Water Balloon Experiment

“We’re doing an experiment.”
“What’s the experiment?”
“We’re trying to make the water leak out without destroying the bag.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
“By hitting or punching it or doing some massive destruction without popping it.”
“And, how’s it going?”
“The result was that we couldn’t really get the water to come out of the bag without damaging it.”

Water Balloon Experiment 1

Water Balloon Experiment 3


Water Balloon Experiment 5

Water Balloon Experiment 6

Water Balloon Experiment 7

Water Balloon Experiment 8

Engineering a Puff Mobile

Meilee competed in the Puff Mobile competition at school. She had to make a “car” using straws, Life Savers, paper clips, tape and material for a sail (cling wrap). She won the first round to advance to the second round but didn’t make it past that. Then we celebrated with frozen yogurt.









Engineering a Marble Run

Shen's Marble Run

For Christmas, Shen asked Santa for marbles. I’m not sure where he got that idea. He’d never spoke about marbles before and when it was his turn to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what he wished for Christmas, he said, “Marbles.” Perhaps, in the moment, Shen simply said the first thing that came to mind and forgot to say what he’d actually been talking about: Hot Wheels cars and a train set.

I found a marble run set online from Quercetti and gave that to Shen “from Santa.” It’s a low-tech toy that can scale up or down in complexity according to how many pieces you have. You can buy additional segments or sets that have motorized elevators and such. We started with the basic 45-piece set, which costs about $20. It’s still a little too challenging for Shen to set up, so I have had to help him. But he thoroughly enjoys watching the marbles wend their way through the maze of tracks. I asked him what he likes about the marble set and he replied, “I like playing with you.” (Awww.)

Quercetti Marble Run

Shen asks many questions about how things work, so I think the marble run can help him develop those engineering skills. He did construct a tall run that worked – even if it wasn’t perfectly stable. But matching the pieces to one of the design examples on the box takes a little help. The other day, we built one of the example structures and then Shen asked me to shoot a movie of him demonstrating how it works. I shot it in 3D using the Poppy (read about Poppy), but the lighting and resolution of the video aren’t great, so it’s a bit fuzzy (sorry). But I love that my usually shy Shen thought about what he wanted to say — we did three takes and he started the same each time: “Hi. I made a marble set with my mama and I can show you something really cool.” At the end, he says, “Done. Goodbye.”

Kickstarter: Poppy 3D and iPhone

Shen is viewing a 3D movie through a Poppy device.
Shen is viewing a 3D movie through a Poppy device.

My friend Ethan Lowry and his co-developer, Joe Heitzeberg, launched a Kickstarter project for the Poppy, a device that turns your iPhone into a 3D camera. I backed the project at the $39 level and received my Poppy right after Christmas. The concept is reminiscent of the View-Master, which we all have probably played with as children. (The initial fundraising goal for Poppy was $40,000, but the project ultimately raised more than $190,000.) Poppy uses optics to create the 3D effect. You slip your iPhone into the slot and flip the front optics box and start shooting photos or video using the Poppy app. It’s an ingenious and affordable device that I thought would offer us a fun way to collaborate and create.





After Poppy started shipping, Ethan and Joe sent an email to all the Kickstarter backers inviting them to submit Poppy photos and videos for a chance to win another device. I had just purchased the Animation Studio kit, a box that transforms into a miniature set for a stop-motion movie, as a project for the kids. I thought it might be fun to use the Poppy to make a 3D stop-motion movie. Meilee and I had made a stop-motion movie in the past using Legos and the Stop Motion Studio iPhone app, but we certainly had not shot anything in 3D.

Animation Studio is a fold-out box that serves as a miniature movie set. The kit includes different backgrounds, a how-to book, and cut-out characters and props.

We decided to create a simple story using two Christmas ornaments and a gingerbread cookie. We shot it using the Poppy and then created the movie with the Stop Motion Studio app. Meilee proudly claims that she did the actual eating of the cookie. I ended up rendering two versions. In the original, the titles are hard to read and the pace is a little too fast. The second version has cleaner titles and a slightly slower pace. You can watch them as is to get a sense of the plot, but it’s best viewed through a Poppy, of course.

Version 1:

Version 2:

On New Year’s Day, we went to the beach near our house and shot this short movie about beach combing.

Learning to Ride on Two Wheels – aka a Physics Lesson

I got the best Christmas gift ever from my kids. Meilee encouraged Shen to attempt to ride his bike without training wheels. (We took the training wheels off earlier this summer and promptly had to re-install them.) He agreed. And what happened over the course of three days was not just a lesson in physics (Shen fell many times), but the realization of many of the “good-human” qualities I have tried to instill in my children: teamwork, supportiveness, persistence, love, joy, and an understanding of the reward of having accomplished something.

The 25-Day Project

(Author note: I had started this post in October, but didn’t finish until now. Life got busy.)

25 Days-5K
In September 2013, I ran my first 5K race. This photo was taken near the finish line.

Back in August 2013, I signed up to run my first 5K. I had not been a runner and walked on a treadmill to get exercise. One day, my legs wanted to go faster, so I started running. Once I was able to run one mile without stopping, my goal was to run a daily mile and see how long I could maintain a streak. About three days before I signed up for the 5K, I ran two miles straight. This was a first and came after six months of discipline and hard work that resulted in my losing 30 pounds. I celebrated this achievement in a Facebook post and a friend suggested I register for an upcoming 5K. So I did.

But, I had only just run two miles straight and all my running had been on a treadmill. Running 5K (3.1 miles) on pavement is a completely different experience from running indoors on a treadmill. I had 25 days to train outdoors and build my endurance. Of course, I saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with my kids: For each of 25 days as I trained for my race, Meilee would have to spend 20 minutes practicing her drawing and Shen would have to practice writing his name.

Meilee's Art
Meilee wraps up her 25-Day Project with her previous drawings as inspiration.

At 4 and 7 years of age, my kids don’t have a concept of time; 25 days is abstract to them. What I hoped to demonstrate by example and practice was what they could accomplish as the result of consistency and discipline. Just as there were days when I had to push myself to run, there were many 20 minutes that seemed like an eternity to the kids – and me, because I had to make sure they completed each day’s work.

Meilee's Art Closeup

I asked Meilee what she learned from doing the 25-Day Project. “I learned that drawing helps keep me calm when I’m mad,” she said. “It makes me have good thoughts. And doing the 25-Day Project with all those pictures made me feel really good.”

Shen is in preschool and will head to kindergarten in the fall. Developmentally, he has been slower than Meilee was at his age to articulate himself in every way. He struggled with holding his pen, sitting for 20 minutes, staying on task, and sometimes even remembering the letters in his name or the order of the letters. While my goal for Meilee was to practice her technique and explore her creativity, my goal for Shen was more straightforward and, frankly, utilitarian. Worst case, if he ever got lost, he should at least know his first and last names and be able to spell them.

Shen's Letters
Shen’s 25-Day Project was to practice writing his name – and the rest of the alphabet.
Shen's Creative Letters
Shen got creative with his letter “D” and incorporated a “tomato man” into his last name.
Shen's Writing
This was his best attempt at writing his name.

I now have a file folder of a stack of papers containing 25 days of letters and drawings. And a race bib from the 5K.

Shen’s First Field Trip: Christmas Tree Farm

Shen attends preschool at Nature Kids, which is a program operated by the City of Seattle through Discovery Park. It’s a wonderful preschool because the kids go outside every day for a hike rain or shine. Meilee also attended Nature Kids. Shen’s first field trip – he was more excited about riding a yellow school bus – was to a Christmas tree farm. While it was cold, it was a wonderful way to get out into the “country” and for Shen to see what a tree farm is like.








Harbor Seal Day & Art Contest

Harbor Seal Day 1
Meilee and Shen pose with their seal masks and the “jellyfish” they made at the craft table.

September 8, 2013, was Harbor Seal Day. Seal Sitters got proclamations from the mayor as well as the governor and organized festivities around the official dedication of the “Sentinels of the Sound” harbor seal sculpture on Alki Beach. The sculpture, by artist Georgia Gerber, shows a mama seal and her pup, and it’s located near the Bathhouse. The dedication involved an invocation from Ken Workman, of the Duwamish tribe, who is one of the descendants of Chief Sealth (Seattle’s namesake).

Sculptor Georgia cuts the ribbon during the dedication of her seal sculpture.
Sculptor Georgia Gerber cuts the ribbon during the dedication of her seal sculpture. Some young seal sitters await eagerly.

As part of the festivities, Seal Sitters organized an art and story contest for kids. I encouraged Meilee to enter and, at first, she was excited about the prospect. Days passed and she still hadn’t made an effort to sketch an idea for the contest. When she finally did draw a picture of a harbor seal, it was lackluster and showed none of the skill or imagination that she usually effuses. These two drawings are “lazy” compared to what Meilee is capable of drawing.

20130926-192053.jpg 20130926-192103.jpg

Lest you think I’m being harsh, here’s a recent drawing Meilee did that does show her abilities. (The snail is a free-hand rendition of a the character from the new book “A Whale Who Dreamt of a Snail” by William Heimbach and illustrated by Angelina Tolentino – the same Gina featured in this previous post.)


No matter how much cheerleading I gave Meilee about the seal art, she just couldn’t find her inspiration. Even after we attended our first seal sitting shift and she got to see a pup on the beach, a drawing did not emerge. I was disappointed, because this was exactly the kind of opportunity that would give her a taste of working toward an artistic goal that had a potential payoff beyond the satisfaction of completing a project: winning the contest. But, I recognized that I needed to let this one go, because I didn’t want Meilee to have negative associations with drawing harbor seals. If she wasn’t inspired, she wasn’t inspired. Shortly after the entry deadline, Seal Sitters announced that the deadline had been extended.  I took it as a sign that we should try again.

Again, there was struggle. I put Meilee on a phone call with artist Erica Baugh (read post about Erica) to get some advice on how to deal with artist’s block. Still, she “dialed it in.”


She ultimately decided to write a poem and illustrate it. I was just glad that she completed a drawing before the deadline. She earned an “honorable mention” and “most poetic.”


I hoped this experience would help her begin to understand the consequence of not putting effort into a project and the potential reward and fulfillment of a job well-done. Meilee's drawing received honorable mention and "most poetic."

Meilee’s drawing received honorable mention and “most poetic.”

NYT’s Science Education Special Section

In case you missed it…

It’s worth checking out the Sept. 3 special section on science education in The New York Times. Of note, the report on the Institute of Education Sciences, which is:

“…a little-known office in the Education Department (that) is starting to get some real data, using a method that has transformed medicine: the randomized clinical trial, in which groups of subjects are randomly assigned to get either an experimental therapy, the standard therapy, a placebo or nothing.

“The findings could be transformative, researchers say. For example, one conclusion from the new research is that the choice of instructional materials — textbooks, curriculum guides, homework, quizzes — can affect achievement as profoundly as teachers themselves; a poor choice of materials is at least as bad as a terrible teacher, and a good choice can help offset a bad teacher’s deficiencies.” Read the full story here.

There’s also a story about a new version of Scratch, the programming language for kids that was created by the MIT Media Lab, that will be geared toward the younger set. Scratch Jr. is being tested in kindergartens and is expected to be available to the public sometime in 2014. Read that story here.

I also enjoyed reading comments from various leaders in tech, science and education on their thoughts about the state of education. Check out the section online: http://www.nytimes.com/indexes/2013/09/02/science/index.html