Tag: technology

Family STEAM-Powered Fun!

Get the whole family involved and help your children develop a love of STEAM with a family STEAM challenge night! The family can be split into teams to compete. Or, go head to head as individuals in a series of fun challenges. They won’t even know they are learning!

Children often need to learn through doing. They need to  see with their own eyes how things work as they discover the world. Activities encouraging playing, building and designing are fun. But, they’re also educational tools that can go far beyond the classroom. Plus, they give the family a way to bond and spend some extra time together.

All challenges are really just lessons in disguise. For example, if you have a challenge to see which person’s paper plane can fly the furthest, you’re actually discovering the wonderful world of physics and aerodynamics. By building the GraviTrax STEM Activity set, you’re not only having to work out how to build the tracks, you’re also learning about the power of gravity. For a really fun race, try and build the Engino STEM Hero Automotives and see which ones can go the fastest (use code PakMag15 for 15% off!). You could even get into teams and time who can build their model the fastest.

It’s a great idea to take a few minutes after the fun challenges to explore the important questions. These include what, how and why. What is gravity and why does it exist? How does it make the GraviTrax set work? How does gravity affect our everyday lives?

The Lessons in Mistakes

Allowing for failure is also an important part of STEAM challenges. When things go wrong, children learn from the mistakes made. From there, they build up better skills to problem solve. They can learn to think critically about how they can complete a challenge more effectively. We all know that there’s no better way to motivate someone than get them involved in a competition that they want to win. It’s important to redirect children to figuring out why something didn’t work and then how they can improve it. It’s very beneficial for them to experience failure so that they can adjust to disappointment. That might sound like a negative thing. It’s actually a great thing! It helps children to learn that there are challenges and roadblocks in life. More importantly, it helps them learn that these challenges can be overcome with brain power.

The Lessons in Teamwork

Activities and challenges that require teamwork are an amazing way to familiarise children with sharing ideas, knowledge and the concept of workload. It’s important that children learn how to adapt to working alongside others. It’s even more important that they learn just how amazing teamwork can be. Teamwork can often solve problems faster and/or more efficiently because each person brings different expertise and personal strengths. The world’s teams of engineers, builders, astrophysicists, doctors and so much more, have made some of the most amazing discoveries and structures ever… together.

The Variety of Methods

Family STEAM challenges are the best way to combine a variety of learning methods with having fun. They give children the opportunity to solve problems in unique ways, using all subject areas of STEAM. Through trial and error, taking risks and thinking outside of the box, children go beyond applying a memorised method or known solution to a specific problem, and create their own. By avoiding the ‘step by step’ approach to problem solving, they can get creative and take control of their own learning, all while it just feels like a fun game.

For great educational resources you can buy the ‘100 Easy STEAM Activities’ book by Andrea Scalzo Yi and the STEAM Powered Kids Kitchen Science set from entropy. Both are perfect for kids and the Kitchen Science set contains over 30 science experiments that can be done with everyday materials.

We hope you and your family have some great family STEAM fun together. 

Some Fun Family STEAM Challenge Ideas 

Who can build a boat that can hold the most weight in coins?

You can use 10 or 20 cent coins for this challenge. All you’ll need is tin foil, the coins and a bowl of water. Give everyone the same amount of tin foil and see who can build a boat from the foil that can hold the most amount of coins in water without sinking. Either get into teams or try the challenge individually. To step the n minutes for everyone to make their boat.

Tip: Once you’ve found a winner, take the challenge up a notch. Use a timer and only allow five or 10 minutes to build the boat. Try and see how many coins it takes to truly sink the boat. It might be more than you think!

Who can build the tallest sculpture?

For this challenge you’ll need plastic cups, measuring tape, popsicle sticks, glue or tape, and something to time with (optional). Lay all the materials out for the teams or each person. Then get building! You can set a timer to make it more competitive. The goal is to see who can build the tallest sculpture. The more creative you get, the better. Only the materials provided can be used.

Tip: If you want to make it even more challenging, try not using any glue or tape to hold the materials together.

Who can build the tallest tower that can hold a tennis ball?

Plastic straws, tape, a tennis ball and something to time with (optional) are all that’s needed for this challenge. Give every team or individual person the same amount of materials, then try and build a tower that is strong enough to hold the ball on top of it. Use the time limit to make it a fun race. This challenge is great for getting those critical thinking skills used, as the materials don’t make it easy to create a shape that can support the ball.

Tip: This challenge may be too difficult for younger children. If so, you can try use something lighter than a tennis ball. It doesn’t even need to be a sports ball; any small round object could work!

See who can build a paper plane that will fly the longest distance

Get some paper, preferably A4, measuring tape and a clear space (inside) ready for this challenge. The most basic version of the paper plane is easy to make: Fold the paper in half vertically. Open it back up and fold the top two corners in to meet the centre line, so it looks like a triangle on top of a square. Fold the top corners inwards once more and then fold these ‘wings’ backwards. Mark a starting point and have everyone throw their paper planes from there, using a measuring tape to see which pane went the furthest.

Tip: There are plenty of tutorials online for paper planes, from simple to complicated designs. Everyone can get creative and see which ones work the best for distance.

The maze race

Clear a table for this race and create a maze on top of it with blocks (or you can use whatever materials around the house that work best). Blow through a straw and see who can push their marble through the maze the fastest. You can even add little challenges like small homemade ramps and tunnels. This challenge works great for teams – the bigger the table, the more teamwork comes in handy. Place team members at separate places around the table, so that they can help out the other person(s).

 

 

Hooked on Dopamine – The ‘Feel-Good’ Neurotransmitter

The worlds brands and tech creators spend literally billions of dollars trying to get your attention.

We are the “Attention Generation”. Dopamine plays a role in how they get our attention. But what is Dopamine and how does this chemical work in our bodies?

Nearly all pleasurable experiences involve the release of dopamine. Having a good meal, exercising, shopping and even drugs, gambling, gaming and getting a notification that someone has liked your post on Facebook.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in the brain. Basically, it acts as a chemical messenger between neurons, and your brain releases this ‘feel-good’ chemical when it is expecting a reward. It determines whether we want to do something again. Dopamine isn’t acting alone. It works with other neurotransmitters and hormones, such as serotonin and adrenaline. 

The right amount of dopamine usually goes along with a pretty good mood. It’s ideal for learning, planning, and productivity giving you feelings of focus, motivation, happiness, and alertness. Low dopamine however is one reason why you can have trouble concentrating, poor coordination, and low motivation.

When our body is experiencing pleasure, it responds by releasing dopamine. This release causes your brain to focus more of its attention on the experience and it works out pathways to ensure it receives this feel good chemical again. Dopamine activates your brain’s reward centre. When the brain picks up that it may soon receive a reward, whether that reward be food, or likes on social media- a flash of dopamine zaps that reward pathway. Then you get another hit when you get the perceived reward.

For example, suppose your “go-to” comfort food is a bar of chocolate. Your brain may increase dopamine when you see chocolate in advertising, spot it in the pantry, you see someone eating it, or even if you think about it or get a waft of it. When you eat it, another flood of dopamine acts to reinforce this craving and focuses on satisfying it in the future.

It’s a cycle of motivation, reward, and reinforcement that causes us to seek, desire, and expect certain outcomes.

Now imagine that you’ve been longing for that hidden chocolate bar all day, but you discover when you get home that someone in your family ate it. Your disappointment might lower your dopamine level and dampen your mood. It might also intensify your desire for chocolate, making you want it even more (and send someone to the store!).

This can also happen when we post something on social media. We expect some likes and comments and we constantly check and get a dopamine hit if it’s going well. If it’s not, then that can cause internal conflict and lower mood feelings.

While dopamine isn’t the sole cause of addiction, its motivational properties are thought to play a role in addiction.

Experts evaluate something’s potential to cause addiction by looking at the speed, intensity, and reliability of the dopamine release it causes in your brain. It doesn’t take long for your brain to associate certain behaviours or substances with a rush of dopamine. That’s why people can get addicted to drugs, overeating, gambling, gaming, alcohol, caffeine and even exercise.

Addictive substances and behaviours can cause dopamine levels to spike, and over a long period of time, sometimes the brain weakens or eliminates receptors built to respond to dopamine which leads to us needing more of the drug, substance or activity to elicit the same amount of dopamine. This can steadily lead to us losing interest and needing something more exciting to take its place (for and extreme example; those that start out on marijuana can end up on ice).

That is why our phones are becoming an issue for many of us, and why we can easily get addicted to watching a show or playing a video game. Digital technologies, such as social networks, online shopping, and games, use a set of persuasive and motivational techniques to keep users returning. This is why we need to be acutely aware that technology in particular, is built to keep us hooked.

Notifications, responses and rewards are ruling our lives because this attention is addictive. Gaming creators call this the “compulsion loop”.

The Science Behind it?

Every time someone reacts to something you have done online, or you react positively to something someone else has done online, you get a dopamine hit. Dopamine is an addictive pleasure chemical, it’s like a hug for the brain. Who doesn’t want more pleasure chemicals and hugs? The negative though is that the opposite also occurs if we don’t get the attention we desire:

  • Decreased self-esteem/eating disorders and body dysmorphia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression/depressive symptoms
  • Feeling a lack of connection
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Deterioration in concentration and other symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Researchers have found that addicted players of video games, regardless of gender, were more anxious and depressed, and showed poorer impulse control and cognitive functioning than gamers who were not addicted. Poor impulse control and poor cognitive functioning are risk factors for various kinds of addiction, so those with pre-existing depression, anxiety or under high levels of stress need to be mindful of this.

The brain, according to Dr Win Wenger, can consciously process 126 bits of information per second. However, the brain receives 10 million bits of information per second. That means we can only focus on 1/80,000 of the data our brain is getting.

Our brain loves to build patterns, and even though the brain makes up 2 percent of our bodies mass, it uses 20% of our body’s energy. So, if your brain has been in overdrive, it’s no wonder we can feel exhausted. This is where techniques like meditation, mindfulness, and learning ways to give our brains a rest and reset is really important.

Dopamine is the reward centre in our brains, and the challenging thing for 21st century parents in our high-tech society is our potential addiction to constant rewards, and gratification. Understanding how dopamine works is a great start to teaching our children that not everything in their lives can be gamified and rewarded, and we need to find lots of ways to get these lovely dopamine hits naturally.

Did you know dopamine is involved in many body functions. These include:

  • blood flow
  • digestion
  • executive functioning
  • heart and kidney function
  • memory and focus
  • mood and emotions
  • motor control
  • pain processing
  • pancreatic function and insulin regulation
  • pleasure and reward seeking behaviour
  • sleep
  • stress response

 

Learn more about Bree James here and read more of her PakMag blogs here.  

 

 

 

Why Nature Play Is So Important

Ahhh, children. They’ll play in the dirt like no one’s business and explore like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes as parents we want to keep children inside where it’s safer and we can keep an eye on them always. In our fast-paced, technology ridden world, it IS undeniably easier to set a kid up on the tablet or computer. But, we should encourage nature play instead of forgetting about it, because of its benefits. 

Children do a lot of their learning through playing, whether it’s obvious to us or not. It’s a great idea to have play occur outside instead of inside. This allows them to connect with the environment and start developing an appreciation for it early. Plus, nature is everywhere, so why not utilise such an awesome resource?

‘Nature play’ is any activity that gets children thinking outdoors or simply being active outdoors. 

By allowing and encouraging our children to play outside we help them develop the skills they need to be left to their own devices, without adults controlling the situation. Simply playing outside can help children grow creativity, curiosity, resilience and the ability to negotiate risks. By climbing trees, discovering land and other activities outdoors, children learn to assess the dangers of certain situations. They simply gain better risk assessment skills. Minor injuries help children grow and learn! 

Of course, it additionally has physical, social and mental benefits in general. Outside, children have so many opportunities to interact with other children. They can solve problems together, explore and discover together, help each other and just generally connect. Additionally, no technology can even come close to how beautiful and amazing Mother Nature is. Regularly playing outdoors also promotes better mood and less mental fatigue – not just for children, but adults too. The sunshine, the smells, the feel of nature and the animals are something that every child deserves to experience in full.

Encouraging being outdoors and getting involved in physical activity can put in motion a love for nature that can stick throughout their lives.

This is always a positive! Screen time is increasing a lot these days, taking us further away from nature and the world that we physically live in. Teaching your children to appreciate nature helps them to care about the environment later in life. The world and ultimately ourselves will benefit from this. 

Nature Play in Queensland can provide more information on the benefits of nature play in both childhood and adulthood, recommended amounts of physical activities for children and teens, and how nature play can be encouraged.

Click here to read more of our parenting blogs. 

 

 

Digital Learning Might Be Here to Stay

Digital school reading program, Wushka, has surveyed over 750 primary school teachers across Australia. The survey’s goal was to see what teachers though about online learning and whether it should be continued by parents and teachers, even after students return to school. It found that 97 per cent of those who responded took on digital learning during the pandemic. 7 in 10 said that online learning is here to stay!

The use of programs such as Wushka increased during lockdown as teachers and parents had to find new ways of teaching. Being at home presented a variety of challenges. However, these programs kept children engaged and learning.

“We saw teachers rise to the occasion and embrace digital learning especially for literacy lessons,” says Michelle Kelly, General Manager Education Resources, Modern Star. “Online tools such as Wushka are a great resource for teachers. It is exciting to see so many educators embracing these programs and looking to use them in a post-COVID world.”

Classroom learning is likely to change as teachers continue navigating online learning moving forward.

97 per cent of teachers stated that they benefited from using an online digital reading platform with students. From those, 84 per cent believe students would benefit from online teaching methods – even after returning to physical classrooms. For example, Wushka supports teachers to assist with home learning. It provides both teachers and students with access to over 600 fiction and non-fiction readers. These then support students learning to read. Moving the learning online is made easy through this platform. This online learning then allows teachers to track students’ progress and keep them engaged, both in the classroom and at home. 

It makes complete sense – we are in living in a digital, technology filled world. Laptops, iPads and tablets are much more available in homes and in classrooms. This makes education a lot more accessible, quite literally at the tips of our fingers. Additionally, games and other fun programs easily provide the online education needed. Children are more likely to be engaged because of this, more than what they would be in a traditional, physical classroom setting.

 

 

WHY LEARNING CODING IS BENEFICIAL FOR YOUNG MINDS

WHY LEARNING CODING IS BENEFICIAL FOR YOUNG MINDS

In a rapidly-changing digital world, we are unknowingly preparing our children for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Technology is more prevalent in our lives now than ever, and this is just the beginning! Coding is a very beneficial thing to be learning, especially for young minds. But why?

What is Coding?

Technology, such as computers, robots and apps, are pretty amazing. However, they aren’t able to think for themselves (or at least, not yet). They need a human to give them instructions. To put it simply, coding is a list of step-by-step instructions that get devices to do what you want. Coding makes it possible for us to play games, use apps, create websites, animate robots and much, much more.

Why it’s so Great to Learn

According to Code.org, 71 per cent of all new STEM jobs are in computing, but only eight per cent of STEM graduates are in computer science. The world is in need of more coders! Teaching your kids how to code is a great way to set them up for academic success that can definitely lead them into a successful career. It teaches them not only how computer programs work, but also perseverance, organisation skills and focus. Additionally, it improves their maths and writing skills, confidence, problem solving, and encourages them to be creative – the list goes on.

Coding poses a challenge for young minds. They will experience failure, but will learn to bounce back, learn from their mistakes and try again until
it’s working. If they choose to pursue their interest in coding, it can lead them to a career in software or web development, computer engineering, database administration and jobs that are yet to be invented.

How to Learn

From a glance, coding may seem like a daunting, complicated world. However, there are simple and fun activities and games that can teach kids as young as five to code. Before you know it, your child will be creating games, apps, animations and much more. Many schools offer a STEM program which covers coding, or after school innovation clubs. Programs such as Scratch, Code.org and Tynker also offer a great online introduction to coding.

If you’re after a gift that’ll help them learn, the Kano Make Your Own Computer Kit allows children to learn how to build their very own computer, followed by over 100+ projects with simple steps to create art, music, apps and more. However, learning to code doesn’t necessarily mean sitting behind a computer all day.

A robot kit, such as the Strawbees Coding and Robotic Kit, encourages kids to test their programming skills by creating and animating their very own robot.

Why you need to be monitoring your child's technology usage

WHY YOU NEED TO MONITOR YOUR CHILD’S TECHNOLOGY USE

We live in a time where parents, grandparents and carers may range from being Baby Boomers through to iGens all having very different experience levels with technology. Kids, however, know all about modern technology having grown up with online tools, gaming and technology and they embrace it as another form of communication.

Toddlers are on tablets from a very young age, and iPads and computers are being used in school, whether their own or school supplied, right from Prep. Plus many children also have mobile phones with internet connectivity.

It is thus no surprise that using technology is the number one choice for children to connect and share their lives. Whether it be through a live video to communicate with family and friends and as they get older using emails or other social media platforms.

Being cyber savvy is imperative, and it is not just Baby Boomers and Gen X parents who may not be aware of some of the dangers. One thing about kids that hasn’t changed is that as they get older, they will try to push the boundaries. Trying to test and question any limitation their parents give them. Social media has just added another layer to this parenting conundrum.

Technology is the way of the future, and as parents, we need to embrace this and realise that the danger isn’t in the technology it is in how it is used. You need to actively monitor your children’s use and not just give them the modem password with no supervision. Kids are kids, and they cannot be expected to use social media with the discernment that an adult has.

What to be wary of with these three popular apps:

Facebook.

One of the most popular social networking platforms. Parents may, however, have a false sense of security thinking that since they insisted that their teen have them as a ‘friend’ they are therefore able to see all that they post. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The settings within Facebook are extremely customisable and can be set to determine what everyone is allowed to see. Including what a parent is allowed to see. Kids can change settings to stop parents seeing Facebook Live, messenger, updates the lot.

Snapchat

A fun app for sending pictures with photo filters and cartoon images that lasts for a few seconds and then self-destructs never to be seen again until you ‘snap’ another image. Seemingly innocent, right?

Teens love this app because of the privacy that it offers. They know their parents cannot see what they have shared. Unfortunately, while the image is only there temporarily if that image is screenshot saved, the image can be shared somewhere else. Sadly, sexual predators are online, and they do try to groom children, and innocent swimwear shots can end up on other unsavoury sites.

Instagram.

Is used for sharing inspirational quotes, memes and favourite images. Many parents feel this is a safe app for their children to use. Cute kittens, puppies and cooking images come to mind.

Unfortunately, this is a false as this app null and voids any parental locks that you may have installed on your internet modem or your child’s device. No parental lock can be 100 per cent enforced with Instagram. This app offers a platform where you child can message, share, see, follow and watch videos that might otherwise not be available to them anywhere else.

Be aware of how and when connectivity can be accessed.

Are you aware that the WPS button on modems allows anyone if they press it to locate and connect to the internet without a pin or password? Check that you have changed your modem settings to disable this WPS button. Did you know that your phone can act as a hotspot for your children’s devices? Have you considered whether your neighbour’s Wi-Fi is password secured?

Ensure that when you think they are not connected that they really are not connected.

There are ways to monitor your child’s online activity.

There are applications you can purchase for your children’s devices. These monitor the child’s online activity, and you can change the settings to alert you to different events. These online tools can be added to any device and will even take screen images, graph their social media or online hours and much more.

It’s important that you as a parent that you self-educate and also educate your children about the dangers of being online. It is imperative that they understand that once an image has gone online, it is there forever. A little knowledge can go a long way to ensuring everyone is keeping safe online.

Story Amanda Hoffmann, Blogger/Social Media/Podcaster.