Having Fun with STEM Learning

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately.  That’s because our life has been full of this:


Our dining room has been completely taken over by LEGO Mindstorms and I love it.  We built a competition table that fits over our dining room table and added a temporary “desk” for the kids to use while doing programming.  E continued on with his team and will be competing in his third year of FIRST LEGO League (FLL).  This year I’m coaching a rookie FLL team for C and his friends.

It’s busy and chaotic sometimes, but I absolutely love it.

FLL is about so much more than a robotics competition.  The kids work on a research project and come up with an innovative solution.  They also share their project and solution with a few audiences before they go to a tournament.  This year teams are answering the question, “How can we improve the way someone learns……?”  They come up with a project board and put together a presentation about their project.  The presentations are skits, power points, songs, or anything else the team feels is appropriate.

Teams also learn and display the core values of FLL.  This means they are learning that what they discover is more important than what they win and how to truly honor the spirit of friendly competition.  They work on learning how to find solutions on their own, be a team, and very importantly – HAVE FUN.  The core values aren’t just given lip service.  Awards are given specifically for displaying exceptional core values and teams that score poorly in this area don’t advance.

EV3 PBL Mission World Class

And what would a robot competition be without a robot?  Teams are judged on their robot design and programming as well as its performance.

It’s a lot of work for both the kids and a rookie coach trying to keep up with them.  It is well worth the effort.  I enjoy seeing the kids learn how to program a robot and celebrate when a mission goes correctly.    The robot really brings together a nice combination of mechanical design and programming skills.  The project is always interesting and inspires creativity.  The core values do a great job of teaching valuable professional skills.

I was a little nervous going into this year, but I’ve learned a lot and definitely plan to coach a team again next year.  The new EV3 is easier to program than the older NXT and I don’t have to know a lot more than the kids.  One of the core values is that kids do the work with guidance from their coach.  Looking things up and watching videos together is part of the learning process and valuable for the kids.  Sometimes I can anticipate our needs and learn ahead of the kids, but sometimes we really are learning at the same time.

I look forward to doing more blogging once our tournament is complete and I will let you know what fun and exciting projects I see!

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Bee Friendly

I was afraid I wasn’t going to have anything to share this week.  After having an awesome vacation last week we needed to “catch up on our paperwork.”

Bee Collage

Thankfully FIRST LEGO League, FLL, added interest to our week. Our normal FLL meeting time was spent doing a field trip related to our project.  We visited a local organic farmer to learn about bee keeping.  He was great with the kids and we had a good time learning about bees despite the rain.  I learned quite a few things about the farm even though I’ve been a member of their CSA program for a couple of years.  I also learned some new things about bees.

EV3 PBL Mission World Class

The local public school had the day off for election day, so I invited C’s team to our house for some “open table” time.  The kids came two at a time for a couple of hours each to work on their programming.   While we get a lot done during our normal meeting time, sometimes it helps to have an even smaller group.  They can concentrate better and spend more time testing their results.

If you want to gain hope for the future spending time around FLL is great.  The kids come up with some great solutions / innovations.  It’s also super fun to watch them as they learn how to program the robot.  They get such a sense of accomplishment as they solve problems and make things work.  Because gracious professionalism is one of the core values of FLL, we also set a high standard for behavior and manners.  They are still high energy kids and a bit wiggly and silly sometimes, but they are practicing kindness and respect.

Model Trebuchet

This week E built a trebuchet as an engineering project.  Apparently it’s been a bit hard to tune, but the boys and their friends have had a great time building cup towers and walls to attack with the trebuchet.  I wish I had known sooner how much fun kids could have with a few packages of plastic cups.

This week I asked C what he likes about homeschool.  He quickly answered, “We get to learn from TV.”  I’ll admit it has be a long road for me to accept watching documentaries / educational programs as more than just a supplement to “real” learning.  As I see how much information C learns and stores in picture form, it has helped me understand that we really do have different learning styles.

How have you learned to respect and accommodate your kids’ learning styles?

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Weekly Wrap-Up WUH    Mary_CollageFriday





Intentional Leisure


Way back in January or February my husband and I discussed plans for the year.  One of his objectives for our family was to “spend more time relaxing.”  At first glance it might seem like an odd goal, but he wanted to be intentional about making sure we planned outings as a family to go camping and mountain biking.

Too often we want to do fun things as a family, but the weekends seem to slip away and our calendars fill with other commitments.  Our goal this year was to schedule family time first – to make it one of the big rocks in our container and fill in the other stuff around it.

In March or April, I started making reservations at various places within a three hour drive of our house.  Our original goal was to go camping twice per month – the amended goal quickly became to “cottage camp” once per month and add additional single track riding close to our house.

Almost as soon as all the reservations were made, we had to start making adjustments.  Soccer ran a week longer than planned, our family reunion weekend changed, other conflicts came up.  Mostly we were able to adjust, but sometimes we chose to honor our plans and miss out on other events.

As we come to the end of the year, it’s clear our planning paid off.  We spent the night on a battleship, visited Niagara Falls in winter/early spring, and added the state of Kentucky to the boys travel list.  We created a ton of memories together.  Hopefully we will all be able to laugh about some of them given enough time.

We plan to do something similar next year, but I think we may focus less on camping and more on just taking a weekend trip together.

Admittedly it can feel a bit odd planning short weekend trips months in advance, but it helps us live life according to our priorities.   The time we have with our kids is short and it seems even shorter when we let other people schedule our time.

What about you?  Do you plan ahead or do you manage to be spontaneous and still get out of the house?