Pocket Flashlights!

©2014  Beret Olsen
©2014 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Weather systems appear to have gone haywire.

I won’t mention that it’s been unseasonably warm and sunny here, because people suffering in winter wonderland get a little huffy about that. They’ll have the last laugh when I sink into the ocean, though.

Whatever the weather, it never hurts to be prepared. Below are instructions for making an unbelievably simple flashlight that can live in your wallet/backpack/glove compartment/bedside table. You will be ready for any power outage, midnight snack emergency, or for when you drop a $20 bill in a dark movie theater. NEVER use this to illuminate the bottom of your theater seat, however. Nothing can prepare you for what lurks there.    Continue reading “Pocket Flashlights!”

Smartphone projector!

Check out the crappity lens we used. It still worked!
©2013 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Age range:  This project is appropriate for anyone who can safely wield a box cutter, and hold a smartphone without doing irreparable damage. At our house, that means 8 and up.

I’ve heard about the smartphone projector project, and I wanted to see if it could be as simple as it looked.

Good news:  it’s pretty darn simple. I even made it work without the help of my resident engineer.  Continue reading “Smartphone projector!”

Book Review: No Talking

From vvmsmedia.edublog.org
From vvmsmedia.edublog.org

posted by Beret

Age Range:  Grades 2 to 7-ish

Last year, Gina introduced me to Andrew Clements with her review of Frindle. I read it to my kids and we were hooked…but unfortunately, we found it hard to find the right follow up from Mr. Clements.

I found Room One and Extra Credit on the library shelves, but for some unknown reason, my girls refused to check them out. We tried Lunch Money, but gave up three or four chapters into it. It was too practical. In fact, it felt as if it were written specifically for teachers to use in math class.

Note: Gina completely disagrees!  Loves this book!  Thinks it’s delightful!

We tackled A Wrinkle in Time and a couple of Jerry Spinelli books instead.

It took months before we were ready to give another Clements book a go. Something about this one caught my eye, however. It has occasional entertaining illustrations. It is smart and funny. The type is generously-sized, and the chapters are short.

AND, IT IS FABULOUS.     Continue reading “Book Review: No Talking”

Resources for Young Writers

posted by Beret

Seeing as I can’t grow a mustache this month (c.f. Movember), I’d like to focus on writing instead. November’s actually the easiest month of the year to do so.

Writing is often a solitary activity, and left to my own devices, I am easily mesmerized by videos of adorable animals frolicking, or meatheads having staple gun fights. Any time outside of teaching, parenting, and editing would be easily devoured by YouTube and Iron Chef.

Consequently, I am a huge fan of writing groups, writing classes, National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), National Blog Posting Month, and all of those organized writing extravaganzas. I thrive with structure and community, deadlines and systems of accountability. I like having someone looking over my shoulder–not annoying people, mind you, but the delightful, word-loving types.

The year I did NaNoWriMo was crazy and fabulous, with pep talks from Jonathan Franzen rolling into my inbox, videos to entertain and encourage me, forums, essays, and write-ins at local coffee shops. It was all designed help build and maintain my momentum, and I loved it. I wrote more that month than ever before or since. Some of it’s a load of crap, but nestled in there are nuggets I never would have created watching Maru.

There’s a lot going on for adult writers. But let’s say you have a non-adult or two around who likes to write. What’s out there for them?   Continue reading “Resources for Young Writers”

Ice Cream in a Bag!

©2013 Beret Olsen
©2013 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Ages: Any, though the very young will get tired of shaking long before the ice cream is ready.

My kids never took to Sesame Street, or Mickey Mouse, or the Disney Channel; they didn’t care for children’s movies, either. For the most part, I appreciated that, and enjoyed my Dora-free existence. It did become an issue, however, when I desperately needed to make a phone call, or do my homework, or even just have five minutes of unchaperoned time in the bathroom.

As the girls got older, they got better at amusing themselves from time to time, but sick days remained problematic. I would eventually run out of patience with Barbies (for the moderately ill) and with ladling tea and stroking hair (for the flu victims). Unfortunately, my youngest was frequently fighting some bug or another. I heard myself asking: please, please, wouldn’t you like to watch twenty minutes of television? Sadly, no.

But one day last January, my seven-year-old got a glimpse of the Food Network. Now I have that “be careful what you wish for,” kind of feeling. “That’s not how you do a chiffonade,” Josie told me later, as I chopped mint for the top of a fruit salad. “I think there has been a misunderstanding,” she said another time, catching me frosting her fancy ganache-filled mocha birthday cupcakes with a tub of Betty Crocker vanilla.

What can I possibly make for dinner now, when both girls are glued to Iron Chef Morimoto‘s every move?    Continue reading “Ice Cream in a Bag!”

Milk Carton Wallets

Perhaps I should call these juice carton wallets.  ©2013 Beret Olsen
Perhaps I should call these particular iterations juice carton wallets.                                           ©2013 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Ages: 6 and up

The first time I saw a milk carton wallet, it was in a giant pile laying on a table. Some lovely design student had made them about 150 of them, and was handing them out at portfolio night. She probably had her card tucked inside; I really don’t know. I don’t even remember a thing about her portfolio. Perhaps it was creative and fabulous. I was just mesmerized by that pile of wallets at her table. I took one, went home, and drank a lot of juice.

The rest is history.

“What?” you say. You already have a duct tape wallet? Well, that’s awesome. But someday, it’s going to be so rainy, or snowy, or just plain boring, that you will need something new and amusing to do. And this project is so simple and cheap, you may be surprised you haven’t tried it already.    Continue reading “Milk Carton Wallets”

Operation Building and Unbuilding: Part One

Why not?
Let’s operate on Operation. Why not?

posted by Beret

Age Range: 7 and up

Things break all of the time at our house. Luckily I’m married to Mr. Fix-it, and very few weeks pass that we don’t put his title to the test. He has tackled the dishwasher, the dryer, the oven, the car, the disposal and–albeit reluctantly–the computer. That sort of tinkering is extremely helpful. When everything seems to be working, however, he finds something unbroken to fix. For example, he is constantly rewiring our home entertainment system so that, yet again, I don’t know how to turn on the TV or work the stereo. I find that irritating. He just finds it unbelievable that I can’t figure it all out myself.

Lately, I have been wondering: what was different about his upbringing that helped him to see the world through the eyes of an engineer?

I asked him what he did in his spare time as a child, and he proceeded to tell me a story about secretly removing the brakes from his bicycle and embarking on a variety of death-defying activities. He was twelve years old. This gave me pause. “You took off your brakes? How did you know how to do that?” “I didn’t,” he said, but that certainly didn’t stop him. He took everything apart: watches, clocks, whatever he could get his hands on.

I THINK THIS IS THE KEY.  Taking things apart is an excellent way to figure out how they work and how you might build or change them. It’s not just my humble opinion, either. I started doing a little research, and discovered all kinds of resources and programs that include tinkering as a way to develop conceptual development.    Continue reading “Operation Building and Unbuilding: Part One”