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.

Logistics

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?

Our new class schedule is up! You can check it out at https://lasteamlab.com/events/ 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.

Arts:
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

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

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

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

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

Preschool:
Mighty Microbes
Preschool Programming Literacy

Every year code.org 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

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.

casual cosplay:

Cosplay or costume play is the art of creating a costume based on or inspired by a character from media. Casual cosplay is a term used to describe a low key or relaxed cosplay, casual cosplay is all about using what you already have, making things you don’t, and finding the rest easily to embody a character you love! Cosplay can seem intimidating if you don’t know how to use a sewing machine or wrap your head around how to make armor from cardboard. In the 4 week class at the STEAM Lab different techniques and approaches to cosplay will be broken down in to accessible resources for kids.

Doggie cosplay:

The STEAM Lab is offering a dog cosplay building class on Saturday the 19th! Have a non-traditional shaped dog? Or a not common dog costume idea? This class is for you! You bring your dog’s measurements (or a dog sweater that fits them) and we can help you create the dog costume of your dreams! Whether it be a large dog or a small dog we can help you make your dog’s cosplay come to life!

Cosplay can be fun, accessible, and inexpensive! Casual cosplay is all about figuring out how to make something that reflects your passions and works for you!

Create your own wings:

The STEAM Lab will also offer a wings making class two Saturday’s in October! These iridescent faerie (or dragon, or bug, or sprite) wings will help take your costume to the next level. These realistic and life size wings are fun, durable, and magical. Parent child duos who want to take the class will be offered a special discount for signing up together! Shoot us a message for more details!

When starting Los Alamos STEAM Lab, we had a real debate about whether we would be a non-profit or LLC. We have a strong desire to serve the community and make our classes accessible to everyone (you can see one part of that desire in our post about diversity). We finally settled on LLC because we weren’t ready to bring a Board into the decision making process. Four women, each with their own strong vision, is plenty to navigate.

HOWEVER, we still very much want to serve the community and that includes folks with diverse incomes. To that end, we’d like to start a STEAM Foundation that will fund scholarships to our classes as well as programming at the libraries and schools of Los Alamos and Northern New Mexico.

In addition to funding activities at our space, we anticipate that the foundation would support other STEAM activities in town, particularly Mathamuseum, another community focused LLC.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in running this foundation (including raising enough money for a decent salary), please get in contact with us. Besides there not being enough hours in a day, we don’t feel it would be ethical to run this ourselves, but we’d be happy to sit on the board. We expect that it would involve about 40 hours a month of grant-writing and schmoozing.


Let’s just start by saying I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Patricia Wrede. Even though her series can be vastly different from each other, they are all just fantastic. I particularly recommend The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, featuring a princess who offers herself to the service of dragon because she just can’t handle being as vapid as her sisters, and the Cecelia and Kate Novels featuring the letters two regency era cousins send back and forth to each other as they piece together a dastardly plot and try to stop it.

Anywho, this book review is actually about Frontier Magic, a series set in an alternate history just after the secession war in Northern Columbia. The world is filled with dangerous creatures, both magical and non-magical and only the mysterious magic of the great barrier keeps the pioneers safe. Many who cross it to explore or create settlements never come back.

In The Thirteenth Child, we meet Eff. In a world where Seventh Sons are powerful and the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is nearly legendary, it is really pretty awful to be a twin to a double seventh, especially if you are the older twin and a seventh daughter, for that makes you an unlucky Thirteenth Child. This is the story of Eff, a child so unlucky that her parents had to move the whole family from their safe existence to the frontier when she was only five. In this story, we learn that maybe superstition is only what you believe it to be and if you just look at something differently then maybe the unlucky can become lucky. Eff grows in confidence, and does amazing things even proving that she has abilities her brother can only dream of, but she still does not shake off her feelings of inferiority.

I won’t review Across the Great Barrier and The Far West in great detail, as the continue the life of Eff as she grows into herself and becomes a young woman. I will say that what I love about this series is its slow pace. Very little happens in the way of great excitement, or rather exciting things happen, but they are rarely the focal point of the story. Instead, we get to see a brow-beaten five year old turn into a lovely, strong young woman because one person has faith in her at a time and she works hard to prove the faith warranted. There is no defining moment or major climax where she suddenly realizes that she is worthwhile. Instead, she is constantly surprised when people give her their faith. She is the ultimate example of imposter syndrome and in the end she has faith in herself and that is lovely.

Because the book is much more about the character and much less about the action, it is probably more suited for a mature and introspective reader. I would totally hand it to my current 10yo, but my 8yo probably won’t be ready for it for another five years. The Amazon reviews agree with me, ranging from love of the book to complaints about it being ‘boring.’

Mature Content/Spoiler Alert: The books are pretty pristine and true to their era except for reference to a bit of math that explains an elopement and an unchecked ego that ends in an accidental death and a lot of guilt.

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.

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

This post contains affiliate links.

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!