A Curious Encounter

Last week our local paper featured an article about a man in our area named Ben. Ben has converted a bicycle to an electric bike by mounting batteries and a motor on to the front wheel. For his next project, he converted a motorcycle to all electric. Finally, he converted a small car to all electric. His mileage for each vehicle is 60-70 miles per charge, which makes each of the vehicles practical for short trips in our area. If you convert the energy used to travel 60 miles using electricity, it comes to about 300 mph of gasoline. Recently, Ben lobbied our city council and convinced them to put in a charging station for electric vehicles behind city hall.

I called Ben and spent about an hour meeting with him at a local coffee shop. I found him to be a fascinating person. We spoke about maker spaces and how important they are in learning. I also found myself reflecting on my shortcomings in regard to learning. I consider myself to be a creative person, but when I compare myself to Ben, I see a fear of mistakes holding me back. The fear of injury when working with electricity. My lack of knowledge with electricity. He pointed out that these problems can be overcome by building knowledge in small steps.

I have resolved that I will begin this summer by building an electric bike using a kit. The best way to get something done is to DO it. Through trial and error I will succeed. We also spoke about how schools are great at teaching kids how to take tests. Where schools fall down is that we don’t teach kids to love learning, to create, to try new things, and that failure is okay. I was brought up in a traditional classroom and learned in traditional ways. What has made me the curious person I am today? I will have to do more thinking on this…stay tuned.

Taking Creativity Risks in the Classroom {and at home}


Wow! I took a risk and upgraded my basement hydroponics yesterday with an LED plant light. It was $280 for a light that covers a 2×4 foot area. Today I will add a Mylar reflecting foil to the sides so it maximizes the light hitting the plants. It was quite a shock because the light is mostly blue and red-very difficult on the eyes. In fact, after working around the light for 5 minutes everything seemed to have a green.

My basement is now illuminated with an eerie purplish glow. It kind of reminds me of the story “A Wrinkle in Time” when It was trying to hypnotize Meg and Charles Wallace with a throbbing light. I wonder what my neighbors are thinking.

Some of the things I do are really “out of the box” and it is difficult for some of my neighbors because we live in a condo. Residents in a condo are not exactly amenable to strange ideas, like when I grew hydroponic broccoli on my back porch last summer. Change and new ideas are hard to adjust to for some people. But to me that is the excitement of living. To try new things, to experiment, to continuously learn. Isn’t that what we want in our classrooms? Doesn’t curiosity drive learning?

We also need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We have to view failure not as the end, but a brief pause in learning. Somehow our children get the idea that failure is bad, maybe it’s that we put too much emphasis on grades.

We need to grow curiosity, take risks, encourage children to try new things, to experiment. I believe if you, as a classroom teacher, cultivate these traits, your children will begin to emulate you.

I will keep you updated on my hydroponic garden and I will turn off the LED light before I work on my plants!

Friday Follies: It’s All Fun and Games Until….

Saturday morning. Spending some time challenging a couple hundred kids with fabricating foam rockets. They are loving getting out of the classroom and into the cafeteria for a hands on experience building foam rockets and then launching them. They persistently brainstorm ways to get the rockets to go farther and higher. Through trial and error, mistakes and occasional failures, they achieve success! Rockets are flying everywhere. Bouncing off walls and garbage cans, other kids and the occasional unwary instructor who happens by. The curiosity, creativity and risk the kids take with the engineering design process are inspiring. If through this activity we can connect to real life applications and get them into Maker Spaces and Maker Labs, it will all be worth it. Worth the drive to the city early this morning to set up. Worth the exposure to all the kid germs and sticky hands grabbing hot glue guns from my helpful hands. Worth the parents hogging the supplies because they are as excited as the kids to engage in novel learning. And definitely worth the experience of having these wild ones use me as a target to aim the rockets at. “What if we hit Miss Sue? Do we get a prize?” No. No, you don’t. Rockets

Yes, it’s me, Sue Brainiac. The Head Brainiac Jerry’s long suffering wife. Brainiac Jerry loves offering events for poor underprivileged inner city kids that have never had the opportunity to torture Mrs. Brainiac with their attempts at foam rocket building. Yes, I understand that offering STEM activities encourages collaboration among students and sparks excitement about learning that may lead to a little girl becoming an engineer or a boy realizing he COULD go to college and do fun stuff for a living. It’s novel learning at its best. Developing synapses in the brain through presenting challenges to solve. Showing kids that tenacity and grit and hard work can actually be fun and rewarding. Blah blah blah. Okay. Kids learn to love science and math and make it applicable to everyday life. How nice for them.

But on a lovely Saturday morning , Mrs. Brainiac could be enjoying coffee on the deck and instead she is supervising kids from ages five to, well, whatever age the oldest parent is. Using scissors and hot glue and rubber bands. All her favorite things for kids to play with. And now the finished rockets are bouncing off her in spite of the oath to “not aim at anything living” that we made them take prior to launch.

How about we go back to the traditional education experience? Worksheets. Lectures. Videos of other people making things. Kids love watching other people have fun in videos. Tests! What about tests? Those take up lots of time and keep kids busy. And why aren’t these kids playing video games? That would keep them out of Mrs. Brainiac’s hair.

The worst part is all the questions they have. What if we use an extra rubber band? What if we angle it? How about if we make the fins longer? Shorter? More fins? Less fins? I have no idea! I’m not a scientist! But I am smart enough to let them figure it out themselves by trying it. And then when they figure it out and tell me, I smile knowingly as though I knew the answer all along and say, “There, now aren’t you glad you figured that out by yourself without me telling you the answer?”

Augh, the kids found me hiding behind the waste baskets writing this blog on my Ipad. “We want to make rockets, we want to make rockets.” Well, when do I get to make one of these rockets? I’m sure I can find a way to hit that top window they are all aiming for.

Breaking Out: When Schools Stifle Creative Teachers

Compliance: the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion (Webster). I met with a fellow award-winning educator on Monday who was a wonderful teacher with a creative mind in the classroom. She developed lessons on financial literacy for children in grades k-8. She received awards for her work and was well-known throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.

This teacher was also a presenter for other teachers who wished to adopt her lessons for use in their classrooms. She had three personal days to use during the school year and would go out and do workshops on those days. For each workshop she was given a $200 stipend for an all day workshop and the conference paid the school district to cover the cost of her sub. The following school year her administrator told her that she would only be able to do the workshops on her personal days if she would turn over the $200 to the school district.

It seems sometimes that school districts are their own worst enemies. That they want to lock their teachers in a room and force them to comply with only what the district wants. This attitude on the part of some districts only serves to force good teachers from the classroom and into other professions where they can exercise their creativity.


Instead of touting and encouraging their success and creativity they instead stifle it and restrict their staff. 

How can we expect students to bloom, create, and be productive in an atmosphere where staff are only expected to comply with silly regulations?

Ken Robinson speaks about this stifling of creativity in his TED talk entitled “Education’s Death Valley”. If you have 20 minutes listen to it.

My friend has since left teaching and is forging out on her own. She now controls what she does and is paid for what she wants to do. The school district has lost a great educator. I wish her the best.

7 Common Bone Folder Substitutes


One of the most indispensable tools in my own office {my own personal Maker Space} is the lowly bone folder. As I was working on our latest product, a 3D light up Washington Monument, I used the bone folder to score the card stock and make clean folds in the paper.  Sounds lame. But I can’t tell you how often you need a clean, sharp crease when creating something. I realized that not everyone has a bone folder just lying around their office. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to search online for some substitutes. There weren’t many posts to be found on the topic. I decided to get creative and gather a handful of household items and test them in their scoring and creasing abilities.


You will need a straight edge to use any of these. I’m using the ruler that I bought years ago. I think that the ruler and bone folder may have even come together in a package and I really wanted the ruler (it is transparent! Do you know how useful that is?!) and it came with the bone folder. I had no idea what to do with it, so I tossed it in the drawer and forgot about it. Somewhere along the way I must have figured out what it was and how to use it. That part is not memorable. What I do know is that I no longer would last long without it! For me, it’s worth the $5-6 investment. But if you find yourself working on a project that needs a good fold, give some of these common household items a try as a substitute!


My favorite substitute and the one that worked the best was the plastic citrus peeler. My peeler has a hooked end and a flat end. I used the flat end to score and crease. I think this is a Tupperware brand that you can find on Amazon.


I tried three knives – a standard butter knife, a plastic butter knife, and a spreader. All three worked very well! I flipped the butter knives upside down so that I could use the smooth end. To score: place the straight edge or ruler so that you line up the edge with the place on the paper where you would like the score to go. Using you tool {or substitute!} press on the tool and run it down the edge of your ruler as a guide. There should be a small indentation when you lift the tool. Then you fold over the paper or card stock and use the edge of the tool to flatten the crease sharply.


The spatula takes third place in usefulness. I wasn’t as impressed with the use, mainly because the bend in the spatula makes it more awkward to hold tightly up against the ruler.

My least favorite were the pen and craft stick. Both had more rounded ends and were thicker which did not score as well. However, both were useful in creasing the folds. And it still beats trying to fold without scoring!

Pen CraftStick

Next time you need to have crisp fold give one of these common household items a try!


What the Science Classroom is Missing

Last Saturday, I had a wonderful time constructing and launching foam rockets with a group of kindergarten through eighth grader students at an event in Milwaukee. It was a take-off on our product called Rocket Math. The students constructed foam rockets and launched them at a pre-determined angle to try to determine what the optimum angle was for achieving the greatest distance. The event was truly a STEM activity. The project was hands on and allowed students to use various tools from scissors to rulers to hot glue.


I had one seventh grade girl build seven rockets and test each one. She built rockets with lengths of three feet down to four inches and tested them for greatest distance. I asked her if science was her favorite subject and she replied no, it was art. I asked why science wasn’t and she replied that her teacher just make them read and answer questions in class. This troubled me. I realize that reading about science is important in acquiring ideas and information regarding events, people and experiments that have occurred in the past, but more importantly, science is about doing.

Too often as teachers, we are crunched by the time necessary to cover the curriculum and the demands of a system that assumes that by pouring knowledge into students and having them regurgitate that knowledge on a test is somehow teaching them science.

Science is about trial and error, failure, revising hypotheses, thinking out of the box and using engineering design principles. Too many texts provide information and experiments that amount to nothing more than a recipe with a predetermined outcome. These oversimplified and childish activities don’t give students a sense of real science and how it is conducted. As a teacher, I would urge you to break away from those kinds of activities and give your students some authentic challenges. Sure, it takes more time and planning, but the reward is a greater sense of enjoyment for you and your students and an appreciation of real science.

Friday Follies: We’re taking on 3D Projects!


Collaborating to make foam rockets!

I love collaborating with my dad on our projects because he encourages my own risk taking and creativity. Case in point, we’ve been crazy for our LED projects. First we created two different Christmas holiday cards (1, 2). Then we thought, “What if we make a Valentine’s card?” So we upped our LED game and created a pop-up and light-up valentine. I love the challenge of creating a pattern and wiring it to form something completely unique.

Because the pop-up valentine card wasn’t quite enough, I decided to push the boundaries.


So I decided to attempt 3D paper projects that light up with LEDs!

We’re in the prototype phase of our first 3D project and I can’t wait to show it to you. It will be debuted at the Wisconsin Parents Association Conference in May. We will be attending this show and giving away 250 of these light up 3D marvels. I cannot wait! {If you check back, I’m pretty sure we’ll be posting the finished project once it’s ready!}

Our family is full of collaborators. It’s one of the things that really makes our family unique. And fun. And crazy. Really crazy. We tend to be all in. Maybe a bit obsessive.

But when we get together, ideas are exchanged and we are off! Late last year we hosted a fundraiser for a little boy who was an orphan in China, he was *finally* paired with a family {one of my three sisters hosted him for one month in 2014}. His family was selected and he was on the fast track home. We wanted to help out, so we decided to throw together a fundraiser. In three weeks. We skyped. We texted. We emailed. We phone conferenced. We. Went. To. Work.


Perfect excuse for some chalkboard advertising!

Actually, we obsessed.

But three weeks after the initial meeting – we threw a huge party and raised almost $2,000 for Daniel to come home to his new family.

What I loved about our project is that we had the initial idea and quick work gave us a donated location from Jessica. We had exceptional organization from Sue and Amanda. We didn’t miss a single detail because Kendra watched to make sure we didn’t drop the ball. I offered up my design skills for advertising. We all chipped in to create additional products for sale {the men included! Shout out to the men in our lives who put up with us and even encourage our wild ideas.}.


Photo booth at the Pajama Party with Santa! The answer is YES. {I already know your question.} I told you already. WE GO ALL OUT. So that meant wearing *matching* elf pajamas. In public. For the children, of course.

Little Daniel made it home about two weeks ago to a home with big sisters, a mom and dad, and dogs! He loves dogs! We plan to visit the whole family later this summer {on a full family trip}.


Daniel and me just doing a little selfie!

Although we build our products with the classic classroom or homeschool lesson in mind, we really develop products because we love to explore and learn more. We do hands on learning in all facets of life. We believe your family would enjoy doing the same.