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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.

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March Mammal* Madness

*plus some non-mammals

This year we will be participating in March Mammal Madness. This is a yearly bracketed contest to see which animals would win out in a [hypothetical] tournament style combat.

The idea is to give kiddos a chance to research the offensive and defensive traits of a series of animals and to think about the circumstances that might lead one to winning.

The folks behind the organization create realistic scenarios and probabilities for the outcome of those scenarios. From there, they roll the proverbial dice to determine outcomes and winners. Not all matches are to the death either. A well fed predator may choose to forfeit a round rather than risking an injury.

So get your kiddos researching these animals. We’ll be posting fact sheets up around STEAM Lab and encouraging kiddos to make their own brackets. Adults can participate, too! We’ll hand out a free month membership to the winner if we get at least 10 participants.

You can find your 2020 bracket at Mammals Suck … Milk.

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Now Hiring

We are currently looking for the right people for a few positions.

Tutors: We are in need of a supply of after school tutors as our Beast Academy Math program grows and we add homework help and reading tutoring. This is a great job for a high school student and can be flexible (adults welcome, too). We have immediate need for someone on Wednesdays from 1pm – 2pm. Pay starts at $10/hr.

Spanish Speaking Tutor: We have immediate need for a Spanish speaker to help a few Middle and High School students who are not fluent in English. The students need help with math, English, science, and history. We will have someone on hand to help if the math gets tricky. Tutors would work 3 hrs a week and have a flexible schedule. Pay starts at $20/hr.

Summer Camp Coordinator: We are accepting resumes for a summer camp coordinator. This person would help oversee our Summer Camp so that we could extend it into July and August. They must have experience working with groups of children and work well with neuro-diverse kids. Pay starts at $20/hr.

Summer Camp Teachers: In addition to offering a free-form summer camp, we’d also like to offer some half-day enrichment classes. If you have a class idea that fits into the STEAM fields, come talk to us! Pay starts at $20/hr.

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Tutoring and Homework Help

I have a pipe-dream of attaching a free tutoring and homework center to STEAM Lab where kiddos of all ages can come, get help with their homework, projects, or just concepts they’re struggling with. We’d hire high schoolers to offer assistance and have an adult supervisor for tougher questions and behavioral disputes.

After kiddos finished their homework then they’d get to head over to STEAM Lab and drop-in for free or at a discounted rate. We’d make the whole experience as fun as possible and maybe get Fleur de Lys or Ruby K’s to offer some $5 vouchers for kids who come in a certain number of times a month.

In order to make this possible, we’d need to rent additional space, hire tutors, a coordinator, etc. So in reality we need some sort of funding source or sponsor. If you have any ideas for us (keeping in mind that we are still and LLC and not a non-profit) we’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, we’ve created a survey to help identify the scope and extent of the need so that we can make more informed choices. Please go fill it out!

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Math Tutoring and Enrichment

Math is a hard subject to teach in school. It is reasonably easy to differentiate reading and writing, because students pick their own books and write their own journals, but math is so much more rigid. On top of that is the fact that arithmetic and math are often conflated so students that have a hard time with one, give up on the other. Yet, we never assume that because a kid is a bad speller they can’t read or write.

Math is my passion. I love teaching students that they can think creatively *and* logically and solve hard problems. I’ve played with a few ways of trying to address this at STEAM Lab and I think I’ve settled on my favorite.

In February, we’ll start offering Math Tutoring and Enrichment using the Beast Academy curriculum. This curriculum focuses on developing concepts and creative problem solving. At the beginning of each chapter two characters discuss a real world problem in comic book style and develop the math to solve that problem. Students work through problems to cement the concept, but never just rote repetition.

In this program kiddos will be learning things in a very different way than they are in class. It will make things click for some kids who’ve been struggling and it will provide new ways of thinking for kiddos who’ve been having an easy time. All in all, it will make the transition from arithmetic to algebra much, much easier.


This program is aimed at kids in grades 2-7. Have your kiddo take part of the placement tests. When choosing a placement test, choose one lower than you think might be correct, since we’ll want to reinforce the logic behind some of the concepts before introducing new material.

If you tell us where your kiddo is at and when they’re available, then we’ll pair them up with another student of roughly the same level. Problem solving with a buddy is always more fun! If your child already has a buddy, then just let us know!

Cost will be $12 for each workbook (we’ll buy the books) and then a weekly cost of $10. You’ll pay by the month based on how many days are available that month. We’re running the program on Mondays and Tuesdays from 4-5 and Wednesdays from 1-2. Kiddos are welcome to stay and finish out our drop-in hours afterwards.

We will be hiring a student to help facilitate, but there will always be a math-y adult on hand to answer questions as well.

Any questions?

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Winter/Spring Classes

Our new class schedule is up! You can check it out at and I’ll list some of the highlights here.

As always, if you have a group that would like their own session of one of these classes, please reach out to us! We are happy to accommodate. And if you have concerns about some special needs that your kiddo might have, please talk to us about how we can help make our classes accessible.

Bullet Journaling for Teens and Tweens
Mixed Media Nature Collage
Children’s Craft Fair
Super Sculpey Dragons
Paper Mache Creatures
Create Your Own Wings
Beginning Wand-making and Introduction to Charms

Programming and Math:
Intro to Robotics
RPG Game Design – RPG Maker
Math Enrichment – Probability and Combinatorics Edition
Intro to Game Design – Godot
Beginning Wand-making and Introduction to Charms

Microbe Myth-Busting
Nutrition News – After School
Forensics: Kidnapped Cookies
Discover DNA – After School
Exploring Erosion – After School

Sew your own Circle Skirt
Doll Making and Fashion Design
Draft your own Bodice Block

Winter Break Camp
No Teacher’s Conference Camp Scheduled yet, but we’ll likely have one

Microbe Myth-Busting
Paper Mache Creatures – Homeschool
Nutrition News – Homeschool
Discover DNA – Homeschool
Exploring Erosion – Homeschool

Mighty Microbes
Preschool Programming Literacy

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Hour of Code

Every year hosts an Hour of Code. This is an international event intended to give every child access to programming education.

We live in a world surrounded by technology. And we know that whatever field our students choose to go into as adults, their ability to succeed will increasingly depend on understanding how technology works.

At Los Alamos STEAM Lab we believe in this mission and that’s while we’ll be celebrating Hour of Code next week by offering our drop-in hours for free all week and hosting a variety of programming related activities. We’ll have something for everyone, from Pre-K all the way through Adult. Students can program a dance party, solve puzzles in minecraft, use color codes to have ozobot navigate a maze, or take Dash on a road trip.

Our Drop-In hours are:
Monday: 4- 6pm
Tuesday: 9 – 12pm, 4 – 6pm
Wednesday: 1 – 4pm
Thursday: 9 – 12pm, 4 – 6pm
Saturday: 10 – 1pm

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Book Review: All the Impossible Things

You guys. This book. Don’t read it before bed. Don’t keep reading it hoping to get to a part where you’ll stop crying before you go to sleep. Just don’t.

Okay, but seriously, All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey is a piece of speculative fiction about a twelve year old foster kid who has a bit of an affinity with the wind. Red has been through a lot in her life. Her mother is in jail, her grandmother and primary caregiver is dead, and when her emotions get too much for her she has a tendency to cause storms. Her foster families don’t know about her magic, but they do know she’s trouble and she knows she’s unwanted.

The story begins when Red is being taken to a new foster home. I won’t go into too much detail as it will spoil the story, but I will highlight some of the things done well.

  • Her foster dad is black, but that is mostly just mentioned in passing.
  • Her caseworker is a genuinely good person who cares about her.
  • The support family for the foster family are Hawaiian and their culture is very important to them.
  • Red’s mom has a drug problem that doesn’t magically disappear.
  • Lots of things go wrong. There is no magically happy ending, but there is hope.
  • This quote: “Grief isn’t like anger. Anger can burn out. It can be released. But grief is something that becomes a part of you. And you either grow comfortable with it and learn how to live your life in a new way, or you get stuck in it, and it destroys you.”

I will hand this book over to my ten year old to read and she will love it, but it is a hard book. I am not kidding when I say I cried through half of it. It was raw and there was very little break from one moment to the next. Please read this before handing it to your child. It was oh, so good, though. We’ve needed more books like this for a long time, and I’m pleased they are starting to get published.