Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lego Scrimmage - Get it?

The process defies easy explanation.

Yes, yes, the kids use Legos and robots and computers. The parents pull their hair out wondering how they will ever get it done.

And then comes scrimmage day, and over 200 people - kids, coaches & mentors - come together to first don their t-shirts, to try out those robots, and give it all a first try.

The managed chaos provides a scene for intense learning. Expect screams. Expect a few tears. And, when the parents are providing the safe environment, but not too much instruction.

You'll also find kids who say . . .

"I can do this."

"How are we ever going to do this?"

And, "I think we can help."

Because those are the biggest challenges our kids will face out there. They will need to do it themselves, challenge themselves, and learn to collaborate. They don't learn that stuff from Legos. They learn it from the mentors, parents, and their peers. They learn it from YOU.

Of course what self-respecting geek doesn't LOVE seeing a robot put a ball in a bucket??

Yeah. Really, really cool. No, you've probably seen a ball fall in a bucket before, but you get why it was cool.

They get it too.

Thank you to all of you really cool coaches, parents and mentors out there who just 'get it.'

High 5's to all of you.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Lego Reality

I have been wandering around blogging in my head again, but have way too many ideas. Sometimes it is best to start with what is most obvious. In this case, it is the robot table in my living room. On my way home from preschool drop-off, one of the parents said that my Lego team email was hilarious. So, here is my reality. This was my note to the parents of my Lego team this week. Hilarious is an overstatement, but probably slightly more entertaining than the Kindergarten newsletter that she had read a few minutes prior.

A little official Lego news attached to the bottom. Homework also on bottom.

Thanks for coming tonight!

We were bummed that Charlie was sick, but I think we had a very productive meeting. We worked on the robot tonight, and here is what we learned (okay, what I hope they learned!).

1. Making the robot do what you want is not as easy as it looks (but they are so smart they will be able to figure it out, if they work hard and THINK and work TOGETHER)

2. C = 2 pi R. R is the distance from the center of the left wheel to the center of the right wheel, because the center of the right wheel doesn't move while the left wheel drives around it.

3. 1/4 C is how far that left wheel has to go to turn the robot to the right in a 90-degree turn. Get it?

4. If one rotation of the motor = 6.75 inches of forward movement, then you have to decide what percentage of that 6.75 inches you want to move the left wheel to make that 1/4 C movement. In this case, 1/4 C was 6.125 inches. The "factor" was written down by the Whitham kids, but was just a little less than 1.0.

5. If you do the math, it actually happens in real life too (there were some high-fives and actual excitement about that). This makes my heart sing.

6. ISH is not a unit of measure, but it is fun to say.

7. It is easy to forget which way you are going if you label your MY BLOCKS things like "opposite" and "unopposite". OOOPS

8. The wheel doesn't slip if it starts out by moving slowly and then picks up speed. (They learned that at the Rockwell event, but this was a good application).

9. Your coach thinks its really cool that the team spent 2 hours understanding and executing a right turn. She must be nuts! (We will continue to work on gracious professionalism. I know it is hard to contain oneself when calculating circumference and making subroutines, but we need to maintain some sense of order).


Williams kids were asked to get the right-turn calculations into the notebook. Their dad has all the details and I think it just needs to be recopied. Please help them understand it on a general level. Ask them about it.

1. IF you haven't finished the food research, please do so. Basically, the kids need to be able to explain the process from nature to table for their food. It doesn't have to be perfectly correct, but if they are way off base, please help them look stuff up. Encourage them to think of reasons why their food would be interesting for the group.

2. If your child IS particularly interested in doing the food they are studying, then encourage them to look up local information. Where would we find more information? Is there someone in the area who would want to know about an innovative solution?

3. If your child thinks this is a horrible assignment, then have them think about contamination and talk out possible questions for other people's foods. (In the car on the way to your next activity - if you have to). Ask them to present to YOU their food. (Between bites at dinnertime works for this). PRESENTING is an important skill. It is okay if Johnny doesn't really care about eggs. But, we have to choose something. I also don't want there to be a huge struggle only to discard their particular food. This is an exercise in understanding the process and how to think about it and practice presenting it. NOT about why Maggie's ice cream is better than Andrew's fish. Don't tempt me to make salmon ice cream.

Bwa ha ha ha.

Thanks again!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Succeeding to be Successful: Scientifically avoiding a gooey mess

Andrew struggled into the minivan in front of his school – a fully loaded backpack, violin in one hand, and a lunch bag of scientific achievement in the other.

“I succeeded to be successful,” he said in a confident voice. I could tell he had decided exactly what he would tell me. He couldn’t wait to tell someone.

“Really?” I replied. The words were nonchalant when they left my brain, but somewhere along the way a little emotion and leapt onto them.

“Yep. BOTH of my eggs survived.”

“Wow! Did the parachutes deploy?”

“Yep. Well, I had to untangle them for Mr. Edwards, but once I had them set up, they worked great. Even some of the other kids had the SAME ideas as I did, but theirs didn’t work.”

“Really? What was the difference?” (I half expected an ‘I-dunno-must-have-been-luck’ response, but it was the right question to ask).

“Well, one kid did Jello also, but they put it in a Cool Whip container. It was a Jello Bomb! The thing splattered 20 feet in all directions, I even got Jello on me.”

“Oh, wow.”

“A couple of kids made parachutes out of grocery bags, but the strings were too short. They didn’t deploy.”

“A couple kids just put their eggs in cardboard boxes and stuff. Some of the eggs fell out on the way down. I was so glad I brought my own tape because Mr. Edward’s tape was not good enough for the lids. He just had freezer tape there.”

It became vastly clear that most of the eggs found a gooey demise on the pavement below the back of the high school football stands that day. Only a few made it, and Andrew could describe their designs with precision. Then he said something very interesting.

“Even some of the kids who get perfects on everything - theirs didn’t make it. Even Joey Chan’s eggs broke. So did Rahul’s.” (Rahul is his ‘best friend’ in school, or so I’ve heard.)

He called his dad right away and gave a similar story with great detail. As for me, I was proud of both of them. Andrew’s assignment was to protect an egg from an approximately 40-foot drop of the stadium stands. They could only use one other item in the container besides the egg.

On Saturday he started working on it. The truth is that he had wanted to work on it all week, but I wouldn’t let him do it until his other work was done – and it seemed that was about the time we had to go to some other activity.

Besides trying to clean-up, prepare for Lego League (which I coach), and figure out a menu for the next week, I really didn’t have it in me to work on a science project. I normally like those kinds of things, and I’m pretty good at NOT doing it for them. But, it takes a lot of energy to NOT do it for them. I was in the mood to just be done with it.

“Honey, do you want to take this one?” I pleaded to my husband in the next room.

He was more than game, almost surprised that he had the honor to help. I moved out of the way, merely overhearing the progress.

My husband walked into the kitchen, asked Andrew to make a list of possible choices of containers and cushioning, and then went back to watching the football game and folding laundry. Later, I heard Andrew defending his choices.

“Why would that work? How are you going to do it? What do you need? Can you test it?”

I was sent to the store for bubble wrap and Jello. I was asked for some scrap cotton. I heard my husband telling Andrew to go find a picture of a parachute on the internet and think about what is important about it. I watched as a tomato can came flying over the loft balcony with a cotton parachute attached. Again. And then again.

It was bedtime on Sunday when the can, parachute attached, was ready to fill with Jello. Can #2 already had the bubble wrap carefully nested and the lid attached with a gorilla tape hinge. I stood in the family room ready for instruction. Andrew had to go to bed. I didn’t think the Jello would protect the egg anyway, so making it didn’t seem like I was helping him much.

“So, do I use the regular recipe, or do you want it a Jello wiggler?” I asked with seriousness.

“What’s a Jello wiggler?” my dear husband interrupted.

I think I said something about viscosity, or maybe I just rolled my eyes to the back of my head. Anyway, Andrew knew exactly what I meant.

“Jello wiggler. Any color. Please.”

I admit that the survival of both eggs surprised me. He did it himself. Yes, he was required to defend his thesis, but we really didn’t think it would work. We just wanted him to think about it, to make it his own. His final comment to me was really the best.

“Mom, I think I spent a lot more time making mine work than the other kids.”

He said it with satisfaction.

I didn’t need to answer.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Triple F - Forced Family Fun

This bumper sticker on the back of an RV put us in hysterics in the front seat of our truck. We had obviously already been on the road too long.

Modern children seem not to realize how little control they actually have in their own worlds. Parents create the illusion. In some cases, the parents honestly give them the power. Having witnessed a few power struggles in my local Walmart, I am guessing parents do give their children too much power, at least now and then.

Okay, I do it too. Or, at least, I must. My kids occasionally mistake their own voices as being the source for decisions.

Sitting in an F-150 truck for a couple of thousand miles (5500 miles by the end) brings out these kinds of errors in thinking. I brought a lot of very fun activities for the kids to do with (and with some relief) without me.
Andrew’s smart mouth quickly won him hundreds of miserable miles.

It started before we left. I had asked Andrew to do something for me. Honestly, the original assignment may have come from his father. Either way, we asked him to finish it before we left. We told him that if he didn’t finish it, he would have PLENTY of time in the car to put effort into it.

He didn’t put in much effort before we left.

Once we departed, the smart mouth began. The hole he dug became deeper and deeper. Fortunately, I had also brought good quality activities for him to do that he didn’t like very much. Parenting can be ugly business.

We also had fun. Jay made bets with Andrew on how fast he could finish parts of his assignment (not ALL of his miles were miserable - just hundreds of them!). Gladys taught George how to read and write (or so it seemed from the front seat). We ticked off the states and found ALL of the license plates, including the large Canadian provinces.

This is the "Gateway to the West" on I-80 near Fort Kearney, Nebraska. I missed the Nebraska sign.

Our children travel remarkably well, especially once they realize they have no choice anyway. When traveling across northern Montana (later in the trip), we stopped for lunch around noon. Five hours later, Gladys mentioned that she was getting hungry.

“We just stopped,” Jay said with disbelief.

“We’ll find something soon,” I told Gladys, sure my husband was kidding.

He wasn’t. The kids had been so good and we had been having such a relaxing time enjoying the view and playing games, he seriously thought we had only just stopped.

Who has that much fun in the car?

Well after sunset, about 1200 miles into the trip, we found the best accommodations ever invented (in a “my glass is half-full” dollar-for-value kind of way).

Welcome to the 5-star Cenex Station in Western Nebraska.

They’ll leave the light on for you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Epic Journey 2011

I like this picture because it is just as blurry as how I remember that first evening. We left around 5pm or so. Was it 5pm? It was raining. It wasn’t just a little, soft rain. It was the kind of rain that soaks you before you get in the car in your own driveway.

The kids and I were unusually ready for this trip. They have become helpful in a real way. They have always “helped” as little kids like to “help.” That kind of “help” makes mothers lose their mind. They are beginning to actually get the point. I realized this the morning we were leaving.

“Wear what you want to wear in the car,” I told them in my usual way. Gladys likes to dress appropriately. She asked me what she should wear today. She replied just as matter-of-factly as I spoke.

“Will I be wearing this for the next two or three days?”

“Maybe,” I answered back.

“Okay, Mommy.”

They remember. They remember different details than we do. Will they remember that for 23 days their parents put away the cell phones? What will they remember?

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Hit and Run Playdate

George and I were alone this afternoon with no particular plan. "Mom, let's do something FUN!" He looked at me with excited eyes. I paused for a minute, not wanting to commit to anything outrageous. I thought maybe a trip to the library, or perhaps a museum, although I didn't really feel like driving downtown. We haven't taken many field trips this year. "Can I have a playdate!?" I was almost surprised that he knew the word "playdate." Perhaps he had heard the mothers discussing the concept in the halls of the preschool. George doesn't really have playdates. Andrew, when he was in 3's preschool, still belonged to two playgroups and had playdates in between. George plays with his siblings and his siblings friends. Overcome by guilt, I pulled the preschool list and took out my cell phone. "Who would you like to play with, Honey. I'll call their mommy. They might be busy, but we'll try, okay?" "Bobby, Mom, I want to play with Bobby." I called and left a message. "Bobby's not home. Anyone else?" "Aiden, Mom." I called and left another message. "How about Allison?" I asked hopefully, I liked talking to Allison's mom in the hallway. "I don't like girls. Try Tyler's Mom." I called and left another message, and then another. I think I called five mothers in total and left messages with all but one. No luck, but we could go on a field trip. George wanted to go downtown to the 'ball pit' at the Science Center. Fine. We put on shoes and coats and headed out the door. The phone rang. "Oh, Hi, yes, yes, I called just a few minutes ago. No big deal, just wondering if the boys could play together. George has been so excited to play with your son." We talked. She wanted us to come over to her place so she could put her littler one down for a nap. Yes, we could do that. Her little one screamed in the background. It was the normal, tired kind of fussing, but she probably only caught a third of what I actually said. She suggested that I leave George to play, so I could get a few things done. I suggested that it was 'too much,' and I'd like to get to know her, it is really fine. We proceeded politely, with background screaming, until it appeared that it might be helpful if I left George. She could take care of a few things while the boys played and her other one napped - I remember those days. Sometimes two happy toddlers are easier than one bored toddler. Yes, I would leave George, but I decided I wouldn't hurry and leave plenty of time for us moms to chat. These are new preschool friends. I would be overly polite and try hard to remember what it was like when my oldest was four. George and I already had coats on, so I just grabbed the same preschool list with the addresses and proceeded out the door. I had never been to her house. We arrived and were welcomed in. They were finishing lunch, which she hadn't mentioned on the phone. The boys started playing soon enough. We talked for a little while. And then, eventually, we chose a good time for me to return and I left. At home, I ran around like a crazy person. I was on the phone, on my e-mail, and folding laundry all at the same time. One of the other moms called while I was on the phone, but couldn't click over. I'd call her back. I returned to pick up George on time - maybe even early - and the boys had played together wonderfully. The mom was pleased and seemed to have had a relaxing time with her little one, although the nap obviously didn't happen. But, that is how things go sometimes, right? She was super-nice and I left feeling like I wish I hadn't waited until towards the end of the year to get to know her better. I was home in plenty of time for Victoria and Andrew to get off the bus. The afternoon went smoothly. Andrew had a great day at school. He received a good report card. We had cupcakes and talked about school. The kids played their piano lessons. We went to Tae Kwon Do. The rest of the evening would be a huge rush to make it to cub scouts. I had a brief moment to check that message from the other mom. "Hi, this is Caroline. Just calling to check in. I figured you had gotten lost at first, but so strange that you aren't here yet. Um. Just hope everything is okay." Oh, oh, oh, oh DEAR. I called her back. "Hi, Caroline, how are you?" "Fine, everything okay?" "Well, I am a crazy person, but I think this morning I found the most gracious woman in Ohio." So, what is the correct protocol when you have invited yourself over to a new friend's house completely unannounced and left your child for a playdate? I mean, this does happen to other people in real life, right, not just on bad sit coms?

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Scariest Thing Ever

Boys take control over the unknown, the frightening, by embodying their foes. By acting out scenes, and experimenting with thier fears, they learn how to conquer them. I read it somewhere, long ago, back when I was overwhelmed with one child.

Andrew never did it really. But, I excused so many of my friends' boys for dressing up as Darth Vader. We all read the same article, way back when our first children were small.

George is not my first child. So, why am I surprised? Always surprised. When I turn off my light at night, my heart cannot allow them to become one day older. No, not even one day. The next morning I am always suprised.

Gladys ran through the kitchen, shrieking in mock fear, with George at her heels.



I laughed. They ran through again, then again.

"I'm going to get you! I'm cancer!!"

"You can't dooo that," Gladys protested, "Cancer is a disease. You can't SEE it."

I looked at them both, then turned away, hoping my feelings didn't escape through my eyes.

"What does cancer look like? Hmm. Interesting question . . . " I spoke into the air, in that lame, parental, not-knowing-what-to-say sort of way. He picked the scariest thing. He picked something that frightens adults.

George drew a picture.

This is cancer.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

Our family has a tradition, every year, of making new year resolutions. It is not exactly an original idea, but you'll notice that our cake is not entirely original either.

I believe, when things become unoriginal, they are deemed "traditions." And, therefore, rather than begrudging my lack of creativity, I will also deem this a 'tradition.' I will also add that it makes quick work of all of those leftover candies from that gingerbread house we made before Christmas.

So, for posterity, I will officially record our resolutions.

George - Run around a lot. (Must be working off all that cake he ate last year).

Gladys - Eat lots of good foods and do more artwork.

Andrew - Have a "car free" day, when we run all our errands on bicycles, and do more artwork.

That, in itself, gives me plenty to do. I'll be cooking good food, coming up with art projects and riding my bike around town. But, this year I wanted to give myself a really good and concrete goal that my children could celebrate with me.

I could do a whole lot of different things, most of which would make little sense to my kids. I needed something simple, measurable, good for me, and easy for the kids to see.

I'm going to grab my feet.

So, hopefully, in this very spot next year, there will be a picture of me standing on one leg, grabbing my other foot above my head like a Russian ballerina.

And, if I'm lucky, it won't be followed by a picture of me falling and breaking my hip.

Happy 2011 !