STEM kits that will gets your kid’s hands dirty

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Contrary to what you might think and hear, apps and screens aren’t the best tools for kids to learn STEM concepts, even coding. Why? Innovation, pattern recognition, exploration, experimentation and creation underlie STEM principles. Kids need to manipulate tangible things. It’s how they learn. While there are some great apps that supplement STEM learning, the best STEM activities for kids are blended ones — the ones that require hands-on exploration, screens optional. Those that do require screens, like ones with coding apps, should augment the experience, not be the sole focus. Many of these toys and kits are designed for classroom use but are perfectly adaptable and suitable for home use, too, as my two kids, ages five and seven, will shout from the rooftops (supervised, don’t worry).

Check out these awesome blended learning STEM kits and toys. They’ll have your little inventors ready to apply for their first patent in no time.

LittleBits Base Inventor Kit (8+)

Amazon
$60

This might be one of the best introductions to electronics for budding inventors, with plenty of options to "think outside the box" — though the "box" itself is pretty cool too. Kids can build and customize a voice-activated robotic arm and innovate from there or just invent whatever they’d like. In addition to the robotic arm, the kit comes with a power supply, slide dimmer, sound trigger, proximity sensor, LED, buzzer and other goodies for hours of play and learning. The littleBits app has some good ideas, too, if your kids need some suggestions.

Don’t let the recommended age of 8+ limit you: You can guide much younger kids with this one. I play with my five-year-old, and older kids get just as much joy out of it as their younger counterparts.

Kiwi Crate (All ages)

Kiwi Co.
$16.95/mth

Every month, my kids leap for joy when they see that the green box has arrived. Kiwi Crate excites them — they can’t wait to bust it open and get to work.

There are a bevy of STEM subscription-box options out there. Here’s what’s great about Kiwi Crate: It offers a line of accessible and exciting STEM and STEAM (that’s STEM with "a" for "art") projects for infants through high school students. It’s won a bunch of awards too.

My kids currently share the Kiwi Crate, designed for ages five through eight, and they work on it together without my help. Every month, they receive a themed box of three STEM activities that require them to follow directions, build a project and use it. Kiwi Crates also come with a supplementary magazine, which they enjoy. Their favorite so far? Kiwi Crate’s rocket launcher. They’ve already worked out the perfect launch angle best suited to hitting me with projectiles while I make dinner.

If you’re not ready to commit to a subscription service, you can test out its products by buying one kit at a time too. It also offers chemistry sets, electronics projects and other options for onetime purchase.

Wonder Dash and Wonder Dot (6+)

Amazon (Dot Creativity)
$80
Amazon (Dash Workshop)
$150

Both of these coding robots from Wonder Workshop deserve a place on this list, despite the fact that they’re screen dependent. They’re that awesome.

My seven-year-old son came home from school the other day and said, "I can’t wait to write a story about Dash and Dot. I want to make them sing!"

"Who are Dash and Dot?" I asked.

"Robots!" he shouted. "I play with robots at school!"

"Awesome," I said and immediately emailed the tech coordinator, who confirmed that yes, indeed, Dash and Dot are making a splash across the K-8 spectrum.

In addition to being a playful introduction to coding and robotics, Wonder Workshop’s two robots offer myriad possibilities for storytelling and creative play. While they require tablets, mobile devices or laptops for coding, the opportunities for collaboration outweigh their reliance on screens. My son loves making Dot and Dash carry objects, draw and even play the xylophone! They’re also Lego compatible, which makes them even more spectacular.

Lego WeDo 2.0 Core (6+)

Amazon
$198

Speaking of Lego, its WeDo 2.0 Core kit takes a discovery-based approach to design, building and coding, and it’s perfect for little kids through the end of middle school. While older kids may prefer something from Lego’s Mindstorms line, the WeDo 2.0’s ample possibilities for building outside "the box" make it a good investment for all ages. The set comes with 280 building elements including a SmartHub and motor. As Lego does brilliantly, there are opportunities both to re-create pre-made projects using its app and to free build, which I heartily encourage. Whatever kids build, there’s always the chance to code some part of the project using an app similar to ScratchJr, MIT’s lauded coding program for kids ages five through eight.

Lego’s lesson-plan page is super helpful for parents, too, as you can filter ideas by kit and approximate age and grade.

My kids have enjoyed re-creating some of the 50+ projects that Lego recommends and then tweaking them. I love hearing my favorite kid-scientist question: "What happens if I do this?"

Makedo Toolkit (6+)

Amazon
$13

There’s just something about a cardboard box.

The most innovative of this lineup, the Makedo toolkit is also the lowest tech and least expensive. It allows kids to amp up their cardboard-box play by designing, creating and building worlds from the recycling pile.
Its starter kit includes one "scru-driver," 28 "scrus" in two sizes and a safe-saw. Makedo offers some project suggestions and an iPad app, but you don’t need any of it. All you need is a splash of imagination and a kid with the desire to transform cardboard into a space pod or an ice cream truck or a playground or a windball or a…

Tech Will Save Us Synth Kit (12+)

Amazon
$16

Have a kid into music, electronics and building? Check out one of the coolest electronics kits ever: the Tech Will Save Us Synth Kit! Tech Will Save Us offers great STEM kits for kids ages four and up. Its goal? To "empower kids through open-ended play." I’m all about it. I love its kits, and its age ranges are spot on.
With a focus on coding and electronics, Tech Will Save Us’ Synth Kit, designed for kids ages 12 and older, offers middle schoolers the chance to build a synth that actually works. While kids can use a tablet to follow the directions, they don’t need to interact with screens at all. The kit comes with enough pieces to build three synths — a Dub Siren, Stutter and Atari. Three potentiometers control volume, pitch and frequency, and kids can create the most wonderful of noises… I mean music. Rock on.

Elenco Snap Circuits Basic Electricity Kit (8+)

Amazon
$18

This has been a hit in my house since my son got it for his third birthday. My daughter, now five, plays with it regularly by starting with her favorite circuit — the loop — and then tweaking it by messing with lamps and meters.

The kit comes with nine projects, a snap-on base and the opportunity to expand from there. Elenco’s Snap Circuits Basic Electricity Kit is simpler than some of the other kits and toys on this list, but it offers an accessible, easy introduction to the concept of circuits and electricity. Plus there’s plenty of room to grow, no screens required. It’s worth taking a look at its DIY and maker kits and electronic instruments for older kids too!

Thames and Kosmos CHEM C3000 (12+)

Amazon
$200

This list is incomplete without a good old-fashioned chemistry set, the kind you can use to blow things up in the bathtub. With more than 300 experiments, this fun approach to high school chemistry includes an alcohol burner, multiple test tubes and liquids, and powders of varying colors, textures and viscosity. What’s not to love? Kids get a chance to play with molecules and atoms, the stuff of life. No screens required, although Thames and Kosmos offers apps for its equally impressive robotics kits.

We’re not quite here with this in my house yet, but as it is with most things, I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

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The best coding kits for kids

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Part of the reason I write about technology for a living is that I couldn’t cut it as a coder. It’s not that I regret my career choice (I definitely don’t), but I do regret having never really learned the art of programming. And it’s not because I want to build apps or games or anything. It’s because you pick up a lot of peripheral skills.

This is the primary reason I want my kid to learn to code. I don’t necessarily want him to become an engineer (though I certainly wouldn’t be upset if he did). Instead, I see coding as a great teaching tool. It’s a way to teach cause and effect and problem-solving skills. And mastering the logic behind simple routines can even make your kid a better and more convincing communicator.

So obviously there’s plenty of reason to get your kid into coding. The next question is how. Well, we’ve scoured the internet (and a few brick-and-mortar stores) for some of the best toys and kits to take your children from curious toddler to preteen inventor.

Cubetto

Cubetto Playset

Cubetto is a great place to start. It’s suitable for children as young as three since it relies on simple color-coded blocks to perform basic tasks. Your child puts them in the control board in the order they want, presses a button and Cubetto starts moving about. To make the most of Cubetto, though, you’re going to want the various adventure packs that give you worlds to explore and stories to tell. And best of all, Cubetto is completely screen free. It’s a hands-on, tactile introduction to loops, functions and algorithms.

Buy on Amazon – $180

Kids First Coding & Robotics

Kids First Coding & Robotics

The Kids First Coding & Robotics kit from Thames and Kosmos isn’t terribly different from Cubetto. It comes with its own cute little robot, this one in the shape of an anthropomorphic peanut butter and jelly sandwich named Sammy. Sammy and his kit are a little more complex than Cubetto, which is why it’s suggested for children at least four years of age. But that complexity makes it much more flexible. Sammy isn’t confined to a play mat or a pre-scripted storybook. In fact, you can even swap out that adorable sandwich body for other pieces to build a mouse that steals cheese or a fire truck that puts out fires.

Buy on Amazon – $100

Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit

Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit

Eventually, though, your kid will grow out of all this screen-free business. And, of course, it’s unavoidable that they will eventually become obsessed with Harry Potter. But don’t worry: You can use that to your advantage. This kit from Kano teaches your kids that coding is magic. No, seriously, they build a wand and then using an app, create spells that they perform simply by waving it around. (And presumably using the right incantation.)

Once they’ve mastered the basic concepts behind programming, it’s time to graduate to something more serious. Sphero and littleBits have carved out a name for themselves in the world of STEM toys by combining simplicity and playfulness with a surprising amount of flexibility. While something like the Droid Inventor Kit or the Bolt are appropriate for children as young as eight, they’re equally fun for an adult. (Or an adult-aged child.) And that’s a great thing. Because if you’re excited about something, it’s more likely that your child will be too. And keeping you, the parent, engaged will make you more likely to put effort into the whole teaching-your-kid-to-code thing.

Buy on Amazon – $78

littleBits Droid Inventor Kit

littleBits Droid Inventor Kit

The littleBits kit lets your child build their very own R2D2 and customize it to their heart’s content with pieces that magnetically snap together. I personally own some littleBits stuff (though not the Droid Inventor Kit specifically) and can tell you that it’s insanely fun, flexible and basically foolproof.

Buy on Amazon – $81

Sphero Bolt

Sphero Bolt

Bolt doesn’t have a bunch of parts you can swap in and out, but the Sphero EDU app is a great way to teach kids the basics of computer science using little more than a robot ball with some blinking lights in it. Plus, the app is compatible with basically any device and even works in a browser.

Buy on Amazon – $150

Ozobot Evo

Ozobot Evo

Evo from Ozobot isn’t much more advanced than Sphero, but it takes a lot of the skills it teaches, as well as those taught by Sammy, and combines them into one surprisingly capable robot. (You may have noticed there are /a lot/ of robots in here.) Evo is super tiny and loaded with a ton of sensors. And its unique coding environment, OzoBlockly, is clean, intuitive and deceptively powerful. Plus it has several different modes, which allows it to grow with your child as they master key concepts.

Buy on Amazon – $79

Lego Mindstorms

Lego Mindstorms EV3

The granddaddy of kid coding kits, though, is Mindstorms. And in many ways, it’s still the standard by which most other STEM toys are measured. We definitely recommend it for a slightly older child. Lego says the kit is appropriate for ages 10 and up. While Mindstorms is endlessly versatile and can be used to build everything from replicas of the Curiosity rover to robots that can solve Rubik’s Cubes to a chicken-nugget vending machine, it’s not quite as beginner friendly as Lego’s Boost. But once your child masters manipulating something like littleBits, they may crave even greater creative freedom.

Buy on Amazon – $330

Tech Will Save Us micro:maker Pack

Tech Will Save Us micro:maker pack

The kid who demands complete freedom will definitely appreciate the micro:bit. This tiny, BBC-backed computer fits in the palm of a child’s hand. Think of it like a kid-friendly Arduino. It has buttons and lights, plus Bluetooth, a compass and an accelerometer. It even has light and temperature sensors. And its unique edge connector allows it to be hooked up to all sorts of accessories. With a little patience and creativity, a child can basically bring anything they dream up to life. This particular kit from Tech Will Save Us comes with a bunch of extras for adding strings of lights, battery power, wheels and more.

If your child has kept up the coding habit long enough to grow out of the micro:bit, there’s a good chance you have a little engineer or inventor in the making. And even if not, they’ll still have learned a ton of valuable skills.

Buy on Tech Will Save Us – $68

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How to Reassess Your Workflow to Spark Creativity

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Unless you’re a bonafide musical wizard, you probably get stuck in a creative rut every now and then.

Good habits are important for writing songs, but they can also limit creativity and curb ideas.

It might sound odd, but complete creative freedom is what most of us are after. Sticking to the same musical playbook over and over again threatens that freedom in a big way.

Reassessing the way you create music from top to bottom is one of the best ways to figure out what’s working and what needs to change to find that creative freedom.

Here’s some tips for reassessing your workflow and making positive changes.

Take an unflinching look at your writing process

Habits can’t be broken without being recognized.

No two songwriters or producers work in the same way, so take some time figuring out exactly how you make music.

Habits can’t be broken without being recognized.

You don’t need to write things down, but you should if you think it would help. It’s the best way to get a full picture of how you make music, from the first thing you do to the completed song.

Here’s an example of someone’s unique songwriting process written down from start to finish:

  • Create a chord progression with synths
  • Add in two or three other chord progression sections, and start forming structure
  • Create a melody by singing over chords
  • Write lyrics to fit with melody and phrasing
  • Add supporting instrumentation––percussion, bass, etc
  • Add production and mixing elements
  • Master, promote, and release

When you’ve got a good look at your unique process, try figuring out what’s not working about it.

For example, if you always start writing by creating a drum beat, experiment beginning with something else.

The first two or three steps in the songwriting process are the most crucial, so reassessing and changing those up will help in a big way.

Define your strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter

What in your songwriting process brings out your strengths and weaknesses?

Leaning in to those thoughts and defining what’s not working about your writing will help you make positive changes.

If an element isn’t critical or doesn’t help your process, try changing that up as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your process once you’ve reassessed.

Take time to define the areas of your process that show your skills in the best light.

Can you deliver that same creativity and enthusiasm to the parts of your process that are lacking?

Think about the things you find inspiring and memorable in another artist’s music.

If you’re feeling especially stuck, do some research into the unique songwriting process of some artists you admire.

If you’re feeling especially stuck, do some research into the unique songwriting process of some artists you admire.

For example, a fascinating 2016 interview with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood talks about the band’s unique writing process.

Greenwood thinks of Radiohead as arrangers of the ideas Thom York brings into the studio. Don’t be afraid to draw inspiration and concrete writing ideas from your favourite artists.

Identify what’s holding you back

From an old guitar amp that cuts in and out to a collaborative relationship that’s run its course, reassessing your process means cutting out everything holding you back.

The instruments we write and record with have a big impact on the music we make, as do the musicians in the room with us when we’re writing.

The instruments we write and record with have a big impact on the music we make, as do the musicians in the room with us when we’re writing.

Gear is obviously an easier topic to scrutinize than your collaborators.

If an instrument or piece of music gear isn’t functioning properly or inspiring you, then it should be replaced.

Before you sever ties with a musician you work with try writing a few songs without them and see what feels and sounds different.

If you find that your process is consistently more creative and inspired without them, it might be time to gracefully make a change.

Develop a new idea in a way you’ve never tried before

Now that you’re armed with a clearer perspective about your process, it’s time to try doing something new.

What that new thing is changes for everyone, but it should be different than how you’re used to kicking your usual process off.

Add in new instruments, collaborate with new songwriters, write lyrics about something you’ve never explored before in your music.

Since you now know your usual songwriting process habits, it’s time to break them and take some creative risks. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, then you’re doing it right.

No matter who you are and how you make music, you’re bound to gain a lot by trying to be thoughtful about your process.

By paying close attention not only to how you write but also the world around you, musical ideas and inspiration will be easier to find.

The post How to Reassess Your Workflow to Spark Creativity appeared first on LANDR Blog.

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Travis Kalanick walked in to the New York Stock Exchange for Uber’s IPO with his father and the crowd erupted in ‘enormous applause’ (UBER)

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uber ipo travis kalanick

Uber cofounder and former CEO Travis Kalanick was in attendance at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday morning, and he brought his father.

The pair arrived to "enormous applause," according to New York Times reporter Mike Isaac.

That’s not just because of Kalanick’s role in Uber’s rise, but because of his father Donald Kalanick’s near-fatal boating accident in 2017.

uber ipo cofounder Travis Kalanick

Kalanick cofounded Uber and was the CEO until 2017, when he stepped down amid a string of scandals at the company. The move coincided with a personal tragedy in Kalanick’s family.

In May 2017, Donald and his wife Bonnie Kalanick were on their boat in Pine Flat Lake in Fresno County, California, when the boat reportedly hit a rock and sank in mid-afternoon. 

Donald suffered moderate injuries and was flown to a local medical center, and Bonnie suffered fatal injuries. 

Following the tragic accident, Travis Kalanick wrote a tribute to his late mother. 

"I miss her terribly and feel the hole that she left in my heart, I realize much more fully the gift she gave me, and commit to live it and express it in her honor," Kalanick wrote in June 2017

Though some of the applause at their arrival on Friday was aimed at Kalanick’s work at Uber, the appearance of Donald Kalanick alongside his son was assuredly an emotional moment. 

SEE ALSO: The mother of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has died in a boating accident, and his father is in ‘serious’ condition

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How I shot a Milky Way moonrise from an airplane seat

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How I shot a Milky Way moonrise from an airplane seat

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A couple of weeks ago I was blessed with a sight that truly left me in a state of awe. Shortly after leveling off onboard United 534 from Honolulu to Los Angeles, I tried my luck with some astrophotography over the crisp Pacific Ocean skies.

Having had some experience with these types of images in the past, I frantically began setting up. I mounted onto my window a LensSkirt lens hood (basically a black cover that blocks out reflections) and began taking a series of images. Unfortunately for me, the Boeing 777 was going through a light area of turbulence, and my images were blurry and revealing some cabin reflections. I packed up my stuff and opted to get some rest, but without success…

About 10 min later, the flight conditions had improved, so I setup up the hood again and mounted my Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens onto my Canon 5D Mark IV.

At this point, I began experimenting with exposures between 2-10 seconds (handheld with the lens glued against the window). Despite practically none of the captures being useable (to my standards), I was amazed as to how clear the galaxy was in this part of the world. I continued my efforts and stuffed the complimentary blanket between the small cracks of my hood as to further minimize cabin reflections.

Suddenly, at around 22:00 PST, I started seeing a light glow off the left of the horizon. Confused as to whether the sun was rising or not, I kept on shooting the incredible sight I was witnessing. It suddenly occurred to me that I was viewing a moonrise. In this instant, my determination rose immensely in hopes of capturing something that could eventually be shared with the world.

ISO 8000, f/1.4, 04 seconds, manual focus, and not breathing were the ingredients to this image’s success.

The silhouette of a window frame from a few rows ahead of me appears on the PW4000’s cowling. I realized how oblivious the passengers onboard the aircraft were to this indescribable view. Had it not been for the kind gate agent who had given me a window seat upon my request, none of this would ever exist. It was truly a highlight to my photography career as well as my appreciation towards God’s planet.

About the Author

Jan Jasinski is aviation, landscape, and real estate photographer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. You can find more of Jan’s work on his website and follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Flickr.

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