!”

Duck lips abound, faux smiles dominate and a general sense of self-importance is de rigeur in this age of acceptable and often-encouraged vanity.

But to what end?

How much is our collective acceptance and encouragement of narcissistic posing affecting our kids? Are we complicit in raising a whole generation of those who feel that their image is one to be, at minimum - admired, at best – adored? Our reliance on documenting every second of our lives – mundane moments and all – has become the norm, not the exception, much to our detriment. Our children must surely have a skewed sense of what is truly important as they jockey to get that perfect shot of themselves as they walk down the street.

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As parents, we’re both shocked and complicit, as we too have become addicted to the allure of social media. Instagram feeds are no longer the sole domain of the younger set and increasingly the over-35 crowd is embracing the urge to document their interesting and not-so-interesting pursuits. The urge to instantaneously share what would have at one time been perceived as “humdrum” is overwhelming. Is it any wonder, then, that our children have no qualms about broadcasting their everyday pursuits to the world, whether said world is interested or not?

We laugh at the vanity and self-absorptions of tweens and teens, all the while ignoring the fact that we ourselves are Tweeting, Liking, Instagramming and generally sharing portions of our lives that others may find…well…boring. Is it really possible to think that even our closest friends and family want a regular stream of pictures recounting our meals, snacks, grocery store visits and waiting room demeanours in an ongoing feed of monotony?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and monkeys not only see, but they “do” as well. Aphorisms, perhaps, but realities in this era where smartphone addiction (otherwise known as “Nomophobia”) is a very real ill. While older folks may not have started society’s social media obsession, we may, surprisingly, be the ones who are unwittingly facilitating our kids’ dependence on it through our own actions and examples. To this end, we should take a long hard look at our social media behaviour and realize that it’s not only our children who should put down the smartphone and stop to smell the roses.

What do you think? Has the “Selfie Generation” gone too far with the amount of images of themselves shared on social media? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

To read this article on HUFFINGTON POST, click here.

VIDEO: Madonna - Vogue

Images courtesy of Sire Records and Notable.ca
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VIDEO: Social Media and Kids - Top Tips For Parents

January 19, 2014

How to Keep Your Child Safe Online Social Media and Kids - Tips For Parents I recently wrote about the growing trend surrounding kids using social media. In Social Media and Kids - The Top 5 Things That Parents Need to Know, I provided some simple advice for parents who are looking for practical tips […]

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CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Parenting in the Digital Age

June 4, 2013

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Monday Musings - Has Technology Affected Our Kids For Better or For Worse?

April 29, 2013

We can’t live without it. Technology is here to stay. We love our iPads, iPhones, Android and other tablet devices. Texting is part of our everyday lives. We crave the Internet and feel disconnected whenever we’re away from the comfort of our virtual world. It’s clear that technology is here to stay and digital technology […]

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Monday Musings - How Can We Prevent Cyber-Bullying in the Social Media Age?

April 23, 2013

It’s become all too common of an occurrence. A child is bullied by her peers and it goes viral. Cyber-bullying occurs and a child’s life is ruined. In the worst instances of this scenario, the child does the unthinkable and takes her own life. This can’t go on. There have been too many cases of […]

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“Irregardless” and Other Non-Words

October 18, 2012

The importance of grammar and spelling is increasingly underrated Did you cringe when you read the title of this post? Me too. I cringed writing it. “Irregardless” is not a word, yet, you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know this. People who are parents. People who have kids. People who are passing on their […]

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