Category: Blog (page 1 of 9)

Twitter and Me NOT Sitting in a Tree


I have a Twitter-ish personality. I sum up things in a sentence or two and hope for a laugh.

The connection I found during the earlier days of Twitter was something I will always remember.

I found like-minded brainstormers from all over the world: people excited about teaching our children, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and building our collective future.  I thank all of you who participated on this level.

This past year something changed for me.

I had a solid number of followers, about 1600. These are interesting people and companies. And I thank you all.

I carefully gained these followers through positive engagement. And it was rewarding and humbling work.

Then I fell into the obsessive trap of consuming news.

I know I am not alone in this.

I wanted to see who would say what, and who would dare to cross the line. Frantically, I would read @replies 20 comments deep searching for hate and vitriol. It was shocking to read—and completely addictive.

My mood changed overall.

I realized that after reading a hateful comment, I would be less emotionally available for my daughter for a good 15 minutes. I couldn’t process it fast enough.

My 1600 followers paled in comparison to the followers of a hate-spewing account. I watched as they would gain followers, starting as an egg with 14 followers, to surpassing me, then up to 2500 followers and beyond.

And I get it. Reading hate in its purest form is scintillating.

All the while I plugged along with my little account. “Slow and steady wins the race!” I would think. “I’m just the little engine that could!” But I began to feel irrelevant.


And so I surrendered.

I surrendered because of my own shortcoming. I am not strong enough to post STEM project ideas amongst a sea of Pepe memes. I am not strong enough to read comments that have been written to throw me off without getting thrown off. I just do not have it in me . . .  yet.

But it is a shame to walk away from the positive aspects of Twitter: sharing great ideas, encouraging others, hilarious memes. I miss chats and other communities. And the sense of humor in all of you . . . beyond belief!

The hate-spewing egg has a person behind it as well.

I’ll call him or her Mr. Egg. Whether you believe me or not, I respect your place in the world. I don’t have to like it, but I will accept it. You ruined Twitter for me but maybe that’s a good thing. You are jabbing at areas I have become numb to, and forcing me to find a different way forward.

As for now? I will stick to Instagram and Facebook and—wait for it—actually talking to people in the real world. Coffee anyone?

Happy STEM projects everyone! Even you, Mr. Egg.



Header image ©Twitter





Design Thinking is Nice, But . . .


Image ©Daniel Ansel Tingcungco – click on image for link to his Flickr feed.

I ruminate.

One of my favorite rumination subjects is UX.

While doing laundry, I think about the washing machine and how it could be better: why does the door open like that? What would happen if we switched it to the other side? What about a basket prop stick so the laundry basket hugs firmly to the side before sliding down and dumping all my socks?

I think about the traffic lights, and wonder why red has to be on top. Is this obsolete? Should we reconsider? Maybe green for go is more deserving of the top position at this point? And so on.

There is a lot of chatter about design thinking. I love it. I think it is fresh and fun, and I cannot get enough. I am thrilled that people are thinking about the user experience with such precision. Empathy within the design process is “in” and I like it. We, the user, matter at last.

But I feel the need to add a note of caution.

Sometimes ya’ gotta ignore your user and just try to surprise them.

I fear that reliance on too much calibrated feedback at every step may stifle the creative process.

I don’t think the inventor of the wheel queried the village to see if a wheel seemed like a good idea to them. I imagine he or she just kind of came up with it, and then it took off from there.

I can’t imagine the inventor of Pop Rocks canvassed the masses to see if they would like candy that explodes on the tongue. But suddenly everyone had to try it.

We have heard the stories of Apple’s development of the iPhone. It was shrouded in secrecy. I do not recall being asked if I would prefer a phone with a glass front to my trusty Samsung flip. The phone with the glass front just kind of appeared one day. And I was surprised. “What the hey is that?” And, “that’s weird… but I kinda like it.”

We the people were completely left out of the design process.

People are not always going to appreciate or fully grasp what goes into designing something new. This is not to reflect poorly on “people” but sometimes an idea is just too rough to present when going through the initial phases.

Once when I was art directing a series of books, I presented them in a rough format and received feedback. “What’s this? Why is that over there?” To my creative process, it was devastating.

From that point on, I never presented an idea until it was in near complete shape. I could still make as many changes as needed, but I felt better putting forth a more complete product. I was protecting myself and my ideas. Fragile ego? Maybe. Fiercely devoted to the vision of an excellent product? Indeed.

My favorite part of the design process is the inspiration,

…that super-cool idea that flashes into your mind while driving the kiddo to swim class: “a swim backpack with mesh sides and a separate zip pouch for your wet bathing suit!”

But these ideas can die on the table with the first “that’s cool, but they already have this or that which is almost the same thing.” Or well-meaning comments, such as: “sounds like it might be too heavy,” or “you can really just use a Ziplock for the wet suit.”

Design ideas sometimes need to be defended in their infancy. Build quietly behind closed doors on occasion. And you may truly surprise—and delight—your user in the end.



Why a Non-Working Prototype can be a Good Thing for your Student



We have the school STEM-Vention fair this Friday. The past week has been a blur of cutting, pasting, bright-colored-cardstock buying, and planning. The poster is looking great.

But we had a strange bonus this time around. The prototype is a non-working prototype.

Last year, our daughter designed a special kind of room fan. Off we marched to Radio Shack to buy a motor and a battery pack. She learned the ins and outs of wiring, and how to power the motor. It was a great lesson in how to hook up a motor.

But the prototype became about “does the motor work?” Or, “Oops. It’s not working. Is is stuck? Out of battery?”

This is important stuff. But it became a distraction, as the working aspect became more important than the idea.

And it became what the students and judges were most fascinated with. Touch the wires and – boom! – the fan starts up. She received a nod of appreciation from the engineer who judged the contest. He was pleased that she had hooked up a motor. But he did not spend much time on the idea behind it.

This year, she has had to resort to a non-working prototype.

She had to surrender the idea of actually making it work this time. It was too complex.

If the idea takes off? We can spend time over summer break making it into a working prototype.

It has had a liberating affect on her work. She is playing with ideas, tweaking concepts, wondering about possible alternatives. She has been free to brainstorm without limitation.

I think it would be ideal to require some prototypes be working and others not. For, each scenario requires the student approach the concept in a different way.

p.s. I have not revealed the invention idea because she is learning about patents and licenses, and she does not want someone to take her idea. I was allowed to post the info on Facebook to friends/family, but not to Twitter. Sharp young one.

Thanks all, and have a good one.

By the way, ahem, the school is using our Invention Journal. The kids and teachers like it.



App Project: Wireframe and Paper Prototype


Plan and design an app paper prototype with this App Project eBook!*

Imagine. Brainstorm. Sketch a plan. Cut and paste a model:

This booklet takes your student through each of these steps with questions and spaces to sketch.

At the end, your student will have a fully-developed wireframe (drawn diagram of app screens) and paper prototype (with several pages of cut-and-paste buttons and more) to share!

Teach your students the process through these challenging and fun activities.
This book leads the student through a hands-on creation, including pencil and paper sketches, and cut and paste models. This teaches the process in a friendly, familiar format.
If your student wishes to go further, digital resources for app creation have been suggested on the last page.

Part of our STEM Supplies series

Purchase eBook: Link to product listing


How (and why) I Simplified the UX of my iPhone Home Screen

When I am picking up my iPhone, I am usually thinking of a few basic tasks, such as making a call, texting, or checking Twitter.

Sometimes—but not every day—I do other things, such as learn stuff, buy new apps, or make a to-do list.

When grabbing the phone I would find myself taking that inevitable pause, swirling my finger across the screen in search of the proper app.

Weather? No. Kindle? No. TOCA? No. Ah! Twitter.


These little time delays add up. They slow down the process of being human.

It makes me think of other user experiences that affect our daily lives.

For example, a car’s dashboard has a clear place for the key. The steering wheel is directly in front of the driver (hopefully). The gear shift is off to the side (unless you have one of those suave ’70s models with the shift on the column). That’s basically it.

We don’t try to crowd the dashboard with a stack of books, to-do notebooks, Monopoly games, and the like. Sure, those can be in the back seat, but there they do not interfere with the driver’s job.

So why not just change my iPhone setup?

I wondered why the home screen was so busy, but I left it alone. That’s the way it was set up! That’s the way it should be!


Who says?

The most beautiful thing about products in our time is that we often have the power to change them to our liking.

Reading a book on the Kindle? Change the text size, the background color, whatever you need to make it work for you. No mass-market paperback can boast these features.

Don’t like your fridge? Change the light intensity, temperature, shelf arrangement, ice type . . . make it yours, baby.

iPhone has too much stuff on it? Simplify. Right.

Here’s how I thought it through:

I find it easy to think in categories. So, for example, I arranged my social media apps so they are all in a row. I don’t have to hopscotch around the screen looking for where to go next.

Do I want to Tweet, Facebook, Snap or Instagram? They are next to each other, ready for me:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.45.52 AM

Basic things I use every day come next:


Then, I grouped all communication tools at the bottom:


So, my home screen looks like this:


On screen 2, I have the items I use less often, such as games and extras.

I crammed as much stuff as I possibly could in the extras panel:


Then, the other few utilities I use occasionally are on the screen, but simplified:


That’s all folks! I love it. I have now made a sport of how impeccably-organized I can make the phone. Can I eliminate maps? Should I do a plain-colored background? I will keep working on it, while keeping in mind this quote from the great Coco Chanel:

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.

Wishing you a nice Friday, all.


Most Important Job Skill for Our Children’s Future? Resilience.


©Denali National Park and Preserve – click on image to view their Flickr feed

In days of old—even as recent as when our daughter was born—I think it was easier to dream of a child’s future.

They would learn a bunch of stuff, eventually get a diploma and/or degree, become something (scientist, musician, roofer, chef . . . ) and that would be it.

“Ah. Watch how she asks for the iPad! A lawyer in the making.”

“The future artist at work. He’s my little Jackson Pollock!”

I still do that.

There are days when our daughter shows signs of being a scientist. Other days? Inventor. Still others? That lawyer asking for the iPad. (She’s good, by the way.)

But something needs to be added: Resilience.

The ability to turn on a dime, if necessary

The wherewithal to continually up their game and learn new skills as things change

Most importantly, they must retain the ability to hold their heads high as they realize that—once again—it’s time to run a system update on themselves. It is not personal. It is just part of the process of progress.

My father retired recently.

The hardest part for him to swallow? The feeling that he had become out of date, that his skills were no longer in demand.

During his generation—for the most part—a person found a career and stayed with it, gaining expertise along the way. People with long histories were in demand. They commanded the meetings with their wealth of knowledge.

Fast forward to my generation’s career path.

I have had to update and change course at least three times. I have been outsourced and replaced by robots. My fields have shrunk due to the increased power of technology.

Example? I was prepress fanatic. I still am. I would be happy to take the next hour to explain trapping to you. Or how to work a metallic ink into your piece. Or the difference between “white” and “none.” Rich black vs. double strike black. Optimal steps within a gradient. Like poetry to my soul.

But the knowledge is less necessary. Many of these issues can be resolved directly with the pressman/woman. It is much easier to correct said “issues” directly in the workflow.

So? Buh-bye prepress. My prepress knowledge is held in the back of my brain like, say, the lyrics to Rapper’s Delight. Fun to know? Definitely. Essential to my future success? Maybe not.

I look at the generation growing up now.

How many times will they need to retrain or upgrade? If mine has been three (so far), will theirs be six? Or even more?

Maybe when I look at our daughter I should sub-vocalize:

“Ah, my little lawyer-slash-scientist-slash-inventor-slash-resiliant-person-who-never-stops-learning.”

I think the trick, though, will be to teach our children to be on the lookout for when it is time to update their skills.

Our local fence builder is carrying on the traditions of expert handwork. He also now has a Facebook page. He realized that flyers would work for some of their customer base, but that Facebook would reach another set. Brilliant. Facebook does not take away from his expertise. It adds to it.

My sister used to teach guitar lessons in her living room. Now? On Youtube and her website. Outstanding. The cozy afternoon session with one student has been transformed to a highly-technical recording session which will reach hundreds in the same amount of time.

So the fence builder and the guitar teacher had to take a step back and regroup. Pick up some new skills. Redefine themselves in the process. But, boy, was it worth it.

So, my hubby and I have started bringing the idea of resilience into our daughter’s expectations for her future.

For example, this week she wants to be a veterinarian again. It’s a cyclical thing.


© Jennifer C. – click on image to view her Flickr feed

So we brainstorm scenarios about how she could run the business. Can she use the iPhone to track her business like that doctor in the Intuit commercial? Could she also start a store for healthy animal treats? And what if that does not work?

I don’t know if there could be a class called Resilience 101. If there was, I’d be on board to teach it.

But perhaps resilience is best learned in the stream of life. The more we address it, the less a surprise it will be, pointing out examples from their own life along the way. And that means the children of today will be ever more prepared for the constantly-changing world.



Homework Strategies: Version 2.0



I am in awe of homeschoolers.

Our little one is a highly creative thinker with a flair for drama. Homework is a major negotiation every afternoon. She has dutifully kept her rear in a chair for the past several hours, and now it is time to par-tee. She pirouettes around the living room in lieu of math. Freestyles ELA vocab lists into goofy poems. Stages meltdowns at the proper cues.

It’s more like open-mic night at the club than an after-school homework session.

But when she settles in, she knocks it out of the park. It is about tuning in and staying tuned in for that short while—which I know can be a challenge after a long day at school.

I joke with her that if we were to homeschool, I’d be so burnt by the end of the day of schoolwork drama that she’d have to get herself a bowl of cereal for dinner and I’d be in bed by 8 o’clock.

Thankfully she also understands my wry humor, and finds this hilarious. Hand on forehead in faux exhaustion, she acts out Mommy going to bed by 8.

But it is probably pretty close to the truth.

We have gained a little maturity around here since our earlier homework posts. We are nearing 4th Grade, and prepping for that change that will be Middle School (cue horror-flick music).

So, here are some fresh ideas for getting that work done. And done well.

First: Transitions are huge—maybe the most important part of the process.

To avoid surprises, we have a set standard for homework time

1. Home
2. Snack
3. 15-minute break
4. Homework

So, she expects the expected. She may not love it. That 15 minutes may lag a bit here and there. But it is the rule of law and she knows it.

Second: Embrace (for lack of a better word) the transition into doing the actual work.

Know that there will be drama and prepare thy self.

This way, I do not make the mistake of meeting her drama with drama of my own. That “here we go again!” feeling can really take over.

In terms of handling drama, I’m kind of on the fence about deep breathing. It sounds great, and I know it works. But when I am facing frustration, I become a little rebellious. “Deep breathing? Yeah right.”

Usually I’ll take a step back and busy myself and approach her when I feel calm.

The non-dramatic response to her drama keeps things on a level plane. She is watching me for my response. If I get riled up, she owns the moment, and—lo and behold!—homework is delayed. Mission accomplished.

Third: Don’t let the turkeys get us down – the little stuff can make or break the process:

Arrive prepared:

Have a backup pencil.

Have the homework all in one place.

Be willing to brainstorm answers for a bit to get her back on task.

Take a mini silly-break or hug-break if/when needed.

Be prepared for the onslaught of issues that will arise: “I’m hungry,” “I need the bathroom,” “I’m too hot.” Meet each of these with awareness of the bigger idea – the kid feels the need to escape.

Disappear so she can truly concentrate once dialed in.

Eventually she is “on a roll.”

Don’t interrupt. Go pretend to dust something (or actually dust something) far away but within earshot.

Hold breath.

Watch for new wiggling and intercept as necessary.

Settling into homework is a skill like any other. It must be learned, coached, even coaxed at times. But we will keep at it. And every year sees improvement.

And someday, in the distant future, I imagine her looking wistfully back at the days when Mom so patiently worked with her on how to “buckle down and get it done.” Well, maybe.







Design Thinking Project – Happy Birds


Budgies © Puppies are Prozac / Flickr (click image to be taken to photographer’s page)

I pulled out the giant Post-It board this past Sunday to teach our little one about the Design Thinking Process.

We decided to tackle a real-world problem: the fact that our parakeets are afraid every time we come near them.

So I sketched out 6 steps on the paper and we went to work.

I adapted the steps slightly because we were discussing how to modify a process rather than trying to create a product.

Understand: What is the problem?

Birds are afraid when we approach

Observe: Watch the birds

They seem to be afraid of the noise

Point of view: How does the user feel?

I find it challenging to interview birds, so we had to empathize by pretending to be the birds. We acted out various scenes. How did we feel when “being” a bird and a person would come close to us?

We felt that seeming really big was a possible fear factor. Also, sudden noises seemed to be a problem.

Ideate: Brainstorm solutions

Here is our list of brainstormed solutions:

be non-scary

be relaxed when approaching the cage

take it slow

seem smaller

Prototype: Make it happen

This would normally be the prototype step, but in this case since we weren’t making anything, we tried our new approaches to the cage to see which worked.

Test and Feedback

Did it work? Yes! We were successful in not scaring the birds when we approached the cage slowly and softly, and let them get used to us.

Now she is on a roll with the design thinking process. She has since redesigned a baby spoon, a pencil cover, and is working on her walking night light for her Invention Fair at school – all utilizing these steps.

Have a great day, everyone.

If you liked this, you also might like looking at the similar Engineering Design Process (Ask – Imagine – Plan – Create – Experiment – Improve). Check out the nifty poster and Invention Project eBook.


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