It's worth seeking out fun activities that nurture children's interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A good STEM education is "as important to being well rounded as soccer, ballet and piano lessons," says UW-Madison learning science professor David Williamson Shaffer.
It's especially important to expose girls to STEM programs. According to the Girl Scouts Research Institute: "Girls find STEM interesting, but they are hesitant about STEM careers because they see it as an isolating field wherein they cannot benefit their communities." Madison-area STEM programs abound and aim to bust that myth for girls - and boys, too.
Expanding Your Horizons
Girls in grades 6-8 who might want to major in a STEM subject can get sneak peeks of different careers through Expanding Your Horizons on Nov. 10. In small groups, girls attend hands-on workshops on the UW-Madison campus and take field trips to Edgewood College, MATC, Strand Engineering and other workplaces.
"Engineering is one area that always seems to interest the girls once they understand what it is," says Heather Daniels, senior administrative program specialist. "Unlike many of the other areas, engineering isn't a subject that is taught in middle school."
Registration deadline: Oct. 26. Cost: $25. Space is limited to 350.
2100 Winnebago St.; 608-241-4605
At Sector67, Fractal offers fall weekend classes as well as winter, spring and summer break camps where kids build catapults, solar ovens and more. Heather Wentler, who has a B.A. in elementary education, launched Fractal to help kids bridge hands-on projects with science and math concepts taught in school.
"Tech/science/math were my worst subjects in school," says Wentler. "It wasn't until college and I started to teach those subjects that I fell in love with them, because I understood them better."
Fractal also offers outreach programs through the Goodman Center, MSCR and the Madison Children's Museum.
"Fractal does more than just teach kids about STEM. We teach social skills, how to think for yourself and how to act like a scientist through success and failure," says Wentler.
Most classes run $20-$35; space is limited to 10.
7615 Discover Dr., Middleton; 608-831-6479
BadgerBOTS offers programs, camps and courses for students in grades 2-12 in Dane County.
In FIRST Lego League (ages 9-14), teams build robots out of Legos and program them to solve real-world challenges (like food safety), culminating in a state championship. Last year, a team of eighth-graders in Madison built a lunchbox whose intellectual property was later purchased by Lands' End. For kids ages 6-9 there is Minor League.
In FIRST Tech Challenge, teens build robots made of metal, plastic and composites that have powerful DC motors and more complex parts. Teens graduate to FIRST Robotics Competition, where robots can be bigger and heavier and the season is highly compressed. The highest awards for both programs are for outreach and "communicating the wonders of engineering and science to improve our lives, for inspiring others to get involved," says Ben Senson, BadgerBOTS Robotics Corporation president.
Teams are ongoing throughout the year. Summer 2013 will bring camp, including one girls-only session. $150 per child forFIRST Lego League, $40 per child for Minor League.
Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland Council
"This is our 100th year, and we've named it the Year of the Girl, the goal of which is to see 50% of STEM careers held by women within one generation," says Katie Folts, Badgerland Council's STEM program specialist.
Today's scouts earn badges in digital photography, Netiquette and website design. They are also teaming up with BadgerBOTS to offer a Go GirlBOTS robot programming league. Also look for a geocaching day this fall, where girls will learn GPS technology while honing their outdoor skills.
Jackie Gehin, Dane County 4-H youth development program advisor, firstname.lastname@example.org; 608-224-3728
It's not your grandmother's 4-H anymore. Today STEM is a 4-H project area. 4-H is open to kids in grades 1-12 (in fact, one year out of high school as well).
UW Space Place Saturday Science Workshops
Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St.; 608-262-4779
The public outreach center for the UW astronomy department, the Space Place offers free workshops with topics like "The Physics of Roller Coasters" and "Building with Bubbles" every Saturday at 10 a.m. for children ages 6-10 and their parents. No registration is required, but attendance is limited to 50.
Family Science Events
The UW-Madison Institute for Biology Education's ARMS Program (Adult Role Models in Science) aims to enhance science education in elementary and middle schools through science fairs, after-school science clubs at various community centers, and other after-school programs. It also offers free Family Science Days/Nights.
Mark your calendars
UW-Madison Science Expeditions
Science Expeditions is a free spring event to be held April 6, 2013, at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery to welcome people of all ages to campus to experience science. UW-Madison Technology & Arts
Summer Pre-college Program
Weeklong summer day camps on campus, for students completing grades 5-8, integrate technology and arts. They explore architecture, performance and visual arts, digital photography, and computer design. June 17-21, 2013, $325, scholarships available.
4-H Gateway Academy is a one-week summer day camp for middle school students where they are introduced to engineering concepts and careers through hands-on projects, team building and field trips. 2013 coed camp dates: July 8-11 (Memorial High School) and July 22-25 (Madison East High School). The program on July 15-18 (Memorial High School) is girls-only -a good thing, since nearly half of all girls say they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a STEM group or class.
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.
Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.
If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.
It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.
Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.