Saturday, May 22, 2010

Blueberry Garden

A good computer game with educational value must also score high in the artistic and creative categories. Before recommending such games to any of my grandkids, I play through each game. That's not a chore for me as I love interactive games, enjoy a good story told with imagination and verve, and appreciate colorful graphics done with a unique and creative style. Such is Blueberry Garden, a simple ecosystem with you as its caretaker. Your job, take care of it.
Long before the James Cameron's movie, gamers coined the name "avatar" for the character you control in an interactive computer game. Your avatar in Blueberry Garden is a birdman. Birdman can walk, jump, eat, and most importantly, fly!
After playing for twenty to thirty minutes you discover that Blueberry Garden is filling with water. Your first major challenge is to find the source of the water and turn it off. You roam the garden collecting various items that you stack on a platform above the only door in the garden. Enter the door and you are transported to the top of the stack from where you can access and explore the upper levels of the garden.
A variety of fruit can be found in the garden. Eating each type of fruit increases your powers in a different way. For example, eat a blueberry and fly higher.
Blueberry Garden is designed to be finished in one sitting so there is not a Save Game option. There are several plateaus in the learning curve so as you build your knowledge of the game you can quickly play through the lower levels to get back to the point where you attempting to solve the next problem.

In this picture, Joshua is trying to remove the gray-colored rock to gain access to the chamber below the rock.
 Here, Jordan has found a black camera to add to the stack. Now, how to get it?
Curiosity, a willingness to explore, and perseverance are all problem-solving attributes that can be exercised independently from the constraints of school curriculum. That's one reason my grandkids didn't have to be forced to play Blueberry Garden. Kids are naturally curious, love to explore, and will persevere in the right context.

As far as I know, Blueberry Garden can only be purchased online from STEAM ( and is a real bargain at five dollars. You can also download a free demo of Blueberry Garden and give it a test drive before you buy. Readers know that I am a big fan of STEAM. The client software is a free download and you can access your account and play games from any computer. I played games on STEAM during a recent trip to Belgium. 

Grandmothermath and I have established STEAM accounts for each set of grandkids. Doing so allows us to purchase games and add them directly to each account. We share the username and password for each account with mom and dad so they can also add games to the kid's accounts.

Other games I have reviewed that are available on STEAM are:
Machinarium (November 2009)
Full Pipe (August 2009)
Amazing Adventures - The Lost Tomb (June 2009)
Crayon Physics (April 2009)
Samorost 2  (Educational Computer Games April 2009)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Leonardo daVinci’s Self-supporting Arch Bridge

I’m always on the lookout for quality craft kits for the grandkids to build when they visit for more than a day or two. I recently visited and found a gold mine of quality kits suitable for ages eight and above. The kits are organized around these themes: Bridges and Towers, Levers and Gears, daVinci Kits, and Catapult Kits.

I purchased Leonardo daVinci's Self-supporting Arch kit (and three different catapult kits) from the online store and three days later the kits arrived. A tracking number was provided and it was easy to watch the progress of the package as it traveled from Texas to California.

Preparing the Kits for the Kids
The instructions state that scissors can be used to separate the individual pieces from the stock. The wood is a quality hard wood. and my old hands found this difficult to do so I used my Dremel tool to separate the pieces and sand down the short nubs left on each piece.

For any kit you plan to give to the grandkids or kids, I recommend that you first separate the pieces, sand down the nubs, and put the pieces along with the instructions in a Ziploc® plastic bag.

To keep the pieces from getting soiled by dirty hands, I applied a single coat of Deft to each piece. You can buy Deft at any paint store and a can of it will last a long time. After a light sanding, each piece will be sealed, smooth, and will clean up with a damp rag.

Grandson Joshua and granddaughter Jordann recently spent the weekend in our home. To pique Joshua's interest, I erected the bridge on the patio table while the rest of the family was chatting around the kitchen table. I told Joshua to go to the patio and check out the bridge on the table. He left but soon returned. “What happened?” I asked. ”It fell apart!” he replied. Tricking Joshua in this way drove home the point that because the timbers of the bridge were not fastened together, a force applied to the bridge in any direction other than straight down would collapse the bridge.

To see how this works, let’s build the basic support structure that is just repeated to lengthen the bridge. There's a total of 21 pieces in the kit. The completed arch is formed from 14 long beams and 7 short cross beams.  

Six arch beams and three cross beams fit together to form the basic support structure. Each piece fits into a notch in another piece. Pull up on the center cross beam (see picture) and the structure falls apart. Push down, and the sructure becomes more rigid.

There are enough long and short timbers to build two self-supporting bridges with three pieces left over.

One person can construct the larger bridge but it's easier if one supports the structure as another places the next piece. In the following picture Joshua sets the last piece. The bridge collapsed twice but Joshua's smile indicates success on our third attempt.

Joshua is in the third grade and Leonardo’s bridge would make a great report topic for school. Leonardo designed the bridge in the late 15th century. His use of interlocking timbers that required no fasteners meant an army could transport the parts of the bridge from site to site. When needed, engineers could quickly and easily span gullies and streams.

In a later post I will describe the construction of one of the catapult kits