I’ve held off on writing this review, because one aspect of this book didn’t set well with me, but I think it has far more good than not, and it was easy enough to discuss its one problem with my kids. So I decided to give it a go after waking up to another Black man shot by police. Also, it is written by a POC which puts me a little more at ease, but still not entirely.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Los Alamos Public Library) starts at the scene of the extrajudicial police shooting of a young Black boy, Jerome. The circumstances leading up to the shooting are revealed in snippets over the course of the book both in flashbacks and trial coverage. It will sound familiar, though. A good kid who tries to always do the right thing living in a rough neighborhood under circumstances that make the shooting ‘justifiable’ and even ‘laudable’ to those who will always set Black boys on the wrong side of the law.

The book is told through the eyes of Jerome who is now a ghost watching his family mourn and his killer cover backside. His grandmother can sense him and he has the ghost of another boy to give him guidance, but his only real companion turns out to be Sarah, the daughter of his killer. She is a little girl his own age (and size) living a very different life, but struggling just the same.

The heart of the tale is about Jerome and Sarah and their shifting perspectives of each other. Already in turmoil, dealing with people who either call her father a hero or a murderer, Sarah will be forever changed by putting a face to the boy whose life her father ended. The book is masterfully written and ends on a hopeful, but far from easy, note.

My one issue, and it is big, is the use of white female tears. On a few occasions Sarah is overwhelmed with the growth that is being asked of her and escapes through tears. Her life is pretty awful in the moment, so that’s a bit reasonable. My real problem is that when Jerome gets angry with her, he is counseled by his ghost friend to be gentle with her in a way that didn’t sit well with me. It speaks too much to the feelings of white women being centered over the feelings of those who are literally being killed and I wish it would’ve been handled with a little more nuance. In my family, it served as a jumping off point for talking about this issue, but only because I’d read the book.

This book is written for middle grades. My sixth grader enjoyed the book and was able to have good dialogue about it. My fourth grader, who can be very sensitive to things, read through the book in just a few days. She was entranced. It is well done, in the sense that it doesn’t brush over the trauma and horror, but it does handle it in an age-appropriate way. I highly recommend it, with the noted reservations.

We’ve got a few things lined up for the fall and will be adding more as schedules stabilize.

Covid Camp

Our Covid Camp is currently full, but we’re keeping a wait list if you contact us. This camp is about being active, staying social, and getting work done. It is all outside, masked up, and physically distanced. We think it’ll be fun, but also safe.

We’d love to hiring a teen to help us with this camp (so we can clear our waitlist). If you know someone, send them our way. The plan is to always have everyone within sight of our adult, but we need to maintain the 1:5 ratios set by the governor.

Algebra I with a Social Justice Slant

I’ve been thinking about how to develop a social justice focused math curriculum since I first heard of them over a decade ago. The right student with the right need finally motivated me to do it now.

This Algebra I class is pre-algebra and algebra rolled into one. It is problem-based in nature and it revisits the same concepts multiple times with added complexity. We’ll meet outside for as long as we can and switch over to Google meets if we need to.

Dungeons and Dragons

We’re always looking for ways to get kiddos together socially during weird times, so when we had the opportunity to hire on a high schooler to run some D&D campaigns we jumped on it.

The first round of Dungeons and Dragon Clubs will last 5 weeks, and we have sessions for kids ranging from 2nd to high school. Beginners are welcome and they’ll have a one-on-one session to learn how to set up their characters.

Minecraft

We’re scaling back our minecraft operations for the beginning of the school year. Our creative bedrock and creative java offerings will simply be for server access and not scheduled chat, kids can arrange their own chat with buddies or use in-game chat. We’ve got Raspberry Juice installed on the Java server, so this works with all of our Python content as well.

For our Little People it is still all about the time to chat with friends, so we’re keeping that class, but reducing it to one meeting a week. Our Java Survival kids really enjoy the chat portion as well, so we’ll be keeping that meetup going as well.

Spies have infiltrated Los Alamos and seek the secrets of our town!  Fortunately, a scientist thought to lock them up for safekeeping – in a box with multiple locks, no less.  Unfortunately, she is now self-quarantining and can’t help us release them again for ScienceFest. We have the box, but only someone who knows our town well will be able to solve the clues she left for us and unlock all 6 locks before it is too late!

Grab your clues and join the hunt. Some clues are simple, but others have multiple parts that will involve exploring parts of town.  Put on your walking shoes and start searching!  Each clue will yield one lock combination that can be tested on the boxes. Solve all 6 clues to open the box for a chance to win!

Do the Corona blues have you cooped up in your house, unable to get out to track down clues?  You can still help! A set of online challenges are available as well.  Use these clues to do some online research from the safety of your own laboratory, and maybe learn something about our town and its history in the process.

Go to the ScienceFest Activities page to download your clues and instructions!

As we all know, planning for the fall is like shooting at a moving target with a pile of sticks with no fletchings. Sometimes the target even disappears completely. Even so, while it is safe, we want to help.

Our working plan for the fall semester is to offer “camp” out of FSN on Mondays/Tuesdays and Thursdays/Fridays from 9 – 1. Camp would be mostly outside to help with germ containment, but we would have access to bathrooms, a sheltered overhang, and wifi, as well as an indoor space in emergencies.

Depending on our audience and their needs, our activities would be a mix of hiking, playing with robots, and help with schoolwork. As always, we roll with how people are feeling on any given day and don’t push our goals and agenda too hard when it’s clear we aren’t going to succeed.

The goal here is not to provide full day care or a school replacement, but to ease the burden on working parents. Presumably parents can split shifts with one working a bit earlier and the other later, and kiddos can keep themselves occupied for awhile in the afternoon.

If you’d like us to email you when we have some more solid plans, or if you’d like to help us figure out how best to serve you, please fill out this very quick survey.

One of the amazing features of the Raspberry Pi when it first came out was that it came with a free version of Minecraft that had the ability to be interacted with via Python. Players could place blocks and create functions to make elaborate structures.

Minecraft was then purchased by Microsoft. While it has grown in many ways, the free raspberry pi version ceased development. Luckily and Minecraft grew, so did the ability to mod it, or create APIs that allowed for scripts and players to change the ways the Minecraft world behaved.

One of the Mods that was developed was RaspberryJuice. With this mod and the mcpi python library, players who have access to the appropriate server can use python with Minecraft in ways that weren’t possible on the Pi. We run one of these servers at STEAM Lab as part of our Python in Minecraft class, but you can also set one up on your own computer.

Sometimes one of the hardest bits of learning to program is coming up with a project that really makes you want to learn. Being able to add your own touches to Minecraft by programming a turtle to create Mt. Vesuvius, making flowers bloom wherever you walk, or designing your own parkour course can create just this motivation.

Over the next few months, I’ll work on posting some of the content I’ve created for our class for those who would like to work through it at home on their own server. In the next post I’ll provide some links that demonstrate how to set up your server and install your python libraries.

I encourage you to think about signing your kiddo up for the class though. Our world is a truly beautiful mess of colored wool towers and parkour course as kiddos try out the new material. The weekly meetups turn into a bit of a python-less free-for-all of just playing and laughing, but I have office hours for answering all of their python questions.

The kids are playing a lot of Minecraft these-a-days and I don’t really blame them. It is engaging and creative and sometimes quite challenging for the brain. They learn spatial reasoning and problem solving.

But it is also, very often a social game. We wanted to encourage the social nature of Minecraft while respecting the need to be physically distant. With that we’ve got four separate weekly meetups planned for June.

Each of these meetups includes access to a shared server for the entire month, a weekly two-hour supervised voice chat, and access to a Google Classroom for sharing ideas or planning additional time online together.

Minecraft Creative Bedrock

This class is held on Tuesdays from 3pm-5pm and is meant for kiddos who play Minecraft on a tablet. Get together and build amazing things and show them off to each other!

Minecraft Redstone (Java)

This class is held Mondays from 1pm -3pm and is a place for kiddos to collaborate and show off their amazing Redstone creations and other automations. It will also include weekly video tutorials to teach and inspire. This class uses the computer edition of Minecraft.

Minecraft Survival Java

This class is held on Thursdays from 3pm-5pm and requires the computer edition of Minecraft. Survival is what it is all about. In this groups kids will truly have to mine for their materials and craft their tools. This group is collaborative and kids work really hard to keep their village safe while showing off their style.

Minecraft Survival Bedrock

This class is held on Wednesdays from 1pm-3pm and requires Minecraft on a tablet (no consoles). Just like our Java version, kiddos will collaborate to conquer their world and defeat monsters.

Bonus! Minecraft for Little People

Because sometimes it is hard when your older siblings get to have all the fun! This class is specifically meant for the 4 and 5 year old set. We’ll play twice a week for an hour at a time. Kiddos will need Minecraft on a tablet. As of this post, the class is almost full, but we’ll make another section if you tell Lis you are interested.

Extra Bonus! Learning Python with Minecraft

In this class kiddos will learn how to program in Python. When they run their scripts they’ll see the results on our Minecraft server! Lis will create YouTube tutorials for different concepts. We’ll discuss ideas in the Google Classroom. Once a week we’ll get together to show off and inspire each other.

Heading into summer with covid still in the air I see two reasonable options for how we could proceed.

  • We could cancel our camps so as to best facilitate and encourage social distancing. This is the stance PEEC has taken and we respect them for that.
  • We can acknowledge that some parents are still trying to work from home and others need to actually go to their workplaces and need childcare even if it is less than ideal and we can provide that childcare as safely as possible. This is the path we will be taking.

The decision to continue to offer summer camp this summer is not a light one and it will come with some changes to our plans.

  • We will no longer be offering individual weeks of camp. We want to reduce the number of camper everyone comes into contact with as much as possible.
  • We *will* be offering half-day camp for the whole month.
  • We *will* be spending our entire mornings through lunch outside. This means half-day campers will be outside all day.
  • We *may* not use public transportation and instead have different base camps each day of the week.
  • We *will* do a lot of hiking. We *will* play with robots, even if it is under a shade tent.
  • We *will* be limiting camp in June to just five families. If there is enough interest in the half-day camp, we may offer a second session with a different teacher, but no more than five families will be in any group and those groups will remain separate.
  • Geocaching! We’ll find a few and maybe even create some!
  • I’m in the process of putting a few BreakoutEDU activities together. Maybe we’ll have a massive scavenger hunt to solve one of our boxes.

Our camp is for any kiddo entering elementary school next year. Campers must be able to take care of their own personal needs and be able to hike a couple of miles a day.

According to the current plan by the governor we should be able to open half-day camp on May 15th. We’re taking names for this camp, so please contact us if you are interested.

We’re also working on being deemed essential, so that if things close back down we can keep offering camp for essential workers. If we need to close or you are not an essential worker, we’ll offer refunds for any missed weeks of camp.

Please talk to us about any concerns you may have and we will work with you.

Sign up for camp here: https://lasteamlab.com/event/summer-camp-june/

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.

Tynker

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.

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.

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.

Tutorials

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.

Challenges

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.

Programming

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: https://codecombat.com/students?_cc=SoftCupShoe
  • Python: https://codecombat.com/students?_cc=GreenCatSpell

Rentals

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.