Author: Missiematt

Squishy Circuit
Squishy Circuit

Squishy Circuits uses conductive and insulating play dough to teach the basics of electrical circuits, a perfect blend of play and learning! Our play dough kits, projects, and recipes teach problem solving and engineering concepts and inspire creativity and independent thinking. Learn more here

Procedure

1. Put four AA batteries in the battery pack. The back of the battery pack slides off easily. 

2. Make 2 different shapes out of the playdough. I made a full moon and a crescent moon because of the Ninja Club book. 

3. Put the metal part of the red wire into one piece of playdough and the metal part of the black wire into the other piece of the playdough. 

4. Add the LED lights between the two pieces of clay. The slightly longer wire must be put in the playdough where the red wire is attatched.


This is just a simple example that shows something you can do with squishy circuits…its a pretty simple affordable product, playdough, does work, but then you need wires, batteries, stripping tools, and the led lights. if I were a parent, I would buy it in a box for my class I would make it all there and the kids would cut and strip the wires, etc and we would make our own playdough. Check out video below for further examples

Ninja Hexbug Powered Robots
Ninja Hexbug Powered Robots

Hexbug is a brand of toy automatons, a leader in the toy industry giving children a positive experience with robotics and STEM at an early age. To learn more about Hexbug and their products, check out there website.

(First of all, they’re not really robots, they just vibrate, they’re not programmed, but who cares, they’re hysterical!)

Materials:

  1. Party Cups (Dollar Store.)
  2. Black Crepe Paper (Dollar Store)
  3. Hexbug NanoNitro 5 Pack (Hexbug or Target $19.99—You can also buy a one pack and spend less.)
  4. Velcro Fastener Dots (Dollar Store)
  5. Multicultural Crayola Markers (Amazon)

Procedure

1. Color the white cups. I chose the multicultural skin colors that best represented the ethnicity of the characters from the book. But any color cup could be a robot. Coloring the cup wouldn’t be necessary.

The white cups had a wax coating and Willa’s skin color didn’t work well, fortunately; I had bought a pretty bronze cup as a backup. Add BRAVE NINJA eyes using a Sharpie. Don’t buy dollar store Sharpies, that is my advice.

2. Measure a piece of crepe paper that will surround the top of the cup and tape the crepe paper on top to make their ninja hats. I actually used the Scotch mini squares because they are so much simpler than using tape.

3. Trim the extra crepe paper using scissors or the robot won’t move at all.

4. Add extra tape to secure the first layer of tapes, that is if there are loose ends. Then cut a longer piece of crepe paper, fold it in half and arrange it in the back so that it is slightly higher than the base of the cup. Attach it there. Bring one side to the front and attach it with tape or a Scotch mini square. Wrap the other piece around to the front doing the same thing.

Now for the fun part:

Attaching the NanoNitro Hexbugs which is a bit tricky!

I found this activity on a home-schooling video in the UK. They used a molding clay to attach the Hexbugs, but their robots didn’t move very well. I could not find that molding clay at Michaels.

I watched another video where they used tape, but the cup didn’t move at all. That’s no fun. I was determined to make these robots move. I first tried the Scotch mini squares to attach the Hexbugs, but no matter how many I added to make the flat surface of the Hexbug connect to the curved surface of the cup, the robot would only work for a while then the Scotch mini squares would fall off. Then I saw the Velcro Fastener Dots at the Dollar store and thought, NASA invented Velcro, NASA knows stuff, why not try that. I just loaded the cup side up with the fastener dots and the Hexbug side with the fastener dots and got the best results. They moved like crazy, and the fastener dots only cost a dollar. Major success! Yay!

Another fun adaptation I saw done with this activity yellow cups to make minion robots. These robots are super fun to make and are affordable. I think a cup could be turned into almost any kind of robot, and there are many other fun uses for the Hexbug NitroNano bots that can be found on YouTube.

Here’s a video of the final Ninja Hexbug Powered Robots


Here’s a video of different types of HEXBUG’s toys with a techy twist.

https://youtu.be/N9S8sc8ZZw4
Fall in love with Laura Gehl and The Ninja Sleepover Club: A Conversation with Laura
Fall in love with Laura Gehl and The Ninja Sleepover Club: A Conversation with Laura
Cover Photo Illustrated by Mackenzie Haley, Published by Page Street Kids

“We are NINJAS, and NINJAS are BRAVE!”


M:  Hi, I am so excited to be meeting you and discussing your entertaining story.  I feel like it is Christmas morning. 

L: That is so sweet of you–although Halloween night might be more accurate for this particular book! 

M: I am always inspired to write a story by something I see.  For example, my first book, Petrifries! was inspired by a dried-up French fry underneath a car seat.  Where do your stories start? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

L: My four kids definitely provide a lot of inspiration. My picture book Dibs! was inspired by one of my sons calling “dibs” on everything in sight, and My Pillow Keeps Moving was inspired by a game I used to play with my youngest son. Another way that many stories start for me is when a playful phrase pops into my head (with the phrase then becoming the title of the book). This was the beginning of my picture books One Big Pair of Underwear, Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching, Except When They Don’t, and Happy Llamakkah, among others. 

M: What inspired you to write The Ninja Club Sleepover? And why was the main character a werewolf?

L: This story actually started with the basic idea of a little werewolf whose friends don’t know he (yes, it was a male werewolf in the very first iteration!) is a werewolf. The story changed in many ways as I revised and revised and revised, but that initial heart of the story stayed the same. I think the book’s theme of knowing that your true friends will accept you despite your differences/weirdness/quirks came from my daughter navigating friendship issues at school.

M:  Do you eat dark chocolate when you write? 😉

L: Not while I am writing, but definitely before I write, and during writing breaks. I like to melt dark chocolate with cream to make an ice cream topping. Best writing fuel ever! 

​M:  I spent a year researching gender bias in math and science education for a paper I wrote. I absolutely love that the female characters in your story are ninjas. They are not playing with Barbie dolls. Tell me about your decision to make them ninjas. 

L: The idea that kids shouldn’t be limited or defined by their gender is important to me, and I appreciate any chance to push against gender bias in my books. Except When They Don’t addresses the issue head on, but my other books approach gender bias in other ways. The girls in The Ninja Club Sleepover are strong and brave, like ninjas, inside and out (even if they don’t fully realize it at first). In another one of my recent picture books, Judge Juliette, not only is the main character a strong girl who is the judge of her neighborhood, but we also see her dad baking cookies while her mom builds a bookshelf.   

M: One thing I was struck by was that the girls were doing the obstacle course as each of their own obstacles were revealed. I thought that was brilliant. How did you arrive at that decision? 

L: Yes, they are doing a physical obstacle course (in the dark!) and also overcoming their fears about being accepted despite their differences. I was playing with the idea that being physically brave can be hard, but being emotionally brave is even harder.

M:  You talked about weird becoming a theme in the story. I have taught 6th grade for 17 years. Most 6th graders are certain they are weird. Do you think we need more books that normalize weird? Or at least help bring to light that all students, including the most popular ones, still think they are weird and have insecurities. As a teacher, I don’t see it being addressed. I see children struggling. It is never talked about. Are there enough books that deal with this theme?

L: I think there are two parts to this: first, the fact that everyone has insecurities and feels weird. And second, that everyone really is weird in one way or another, and that we should just embrace that fact. There are a number of picture books that deal with this idea: Normal Norman by Tara Lazar and S. Britt helps kids understand that there really is no such thing as normal, as does A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele. I actually try to avoid using the word “normal,” because the concept that some people are “normal” and others are not is ridiculous. The idea that we are all weird in different ways is the flip side of the coin. I am always thrilled when middle school teachers use The Ninja Club Sleepover and other picture books to start conversations about topics like this, often as part of #classroombookaday. Picture books can be the perfect way to open up a difficult conversation with older kids, as well as younger ones.

​M: You also bring up bravery as another theme in the book and The Brave Chant, which I am 100% chanting right now. I am curious about the connection between the weird theme and the brave theme.  Was there one? What was your thinking? (being a weirdo, I see one…) But, I am curious to know what your thoughts were. 

L: The simple answer is that it takes bravery to let our friends see how weird we are, and to have the confidence that they will still love us when they know our deepest, darkest secrets. But I would go a step further and say that this book is about being brave enough to truly let our friends into our lives. This may mean revealing secrets, or it may mean asking for help when we need it, or it may mean being brave enough to confront our friends when we think they are making bad decisions. 

M:  Do I have another Ninja Club Sleepover to look forward to? A sequel? Especially Now that we know the girls all have other secrets? I hope so, because I would definitely read that book!  

L: No sequel is planned at the moment, but you never know! I would love the chance to write another book about these girls, who are all near and dear to my heart.


For more Information about Laura Gehl and her teachers’ guides check out her website.

Purchase Laura Gehl’s Book, The Ninja Club Sleepover on Amazon Here

I feel the Need for STEAM
I feel the Need for STEAM

I look for ways to incorporate STEAM activities into picture books in ways where others may not see an obvious connection.

Laura Gehl has also graciously agreed to let me use her charming book for October, AROOOOOOOO!  So I am rolling out the website with her amazing book, The Ninja Sleepover Club.  Did you know that you could make a robotic ninja out of a cup and a Hexbug? And a nightlight out of playdough? I do now, and you will too if you keep checking out this website.  You can even learn about two ingredient moon dough every Ninja needs in their Ninja tool kit! I have 3 pages of notes with STEAM ideas for this book. 

Again, many more ideas than I can possibly feature on my website. But, what fun I have had researching it all. 

My goal is to feature one author and book a month and STEAM up their book for teachers, parents, and students.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like your book featured.  I am a math science elementary school specialist with over 25 years of experience who has been trained in Washington D.C. and was STEM before STEM was STEM.  I was a Teacher of the Year and Space Educator of Colorado. My goal is to make greater learning opportunities possible with picture books which is something I have a lot of experience with because of my grant work. 

In Soaked, by Abi Cushman, who has graciously agreed to allow me to feature her beautiful book next which is about a very wet bear with sad eyes (bees in my stomach) has a hula hoop landing on a tree following a cartwheel. (Simone Biles gives that a high 5!) The probability of that happening is a million to one, so I have created a PVC math tree probability activity for students to make predictions, toss hoops, and then test their predictions. I have a separating sediment activity, given all that flooding and water, and icky wet dirt. I have a water purification activity as an extension for those that wish to take the science a step farther. You can purify water pretty easily, and it is a fascinating thing for children to do. I have water cycle activities, including an original chant with actions my students love. I even have included a few Library of Congress Primary Source Ideas with Analysis Worksheets for teachers or homeschoolers who are looking for higher-level thinking skill activities. Perhaps it is time someone redesigned the umbrella, with or without bees on it. I have created an original “sad-eyed” bear quote art activity which is perfect given 2020 and COVID-19. I have so many activities ready to go for Soaked, and am quite Stoked!  It will be impossible to include all of them!