CHALK Preschool, which operates three schools in Chicago and two more in L.A., has opened a virtual preschool classroom on chalkpreschool.com. The new site attempts to recreate the classroom experience, with video lessons for kids, and supplementary materials for parents. Taking a look through the videos on offer, it looks like the material teaches basic literacy (letter recognition, tracing) and math (counting, patterning), and builds lessons around various subjects (this week is weather). The site also offers "printables," for art lessons.
Signing up is free for a free seven-day trial, and the videos could help parents at home with their kids organize lessons, or at the very least supplement what they're already doing with their kids.
Dozens of little kids wielded saws, drills, hammers and nails, assembling and disassembling small projects in the workshop of the Chicago Children's Museum's new "Tinkering Lab" when I visited yesterday. The tools were the real deal—spiky, sharp, heavy—but parents weren't alarmed. The creative building activity was encouraged as part of the museum's latest permanent exhibition, which celebrates the growing international Maker Movement. The Maker mindset, which is best described as a mechanic- and tech-driven version of DIY culture, encourages kids to experiment, take risks, and let their imaginations be the only limits to what they build. Of course, the museum has expert tinkerers stationed throughout the lab to show kids, and their parents, how to safely use the provided tools. And under the staff's motto of "Wait, watch, follow," the adult facilitator's role is more to stand by and encourage or problem solve, rather than to lead or dictate.
And with help from parents and staffers, the kids created all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, with derby cars, music sticks and a few unidentifiable steampunk-like creations lining the lab's shelves ("It's more about the process than the product," explains Jennifer Farrington, museum president and CEO). In addition to the lab, the exhibition also features a Pegboard Challenge, where families can experiment with rearranging gears, balls and chutes to create Rube Goldberg contraptions. Meanwhile, the Early Learning Nook was filled with younger makers, who can safely play with interactive panels, tools and repurposed items.
Chicago Children's Museum. Navy Pier, 700 E Grand Ave (chicagochildrensmuseum.org). Free with general admission.
Last year, 17-year-old Lillian Leung wanted to spend her summer vacation doing “something special.” So, she started a business. By herself.
Leung, a high school student from Hinsdale, is the founder and owner of WoodCrave, a company that sells wooden iPhone cases. Though she doesn’t manufacture the cases herself (a Chinese manufacturing company handles that), Leung personalizes each one with the WoodCrave logo and distributes them on the WoodCrave website she designed.
Eager to get WoodCrave off the ground, she recently hunted down a number of businesses around Chicagoland with hopes of collaborating. While most people shrugged off the young, aspiring entrepreneur, Leung lucked out when Terese McDonald, owner and founder of a local candy chain, decided to give her a shot.
“Somehow I stumbled upon Candyality and shot Terese an email,” Leung said. “She agreed to just meet with me. After we met, we both thought [a collaboration with Candyality] would be a great idea, a great opportunity, to market [WoodCrave].”
The results of their project is WoodCrave’s brand-new iPhone 5 case that reads “Keep Calm and Carry Your Cell Phone,” which was inspired by the British-propaganda-turned-internet-meme. With the help of Terese, the special edition case is now available at Water Tower Place.
“I really appreciate what Terese and Candyality are doing for me,” Leung said. “Them doing this for me is just so inspiring. I hope to do something like that in the future.”
When asked about her post-high school agenda, Leung said she’d like to study economics at either the University of Chicago, Northwestern or Stanford, all very prestigious universities.
“I’m into both economics and business,” she said. “But I thought undergrad school would be a better opportunity to study something theoretical while I, myself, work on the practical side of business.”
Although she admitted that starting a business at such a young age has been difficult, Leung said she’s proud of the direction that WoodCrave is headed.
“I’m loving every moment of it,” she said.
The WoodCrave x Candyality iPhone 5 case is available at cur8ed on the second level of Water Tower Place (835 N Michigan Ave) and at woodcrave.com.
Microsoft has announced a new program called YouthSpark, an initiative to close the achievement gap in Chicago. Partnering with City Year, Year Up, and other non-profit organizations, YouthSpark will implement STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in schools throughout the city. YouthSpark works with specific non-profit organizations, teaching technological skills to further their career choices and pursue tangible employment.
YouthSpark follows new research from the Brookings Institution which shows that only 32 percent of Chicago-area adults have a bachelor’s degree, and even high-school diplomas among young adults are scarce. At a press conference Friday, a panel of education leaders, discussed necessary changes and plans of execution. Speaking on the panel, Elizabeth Swanson, Mayor’s Deputy for Education City of Chicago, put major focus on early childhood education and implementing STEM programs in schools. “Let’s start STEM at a young age, so by the time ninth grade rolls around, these students are ready,” she said. “It’s interesting to see 4-year-olds learn about engineering, but it’s an exciting thing.”
Preparing high school graduates with intermediary programs, making the most of their economical value, and increasing graduation and success rates through college are a few of the major goals behind this initiative, Donald J. Laackman President of Harold Washington College explained. Laackman gave examples of new advising centers developed for Harold Washington College students, including a legal office. These centers and other improvements city colleges are making provide a more personal outlet for student’s issues.
City Year, a non-profit organization, working with schools to improve student attendance, behavior and course performance, is one of the city partnerships working with YouthSpark. Executive Director, Lisa Morrison Butler said from her experience, non-profit organizations need to work together to achieve these goals and solve these issues. With philanthropic partnerships and the execution of new curriculum and STEM programs within city schools, YouthSpark hopes to improve the success rate of Chicago youth.
Visit the YouthSpark site for more information.
Considering that "free" and "pancakes" are two of the most delightful words in the English language, it's no surprise that IHOP draws big crowds—and even beauty-pageant queens—for National Pancake Day, an annual event that began in 2006. And it's not purely about pancake promotion: While the international restaurant chain does indeed dole out short stacks of gratis buttermilk medallions for four hours, customers packing extra coins are encouraged to leave a voluntary donation in exchange.
The money raised today, from 7–10am, supports Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, an umbrella org that raises funds for 170 nonprofit children's hospitals across North America. Here in Chicago, the donations will benefit family-services programs at Lurie Children's Hospital, including art and music therapies, and bolstering family-emergency funds for families in need.
Here's hoping that you know there cures for cabin fever all across the kiddie culture calendar. But a highlight of the winter has to be Saturday's Intonation Music Workshop's Rock-n-Pop Circus at Lincoln Hall, which featured loads of musical activities for kids, and a concert with Whit Diamond, Pop Tots and Scorps. Chicago hip-hop artist Psalm One and Wilco's John Stirratt both program mentors also joined kids onstage. You may recognize Psalm One from our recent feature on her album Child Support, which featured collaboration from kids across the country.
- I'm leading with this, because nothing you see this week will be as cool. For more than two years, two guys have been working on a shot-for-shot remake of Toy Story, using actual toys and humans. Amazing.
- I like this push-back against the condemnation of parental bragging. Sure, it can get a little obnoxious, but parenting is tough work, and I think it's okay to occasionally luxuriate in the fruits of those efforts. And besides, we can't always just talk about how hard it is. To my mind, it's okay to brag a bit, just as a way of sharing the joys of being a parent.
- An interesting story about the fight against "high-stakes standardized testing" in schools, and some thoughts on how 2013 might be the year the movement gains real traction.
- It's always been strange to me that unhealthy snacks and soda have been on offer in schools, even (or especially) in contracted vending machines. Now, the USDA is proposing the end of sales of chocolate, soda, and all the high fructose goodies that are bad for kids.
- The Young Adult Library Association has announced a list of great graphic novels for teenagers published in the last year. The list includes classics like Spider-Man and Wonder Woman (written by Chicagoan Brian Azzarello), to graphic works of history, like Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.
- This is a bit off-topic, but I watched We Need to Talk About Kevin last night, and we need to talk about this movie. I understand the book has been critically lauded, and I'm sure it runs much deeper than the movie, but I was disappointed that the movie reduced Kevin to a monster from birth. There just seemed to be little empathy for him. Thoughts?
For the Lincoln Middle School Century Strikers, playing with LEGOs is serious stuff. The team of nine middle schoolers—made up equally of sixth, seventh and eighth graders—will represent Illinois at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in April, where they’ll compete with teams from over 40 countries. But compete at what, exactly?
“Everybody hears FIRST LEGO League, and everybody thinks it’s just a bunch of kids sitting down in their basements playing with LEGOs,” says Jamie Beedy, head coach of the Century Strikers. “It is so much more than that.”
At FIRST LEGO League competitions, teams guide robots they’ve built and programmed themselves through tasks on a table, work together to demonstrate FLL Core Values, and present research and conclusions on a themed challenge. This year, FLL asked kids to use technology to help seniors stay connected, engaged and independent. The Century Strikers answered the challenge with a solution that led them first through regionals and then to the state final, where they took home The Champions Award.
Their idea: a QR code reader that scans prescription labels and enlarges them or reads them aloud via tablet. And aside from creativity, teams must show “gracious professionalism” (a trademarked term), diligence and generosity to take down the prize. And while advancing to the world chapmionships in St. Louis is difficult, getting there’s equally tricky for teams with limited-to-no funding.
The Century Strikers hope to raise around $15,000, money they’ll use on so much more than gas to get to St. Louis. Coach Jamie Beedy says if they don't reach that goal, “it will curtail the amount of stuff that we’re able to do beforehand, like getting new uniforms and upping the qualities of our presentations,” he says. “We want to get all new signage and stuff professionally printed up, not just printed up on my Inkjet printer and taping pieces of it together to make a sign.”
From the beginning of the year, the team’s dynamic has evolved along with its members. The veteran eighth graders began to guide the younger kids. Fourteen-year-old Jasper Pasternak felt more laid-back this year as he helped direct teammates still learning the robotic ropes. “The number one thing I love [about being on the team] is passing on the legacy and teaching others. I think when most people teach others they learn more about themselves and more about what they can do,” he says. “I’ve learned that I can teach certain things like how to build things and how to speak in front of crowds. I didn’t know that three years ago.”
For information on donating, go to facebook.com/centurystrikers.