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Quick Start Tutorial: Kids Can Use App Inventor to Build Android Apps!

Triag App
Kids can write their own applications for their android devices. How you might ask? With the free App Inventor development environment from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The wonderful thing about App Inventor is that it lets you see the results of each step of coding immediately, so you never get bored. This is especially great for kids! They get immediate feedback! And…  Oh … by the way… App Inventor is not just for kids.  It’s for adults too!!

Here’s is how I got my 10 year old daughter started:

  1. First you will need to create a Google account, if you do not have a Google account already.
  2. Follow Setting up App Inventor 2 to setup your android device for live testing. If you do not have an android device, there are also instructions for setting up an emulator that will simulate an android device.
  3.  On your computer, bring up two separate browser windows.
  4. In the first browser window, bring up App Inventor’s Designer and Block Editor. It will request access to your Google account. This allows App Inventor to use Google’s free cloud space for storage instead of your computer. It will then bring up the App Inventor’s Designer and Block Editor.
  5. The easiest way to start is to follow a video tutorial(s) to write your first few applications. The video I used with the kids, ages 10-13, on my FIRST Lego League team was Build the Paint Pot App.  Those kids went on to write the Triag application in the picture shown above.  The Paint Pot App allows you to draw circles and lines on a picture taken with your device’s camera.
  6. In the second browser window, go to Build the Paint Pot App.
  7. In the second window, step through each of the videos (1-7), pausing as needed to allow time to code the application in the Designer and Block Editor – window one.

When you are finished with the step 7 video, you should have your completed Paint Pot application!!  Pretty Cool!

On that same tutorial page are other video tutorials under the header APPS(AI2). These are for App Inventor version 2. Those under the APPS(Classic) header are for the older version of App Inventor. I suggest Android Mash.

Once you have completed a few video tutorials, you can try some of these written tutorials for App Inventor 2.  These are great tutorials too!

HAVE FUN CREATING YOUR OWN ANDROID APPS!!

Cool Kids Summer Camps around Newport News, VA

Here is my list of 2013 summer camps for Newport News, VA.   I have heard good things about them all, but the ones I expand on are ones I have personal experience with.

  • Camp Invention (at Christopher Newport University) -  My kids have attended this camp for the last 7 years and have loved it.  My son has aged out, but my daughter will attend.  I love it because it encourages them to think outside the box, while inventing  — and they love it.  They come home wanting to take everything apart and create new things.  For kids who have aged out of Camp Invention, Menchville High School’s award winning FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Triple Helix, holds their Robo Camp  at the same time at Christopher Newport University.  It’s nice to have something for the older and younger children at the same time and same location.
  • Triple Helix Robo Camp (at Christopher Newport University) – is run by Menchville High School’s award winning FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, Triple Helix. The funds from this camp support the Triple Helix FRC Team. As a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team coach, I have looked into the costs of running an FRC team and its huge. The Robo Camp uses LEGO Mindstorm robotics.
  • The Governor’s School for Science and Technology Summer Camps – include various computer and science camp offerings.  Last year a new robotics camp was added and it is put on by the NASA Knights FRC team, another award winning FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team.
  • VMASC Summer Camps – are held at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis,  and Simulation Center in Suffolk, VA. They offer a 3DModeling camp, game development camps, and robotics camps.
  • VA Air and Space Museum Summer Camps
  • Chesapeake Experience Kayak Camps – both my kids attended kayak camps last summer and both loved it. My daughter, who was skeptical, only signed up for the 2-day camp and wished she had done the whole week camp. This year they both wanted to do the week long camps. The camps fill up quickly, so hurry if you are interested.
  • Virginia Living Museum Summer Camps
  • Jamestown 4-H Camp – another outdoorsy camp we are considering.  Kids spend the week away from home at the Jamestown 4-H Educational Center.
  • PFAC Summer Art Ventures - Go to the bottom of this PFAC page to see the list of all the Summer Art Ventures camps.   These are 1/2 day camps.   My kids are especially interested in the clay camps.  They have attended other camps here before and really enjoyed them.
  • Starving Artist Studio Art Camp – TBA. My daughter attended this camp last year and really enjoyed it. The summer camp information has yet to be posted.
  • Hampton Roads Academy Summer Programs
  • William and Mary Summer Enrichment Program
  • The folks at Chesapeake Experience Kayak Camps sent me this information about the Seaford Yacht Club Junior Sailing Program. I thought it might be worth mentioning, although I have no experience with this camp.

Extra Help with Math and other STEM Subjects

Is your child having difficulty with a particular math subject at school?  Are you taking a college calculus course and could use some extra explanation of a topic?  Does your child or you need help in other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)  subjects?    Check out Khan Academy.   Browse their wonderful math videos, from Singapore Math at grade school level all the way up to Calculus and Trigonometry at College level.   These videos are great for that extra support understanding a new topic.   Khan Academy has over 3,400 free videos on various subjects – math, science, computer science, finance & economics, humanities, etc.

Also, try the free  Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine.  Just click on a subject or, if the subject is not listed, type in what you want to learn about into the Wolfram Alpha search box and press enter.  Here are some examples of how to use Wolfram Alpha to get help on algebra problems.   Wolfram Alpha is also working on its Wolfram Educational Portal.  Currently, the educational portal has courses on Algebra, Calculus and Pre-Calculus.

Best of all,  it’s ALL FREE!!!

Sewing Kit For Kids

A year and a half ago, my daughter (almost 9 now)  said she wanted to learn how to sew.  I thought that a sewing kit and, possibly,  a sewing machine would make a good Christmas gift.  So, I started my research on sewing machines (a post soon to come)  and sewing kits for kids.   I quickly realized  that the sewing kits out there for kids were all so cheap, in quality  — but not in price.  For what you paid,  you received very few items and the items were not very good in quality.   I wanted a sewing kit that my daughter could use throughout her life… something that would last…  and that she would have years of wonderful, creative  memories associated with…

Then, I discovered the Creative Options Grab & Go Sewing and Storage Box/Organizer which generally runs around $24.  Sometimes, if you have a Micheal’s coupon, you can get them for less.   I filled the Grab & Go Sewing Box/Organizer with all the items I thought she might use in the near future.   I research lots of sewing books for kids and based the initial content of the sewing kit on items needed for the projects I found in those books.

The top compartment of the box holds larger items that won’t fit in the trays.   It works out nicely.  For the four internal boxes….

One became sewing related items….

One became embroidery related items…

One became knitting related items…

One became crochet related items…

There is lots of space, so items can be added as they are needed for various projects.

I also filled a dollar store drawstring bag with lots of colorful felt and yarn.  Her favorite color felts are long gone — she has used them for making small drawstring bags, small felt animals or practicing embroidery on.    Felt is a wonderful starter material on which  kids can learn to hand sew, machine sew or embroider.

The following is a hand sewing project my daughter embarked on after my son, who is 12 now,  put a sign on his door, which said “No, GIRLS younger than me allowed in MY room without MY permission!”   His sign was paper.  :-)

She stopped working on her sign for a little while (due to school & gymnastics) and is now hard at work on it again, now that it is summer time!!!  CUTE!

HAPPY SEWING!!!

Sewing Books For Kids

I purchased several of the following sewing books for kids when I was creating a sewing kit for my daughter at Christmas.  I looked through the projects in the books to figure the initial supplies to put into the sewing kit.    Other books I have added since.   I love all these books.  They have wonderful and fun ideas!

The Cute Book and The Cuter Book have CUTE  :-)  little stuffed animal creatures for kids to sew.  These were the first projects that both my kids and their cousins were drawn to.   I think because the animals are small and the books have step-by-step instructions, kids are not intimidated by them at all.  They jump right in and start sewing these cute little animals…

 

 

 

 

Sewing for Children: 35 Step-by-step Projects to Help Kids Aged 3 and Up Learn to Sew is my favorite of these two books – but I love them both!  They are filled with real projects that will fascinate your kids.

See and Sew: A Sewing Book for Children covers the very basics of sewing –  with a Norman Rockwell feel.  There is a very nostalgic look and feel to this book.   It includes many basic stitches, sewing on buttons, shanking buttons, making pom poms, etc.

HAPPY SEWING!!!

Great Math Toys and Resources for Kids

My son likes math and does well in math… My daughter loves math and takes gifted math a grade level ahead.    I attribute my kids’ initial love for math to having attended a Montessori Preschool, where math is taught using manipulatives.   They can actually see, touch and manipulate items representing the math concepts that they are learning.  It is a very hands-on teaching method, which I love.   At 5, my daughter  was adding numbers in the thousands with carries (on paper), adding 2 & 3 digit numbers with carries in her head correctly and she understood her multiplication tables.  She did not have the tables memorized, but she could calculate them in her head.   Here are some tools, toys and reference sites, listed in order from preschool to middle school, that have been very useful along their math journey so far…

Montessori Primary Guide for Math is a site that details some of the methods used for math in a Montessori school.

At home, while my kids were in preschool, I used the Melissa & Doug Classic Wooden Abacus to have them solve addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems.  It is a great visual and hands-on tool for learning math.  I love that it is wooden and will last, so it can be handed down to my grand kids. :-)

Turbo Twist Math Grades 1-6 was another great toy that my kids loved for practicing their math.   It was also a  great tool to take on long trips.

My kids love to play Pass the Pigs with their cousins.   It is a total game of chance.  They roll two pigs, which have dots on them.  Based on the pigs landing positions, they get a different number of points.  The first one to reach a total score of 100, in our games, wins.   They have to do the addition, but they are having so much fun that they don’t realize they are practicing math!

Math on Call is a great handbook for parents, to refresh their memories and provide alternate methods of explaining a concept a child might not quite understand.   I have referenced Math on Call many times and know other parents who also love the book.

My daughter has absolutely loved Mia’s Math Adventure: Just in Time (PC software) and still plays it sometimes.  She loves the story where she, the player,  must help Mia got back in time to solve the mystery of her grandmother’s house fire, prevent the fire from happening and then find the items  needed to fix the time machine and return to the current time.   The software provide four levels of difficulty.  Mia is just the cutest mouse – how could they not help her! :-)

My son is entering 7th grade in the fall and is scheduled to take Algebra 1 — for high school credit which goes on his GPA – so I am a little nervous.    I have purchased the  Algebra Survival Guide: A Conversational Guide for the Thoroughly Befuddled and the Algebra Survival Guide Workbook: Thousands of Problems to Sharpen Skills and Enhance Understanding to provide some introduction and practice over the summer and to provide support through the coming school year.

I also plan to use Khan Academy to introduce him to algebra this summer.  Khan Academy is a wonderful site with thousands of educational videos on almost every subject imaginable.   Check it out.   You’ll be amazed!

Other items I have used with my kids, but with less success than the above items, are listed below.  I list them because I liked them, but my kids didn’t use them as often as I had anticipated.  Maybe your kids will use them more than mine.

Mindware is a wonderful store with brainy toys for kids.   Their mosaic workbooks for math are great for math practice.  They have mosaic workbooks for addition, subtraction,  multiplication, division, decimals, fractions and algebra.

Bring the math on!

Great Logic and Thinking games for the Nintendo DS

Here is my list of our favorite logic and thinking games for the  Nintendo DS:

Scribblenauts has got to be one of the most creative logic games around.  There are objectives to the puzzles,  like get across the river.   The player must conjure up solutions to accomplish the objective, as well as solutions to overcome obstacles placed in their path.   They “conjure up solutions” by typing what they want into the in-game notepad/keyboard.  For instance, they might type “boat” for the example above.  However, something almost always interferes with that solution and the player must figure ways around this complication by “conjuring” up other items to help.   There are literally thousands of items in the game, both utilitarian like ladders, ropes, cars and buses, to the outlandish items, such as invisibility cloaks, pirates and black holes. There are time limits on levels, as well as a limitation to the number of items that can be used per level.  But regardless of these restrictions, the game is all about experimentation, imagination and endless replay value as players open their minds to the nearly limitless possibilities.  It is one of my kids favorites!  There is also a Super Scribblenauts which, I am hearing from my son’s friends,  is also lots of fun!

Professor Layton and the Curious Village and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future are  full of puzzles which are tightly integrated with a great story that draws children in.   Charming and eccentric characters might lock their doors with sliding puzzles or hide secrets with brainteasers and so forth. The players must figure out these puzzles and brainteasers to unlock the rest of the story.  Hint coins can be found to assist in solving puzzles.  Both my kids love these games, but my daughter becomes absorbed in the stories as much as the puzzles, so it keeps her working at the solving the puzzles.Logic Machines is more of a physics logic game where the player uses objects (30 to chose from – cranks, gears, pulleys, rubber bands, etc)  & their knowledge of physics (in relation to the objects chosen) to build amazing machines that will  solve a puzzle / problem.   It reminds me of  Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game (for the PC), which we like better than Logic Machines,  but both are fun to play!  If I had to chose between the two,  I would get Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game (for the PC).   However,  if you need the portability of the Nintendo DS, it would be Logic Machines.

All of these Nintendo DS & DSi games are all great portable games for a long trip! By the way, all DS games work on the DSi.

ENJOY!

Quick Start Tutorial: Soldering Electronic Kits With Your Tween Child

Between the ages of 7 to 10, the only thing my son ever wanted for birthdays, Christmas and all gifting occasions was LEGOs, LEGOs & more LEGOs.   I think we own stock in LEGO.  :-)  From 10 to 12 he was into guns (NERF & Airsoft), as well as bows & arrows,  but these have been a more difficult hobby because of limited places to shoot.  We don’t live in the country.   We do have local ranges,  but these hobbies have not been something he can just go and do right after his homework is done.   He has also been into LEGO Mindstorm Robotics and FIRST Lego League competitions.  However, that interest is also waning some after 3 years of competing.   So this year, for his birthday, we had no idea what to get him and he had no idea what he wanted.   Then, my husband started investigating soldering and electronics kits that kids can do.   What a find!

We bought my son a few soldering tools and a couple of kits,  Minty Boost and TV-B-GoneMinty Boost is a portable USB charger kit that my son can use for his iPod Touch and we can use for our android phones in pinch -  and it works!   The TV-B-Gone is a kit that will turn off most plasma and flat screen TVs from 150 feet away.   My son (and my husband :-)) are envisioning turning off all the TVs on the wall at Walmart and seeing what happens or playing a trick on some neighbors. :-)  When my son was soldering the Minty Boost,  I saw a look I haven’t seen on his face  since being immersed in a LEGO project — the look of total absorption in what he was doing and loving it.  Don’t you love it when you find that RIGHT gift?   He informed us that he loved soldering the Minty Boost and would love to have lots more kits to solder.  It’s his replacement for LEGOs now.

Here’s what comes in the Minty Boost kit…

and here are a couple of pictures of my son’s  finished product…

                  

Tools, kits and knowledge we used to get our son started

We bought the following tools for my son:

Stahl Tools SSVT Variable Temperature Soldering Station

Helping Hands with Magnifying Glass

Xuron 170-II Micro-Shear Flush Cutter

Aven 17542 Desoldering Wick, 2.5mm Width

Solder

Alpha Fry AT-31604 60-40 Rosin Core Solder (4 Ounces)

We purchased the following kits:

 

 

TV-B-Gone v1.2 Kit

 

 

MintyBoost Kit – v3.0 with Tin!

 

 

 

Next, you will need to read over & try some basic soldering tutorials.  Here are links to various tutorials we know of:

Now that you have the tools, safety glasses, the kits & some soldering knowledge,  follow these directions to create your devices:

HAPPY SOLDERING!!!!

 

 

Quick Tip: Great Way to Display Your Child’s Art

I had the greatest intentions of designing a valance with pockets for displaying my kids’ art work in their playroom.  I just never seemed to get around to it.  Then it dawned on me…  just use a double rod with curtain ring clips… instant valance of art work and you don’t have to worry about the sizes of the art.

Turned out pretty nice I think!

Games for a Single Child which Enhance Spatial Awareness and Critical Thinking

Here are some great single kid games we own now or owned when my kids were younger.   They are wonderful for developing spacial awareness and critical thinking skills…  and my kids enjoy(ed) every one of these.  When you are done with them, they sell pretty well on Ebay too!

Pre-school To Early Elementary Age

 

 

 

 

Mighty Mind and Super Mind are are tangram sets that both of my kids enjoyed.  Mighty Mind is the first level and Super Mind is the second level.   Their makers have come out with other variations on these originals, but none seem to have reviews as good as these.

Tangoes Jr.,  great for travel,  came out when my daughter was younger.  She loved them and, since they are magnetic,  we used them very often on our loooong road trips to see relatives.  Tangoes Jr. comes with a set of cards, easier level (outlined shapes) on one side & harder level (no shapes outlined) on the back.  They  sell 3 extra packs  of cards separately – animals, objects and people.   We bought them all because she used Tangoes Jr. a lot.

Block Buddies was another one I discovered when my daughter was younger – my son never got to use them :-(.   They are well-made, colorful wooden blocks of various shapes.  The object is to reproduce the pattern  seen on the cards.   There are 76 cards -  4 levels of difficulty and the patterns are pretty fun – people, animals and  vehicles.

Elementary to Early Middle School Age

The following are games both of my kids, ages 8 and 12, still like to play.

Rush Hour is another great travel game for us!  It comes with a cool little pouch, like all ThinkFun games, which makes it easy to just throw it in their trip bag and go.  By the way I tend to love ThinkFun games.  Rush Hour comes with a set of cards that have various  levels of difficulty.  You can also buy additional sets of cards.   The cards tell the child the initial placement of the vehicles and the child must slide the vehicles around, without removing them from the puzzle — the objective being to get the red truck out the side slot.  Both my kids like Rush Hour.  Their aunt even sat for hours playing the game!

Noodlers is a simple puzzler that even adults love – I do!   It comes with a set of cards and sticks.  The cards have objects on them and state how many sticks you can use.  The object is to lay the sticks on the cards in such a way that each object on the card is in a separate slot.  Sounds simple, but it is quite addictive!  Both my kids love Noodlers!My 8 year old daughter pulls Lab Mice out pretty often – she loves this puzzle!    It comes with 100 dry erase cards with 3 levels of difficulty and a dry erase marker.  The cards have mazes with mice and cheese on them.   The objective is simple -  use the marker to connect each mouse with cheese – the trick being no lines can cross each other.

Blik Blok has been a favorite with my 12 year old son!   He loves building and architecture.   Blik Blok is a much more difficult, 3-D version of Block Buddies above, where they build what they see on one side of the card.  The solution is on the other side of the card.  It comes with 29 wooden blocks of various shapes and 100 cards with 4 levels of difficulty.   It really makes them think spatially!

Enjoy!!!