Category: Blog (page 2 of 9)

3 Simple Rules for Creating a Good Worksheet


© MissMessie – click on image to be taken to her Flickr profile

I am coming to this industry from a different perspective. 

Dedicated parent? Indeed. But I am not a classroom teacher or a homeschooler.

I am a behind-the-scenes person—a designer of educational materials.

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Log of Surprises


Design Process Mini Poster

Click on image to launch PDF


Design Process Chart

If you like this, try our Invention Project eBook or Invention Journal!



Ten STEM/STEAM Books for Kids That I Really, Really Want

Click on images to view on Amazon.*

From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts:

How adding the arts enhances creative thinking in the STEM process

Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff (Make):

Great lessons using everyday stuff:

How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons: Learn how to design and code your very own computer game (Super Skills)

Open, and fun format. Humorous and colorful.

Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything

Getting the grownup in the house up to speed!

STEM to Story: Enthralling and Effective Lesson Plans for Grades 5-8

Lessons which blend STEM and creative writing

Math Art Fun: Teaching Kids to See the Magic and Multitude of Mathematics in Modern Art

Kids discover the math hidden in modern art pieces, and make projects

Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids: Family-Friendly Projects for Exploring and Teaching Math, Science, History, and Culture Through Creative Building

Using Minecraft to teach through certain quests (not released yet)

Make: Paper Inventions: Machines that Move, Drawings that Light Up, and Wearables and Structures You Can Cut, Fold, and Roll

Using paper to make creative, scientific projects

The LEGO Power Functions Idea Book, Vol. 1: Machines and Mechanisms

Instructions on how to build simple mechanisms

The Kids’ Book of Simple Machines: Cool Projects & Activities that Make Science Fun!

Projects and activities that focus on simple machines

*Note: This is not a sponsored post. I don’t even think I have my Amazon Affiliate program properly set up. But when I love something (or want something), I share it.

STEAM in the Real World: Maps and Shortcuts (plus fun project ideas)

(Concepts: Maps, Direction, Geometry, Distance)

“Come home when I ring the dinner bell.”

The ’70s was the era of Free Range Kids, Version 1.0.

Kool-Aid was considered fruit juice. Cork-heeled platforms (our summer shoes) were purchased once a summer at Woolworth. We were fascinated with the Merlin handheld game, Atari Space Invaders, and the latest Smurf from Germany.

We had a scattering of friends and rivals about town: some on the other side of the woods, others on the other side of town.

We spent a lot of time along the tracks. They were those beautiful Conrail Freight tracks: those that made you sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” to yourself as you dreamed into their vanishing perspective. Oh yes. Big things ahead.


© Lane Pearman (click image for link to his Flickr feed)

Plans were rolled out as follows:

“Meet ya at the creek tunnels,” or “Meet me near the tracks where the old shopping cart is.” How can I get from said tunnels to said tracks in the same afternoon? Cut through the soccer fields? Sneak through Mr. Furman’s back yard? Bike, foot or skateboard? How do I meet the friends while avoiding the rivals? How can I get to Winnie’s house without having to walk past Matt’s?

Every day required a strategic planning session.

But we mastered it. We had it all figured out. Streets were for people who did not get it. Streets were for grownups on which they drove their Buick Lesabres while puffing on menthol cigarettes.

You only had to take a street so far, then cut an angle through so-and-so’s lawn, up past the stone wall, and, bammo! You were behind the Middle School. Grownups were so slow.

To my–now–grownup mind, this is all geometry. 

We all held Google-Earth-like schematics in our minds as we went about our days. We knew the town better than it knew itself.

Last week, as I drove through the winding streets of my childhood village, I was surprised to realize that I recognized every curb, drain, creek, and hillside along the way. They were our meeting places and our shortcuts. Matt’s house now holds another family, so it poses no residual fear to me. The creek tunnels have filled up too much to serve as a shortcut.

Still today I seek shortcuts in my travels. Can I cut from the pharmacy to the school by taking that little road behind the Sonic? I see a lot of people taking that turn. Let me see what happens if I do . . .

I get a feeling of accomplishment when I cut 5 minutes off a journey. Plus, I enjoy the brainstorming meets exploration aspect of shortcut finding.

Projects that combine maps with mathematical/creative thinking:


Map of San Francisco ©davecito (click image for link to his Flickr feed)

A. Figure out new shortcuts for your daily trips 

With your child:

• Open a mapping program such as Google Maps.
(Or pull an old map from your archives. You know that pocket in the door of Grandma’s car? That archive. Make a copy or ask if it is OK to color on it.)

• Find the start and endpoints of a trip you take a lot (e.g., driving to school, walking to the library, walking to the subway). Mark.

• If using Google Maps, do not turn on directions/suggested route.

• Print (unless, of course, you are using Grandma’s map)

• Mark your normal route with a highlighter or crayon

• Now look deeper. Can anything be shaved off the route? Could we try a side street? If walking, is there a playground we can cut through?

• Mark up the possible routes with different colors

• As soon as possible, try the new route! See if it is any faster.

• Just for fun: what would be the absolute longest way to get from one point to the other? Be silly, if you’d like.

Even if it is not faster, it will be interesting as you are seeing new sights and trying new things!

B. The geometry of a everyday spaces

I don’t think I am the only one who stands in the parking lot and judges to which corral I should return my cart. This one is a bit closer, but it means I need to go around that truck. That one is farther, but really easy to get to . . .

© Daniel Oines

© Daniel Oines (click image for link to his Flickr feed)

These are on-the-fly projects that are done during your daily life.

I trust you will come up with many more, but I have listed a couple as suggestions:

• At a parking lot: When ready to return the cart, ask your child which corral is closer? Which would be easier? Why?

• In the city: Have your child judge which subway stop or bus stop is closer from any given location.
For the older student: Does it save time, or is it taking you out of the way of your final destination (e.g., subway stop A is closer to home, but subway stop B is one stop closer to downtown, so it’s actually quicker in the long run to go to subway stop B. Discuss.)

• In a store: Which check-out counter is closest to the door? Can you design the shopping trip so it leads to that checkout counter? For example, if we shop the store from left to right, we end up back at the door with all of our goodies – ready to check out.

Keep those young minds fresh by seeing everyday things as fun problems that can be solved or improved upon!

Confessions of an Early STEAM Kid: Maps and Shortcuts (plus fun project ideas)




A Dyslexic Experience with UX Design

Forever a First-Time User:

As a dyslexic, I am always a first-time user.

Every time I open a program or app, there is a momentary “!” as I am blown back. What is this!? What is going on here!? What does this all mean!? I am continually re-familiarizing myself with the interactions.

I swirl my finger around my iPhone as I relearn it each day.

Thought: I need to call someone. Phone icon? Well, that could mean phone I guess. Let’s give it a try:

© House

© WikiMedia

Yep. It means phone.

So, the iPhone is a pretty good user experience because relearning that phone means phone is no big deal.

But the funny thing about many people with dyslexia, is that it is not that we do not understand an icon or word. It’s that we see many possibilities for the icon or word, and must sort through to figure out which one is correct.

For example, the cord return icon on my vacuum.


(Disclaimer: I am actually in love with this vacuum. It is not your fault, dear vacuum, that I overthink your button.)

The cord return button (above, right) flummoxes me to no end. It could mean cord, yes. But couldn’t it also kinda mean power? I mean, it’s an electrical thingy that is related to power. And for that matter, the on off (though I am pretty acclimated to this symbol by now) could mean cord. It’s a long line, like a cord.

So you will catch me hovering over the vacuum, wagging my finger back and forth as I re-learn which button to use.

At a certain point I am able to break through this second guessing of buttons and commands.

If I vacuumed every day (admitting.) I would no longer swirl my pointer finger above the buttons. I would just know it. But, I will tell you, I certainly won’t be looking at it. I will just instinctively reach for the button on the right.

After time and intensive use, I reach the level of haptic knowledge, where I have thoroughly embedded the program into my body. Something I use daily, such as Adobe Illustrator, or Gmail, I have under my belt in this way.

And once I know something to this level, I am often faster than the average user. It is quite a thrill. I can maneuver SiriusXM like Hazel Tindall, the world’s fastest knitter, maneuvers her needles.

But don’t ask me to show you around because I won’t really know how to describe it. Especially if you are one of those people who uses their eyes to process stuff.

The Dreaded Upgrade:

I am not a Luddite on purpose. I love the newest and greatest anything. I browse Best Buy like the, well, best of them.

But I do cling to the past when I have mastered something, because it is a big undertaking to change. I don’t want to go back to learning, relearning, relearning, until, finally, several months later, knowing.

For example:

iPhone 4? I miss you terribly, my darling dearest. I had you memorized. I didn’t even have to look down. (And please don’t get me going about my Siemens ST55 with GSM. I weep. My little palm-sized friend.)

Adobe Illustrator? I refuse to upgrade from CS3. I don’t want to spend the time to relearn, when what is important to me at this time is pumping out good works for kids.

The end. Now back to work for me.

P.S. This article, though it talks about my experience, is for the UX designers out there. It’s a little note from an outsider. I am passionate about what you do, and am thrilled to see what you come up with on the daily. I hope the information I have shared here lights you up with even more possibilities.

And it is also for the user who process differently such as I do. For you know that if we are still using Adobe CS3, its not because we don’t care. Or that we are clueless and out of date. It’s because we know it. We own it. And we’d rather just be able to get to work.


A Dyslexic Experience with UX Design

Shows that Speak to the Entrepreneur in Me

I like shows where people are on the grind. Don’t get me wrong. I love to watch a Friends rerun for the twentieth time. The familiarity warms me up like a cup of cocoa.

© Redlands597198

© Redlands597198

But then there are shows that fire me up—get me going. Shows that I play in the background as I prepare the house for a day of work. By the time I sit at my desk, I am ready to go.

I identify with what the characters are going through, and enjoy the hijinks as I watch the ups and downs that inevitably accompany being an entrepreneur.

They’re fun. And even more, they’re educational.

Beyond the Tank on ABC:

How to Make it in America on HBO:

Silicon Valley on HBO

Shark Tank on ABC:




STEAM Careers: STEAM Degrees

I survived one day of class in graphic design. I think I ran out of the room.

I tend to resist what I need to learn at first. I run away (sometimes literally) in fear, thinking I will never be able to accomplish it. But this is just a ruse, a baby step in my process. I am used to it by now. That is why I am not at all surprised that I became a graphic designer.

Drama and tears aside, I love fields that combine design thinking with human interaction.

Graphic design is a perfect example of this. For instance, a design can be the most gorgeous thing anyone has ever laid eyes on, but . . .  if it does not communicate, it is not successful.

We have all seen those well-meaning ads in the local pennysaver that, while looking cute, you have no idea what the ad is for.

But graphic design is only one small area of the discipline of design thinking. Many fields ask the same questions:

Does it work well? Can people figure it out? Is it aesthetically pleasing?

I dug up a few degrees that focus on different areas of this kind of thinking. Just for fun.

Digital Media Design


Definition: [S]tudents . . . create, use, and evaluate media and technology for learning,
from software and websites to video and mobile phone applications (NYU website)

Quote: Student coursework focuses on such areas as: user experience, learning sciences and more. One will learn to create successful, readable, and beneficial apps, software, games and other digital programs.

Sample Degree:

NYU/Steinhardt Digital Media Design for Learning


© Cincin12

Industrial Design


Definition: Industrial design is a process of design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production. (from Wikipedia)

Quote: Pratt B.I.D. alumni are designers, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, and corporate leaders.
This diversity comes from a program of study that allows freedom to explore.

Students can focus in areas such as:

Product design
Tabletop and Food design
Shoes and Athletic gear
Exhibition design
Interdisciplinary design
(quote and list from the Pratt Institute website)

Sample Degree:

Pratt Institute – Industrial Design


© Peter Greenberg

Urban Planning


Definition: Urban planning is a technical and political process concerned with the use of land, protection and use of the environment, public welfare, and the design of the urban environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks. (from Wikipedia)

Quote: Our goal is to apply advanced analysis and design to understand and solve pressing urban and environmental problems.
–Eran Ben-Joseph, Head, Department of Urban Studies & Planning (visit this link for full quote)

Sample Degree:

MIT – Urban Studies & Planning


© Fcb981, this edited version by Thermos

And, yay, they offer some of the courses here for free.

User Experience and Interaction Design


User experience defined as: the design and use of computer technology, focusing particularly on the interfaces between people (users) and computers (Wikipedia)

Interaction Design defined as: the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services (Wikipedia)

Some apps are easy to use. Some leave me hanging like – um – what? This degree educates its students to overcome these challenges of human interaction. For, again, if it is not readable, then it will not be fully successful.

Quote: We must create aesthetic, engaging and dynamic experiences for users to interact with in order to take full advantage of current and future technologies, and immerse users in media. (from Philadelphia University)

Students focus on such areas as:

Interaction Design
User Experience Design
Usability Analysis

and more.

(List also from Philadelphia University)

Sample Degree:

Philadelphia University – M.S. in User Experience and Interaction Design



© Ed Yakovich



STEAM Careers: STEAM Degrees

STEM/STEAM Careers: Industrial Design (plus list of project ideas)


image © Joao De Almeida

I am, indeed, obsessed with Industrial Design.

I am not referring to “industrial” design where one uses galvanized steel light fixtures, and conduit for curtain rods (though I like that too). I am speaking of Industrial Design: the field.

But what is it exactly? The IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) definition reads:

Industrial Design (ID) is the professional service of creating products and systems that optimize function, value and appearance for the mutual benefit of user and manufacturer.

In other words? Making things. Making products (or systems) that have been thought through on many levels such as:

Does the product (or system) work well?

Is it easy to use?

Is it beautiful?

Industrial design draws elements from artistic creativity and from engineering, especially mechanical engineering. Often art and engineering are kept apart, but in this instance the two thinking traditions are dovetailed to find the best solution to a given problem.

Project ideas for your student:

Design something that has never been designed before. Don’t be afraid to get silly. For example:

  1. a toothbrush for a favorite doll or action figure
  2. shoes for a turtle
  3. a lego cleaner-upper
  4. a crayon and coloring book carry-all for car trips

Or for the older student:

  1. a holster for a cell phone in case you have no pockets
  2. a way to secure a pen to a notebook
  3. a snack bag that does not feel kiddish (too young). I mean, a baggie full of Goldfish is so Elementary School.

You can also try designing something that improves upon a product that already exists:

  1. Always hated how a cereal bag splits open and flings cereal around the kitchen at 6 in the morning?
    Design a modification to the bag or clip
  2. Or you can modify a product to help with accessibility
    e.g., redesign/modify an everyday object for those with limited use of their hands

Keep in mind some of the important questions of Industrial Design as you work:

Does the product work well?

Is it easy to use?

Is it beautiful?

As Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine puts it:

. . . the key to a truly successful product design lies in designer’s ability to combine both beautiful design and functionality

Suggestions for Materials:

sketch paper

a freshly-sharpened pencil

clay or Play-doh to brainstorm the 3-D form

other building supplies can be added as needed (tape, cardboard, scissors).

Use our Invention Journal to take it to the next level:



Want more? Some good videos about the industry:

Massachusetts College of Art and Design:


This one is about designing the MacBook:


This from NASA:

Twitter accounts:

Happy Designing.

Footnote: A degree in Industrial Design is one of my fantasy honorary degrees. Can I have one, please @PrattInstitute? Let me know, OK? Thanks.

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