Archive for August, 2013

Time Shift Your TV – Squaresville

Monday, August 26th, 2013

SquaresvilleOne of the big winners at this year’s International Academy of Web Television Awards event in January was the sweet comedy series Squaresville. And in April, Indiewire named Squaresville as one of the best female-centered Web series of the moment.

Check out Squaresville for yourself on YouTube and you’ll see why the series is popular.

Tweens and teens will get a kick out of watching Zelda and Ester, Squaresville’s main characters who are played by stars Mary Kate Wiles and Kylie Sparks. They’re the not-so-dynamic but funny duo at the heart of the show. The girls live in the suburbs and are trying to get through each day as they face all the challenges that being a teen presents. Like Daria or Freaks & Geeks, the show chronicles the nerdy best friends’ adventures, with both humor and heartfelt messages.

Topics involve boys, life, tattoos, friends, what’s cool, and more. It’s imaginative, simple, and real without being overly snarky or sex-filled.

There are more than two dozen episodes available, and most run between two and five minutes, so there’s no reason not to give them a try.

Play with Your Math: Math Apps for Back to School Math Practice

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Most schools assign summer reading. But summer math practice? Not so much.

With school just around the corner, our kids could all use an arithmetic refresher course. A little bit of late summer math prep can make the first math class of the year seem way less frustrating. Of course, you don’t have to sit down with a book of worksheets and a pile of pencils. There are plenty of math apps that offer solid practice, managing to transform math from an intimidating school subject into the basis for fun new challenges. Even apps without numbers help kids prepare for math, so long as they inspire problem solving, spatial reasoning, and logical thinking.

Below, find ten of our favorite Parents’ Choice Award winning math apps, sorted from the most basic to the most challenging, which will lead to classroom success and, hopefully, a lasting love of math. For more, visit our previous list of smart math apps.

Numbers with Nemo

Numbers with Nemo

This beautiful app is ideal for beginning learners who are building familiarity with numbers, including basic counting and number writing skills. It plays a bit like an eBook, in that the familiar characters from the story talk to the player with on-screen text highlighting to help early readers), and then encourages counting to different numbers by tapping on items on screen. The user can say the number (recording voice for playback) and practice writing as well. Players can do one-to-one comparisons (dragging a drink to each fish, so that 6 fish characters get 6 cups of punch), order numbers from 1-9, and start building familiarity with what each numeral means. (full review)

Motion Math Hungry Guppy

Hungry Guppy

Motion Math’s Hungry Guppy is a fine app for young kids starting to establish an understanding of numbers. It offers multiple representations of numbers (numerals and dots, for example), and provides a challenge that our five-year-old tester felt was ‘just hard enough’. (full review)

Motion Math Wings

Motion Math Wings

In Motion Math’s Wings, you tip the iPhone or iPad to gently guide a flying bird towards the number that is the greatest. In the beginning, your bird must choose between 5 blocks or 25 blocks, for example. As it gets more difficult, the player must visually determine which is largest from different sets, comparing for example sets (two sets of four versus 2×8). In doing this, your child learns how to think of numbers in sets, and “see” numbers, rather than just the numeral representing the number. (full review)

Marble Math Junior

Marble Math

Marble Math Junior is a fun game for children to practice sequencing, addition, and counting. Children guide a marble through mazes filled with numbers and obstacles. The challenge is either to collect numbers that equal a given sum, to collect all examples of a given shape, to collect numbers from smallest to largest, or to collect them from largest to smallest. (full review) 

Montessori Geometry

Montessori Geometry

Les Trois Elles’ Montessori Geometry features an electronic version of Montessori’s Geometric Cabinet, which is a series of puzzles each focused on a particular shape or type of shape (e.g. circles, squares, and curvilinear shapes). Once children have an understanding of the two-dimensional shapes, they can begin working with their respective three-dimensional forms, the Geometric Solids. Before you know it, children will be amazing you with shape names such as trapezoid, parallelogram, and isosceles triangle. (full review) 

Bloxy HD

Bloxy HD

Bloxy HD is a digital recreation of real world play with a certain type of plastic building block. Players enter an environment with unlimited bricks of all the basic styles and colors (and even a moderate range of textures), and there they can build to their hearts’ content. (full review) 

Math Doodles

Math Doodles

Daren Carstens, the Math Doodles designer/developer, narrates a brief introduction to this app. He tells users that when he was in school, math just looked like squiggles to him, and during math class, he’d just doodle. When he grew up, and realized that there actually was a place for doodles in math, the subject became fun, and he never looked back. Once the mini-intro is complete, users are transported into playful, interactive math lessons. (read more)

3rd Grade Math: Splash Worksheets Games

3rd Grade Math Splash

3rd Grade Math: Splash Math offers convenient math practice in an easy-to-use app. The app uses a traditional worksheet format which, while not unique, will be easy for parents to match up to their child’s homework for targeted skill practice. Parents can choose which skills they would like their children to practice from a settings menu, and they can select the difficulty level for questions in each category. Skills range from place value and addition through geometry and probability. At the bottom of the screen, there is a handy “scratch pad” feature, where children can work out problems before choosing an answer, just as they can when completing actual pen and paper worksheets. (full review)

Move the Turtle: Programming for Kids

Move the Turtle

Move the Turtle by Geek Kids is a modern version of Logo with updated graphics and a turtle that actually looks like a turtle-the line drawings left behind are the tracings of his tail. The language is greatly simplified, with menu-driven, customizable commands and limited storage for data, but as it allows sections of code to be saved and repeated (through global variables, procedures, loops, and conditionals, for those familiar with programming) it still can result in fairly complex illustrations. The game offers a series of tutorial challenges, beginning with simple actions to move the turtle and draw a line (in one of four colors) and building up to creating procedures for mathematical factorials and using library functions to draw flowers.  (full review)

5th Grade Math: Splash Math Worksheets Game

5th Grade Splash Math

Math applications seldom go beyond basic arithmetic, and those that do tend to have a single focus (e.g., fractions) that makes the application of limited appeal. 5th Grade Math: Splash Math goes much further, offering advanced arithmetic, fractions, algebraic expressions, volume, metric conversions, and geometry. Problems range from fairly basic to very challenging. The app offers sets of 20 problems at a time, rewarding players for successful completion of problems with fun games. Splash Math keeps statistics on individual users and can email the parent to allow easy tracking of a child’s progress. (full review)

Time Shift Your TV – Me Want It

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Cookie Monster - Me Want It

Cookie Monster’s latest video, “Me Want It (But Me Wait),” is going viral. The lovable Sesame Street character released the music video two weeks ago, putting his own spin on Icona Pop’s hit song of the summer, “I Love It.”

While the Swedish duo’s song is about crashing a car and breaking up, in “Me Want It,” Cookie sings about self-control.

You know the big blue guy is always ready to dive into a big bowl of cookies (and he’s been a controversial character amid the childhood obesity epidemic for it), but this time around, he’s going to wait.

“When me lose control, when me on the brink, need to just calm down, me need to stop and think,” Cookie sings. “Me need control me self, yeah that’s the way to live, and then me functioning, like an executive. Me wait, me want it, but me wait.”

In typical Sesame Street form, the lesson is likely aimed at pre-schoolers, but the words of wisdom apply to kids of all ages.

About to start middle school or high school? You’ll be faced with peer pressure in many ways, and when you are, “stop and think.” If you’re heading off college, where food and partying will be plentiful, remember to “just calm down…stop and think.”

Adults, of course, would do well to heed the advice, too.

So now the next time you’re in a situation that might get out of control in some way, hear Icona Pop’s music in your head, but substitute Cookie’s words.

Go Back to School Without Breaking the Bank

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Back to SchoolBack to school seems like a marketing invention that nearly rivals Christmas hype. Promotions start as early as July, but when many folks are finally ready to get school supplies in September, the products are gone from the shelves. Being ready for each school day is important, but we need not fall prey to advertising gimmicks. There are many ways to save on school supplies.

Getting kids ready for school doesn’t have to break the bank, and if you get a little creative, and perhaps recycle, you may not have to spend as much. Start with a few crucial school supplies and then wait until halfway into the school year to deliver some of the costlier items (hopefully purchased on sale at your convenience). Midway through the year is a great time to restock supplies for the classroom.

Present the supplies you do purchase for the first day in a fun new way. In Germany, it’s customary to give children a schultuete on their first day of first grade. To make one, fill a paper cone with candy, stickers, and supplies, as seen in the photo on the left. If you’re feeling especially crafty, try making your own school supplies.

Interested in helping others obtain school supplies? If you enjoy the excitement and smell of a newly sharpened number two pencils, but don’t have kids in school yet, check out local supply drives, sites that pairs donors with schools in need all over the country. There are many options. Give through Adopt a Classroom or Donors Choose. Other programs like Blessings in a Backpack make sure all students are fed on the weekend, filling in the gaps where free lunch programs leave off.

Origami Engineering Plus Five Toys for Teaching Creative Problem-Solving

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
Origami Engineering - Creative Problem Solving

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT photo, via Centre Daily

STEM education for children can start with a quick lesson in creative problem-solving. At the Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania, college students from Penn State are teaching children how to craft and sail folded-paper boats. Through trial and error, children learn which materials and sail types work best with their origami boats. The one-day program called “Design it, Build it, Use it: Discover Origami and Engineering” demonstrates the power of combining creativity and problem solving.

Engineers mix experimentation, creativity, and design to solve problems big and small. Even young children can practice thinking like an engineer. Here are five Parents’ Choice Award winning toys that will develop creative problem-solving skills!

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine

The GoldieBlox company has successfully created a toy for young elementary girls that encourages engineering design and problem solving, while teaching science in a way that both girls and their parents will find appealing and not pandering.


With littleBits, users are given a playground powered with simple electronics. They are incredibly easy to use (we snapped our first circuit together within minutes of opening the box), but have tremendous potential for more complex products.

PlanToys Gears & Puzzles Deluxe

The Gears and Puzzles Deluxe set, designed for children ages two years and up, includes twenty-four toddler-sized puzzle pieces and brightly colored gears that children can build and arrange however they wish. Changing the size and position of the gears (drivers and followers) affects the speed and force with which the gears move.

Volo Fleet

A game of catch becomes a lesson in aerodynamic engineering with OgoSport’s Volo Fleet. A plastic ring surrounds the fins; pulled to the end, it keeps the fins straight so the Volo Fleet flies fast, but pushed tight to the base, with the fins bent wide, it spins rapidly and flies true. A sure backyard favorite.


Keva Contraptions’ Trebuchet kit is a topnotch build-your-own craft kit that doubles as a science lesson. Children receive a stack of raw wood planks, wood scale boards, wood glue, string, balls, and a sling pouch. The very clear and graphically engaging instructions guide them as they assemble these materials into a complex, functional, mechanical trebuchet.