Meilee asked Santa for a Meccanoid G15 Personal Robot. It was not inexpensive, but when your Hello Kitty-loving, math-averse daughter asks for a programmable robot construction kit, it’s hard to say no. We try our best to bust gender stereotypes in our home, encouraging both kids to enjoy a range of activities and toys. Still, there is a blue-pink divide that persists. I did internal cartwheels when Meilee started talking about this robot. The construction required so much focus and I was heartened to see a project capture Meilee’s attention so deeply.
We went to the Red Bull Soap Box Derby, which was held (Aug. 23, 2014) downtown on Yesler Way. The course was deemed the steepest Red Bull has ever used. A bit of trivia: the base of Yesler Way used to be known as “Skid Road” because of how logs would skid down the road for the lumber mill.
I was hoping to inspire the kids to want to learn about how soap box cars are constructed. They were indeed enamored by the concept of these cars. Alas, the crowds and long wait time for the races to start diminished some of their enthusiasm. But the experience will serve as a good reference point the next time we come across some materials we can transform into a rudimentary car.
There were some preliminary runs to test the course. The Seahawks mascot, Blitz, took the first run. We were able to wedge ourselves into a small opening in the crowd on the upper course, so all we could see was two seconds of the teams as they zipped by.
We discovered later that Red Bull had set up large monitors so people could watch the races — it was easier to see the teams run the entire course via the monitors.
“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.”
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.
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.)
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.”