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Google Classroom (and more free resources)

I’ve found a few more resources that are only available to schools and two of them specifically work with Google Classroom. Because of this I have finally created a Google Classroom account for STEAM Lab.

Signing up

Go to Google Classroom and log in with a non-school google account. Click on the (+) in the upper right corner to join a class and enter the code: ifbjps2 That’s it! You can see an organized view of resources by clicking on the Classwork Tab. On the lefthand side you will see various class topics. This is where I have arranged complete courses, bonus material, and different curated resources.


Computer Science 100 is a class aimed at 3rd – 5th grades. It uses block based coding to solve simple puzzles. I would guess that it is appropriate for any comfortable reader and would be frustratingly tedious for a fifth grader with any programming knowledge. This would be a great class for a kiddo who wants to learn block based coding and isn’t comfortable diving in.

Computer Science 300 is a middle school level programming course. It gives a basic intro to the platform and then several more intros to various text-based languages including Python and Javascript. I’d start a kid on this course if they wanted something structured and were too experienced for CS100

Tynker puts out free Weekly Challenges that are puzzles to solve with a tutorial. They each require 30-60 minutes of work and appeal to a broader audience. They generally use block-based coding and allow for extension.

CS First

CS First is Google’s free coding curriculum. Assignments range in size and complexity from an hour to 15-20 hours. Scratch (the original and free block based coding developed by MIT) is used for all of the coding, but CS First gives structure to what can be a very intimidating platform. Some children love a blank canvas. Others like a jumping point and CS First provides this in a very robust way.

I’ll toss up all of the hourly assignments first and then curate some of the longer ones as I see where kiddos interests lie. The fun thing about google classroom is that it can provide a way for kiddos to share their creations and get feedback (from me and others).

I like these classes enough that I may offer a more formal version of one or two of them with class discussions, so keep your eye out for that!

Wonder Workshop

Wonder Workshop (home of Dash and Dot) is rolling out its new robot simulator early due to our looong summer vacation. I’ve been given early access and will be able to set up a classroom for that soon.

In the meantime, they’ve made class connect available for connection from home, so I’ve created a class. If kids get stuck working through the puzzles with their own Dash and Dot, or one of our rentals, I can see what’s going on and help them out. I’ve put all of that info into Google Classroom so that we have a way to communicate.

Wonder Workshop is also going to be adding weekly programming challenges for kids to complete with the chance to win prizes. I will be keeping track of kids who would like some help with this in Google Classroom as well.

Anything else?

I’ll be adding instructions for signing up for Code Combat and any other resources that come my way. I’ll also be linking my Scratch and Inkscape YouTube videos, but not more questionably educational videos such as my daughter’s Minecraft tutorials.

Let me know if there’s anything else we can do to keep your kiddo thinking and engaged during this interesting time.

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Book Review: A Wish in the Dark

This book guys! It is soooo good. A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat is set in a magical Thailand and stars two children raised in a women’s prison and the daughter of the warden. There is so much complexity that I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will give you a rundown on the main players.

In Chattana the light shines on the worthy. The governor came from the dark to save a town burned to ashes by the great fire. He has the magical ability to create balls of light that also serve as electricity for powering the town. He is a demagogue who can do no wrong.

Pong and Somkit are two boys raised in the women’s prison guilty of being born to criminals. They are branded as such and will only have their brands crossed out (not removed) when they reach thirteen and are released. After a fateful meeting with the governor, Pong can no longer wait and rashly makes an escape that will force him to hide for the rest of his life.

Nok is the warden’s daughter and tries to be the perfect child. Light shines on the worthy and she *will* be worthy. She does not understand how a child as well cared for as Pong could shun what he has been given. She is determined to track down this boy who ignores the law.

Father Cham is a kind soul in a quiet monastery. He sees the good hearts of all and bestows small but meaningful blessings on the children of the village. “May you never stub your toe in the dark.” He provides an education for the unwanted children of Chattana.

Auntie Ampai is the heart of the broken East Side of Chattana. Light shines on the worthy and the east side only has the dimmest of light orbs. Ampai gives the east side faith and heart and shows the downtrodden that they have value and that honor can shine anywhere.

This book is sooo rich. It is diverse in its setting and rich in culture. At the same time it dives deep into philosophical questions of power-dynamics and what it means to be worthy. Every single character grows and changes throughout the book. There are no villains and heroes, simply ordinary people put into extraordinary positions.

I will happily hand this book off to my 3rd and 5th graders to read. One will likely learn about another culture and have her deep sense of social justice beaten up a bit. The other will dive deeper into the world and think about the book’s lessons for the rest of her life. There is really no mature content to worry about.

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We’ve been doing a lot of updates on Facebook, but I didn’t want to leave out my blog readers completely. As I’m sure everyone is aware, we are closed for the immediate future. Even so, we’re trying to take some of our programming online to help keep kids engaged at home.


We have several tutorials up on both YouTube and Facebook. Content right now includes:

  • Making an adventure game in Scratch (block based programming),
  • Minecraft (particularly redstone), and
  • Designing graphics in Inkscape (an open source vector graphics design program)

I’m also working on learning how to do some 2D game design in Unity and whatever else I may get excited about.


We are also putting up Lego and Minecraft challenges on Facebook twice a week. Kids post their creations and are encouraged to comment on other people’s work.

Upcoming Classes and Camps

Rachel has hopes of creating a Minecraft Book Club as well as a story chain, so keep an eye out for those offerings. If you have need of individual tutoring for your kiddos, we may have some high school students who can rise to the occasion.

When the stay at home order completes we may offer outdoor half-day camps. Each camp will be restricted to five families to minimize risk. There will be hiking, engineering, and lots of play.


CodeCombat is one of the many organizations offering free content for the duration of the school year. We applied for school licenses for them and received them. We have two classes set up and kids should be able to work pretty independently. We may set up a weekly zoom to check in with kiddos.

  • Javascript:
  • Python:


Our rental program is still around and I encourage you to take full advantage of it. We’ve added a few items, such as sewing machines and our Cricut Maker. We have a few bots not listed as they aren’t normally available, so feel free to ask if you want something specific.