These are the Good Old Days

Exciting times. Kids today get to hang out in Maker Spaces and Maker Labs, smartphone in one hand and an Ipad in the other. Educators recognize that students need creative and curiosity-enhancing activities to develop problem solving skills and grit. Failure is acceptable. “We learn from failure.” “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing anything.” If you make a typo, you hit the backspace or let autocorrect take care of it. Life is good!

If you are yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning. Griff Niblack.

If you are yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning. Griff Niblack.

It’s Mrs. Brainiac and today’s subject is about how kids today have it made.

A few decades ago, schools had something called “home economics.” Girls took that class. It was all about cooking and sewing. Boys had “shop.” They used tools to make little wooden toys with wheels that you could pull with a string. And birdhouses. Sure, that’s all good. But what if the girls wanted to use a drill or saw? Or the boys wanted to whip up a fabulous cheese tortellini with sage and browned butter sauce? Wasn’t going to happen on that teacher’s watch! So many limits imposed on kids. Today, if a second grader wants to use an electric saw and cut up some wood and build a mini roller coaster to launch on the school grounds, just ask Brainiac Jerry. A girl wants to build a trebuchet and launch pumpkins and bowling balls on the playground, no problem.

Educators today identify that the creative process is a good thing to encourage. Kids that engage in engineering design process creating a Maker Space project can grow up to be engineers. Or chefs or app writers or whatever they want. The sky is the limit when it comes to the opportunities available to students in today’s world.

I’m not saying today’s world is perfect, it’s far from it. But we seem to have a raised social consciousness that makes me feel a bit hopeful. In spite of all the scary stuff we see on the news and hear on social media or even experience ourselves, there are still a lot of positive improvements that have come about over the last few decades.

Old boring food pyramid

Old boring food pyramid

USDA MyPlate is colorful and fun!

USDA MyPlate is colorful and fun!

 

Some examples from my lifetime…when I was a little girl, female teachers had to wear dresses and stockings to school. Girl students had to wear dresses. What’s the big deal, right? Ask me that in January while you are walking to school in 10 degree weather.

School girl circa 1965

School girl circa 1965

If kids were cognitively challenged, they could end up in a special class or a special school or in an institution of some kind. Now, we try to find ways to help them learn and develop skills to become a productive and happy member of society.

Until the 1970’s, there wasn’t much of a foster care system or a social services agency. Emergency Medical Services barely existed. Most areas might have an ambulance but there were no training requirements and barely any real first aid performed. It was just a vehicle to drive you to the hospital, sometimes equipped with just a driver and no other personnel.

Okay, I know you are arguing in your head with me that the good old days when Mrs. Brainiac was young were better, safer and more innocent then today. If that is the case, then how do you explain “The Art Project Every Child Made for Their Parents.”

Gather round while Mrs. Brainiac tells the tale of a classroom full of fresh faced little cherubs excitedly molding doughy blobs of clay into a gift for their parents. Each day, they would carefully wrap it in wet paper towels to keep it moist, working on it day after day until the exciting day that we fired up the kiln. The kiln would heat up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (KilnTempChart) while emitting fumes including carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, hydrogen fluoride and toxic metal vapors. So, stay with me, kids….we have a kiln going at 2,000 degrees in an art room with dangerous fumes permeating the entire school ventilation system, all to bake a lovely gift for mom and dad. Yes, kids risked their lives to make an ASHTRAY for their parents. A lovely little poop-colored clay carcinogenic ash receptacle that now has cooled off enough to coat with a lead-based glaze.

Fortunately for the teachers, they could retreat to the “smoking lounge” to take a break from the heat the kiln generated.

Not an ashtray. Made in Wisconsin 2016.

Not an ashtray. Made in Wisconsin 2016.

“And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days. These are the good old days.” Anticipation, sung by Carly Simon.

Being Too Busy is Really Being Greedy

Spring Fun

Spring Fun

Mrs.  Brainiac back with the answer to last week’s math problem. Last week, we discussed how Jolene Brainiac has been nagging Mrs. Brainiac to post her Friday blog updates. “Come on, Mom. It’s not that hard to share some creative thoughts about Maker Space and science projects, maybe something about turning failure into success or how to engage kids’ natural curiosity about science by providing meaningful activities that spark enthusiasm about learning.”

Blah, blah, blah, Brainiac Jolene.

Summer Fun

Summer Fun

The common denominator is “H” which stands for Husband Brainiac Jerry. So, even though I freed up a great deal of time by eliminating a bunch of other activities, I still have the Head Brainiac around. So, we have been traveling, working on Brain Brigade projects, bike riding and pretty much just having a good old time.

I hope this explains why I was too busy to post my blog. I was having Too Much Fun.

The blog wasn’t the only area of my responsibilities that was neglected due to having Too Much Fun. I forgot to empty the kitchen compost container and it sort of took on a life of its own.

Compost Fun

Compost Fun

So how do we get away from all this talk of being too busy and overwhelmed by all our activities and responsibilities? How do we slow down and smell the roses?

Part of the problem is we need to “learn to say no.” We all know that already but yet we continue to say “yes.” Let’s delve into that. Why is it so hard to say “no” when someone asks for help with a project, or to volunteer for an activity or even just to meet up with the girls and have coffee? We say “yes” and then spend the next week complaining or stressing that we should have said no. We even say, “I need to learn to say “no.””

Revelation coming: We don’t say “no” because we really do want to do whatever it was! True! We want to do those things, whether volunteering for a worthy cause or visiting with friends. What we don’t want to do is spend our valuable time doing these things. Confused?

Let me say that again. We actually do want to volunteer at the local charity fundraiser. But we want to sit around and watch TV or read a book more than we want to work at the fundraiser. And, you can’t have it all.

The reason you can’t say “no” is because it’s stuff that matters. So, we need to “learn to say no to the things we want to do.” Not all of them, but enough that we can de-stress and relax a bit.

It’s sort of like wanting too many things (being greedy). I think we can probably agree that it’s okay to want things, a nice car, decent home, a meal out once in a while. But can we all agree that we shouldn’t get everything we want? If we get everything we want, we would have nothing to look forward to. We already have it all. It’s GREEDY.

It’s the same thing with wanting to do all the activities that are available to you (again, being greedy). So go ahead and do some volunteering, read some books, hang out with friends or family. But realize that sometimes you have to say “no” to the things you want to do in the interest of getting to ENJOY the other things you are doing. Don’t be GREEDY.

And right now, I’m enjoying writing this blog. And I said “no” to something else I wanted to do (which was making myself a snack). And next time I tell you I’m too busy, feel free to tell me to quit being greedy.

Florida Fun

Florida Fun

 

Child Labor Laws-Repeal Them NOW!

Finn Folds

Finn Folds

My sincere apology. Mrs. Brainiac, the long-suffering better half of Brainiac Jerry, is here today to offer a huge apology. I promised Jolene Brainiac I would faithfully write a blog every Friday about creative tinkering, maker spaces, science, engineering, STEM or other engaging hands-on learning activities. Whoops. The last two weeks I neglected this important duty and Jolene Brainiac is on my case to get it done, so here goes.

See Finn Fold

See Finn Fold

I don’t want to make excuses for why I didn’t post my blogs, I just want to EXPLAIN. I’m not sure what the difference between the two is, seems like explaining why I didn’t do it is the same as making excuses but in the interest in getting this blog on the road, let’s continue on.

Finn Folds

Finn Folds

I’m busy. Really busy. I know everyone says that, but I really am busy. Yes, my four kids are grown up and on their own so that should save me some time. And I sold my house and bought a condo so my yard work is done for me. And I don’t volunteer for the fire department since I moved to my condo. I work more regular hours than I used to, not so much overtime.

Finn Does ALL of Grandma Brainiac's work. Finn wonders why Grandma is so busy.

Finn Does ALL of Grandma Brainiac’s work. Finn wonders why Grandma is so busy. She should use a stopwatch to keep on schedule like Finn does.

So, why am I so busy? Don’t know. Seems like the fewer activities and events I’m involved in, the more busy and frazzled I am. I’m guessing there is a math lesson here somewhere, like “if volunteering (V) plus working (W) plus kids (K) plus overtime (OT) plus cleaning (C)  plus husband (H) equals busy (B), then having less V, W, K, OT and C but the same amount of H should equal less then B.” And yet it equals 2B.

So, what is the common denominator here? And why am using a math metaphor in a science blog?

Let’s look at those equations again.

Equation one: V+W+K+OT+C+H=B

Equation two: H=2B

Comment on this blog post if you think you can explain how these two equations correlate to Why I’m Too Busy to Post My Blog Every Friday Like I Promised.

The explanation will be published in my blog next week. If I’m not too, well, you know.

When Buses Fly

I arrive home to a school bus parked in my driveway. The tow truck that brought it is just pulling out. Mrs. Brainiac is here again to share a little more about Jerry Brainiac’s deep rooted craziness. I know the presence of this bus means we are getting involved in another STEM type project. Something creative, scientific, engaging and, yeah, crazy. Another activity designed to instill curiosity about science and technology coming right up. Oh boy. So fun! My mind races with thoughts about what hands on tinkering we will engage in now. In my yard. And driveway. Guaranteed we will learn about technology and science and engineering with this project.

Here we go! A fire truck is pulling in and the guys are bringing out the Jaws of Life to tear out the bus seats. Not as easy as it looks. And Jerry Brainiac is bringing out gallons of white paint and a pile of brushes. And the kids. Of course there will be kids, kids with paint brushes on my driveway. Ahhhh, it’s starting to take shape. It’s a Space Shuttle!

After weeks of this space craft sitting in my parking spot, it now has a big control panel installed, lights, a microwave (astronauts gotta eat), an Apple IIe computer and a bunch of other stuff.

I anxiously await the big day. Not launch day. The day the big shiny tow truck comes back and gets the space shuttle and tows it to the school where the astronauts are waiting in their little space suits that look suspiciously like the paper suits that surgeons wear.

And today is the day. After it arrives at the “launch pad” at “Cape Canavereosho” (if Canaveral and Neosho School were a couple) the astronauts run a giant extension cord out the window of the fourth grade classroom and plug in the shuttle. All systems are go. Ready for lift off. Start the countdown and hope that extension cord is long enough to make it to outer space.

 

The ‘nauts have a great time. They do some experiments with plants, make space meals, eat dehydrated astronaut ice cream which actual astronauts don’t really eat. They play video games on the Apple IIe and generally live the life of an astronaut for the day. Don’t forget to workout, living in low gravity can cause muscle atrophy.

The space shuttle was a huge hit. Everyone in town had watched it evolve from a school bus without an engine to a launch-ready space shuttle. The fourth graders loved planning it all out and took pride in finishing such a huge project. Hands on science and technology is more fun than just reading about it. And when you have fun, you retain more knowledge about the subject and have a greater understanding of the concepts used.

Mrs. Brainiac has many fond memories of the space shuttle school bus and all the weeks it sat in her driveway. Her favorite memory is the day the tow truck came to take it away and blocked the driveway. At the exact time she had to leave for work. What fun it was driving her car across the yard and ditch to get out that day and onto the road! More exciting (and probably more dangerous) then getting to ride in a real space shuttle. Good times!

Why You Should Lie to Kids, Part 2

Mrs. Brainiac here, back with Part 2 of Why You Should Lie to Your Kids. Creativity, resilience, curiosity….all great traits that are encouraged by lying to your kids. And those traits result in kids becoming innovative and thoughtful adults that have the grit to get ahead by making mistakes, fixing them and moving on to become engineers, medical professionals and those guys that invent great snacks like Hostess  Cupcakes©.

I’m here today to share an amazingly simple method to increase your child’s curiosity, cognitive thinking, and problem solving skills by Telling Them Lies.

Let’s start back out ten years ago in an inner city fifth grade classroom. Jessica Brainiac, our teacher-daughter, was starting a unit on the Ice Age and glacial formations. As a culminating activity, she explained that the class would be taking a trip in a time-travel airplane back to the Ice Age after they completed their studies. What a great way to motivate kids to learn!

Most of these kids hadn’t done more than travel “up north” so you can imagine their excitement at traveling back in time!

In anticipation, they enthusiastically gathered information about the Ice Age and glacial formations, learned about fun stuff like how time-travelling planes stay in the air (Bernoulli’s Principle. What did you think, magic?), and what to pack.

And that's how the plane stays in the air! Easy-peasy.

And that’s how planes stay in the air! Easy-peasy.

Everyone was allowed one checked bag and one carryon. Miss Brainiac sent home permissions slips (which amazingly many parents actually signed), made them passports, and finally the big day arrived.

Miss Brainiac had set up rows of chairs like an airplane, numbered seats and all, in the all-purpose room. Miss Brainiac was dressed in her flight attendant/pilot uniform and welcomed the kids with a big smile. The students had packed blankets and snacks and wore nice warm jackets in spite of the warm fall weather. As she walked them outside on the “tarmac” to the “plane,” one little gal panicked and yelled, “Wait, I’ll be right back.” She came racing back from the classroom a minute later with a tissue in her hand. “Remember, Miss Brainiac? They didn’t have bathrooms and toilet paper during the Ice Age!”

The kids were pretty excited. They couldn’t believe their teacher had a flight attendent certificate in addition to a pilot’s license and a teaching license! And imagine the surprised and delighted expressions on their innocent little faces when they realized they WEREN’T REALLY GOING ON A PLANE! OR A TIME MACHINE! OR TO THE ICE AGE! Haha, what fun! Their sweet little cries of, “Hey, this isn’t a plane,” and “Hey, you aren’t a pilot.” And “No fair, we were supposed to go to the Ice Age,” filled the room. “You tricked us!” Haha! Joke’s on you, kids!

After everyone settled down and took their assigned seats (aisle, window, center) they buckled up and listened to the safety announcement. Miss Brainiac took the pilot’s seat and off they went. After a successful and smooth take-off, they were on their way to the Ice Age. Flight Attendant Jessica served up some teeny tiny bags of pretzels and complimentary beverages after putting the plane controls on autopilot. “Ice Age, the Movie” was shown as the inflight movie.ice age movie

The kids had a great time and at the end of it all, none of them realized that they had painlessly participated in a great learning activity on the Ice Age and glacial formations. And I’m pretty sure that those students remember more about the subject then whatever they did in other classes that year.

So, start lying to your kids. It’s fun for everyone and they might accidently learn something along the way.

Friday Follies: Lego Love

Legos®. Those colorful, creative little bricks that kids love to tinker with. It takes grit and persistence to build a project out of these little guys. It’s all the stuff kids enjoy. Problem solving, trial and error, risk taking. They use their own special engineering design process, they make mistakes, have failures that set them back and then, success! Tada! You made a robot. Or a tractor. Or something that looks awesome even though I have no idea what it is. The important thing is that you know what it is. And what it does.

It’s Mrs. Brainiac back for some Friday Fun! Today, she will share some Lego® love. Note that Jerry Brainiac loves Legos®, Mrs. Brainiac’s relationship with Legos® is ambivalent.

The most fun thing about creating with Legos® is actually a secret. A secret that only adults know. The odds of a budding Lego engineer reading this blog are slim to none so I feel confident I can reveal that secret here. Ready? Kids don’t know that when they are having fun with Legos® it’s actually a learning experience. Yes, just like school. And kids like learning. And math. And science. Yes, kids like math and science if it masquerades as fun.

Kids don’t know that it takes grit and persistence to build a project out of Legos®. They don’t know they are using problem solving, trial and error, risk taking. They don’t know they are using an engineering design process.  They don’t even realize that they’re making mistakes, learning from them and that’s why they successfully complete a project. They think they are just “playing with Legos®.”

Bonus “fun” is making a robot out of Legos® and then programming it to function. Make it go frontward and backward or speed up or turn. When a kid has “fun” programming Legos®, it’s possible that when that kid grows up, he or she might get a “fun” job programming computers. And that’s the secret some adults don’t know. You can have fun at work if you do something you enjoy that challenges you and offers variety and keeps your brain exercising.

But Legos® aren’t always fun. Jerry Brainiac has thousands of Legos. These Legos are all over Mrs. Brainiac’s house. Mrs. Brainiac doesn’t wear shoes in the house. You see where this is going.

Sometimes Mrs. Brainiac helps Jerry Brainiac at school events. Hundreds of kids attend and they learn to make and program Lego® robots. Thousands of Legos® and hundreds of kids. Kids with colds during the winter. Billions of germs on the thousands of Legos®. Mrs. Brainiac didn’t have Legos® when she was a little girl and doesn’t understand the attraction. All she thinks about are the germs. But she helps the kids anyway. Sometimes the kids have to show Mrs. Brainiac how to put them together right. And that’s good because you retain more information when you teach it to others. So teaching Mrs. Brainiac how to build Legos® helps you retain information. You’re welcome, kids.

Now let’s program the Lego® robots. The program uses pictures instead of words so kids that don’t read well can still do great programming. Once a little boy fresh from China was visiting and he picked up programming right away even though he didn’t know any English at all. So if a child is struggling with reading or language barriers, gaining some success and confidence from programming Legos® can be a good thing.

Computer Programmer!

Computer Programmer!

If Mrs. Brainiac can find educational value in Legos® then EVERYONE should be able to. So, get the kids going and have some fun with Legos®.  Your brain will thank you. And when your child grows up to be an engineer, you may thank Mrs. Brainiac for sacrificing the soles of her feet to the Lego® brick gods.