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Diversity: Neuro and otherwise

As a former educator, I’ve done a fair amount of talking with parents in Los Alamos. One common concern is how new organizations will engage with diverse children. I want to assure you that creating a safe and engaging space for all sorts of children is one of our highest priorities and we have the skill set and experience to accomplish this.

Before moving to Los Alamos I taught high school math in the Chicago Public Schools. The school I taught at was 80% Hispanic, 20% Black, and 100% free lunch. One year, I taught two double period algebra classes. In one of those classes I had 10 students with learning disabilities and 3 students requiring exceptional modifications to their material. In my other class I had a group of 5 kids that were nearly constantly suspended. Three were expelled by the end of the year. For the most part, I had no trouble with them. One of my students was bipolar and could not afford medication, despite not being aware of this until 5 weeks into the school year, he and I had already worked out a plan to manage his behavior that allowed him to be comfortable and successful in my class. These were my kids and I loved them all dearly. It was never my goal to attain an “easy” job in the suburbs. The unique challenge of figuring out how to reach each student was and still is one of my favorite parts of teaching.

In my own family I don’t have anyone labeled as neuro-diverse, but certainly, no one would call any of my children typical and with that, they don’t tend to attract typical friends, so I have a lot of practical experience when children have emotions that run high and need a calm voice or quiet place to breathe and restore calm. I also have a lot of good friends in teaching who care very much about their neuro-diverse students and send me research articles or post the latest developments and strategies to Facebook, so I stay up-to-date in this way.

Jessi has her own experience working with diverse populations. She directed a youth center in St. Paul, Minnesota and has volunteered in schools. She likes to keep an open mind and loves building new projects off of ideas developed in the course of a class. She is really excited about organic thinking and incorporates that into her classes. She really respects her students and values what they say.

In her personal life, Jessi has experience working with neuro-divergent kids. Her family is bi-racial and Jessi herself is bilingual and has dual-citizenship giving her a unique viewpoint and understanding of multiple cultures.

Erin is bi-racial and multi-ethnic but also 100% human being. She has a strong empathy for kids who feel like the world wants them to pick one identity when they just want to be themselves. Throughout her life, Erin has fought against marginalization and ethnic erasure. She’s semi-fluent in Spanish and parents two completely awesome autistic children who are learning that it is okay to be one-of-a-kind.

On the educational and practical side of things, Erin studied child psychology in undergrad and is currently seeking her Master’s in clinical medical health with a focus on child development. As a second generation Mexican-American, she is the first of her family to graduate from college. Erin has also spent the last two years directing a forest school co-op that she founded with the mission to create a more holistic and socially centered curriculum for elementary aged children.

Probably more important than all of this, though, is that we all see kids as individuals and we know how to follow their lead in explaining (or demonstrating) what they want and need. If you are still concerned about your child in a large group setting, we are more than happy to work with whatever aides you would like to arrange for them or speak with you on an individual basis about the strategies that you find most helpful in working with your child. We want our place to be inclusive, so if you think your child would enjoy one of our classes or our drop-in hours with some modification, please talk with us about a way to make that work.

Not mentioned in this essay, is the LGBTQIA+ community, but I assure you we love and accept them as well in very personal ways as family, friends, and colleagues.

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Book Review: The Old Kingdom Series by Garth Nix

I recently had the opportunity to reread one of my favorite series. I often do this alongside one of my two daughters, when it’s been long enough that I can no longer remember the intricacies of the plot details to discuss with them. Of course, my oldest usually passes me straight away and then badgers me to catch up, but there could be worse things in life…

In the Old Kingdom the dead don’t stay dead and there are all sorts of free magic creatures. It is the job of the Abhorsen to use necromantic bells infused with tamed charter magic to send them back where the belong. This could imply that this story is a dark one, but exactly the opposite is true. All of the books contain much hope and friendship even as they do not shy from sadness and loss.

Sabriel features a girl just on the verge of womanhood who has spent most of her life in a boarding school just on the other side of the walls of the Old Kingdom in a land that only barely believes in magic. When a dead messenger arrives bearing her fathers bells she must take on the mantel of Abhorsen and cross the wall to save her father. It doesn’t matter that the Old Kingdom has been overcome with dead and free magic creatures, she perseveres with the right help coming along at the right time. Don’t worry, though, she runs into enough trouble that this is no fairy tale. Sabriel presents as an amazingly strong woman without screaming, “We need a female heroine!”

Lirael takes us to a different part of the Old Kingdom about 20 years after Sabriel. In this book we learn of the Clayr an extended family of women who live in a glacier and use the Sight to see images together in frozen water. Only Lirael does not have the Sight, nor does she have a mother, nor does she look like the others. Raised amongst a group of women that are similar in so many ways she struggles to find her way. She finds a friend, though, and ends up playing a huge part in the saving of the kingdom as she learns to be herself instead of wishing she was someone else.

In Abhorsen (Book 3) and Goldenhand (Book 5) we continue on Lirael’s journey so I won’t discuss those here.

Clariel takes us back in time when the land was safe from the dead and the Abhorsens had grown lazy and were even a bit afraid of the dead (and not in a healthy respect sort of way). Clariel is the daughter of a Master Goldsmith who has been uprooted from her safe place in the forest and thrust into all of the politics of the big city. She knows what she wants and where she belongs and will do just about anything to accomplish it. She struggles with some really big choices and is treated like a child instead of given the information to make good decisions. With the fore knowledge of what is to come, we as the reader do a fair bit of yelling at the adults in the book.

Mature Content:
* Sabriel closely examines a naked carving of a man that turns out to be an actual man. This is pretty academic. Sabriel also hears the sounds of sex next door in an inn. Again, academic.
* Lirael contemplates suicide multiple times, but never in a romanticized way. A woman tells a man she must have his child in order to save the world. After his initial shock he tells her they should enjoy it.
* Clariel talks of experimenting with boys and considering with girls but mostly concludes she is a singleton (asexual).
* In Goldenhand there is some aggressive kissing and a clear desire for more. Not crazy descriptive, but enough to make the difference between handing the book off to my 8yo vs. 10yo. That was more about a willingness to slog through it than concern about content.
* In general, I’d put this at about 6th grade and up, but clearly that is dependent on the child

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Wonder League Robotics Competition

My daughter participated in the first Wonder League competition with a friend when she was six. It was a great experience. Together they completed a challenge each week, with very little help from me. They even filmed the results themselves!

The challenges were all centered around a forest rescue scenario. In one challenge they had to push Dot to safety without igniting the fires on either side of her (two ping pong balls on top of some solo cups). In another they had to protect some baby sea turtles. I greatly enjoyed the cooperative and role playing nature that the challenges presented. It was an entirely positive experience.

It is because of this that I would really like to sponsor a few entries out of Los Alamos STEAM Lab. We have enough equipment to have all three age groups meet and work on their challenges at the same time. It is this sort of multi-age interaction that we want to encourage.

If you think your child would be interested in being part of a team, just respond in the comments with the times they are available. Teams are comprised of up to five kiddos ages 6-8, 9-11, or 12-14 and Wonder is strict about ages. There will be a one-time $50 registration fee for each student on a team.

If you’d like to form your own team and can meet during our regular drop in hours, you are welcome to do that as well.

This is a competition I really believe in and I hope we can get some kids excited about it as well!

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What are drop in hours for anyway?

Los Alamos STEAM lab offers classes in a variety of fields, but we also have drop in hours as well. During our drop in hours, kiddos (and adults) can play with our many robots, create games using scratch, build with our technic legos (complete with motors), or play at our rotating table which could include snap circuits or an engaging art project.

I’ve been offering classes in robotics out of my house for the last couple of years. During that time, I’ve collected a large variety of robots for kids of all ages.

The Ozobot Evo is our smallest robot and they can be programmed with color codes. Kids can draw lines on paper and they will follow them and do as their told. That’s not all, though! They also have a large number of sensors, lights, and sounds and more advanced students can make complex programs using all of these.

Wonder Workshop has some great robots that come with some wonderful puzzles for kids to solve. Dash and Dot can interact with each other and play hide and seek. Cue is their older sibling with some more advance features and the ability to be programmed with Javascript, in addition to block based programming.

We’ve also got the whole line of Lego robotics with 4 EV3s that will be built into a range of creatures and cars, three lego boosts (including some awesome droids), and 15 old NXTs that students can build and program themselves. If you don’t love the lego programming language (I sure don’t!), that’s okay, because the robots can all be programmed with scratch. The EV3s can even be programmed in python!

Makeblock is another popular source of our robots. The mBot has an arduino brain and can be programmed with block based programming or the arduino language. We also have a couple of Codey Rockys. Her personality makes her a big hit. Her face is comprised of pixels. Kids really enjoy turning her into a kitten or a small puppy. She can also be programmed with both blocks and python. Makeblock just came out with the mTiny as well, which is another great option for preschoolers. You just tap a pen to the direction you want the robot to go and it will follow along. It comes with an interactive puzzle map that allows for some great pretend play.

As you can see, our robots can provide hours of fun and learning for kids of all ages and we’re around to help with programming questions or to provide challenges for the kids to accomplish.

We also have a baby safe area with Duplo and blocks, so that parents can bring their children without worrying about what the babies will get up to.

How do you gain access to all of this fun? You can just drop-in during our open hours and pay a $10 drop in fee ($5 for preschoolers, adults and babies are free). Or you can purchase a punch pass at a discount. We also offer both monthly and annual memberships (shop here!). School age kids do not need to be accompanied by an adult after school, but kids 8 and under should have an adult on the weekends. If you have any questions, just let us know in the comments! We look forward to seeing you soon!

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What to expect this year.

We decided to create the STEAM Lab because we are passionate about education. We hope that this year and in all years to come that the STEAM Lab will be a community building resource. That children and families can use the space to dream, explore, create, and bond, not just with each other but with other community members.

Community members should expect to find themselves having fun while learning new things at the same time. It is our hope that kids can use our space to try new things that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. We envision a multi-purpose learning co-working space with children and families in mind. Everyone is welcome!

The following guidelines are for everyone who uses the STEAM Lab, kids and adults. This is an ever evolving list of guidelines and things may change as we grow and learn from each other. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us!


– Have fun!
– Treat everyone with respect
– Create new things
– Make a mess
– Clean up your mess
– Be excited and share it!
– Ask questions
-Try all the things!
-Carry robots over your head
-Crazy feet (we have downstairs neighbors)
-Throw things
-Touch people without permission
-Use our computers to visit NSFW sites

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What is a STEAM Lab?

Most people have heard the term STEM learning, and understand that STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. So what differentiates STEAM from STEM and why is that important?

STEAM includes the importance of art in scientific, tech, engineering and mathematical learning. Art education allows students to learn things in a more open ended way and make them applicable to real life.

Artistry and creativity are what make STEM exciting! Discovering creative ways to apply scientific exploration, technological feats, engineering mastery and mathematical calculations is what drives our society.

If we left out art what would the Sistine Chapel look like? Would it be da Vinci’s Vitruvian stick figure? Would geometry have potential to be sacred?

Don’t just take our word for it, find out more for yourself: Huffpost News, Education Closet.