Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Breaking the Algebra Barrier

   Joshua and Jordann, our two oldest grand kids, are approaching the grade levels where algebra is taught and our six other grand kids aren’t far behind. And I am a concerned grandparent. Perhaps you too are a concerned grandparent or parent.

   It’s no news that students that are successful learning arithmetic often stumble and even fall, without ever getting up, when faced with learning algebra.
As a math and science educator, I can report that little attention is given to laying the conceptual groundwork students need to make the transition from arithmetic to algebra.

   When classroom computers became available in the early 1980s (my first computer was an 8K Commodore PET with tape cassette drive), I believed that finally, we had a tool that would make learning algebra not only relevant but also easy! That belief was—and still is— based on the fact that programming requires algebraic thinking.

   Perhaps the most fundamental concept in algebra and programming is the concept of a variable. In the typical algebra text, the variable concept is briefly mentioned and then quickly followed by the never-ending song and dance between the x’s and the y’s. The variable x becomes synonymous with unknown and for many students, the x and algebra itself remains an unknown.

   Dr. Zalman Usiskin, in his article, Conceptions of School Algebra and Uses of Variables discusses and gives examples of the five different ways the variable concept is used in algebra. [Click here http://oak.ucc.nau.edu/smg224/401pdfs/algebrareadings/usiskin1.pdf
to download a copy of his article.]

   He goes on to say that computer programming makes use of all five uses of the variable! For this and many other reasons (problem-solving and logical thinking are just two) I hope my grand kids are willing to learn introductory programming so that I can help them understand the importance and relevance of algebra.
   It is in this spirit that I have started a second blog devoted to helping beginners learn to program, maintaining contact with the teachers I work with, and to having a place to share my math and science programming projects. To visit Pops’ Scratch Blog, go to


   The Scratch programming language is free and can be downloaded at
and while you’re there, check out the site as it is a very friendly place for kids of all ages and offers the opportunity to become part of a programming community that has 12 million registered members that have created and uploaded almost 14 million programming projects.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Scratch – Programming for Kids of All Ages


   I've started another blog devoted to the Scratch programming language. Scratch is designed for kids as it's easy to create projects that include motion, color, and sound. Kids can import their digital photos, music, and record audio directly into Scratch using the microphone input on the computer.
   I captured this graph from the Scratch website to show you that there are a significant number of Scratch programmers. The graph shows the number of registered Scratch users by age. Note that there are over 300,000 in the 13 through 17 years old peak of the graph. The horizontal bar shows the number of users from the age of ten to twenty one. As a registered Scratch user myself, I am an outlier whose age doesn't even appear on the right side of the graph!
   Also note that there are a number of older Scratch programmers. These users tend to have high skill levels and produce some amazing programs for a kids-focused site.
   I only know of one educator, a high school math teacher, that is actually teaching Scratch to students. My guess is that most of the kids that appear in the above graph are not using Scratch at school but are using it at home or outside of formal class instruction.
   As a math educator myself, it amazes me that the new math standards do not recognize programming as an example of applied mathematics or as an incredible problem-solving environment!
   As my grand kids move up the grade levels, I want to be there for them in case they do get interested in computer programming. There is also a group, albeit small by Internet standards, that also enjoy the math and science computer projects I do for my own entertainment. The Scratch website (http://scratch.mit.edu/) hosts uploading projects for other Scratch users to enjoy and perhaps pick up on a new programming technique or two. My projects can be viewed at

http://scratch.mit.edu/users/popswilson

   If you, your kids, or grand kids are interested in learning more about Scratch, visit my new blog at

www.scratch-blog.com

where they will find a growing series of short introductions to Scratch programming. The first is a video that tells you how to download Scratch (Free!) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.
   Scratch is financially supported at the MIT Media Lab by generous grants from the Microsoft and Intel corporations. It is a very active site that literally changes from minute to minute as new uploaded projects are displayed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Asher's Magnet Play


     Grandson Asher and granddaughters Kate and Emma live in Georgia, a long ways away from grandmothermath and grandadscience.
   We stay in touch with the kids using our iPad, FaceTime, cell phone calls, this blog, and the packages grandmothermath puts together and mails to the kids in Georgia and the two grandsons (soon to be three grandsons) living in Virginia.
   Asher is in kindergarten this year and Kate is in preschool. Emma isn’t yet a year old but is working hard to catch up with her older brother and sister.

   The AIMS Education Foundation (www.aimsedu.org) publishes and sells an inexpensive series of hands-on science books aimed at the primary grade levels.
   One of the books we recently ordered and had mailed to Asher, Kate, and Emma, is called Primarily Magnets and is designed for grades K-2.
  In the following pictures you see Asher with pages from the magnet book along with another of his favorite books, The Berenstain Bears' Really Big Pet Show, by Jan and Mike Berenstain (www.goodreads.com).
   On his play table, Asher laid out the materials needed for one of the magnet activities from the book and a few of his animals. Each magnet activity includes clear instructions for mom and dad.
   Asher begins testing a variety of materials and identifying those that stick to the magnet and those that aren't attracted to the magnet.
   Two pages copied from the book are used to organize his results. Asher places all those materials that do stick to the magnet on the 'stick' page and those that don't stick to the magnet on the other page
    In the following pictures, Asher tests an old fashioned clothes pin made of two materials. He finds the magnet sticks to the metal spring but not to he wooden pins. On which page should the clothes pin be placed? Hmmmm.
  So far, metal objects stick to the magnet. Now, Asher tries to pick up a metal coin with the magnet. Will the magnet stick to the metal coin?
   Go to your nearest Radio Shack and ask for a 5-pack of round, ceramic magnets (Catalog #: 64-1888). It will only cost you three bucks. Then you can test a quarter yourself and pass the magnets on to the kids and grand kids.
   A big thank you to Asher’s mom and dad for taking these pictures for us. Being such a long ways West of Georgia, we always enjoy pictures of the kids and we look forward to the time we will be there with everyone this coming Christmas.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Neil Armstrong — A True American Hero

   The recent passing of astronaut Neil Armstrong reminds those of us that lived through the glory days of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, of the incredible feats of engineering and the unflappable piloting skill of the astronauts that flew those missions.
   Our three kids grew up with NASA’s manned-flight space program but I’m not sure our grand kids will learn, in school, much about the history of our space program. It’s hard to believe that we now have to rely on Russian rockets to get our astronauts into space!
   In a 1962 speech at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing our NASA astronauts on the moon and returning them safely to Earth before the end of the decade. On July 16, 1969, at 9:32 in the morning, the crew of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins safely lifted off to meet the goal set by President Kennedy.
   It was a smooth, problem-free mission up to the time astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin entered the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and undocked from the Command module at 100 hours, 12 minutes, zero seconds (100:12:00) into the mission leaving astronaut Mike Collins alone in Columbia, the command module, in lunar orbit.

Everything was working as it should, descent engine fired on time, everything was a Go, until at …
   102:38:26 into the mission, Armstrong sees a yellow Caution light on the guidance computer panel pop on…
   102:38:30—four seconds later Armstrong tells Aldrin it’s a 1202 program alarm…
Back in Mission Control, Houston, 26-year old Guidance Officer Steve Bales scrambles to identify the problem… Jack Garman, 24-year old programmer, tells Bales it’s OK…
   102:39:14—another 1202 program alarm…Bales consults with Garman again, Flight Director Gene Krantz wants a Go-No Go call…Garman call Go…Bales calls Go for landing…
   102:42:22—now a 1201 program alarm occurs…
   102:42:25—three seconds later Bales makes his second Go for landing call…
… the Eagle is four miles long on approach, flying over boulders, low on fuel, Armstrong coolly looks for a spot to land…
   102:45:58—Armstrong calls Houston…
   Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

   I have always marveled at the coolness Armstrong and Aldrin displayed when the computer program alarms went off during the final minutes of descent. There's Armstrong, as pilot, with one shot to get the fragile, thin-skinned aluminum 'bug', on the lunar surface, faced with a go-no go, life or death decision. Most people don't know or remember the names of Gene Krantz, the flight controller, or Steve Bales the Guidance Officer, or Jack Garman, the young programmer that called ‘Go’ up the line.
   Even though Neil Armstrong took that “giant step for mankind” he acknowledged the efforts of the thousands of people that put him at the bottom of the LEM ladder, ready to make that ‘one small step”. Steve Bales and Jack Garman are just two of those thousands.
   Is there a better way for kids or adults to learn about the NASA program that put Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts on the moon than to not only read about the astronauts but to play the role of LEM pilot and experience the thrill of landing on the moon?
   In the May 2011 post, Do You, Your Kids, or Your Grand Kids Have the Right Stuff?, grand son Joshua is seen flying the free, online version of Lunar Lander available on the web site of the Chabot Space and Science Center.
   Atari has updated their original pizza parlor arcade Lunar Lander that can be played in the online Atari arcade. It is also available on tablets like the iPad.
   The two previous Lunar Landers are 2-dimensional, physics-based games. Both are fun and, on the science side, require that the pilot understand that force is a vector quantity that has both a magnitude (size) and a direction. The player will often have to fire a thruster in a direction opposite to the direction of motion to decrease the velocity of the LEM in the direction it’s moving. Point this out to kids. They will intuitively understand what’s going on but may not have the language of science needed to accurately describe events.
   I know of two Lunar Landers that go well beyond the physics-based game category and into the simulation category that rivals the simulators all the Apollo astronaut LEM pilots used to pratice lunar landings. Both of the following sims take the player into the full, 3-dimensions of space. Both are flown mainly from the ‘inside the LEM’ view because pilots have an instrument panel to monitor.
   The first 3-D simulation is Lunar Flight, available at WWW.steampowered.com for both the PC and Mac. Here are inside and outside views.
   A very sophisticated version of Lunar Lander, with a large learning curve, is available at http://www.eaglelander3d.com/. With Eagle Lander, you can actually duplicate Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 landing and several more of the Apollo missions. These two pictures will give you an idea of the cockpit detail in the simulation. The switches and instruments seen in the pictures (and many more not seen) are active, that is, they work. 
     Grand sons Joshua, John, and Andrew are already flying missions in Lunar Flight and, if they are interested, will have the opportunity to fly the Eagle Lander 3D with dads and grand dad.
    To close, it is my hope, that during my grand kids lives, another national leader with the vision of John Fitzgerald Kennedy comes along and challenges all Americans to reach beyond the moon to even greater accomplishments. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Boys and a Summer Day in Virginia


   Grand kids Asher and Kate were back in Georgia but G-mom and I had another weeks visit in Virginia. Out son was being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and there was no way we would have missed the pinning ceremony.
    Along with the summer fun of swimming, playing board games, eating ice cream, and all of the other summer activities there does come a time for chores. The flowerbed in the front yard needed weeding so the boys and I donned gloves and with the sun hidden behind afternoon clouds, we whistled off to work.
   The boys soon found that gathering squash and tomatoes for mom was much more fun than pulling weeds. And, they were excited about putting food on the table.  So I pulled weeds.
    The house sits on a corner lot with large drainage ditches instead of curbs that direct rainwater into a corner culvert. This photo shows one of the ditches and the bridge from the street to the front porch of the house. We were supposed to be weeding in the flowerbed on the left side of the photo.
   Dirt had accumulated in one of the ditches and a few weeds had taken root. The boys began pulling these weeds but soon found it much more interesting to dig in the dirt. It quickly became a contest as to who could build the tallest dirt mound that once that was settled transitioned into filling cardboard boxes with dirt.
    The boys decided they would like to mix mud in the cardboard boxes to make the mounds stronger so they uncoiled the garden hose and drug it to the ditch. I warned the boys that adding water to the dirt in the boxes would quickly weaken the cardboard but, as grand kids often are, they were skeptical.
One of the joys of being a grand parent is letting the grand kids, as long as the activity is safe, find out for themselves how things work in the real world. I try to curb my need to explain everything and to just let the kids find out on their own the consequences of their actions.
    The boys added water to each box of dirt and for the first minute the seams held but then each box burst open and the boys were excited as to how the mud oozed out, into the ditch, to be swept away by the running water from the hose. In this photo John and Andrew are shown at the intersection of the two ditches. John is hosing the last of the dirt down the ditch as Andrew starts to build a dam. Damming a stream of running water comes as natural to boys as going barefoot.
   What I’ve just written describes just the first hour of a memorable summer afternoon. In the next post, I will share what the boys and I did during the second and third hours.



Friday, August 3, 2012

Summer iPad APPS


    G-mom and G-dad are having a wonderful time visiting kids and grand kids living in the Eastern half of the country. So far we’ve been to Augusta, Georgia to be with Gene, Winona, and grand kids Asher, Kate, and 2-month old Emma. Dr. Gene had to stay in Augusta to look after his patients while the rest of us drove to Yorktown, Virginia, to visit, Lt. Col. James, Ann, and the grand sons John and Andrew. They too will soon have a new baby brother or sister.
    What a joy it is for the ‘cousins’ to spend time together and get to better know each other as they grow into school age. It’s been hot in Virginia so swimming in the Residents Pool has been a lot of fun and a welcomed relief from the heat.
    The boys even got away for an afternoon of golf, the miniature version, followed by ice cream. In this photo Asher tees off as others watch. John, on the right, won the match, and Andrew, on the left had a hole-in-one as did Asher. 
    Another way to beat the afternoon heat is to play with the iPads. Every family has at least one iPad so the boys can all play at the same time.  John, the oldest, starts second grade next year as Andrew (in the middle) and Asher attend Kindergarten. Kids are at ease with these techno-tools and I want them to play games that have strong problem-solving elements. Such games help kids develop the problem-solving skills (perseverance for example) that are not dependent upon school content.
    The boys like to play Star Wars Pit Droids (see The Return of the Star Wars Pit Droids post - February 2012) and are well into the second level where the problems are much more challenging. Of course playing the game along with the boys gives me the chance to help them think through the difficult sections. This photo show a level two problem that requires directing pit droids of different colors (color is just one of many attributes a pit droid can have).
    Kids like the physics-based puzzle games so I tried to download the classic The Incredible Machine to the iPads but it is no longer in the APP store! I have it on my iPad so the kids had to take turns playing the game. I also have Casey's Contraptions, a game similar to The Incredible Machine loaded in my iPad but it also is no longer available in the APP store. I did find  the game Crazy School in the APP store for $0.99.  It’s not as extensive as the other two games but I did download the game to all of the iPads. Here’s a sample problem screen. The tools available to solve the problem are in a tray off-screen to the right.
    All problem-solving and no play is not the way to go so I downloaded the iPad version of SolarRola, a platformer (Donkey Kong style) game from the big-time game publisher Square Enix. Here’s a sample screen from the game. The graphics are great, the animation smooth, and the gameplay allows for either tilt-screen or key control.
   As focused as the boys seem to be in this photo, within 30 minutes they had moved from iPads to other forms of more active play. Like chasing each other through the hallways and up and down the stairs of a two-story house.
    When we return to our home we are expecting to have a visit from Joshua and Jordann, our two oldest grand kids.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Simple Wood Project for Kids

   Mike, a good friend of mine and a fellow science educator, also has a woodworking shop in his garage where he custom builds fine furniture. Just before Asher and Kate's recent visit I asked Mike to save a box of wood scraps for the kids. 
   We work together one day a week developing middle school science curriculum and on one of those days he brought me a nice box of wood scraps, just the right size for young hands. 
   I planned to pre-drill pilot holes in the blocks and let the kids hammer and nail together as many blocks as they needed to create a project originating from their imaginations.
   All that's needed are wood scraps in assorted sizes and shapes (no piece of scrap is unwanted as it might just be the perfect piece to fill out a construction project), an electric drill, a hammer, and a  box of 4D (1 1⁄2") nails.
    As you can see in these two photos, Asher, using both hands, has good control over his hammer and had no difficulty hammering nails straight into the wood.
    On the other hand, Kate thought the best hammering technique required that you first close your eyes and then swing the hammer. 
    Fortunately, we caught her in time and she too, controling the hammer with just one hand, was able to hammer the nails straight into each bock. This picture shows her working on her simple doorway arch.
    This is the Space Shuttle that Asher built.
    There wasn't time for Asher and Kate to paint each project so I put them away (along with the unused blocks) to save for their next visit. I'm also saving other odds and ends (such as cardboard tubes) so they can also glue shapes made of materials other than wood to a project.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Botanicula


   The creative team at Amanita Design studios have partnered with story teller Jaromir Plachy and the 
Czech band DVA to bring us a great follow up to Machinarium, their critically acclaimed point-and-click robot adventure game. This new game is called Botanicula and features a huge cast of 'critters' all of which inhabit a tree.
   The tree is being attacked by black spider-like creatures (see above screen shot) and the story is the odyssey of a group of five of the tree's inhabitants, each with it's own special skill, and their attempt to thwart the evil doers.
    As is typical with Amanita Designs games, there is no dialogue. I find this ideal for youngsters as it gives them the chance to use their imagination to create the story dialogue from their perspective.
   With no dialogue driving the story, the five 'amigos' call out to be named and I've named each of the five as shown in this graphic. Kids will see these characters differently and name them accordingly.
   Not all of the critters that live in the tree are friendly to our five amigos. Some are just cranky and are relatively harmless but the spiders are to be avoided at all times.
  What I really enjoy most about the game is what I think my grandkids will also enjoy and that is the absence of 'adult' logic. We adults need to check our need for 'linear logic' at the opening screen and accept that the game is forcing us to think more like a child than like an adult. In other words, let go and 'go with flow'.
   The sound track is as free-wheeling as the game. Many different and unexpected sounds accompany the character animations and play in the background.
   Along every limb of the tree and in every dark corner there is an unanticipated surprise. But enough of this talk, look at the following video I made to introduce you to the game.

   I hope you enjoyed that short romp in search of a feather.
   If you would like to play the first level of the game in your browser or purchase the game, read on.
   To play through the first level of Botanicula in your browser, go to http://botanicula.net/
and the Botanicula demo will load (sorry, no Ipads). You can download the full version from this site or you can visit http://amanita-design.net/ where you can purchase and download both Botanicula and Machinarium. 
  To view other grandadscience posts on Amanita Designs games, see the archive section on the left side of the grandadscience blog. 
         The Questionaut—see October 2010
         Machinarium —see November 2009 
         Samorost I and Samorost II—(See Educational Computer Games.1) April 2009


Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Drinking Bird Without Its Hat or Feathers

   In the previous post, Drinking Birds, I promised to test whether radiant energy from the sun or a light bulb would power the 'drinking' bird.  I soaked the head of my extra bird overnight in a glass of water. This loosened the glue holding its hat, tail feathers, and plastic beak so that they could be easily removed. I used a small razor knife to shave the red fuzz off the bird's head. I spray painted the bottom black and the top white because black is a better absorber of radiant energy than white. As you can see in the following video, sunlight will power the bird.
   Let's just say the bird is 'drinking sunlight'.
   Note that in the video, the bird is in a relatively shaded spot. Placing the bird in direct sunlight causes it to go through its 'drinking' cycle at a faster rate. Within an hour, the sun had moved placing the bird in shade and it stopped bobbing. Also, the inverted cup keeps the bird from tipping upside down just as the rim of the glass does in its water-drinking cousin.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Drinking Birds


   What a great time for grandparent when four of the six (soon to be seven) grand kids visit at the same time. In the above picture, Jordann, her brother Joshua, Asher, and his sister Kate, watch two birds continuously drink from a glass of water. In the background of the picture you can see a large cardboard refrigerator box (the best ‘kid’ toy ever). I interrupted the kids from rolling each other around in the refrigerator box long enough to show them the birds.The birds, like the grand kids, just keep going and going and going.
   To see the birds in action, just click on this video.
  Over the years I’ve owned several Drinking Birds. They are made of glass and the normal, unintentional breakage one expects with kids eventually decimated my supply. 
   I was paging through a school science materials catalog looking for interesting science toys for the grand kids and found the bird for sale at a reasonable price (five dollars per bird if you order 6). I ordered a bird for each of our three sets of grand kids, one for a friend (a retired science teacher) and two for myself. Here’s the link: http://www.arborsci.com/drinking-bird
   Any science toy that ‘moves’ (see Cartesian Diver, April 2009 ) holds the interest of kids as they often want to understand why the toy moves. Being made of clear glass, the bird quickly reveals its secret.
   The drinking bird is a simple type of heat engine. It is essentially a thermometer on a pivot with a fuzz-covered head that, as long as it's wet, efficiently cools the top. 
   The difference in temperature between the bottom and top of the bird drives fluid up the bird’s neck.  The weight of the fluid tips the bird around the pivot allowing the bird to dip its beak in a pool of water. When tipped, the open end of the tube at the bottom of the bird lets the fluid in the neck drain back down, setting up the next cycle. As long as there is water for the bird to drink, it will continually go through the drink cycle.


   On humid days the air becomes saturated with water vapor and the oscillation of the bird slows downs or stops. Invert a small aquarium and cover the drinking bird. The air in the aquarium will become saturated with water vapor and the bird will stop drinking.
   I read somewhere that if the felt is removed from the head and the head is painted white and the bottom black, then the sun or a light bulb can provide the temperature difference required to make the bird 'drink' from an empty glass. Well, I have that extra bird and I think I'll test whether the 'bald' bird works. If it does, I'll report back with a video of the bird in action.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tiny Bang Story

   Almost two years ago The Tiny Bang Story puzzle game was made available on Steam for both the Mac and PC platforms. It is now available on the Apple iPad.
   Our four youngest grandkids are first grade or younger.  I would play The Tiny Bang Story with the kids, often just before bedtime, where we would huddle around my laptop.  The Tiny Bang Planet is a computer game for kids of all ages. I played through the game (and enjoyed every challenge) to make sure the story was appropriate for younger children.
   It’s a 'search, find, and click' game with additional logic puzzles. Kids will need adult assistance with the harder logic puzzles but kids can easily find the hidden puzzle pieces and other objects needed to move to the next level. There are five levels in the game and the game ends with the planet restored to its original condition, with all of the puzzle pieces back in place. Very colorful and engaging graphics with good sound and easy game play. Our grandkids loved it on the Mac and PC and can now replay the game on the iPad.
   Heres a short video preview of the opening level of the game.
Note: Steam is an online game distributor that supports both the Mac and the PC platforms. Games purchased on Steam are placed in your game inventory and available for play anywhere in the world. Steam automatically applies updates to your games. The client software is available, free, at wwww.steampowered.com.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Return of the Star Wars Pit Droids


   I have an iPad2 that I use for email, playing educational games, and face-to-face sessions with the grand kids.
   I’m thrilled with the return to the iPad and iPhone of some of the better educational games that once lived only on the PC or Mac. For example, The Incredible Machine, the great Rube Goldberg PC and Mac game, is now available on the iPad.
   I was especially excited to learn that Lucas Arts has re-released Star Wars Pit Droids, my favorite educational game of them all. The game is available in the iTunes store for the iPhone and iPad for just two bucks!
   All of our grand kids have access to both computers and iPads so I will be putting Pit Droids on their iPads.
   Click on the video below to view the opening scene that establishes the context for the story line that underlies the game.
 
   Pit droids are transported from level to level by launchers like the one seen in the following video. The droids move from the launcher, in a straight line, until they step on a direction arrow.

  The problem to solve in each puzzle is to get the droids into the correct pits that takes them to the next higher level and, eventually, to the Arena. The original PC/Mac game contained over 300 levels (puzzles) so there is plenty to do.
   Pit droids can be unpainted, blue, red, yellow, or green. All pit droids obey white direction arrows
but colored arrows direct only pit droids of that color. Click on the video below to view an example of the use of colored arrows.

   At the higher levels the problems are challenging for adults. In fact, there's a problem in the original PC version I've never been able to solve!. I even assigned the problem to university math undergrads and it still remained unsolved. I will be curious to learn if that problem is in the iPad version.
   During the game's development I was often in contact with the lead game designer. The problem with educational computer games is that the better ones do not reflect school curriculum. I know and understand that sequencing is fundamental to creative writing and computer programming (programs are called APPS these days) and that students that are successful playing games like Pit Droids are honing those skills and having fun at the same time.
   I told the game designer on several occasions that teachers and parents would not see the educational value of the game. I knew that the great educational games of the past (Rocky's Boots, Fix It!, and Robot Odyssey II) all won awards but were financial flops. Teachers and parents never adopted those games. Unfortunately, Pit Droids was also a financial flop and George Lucas soon closed the educational game division of Lucas Arts.
   I'm thankful the game has been revived. Download the game, play it with the kids, and you will understand why.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Light the Lights!


   Grandmother and I spent the recent holidays with our oldest son and his family in Yorktown, Virginia.  We hadn’t seen grandsons John and Andrew since the previous winter when they were living near Dayton, Ohio. Being an Air Force family, they are used to frequent moves.  There is so much colonial history in Virginia and we enjoyed visiting the Jamestown settlement and several other battlefields and historical sites.
   When the boy’s mother and grandmother started putting lights on the Christmas tree they found a string of lights that didn’t work so she discarded the string.  The boys and I were sitting in the kitchen enjoying a snack so I asked if they would like to ‘light the light’. They weren’t sure what I was talking about so I went to the garage and got a pair of wire cutters from dad’s toolbox. I cut off several of the lights from the discarded strand, found a couple of batteries, some masking tape, and a rubber band and soon the boys were testing each of the lights cut from the strand to identify those that would still light up.

   To make a safe source of electricity, I taped the two batteries together (bump (+) end to flat (–) end), stretched a rubber band lengthwise around the batteries, and secured the rubber band with additional wraps of masking tape. You should have a bump (+) on end and a flat side (–) on the other end of the taped-together batteries.
    I cut about a dozen of the lights from the strand and then had the boys test each light. About half wouldn’t light so we threw them away. In the following picture John is testing one of the lights
   The boys discovered it was much easier to test a light if they worked together, one held the wires to the batteries and the other held the wires to the light.
   Once we had a set of working light bulbs I had the boys wire two of the bulbs end-to-end.  The bulbs are wired in series.
   Next, I had the boys wire three bulbs together, three ends connected on one side and three ends on the other side. These bulbs are wired in parallel.

   The boys found that the three bulbs wired in parallel would all light with the same brightness but the two bulbs wired in series did not glow as bright. Also, one of the two bulbs wired in series glowed a bit brighter than the other bulb.
   The boys know nothing about  ‘voltage drops’ or any of the other basic concepts of electrical theory but their answers as to why the three bulbs glowed with the same brightness struck me as intuitively correct. The said the three bulbs shared the electricity equally.  But for the two bulbs wired in series, the first bulb ate more of the electricity than the second bulb. 
   See what you can learn by talking to kids!
   And, as all kids know, experiments with light bulbs always work better in the dark.