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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

LEGO is such a timeless toy and the boys are big fans of it. They regularly create various machines and creatures, breaking it apart, recreating, and improving their designs. When I  heard about LEGO robotics, I thought it would be something that would definitely interest the boys and would introduce an exciting new dimension to the their LEGO playing.

They went for a trial Junior Robotics Engineers class at Wonderswork, a place that offers courses for children on robotics and inventions. Wonderswork seeks to nurture creative and inventive thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, and cross-cultural communication in children. The LEGO robotics programs, in particular, aim to educate and equip children from young with essential skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

At each Junior Robotics Engineers class, kids are given a project to complete. This project involves following instructions on a computer to build something, then using simple graphical programming to make the object perform a particular action. A graphical format is adopted so that it is not too complex for children, but yet still teaches them the logic and thinking behind programming.

While I was confident that Asher would be able to follow what was going on, I was a little worried that Ellery would be distracted and unable to keep up. I was also concerned about whether they boys would have problems using a computer because, if you can believe it, the boys have never used a computer! They’ve watched things on a computer, but not used one.

So I was happy to see that Enzo, the founder of Wonderswork, and the other teachers were extremely patient with both of them, and especially so with Ellery. They took the time to explain how to use the computer (!) and the computer programme, they guided Ellery on how to determine if what he was doing was correct and let him figure out whether he was on the right track by posing questions and letting him draw his own conclusions.

Tapping on the arrows to move to the instructions for the next step

Tapping on the arrows to move to the instructions for the next step

I would say the teachers functioned more as facilitators. Children are guided through the project and assisted when the teachers saw they needed help, or the kids asked for help. I thought that was a good approach. It is in the doing that kids learn best, and they need space to figure things out for themselves. I found out from Enzo that this is also how they approach the Young Inventors class as well. In that class, kids are given a challenge and have to create their own solutions to solve the problem.

It was also good to see that the other boys who were there for their regular class had very good rapport with the teachers. The kids and teachers were talking and joking with one another, clearly enjoying themselves.

I was surprised at how Ellery remained focused on his task throughout. He has a tendency to be easily distracted when disinterested in something, but that was clearly not the case here. By the end of the session he had built a rocking horse, and with some guidance had programmed the horse to rock back and forth. He was happily tapping on ‘Enter’ and ‘Esc’ to start and stop the horse over and over again. He was also able to explain to me how the horse could rock – that the electricity came from the computer and powered the motor, that the motor moved one a long block that was connected to the base of the horse, and that in turn moved the horse.

Ellery's rocking horse

Ellery’s rocking horse

Enter! Esc! Enter! Esc!

Enter! Esc! Enter! Esc!

For Asher, he was delighted to have been given a Star Wars walker to build. It even had a sensor that made the walker stop when it reached the edge of a table. Enzo also showed him how the sensor could be triggered to do different things. Besides stopping at the edge of a table, it could be programmed to play a sound when something came near. Asher’s favourite was when the walker made laser shooting sounds whenever he put his hand in front of it :) He was quite amazed by the sensor and mentioned it to me several times after we left the class, and was one of the first things he told Jon.

The Star Wars walker

The Star Wars walker

Watching his walker move

Watching his walker move and waiting for it to reach the edge of the table

The Junior Robotics Engineers class was fascinating and the boys loved it! I’d definitely recommend the robotics class, especially if your kid – girl or boy – is interested in LEGO.

Wonderswork conducts its robotics and invention classes weekly. There are also two holiday camps coming up – a Space Inventors camp and a Master Inventor camp. Five sessions of each camp are being conducted until the middle of December, but spaces are limited so you should sign up quickly if interested! You can click on the links above for more details.

Space Invention Lego Robotics Invention School Holiday Camp Nov - Dec 2014

Camp 1: 17-19 Nov (over)
Camp 2: 24-26 Nov
Camp 3: 1-3 Dec
Camp 4: 8-10 Dec
Camp 5: 15-17 Dec
All camps from 10am-230pm

Master Inventors Lego Robotics  School Holiday Children Camp Nov - Dec 2014

Camp 1: 20-21 Nov (over)
Camp 2: 27-28 Nov
Camp 3: 4-5 Dec
Camp 4: 11-12 Dec
Camp 5: 18-19 Dec
All camps from 10am-230pm

Wonderswork also offers a by appointment one-time drop off class that’s held on weekends. This is great for parents who want to meaningfully engage their kids while they take a much needed coffee break :) You can find out more about the regular classes and other programs here. If you are interested to sign up, they are currently running a promotion on the program fees.

Junior Robotics Engineer (for 5yrs and above) – $380 (Usual $500)
Young Robotics Engineer (for 8yrs and above) – $460 (Usual $550)
Young Inventors Level 1 (for 5yrs and above) – $380 (Usual $500)

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Kids at a Robotics workshop (Photo courtesy of Wonderswork)

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The kids who attended the last space camp (Photo courtesy of Wonderswork)

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Testing their space inventions (Photos courtesy of Wonderswork)

I’ve signed Asher up for the Space Inventors camp and he’s extremely excited! I’m excited to see what he’ll get to do too! Ellery is unfortunately too young to attend, but I might bring him back for some of the other workshops instead.

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Wonderswork offered a complimentary trial class for the boys. All opinions are my own.
You can call Wonderswork at 6333 4088 to arrange for a trial class if your kids are interested.

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I was intrigued by the concept when I first heard about the Human Body Experience at the Science Centre and was very keen to bring the kids. Wasn’t quite sure how they’d take it. I heard that some kids really loved the experience, but some really hated it. My guess was that Asher would initially be more afraid, and Ellery would say he’s afraid because he tends to copy whatever Asher says. With the right coaxing I hoped I could get them through and it and hopefully they’d really enjoy it.

My parents were curious about the exhibition too, so all of us trotted off to the Science Centre together. It was their first time in eons and my Dad was quite happy to wander about and look at the various exhibits. Quite a few times we had to look for my Dad, rather than look for the kids haha! :)

When we first got to the entrance – the mouth – it was hard to see how we’d get in. From the front you see an open mouth with a tongue and there’s no way through. Only when we got up close did we realise we had to climb up the tongue and slide down the throat! The boys were initially quite hesitant, but they still tried touching everything and went through ok. I couldn’t possibly leave Alyssa outside so I carried her in the sling and in she went too! Sound asleep the whole time, might I add.

It’s an immersive experience and it was very funny to finally be ‘pooped out’ of the body. And because all six of us came out together we joked that the man was having diarrhoea :) The boys thought being squeezed through the different parts of the stomach was the most fun, but they didn’t like where the ground was squishy. It was also a pity that the first time we went through the voice box was faulty and there was no sound when we pressed against the walls. Later on I managed to coax Ellery to go through with me again and the voice box worked, so we  spent a little more time playing there. Ellery said the second time was much more fun than the first (I guess because he knows what to expect), and I think Asher would have thought the same if he went in again too (but he was caught up with some other activity).

Overall, I wouldn’t say the boys loved it, but they somewhat enjoyed the experience. Ellery, in particular, seems to have enjoyed the experience more and is quite interested in the learning about the human body now.

After being 'pooped out' :)

Survived being eaten!

On that same outing we went to watch Animalopolis as well because it sounded interesting and something that would interest the kids. But it’s really not worth the money. It’s not really a documentary about animals. Rather its a stylised presentation of animals, in a humourous way, yes, but not something I’d pay so much (there were 5 of us!) for. It’s more like something you’d be able to watch on Sesame Street, but longer.

 

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Froglets

It’s been a while since I posted an update on our tadpoles.  All of the first batch have now become froglets!

These last few weeks I’ve enjoyed looking at the little guys everyday, several times a day actually, just to see what they’re up to, how they’re developing, etc.  I think I’ve taken more pleasure out of this than the kids.  I really do think the froglets are handsome, yes, handsome.  Every single person I’ve said this to has taken issue with my choice of word.  I guess I was expecting them to look like slimy little ugly things, but discovering they were tree frogs, albeit common ones, and seeing their lovely stripes and angular heads, that word just couldn’t help but pop into my mind.  Or perhaps I’ve simply grown attached to them.

The other thought in my head these few weeks was how the development of frogs is similar to the development of children.  There are the fast ones, the majority, and the late bloomers.  Out of our remaining 9 tadpoles from the first batch (gave away 3), the first froglet crawled out of the water on 9 Jul, followed closely on 11 Jul by another.  The rest then followed one-by-one, and by 18 Jul, all except for one were froglets.  That last one hadn’t even grown back legs!  The last tadpole continued to grow and grow in size, and finally little sprouts of back legs started to appear.  Then it was another eternity before front legs arrived.  Then several days more before it tried to crawl out of the water.  It finally became a proper froglet on 29 Jul, a good 20 days after the first one, and more than a week after the rest.  The interesting thing is, it is larger than all the other froglets.  Significantly so.  I guess in the animal world, being the largest kind of makes you the alpha?  So perhaps being slow isn’t so bad afterall.

Batch 1, wk 7, 9 Jul: First froglet

Batch 1, wk 7, 9 Jul: Froglet climbed higher than the day before

Batch1, wk7, 11 Jul: Froglet number 2 crawled out.  The fairly long tail disappears overnight!

Batch 1, wk 7, 13 Jul: Two mini frogs

Batch1, 13 Jul: Most of the tadpoles have grown back legs, and several have front legs too.

Batch1, wk8, 19Jul: Meeting on how to escape

Batch1, wk8, 19Jul: The late bloomer!
Batch2: 4 little tadpoles wondering who the big fellow is

Batch1, 25Jul: Tubefax worm feast

 

Batch1, 30Jul: The late bloomer is the biggest one on the rock

The boys have enjoyed having them around, but it’s not a constant attraction, more like moments of excitement before they move on to play with other things, which is fine.  I think that’s pretty normal for kids.  Both of them have helped with cleaning of the tanks, helping to scoop the tadpoles from one tank to another.  And they’ve helped with the froglets too.  Asher totally loved playing with the little froglets, and at one point we had several hopping around our kitchen floor :)  He was soooo amused when they hopped onto his arm, and was laughing away merrily when they didn’t want to let go of his fingers when he tried to put them back into the tank.  Ellery too showed no fear of the little froglets and gamely let them sit on his fingers and arms.

They continue to live in a tank on our dining table (which initially irked my husband but he’s grown used to their presence).  They’ve even had an upgrade of living quarters.  From a small tank to a medium sized one.  They just looked so cramped especially since they could easily hop from one wall to another in the small tank.

I’m not sure how long more we’ll keep them.  They’re still really small and unobstrusive so I guess they’ll be with us for a while more.

A new giant frog in the tank??

As for the second batch, I guess like with second kids, they’ve not been getting as much attention hahaa.  From almost 180 tadpoles (or more), I gave away all but 2.  20 were sent to Asher’s school but I think all except for 2 have died (though at the point of writing this, I’m not actually sure about the status of those remaining two).  It seems tadpoles don’t take too well to migration.  I’ve heard from so many mothers that their tadpoles didn’t make it.  I really wonder how many of the tadpoles are still alive and swimming.

Batch2, 30Jul: Left with two

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Common Tree Frog

If you’ve not heard, we have a whole lot of tadpoles at home at the moment.  Now one of our little fellas has sprouted front legs!  One day he had none, then one, then suddenly two.  Apparently it ‘pops’ out that’s why the growth seemed to happen so fast.

Starting to climb out of the water

And then I was suddenly filled with worry when I had the thought, “Could these frogs be poisonous?”

It never occured to me to check, and I had no idea what species they were.  Having given away so many of these tadpoles I thought I’d better check properly and share the info.  One thing I did know was that generally, if the frog is bright and colourful it is probably poisonous.  These weren’t.  But I didn’t know whether bright and colourful frogs would also be bright and colourful as tadpoles.

Better check!!!!

So after searching and searching, starting from the unusual frothy foam egg, I’ve identified the species of frogs they are – common tree frogs, also known as four-lined tree frogs.  They are found all over Singapore, the males make a ‘quacking’ sound to attract a female when mating (there we go!  that’s confirmation of the quack!), they build foam nests (ohhh!), and lay 100-200 eggs at a time (yup!).  The tadpoles have a white spot on the snout which identifies the species (yep), and have four black stripes down their back (yes!).

From my searches so far, they are not poisonous.  But I’ve emailed someone from Wildlife Reserves Singapore to double check.

In my enquiry I also asked for advice on what to do with the fully developed frogs.  I was worried that releasing them into ponds could affect the ecosystem.  But seeing as they are “common” tree frogs, maybe that won’t be so much of a problem.  I will keep you posted.

You can read more about common tree frogs at the Wildlife Reserves page, the Wetlands publication, and Ecology Asia.  To hear their quacking call, click here.

For the record, I’m still keeping my frogs and depending on what the wildlife person recommends will evict them when they are fully developed.

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Shan’s been complaining about a frog that ‘quacks’ at her house.  Seriously, she swears they do.  She’s been on a frog-hunt to get rid of the fella, but her searches come up empty.

Almost.

That frog (or the partner of the frog – yep, if there are eggs there must be two frogs around!) laid eggs in her pond!  By the time I learned about them, they had become tadpoles and I was quite eager to take them home for the kids to see.  Asher was thrilled to have pets.  Then he named them all Sam.  Which makes sense to me, how are we going to tell them apart?

Batch 1 – Week 2: Still quite small

Batch 1 – Week 2: Not taking up much room in the tank yet

I was not aware of how long frogs take to grow and expected them to change much sooner.  So here we are 6 weeks on, and the tadpoles have grown hind legs.

Batch 1 – Week 6: Hind legs clearly visible!

Batch 1 – Week 6: The little legs are so cute

I thought it was great for the boys to see how a tadpole grew into a frog, it was just a pity they couldn’t observe them from the egg stage.  Then, one they when visiting Shan we found another cluster of eggs (much to her annoyance and my joy).  So those came home with me too.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen frogs eggs, but it was certainly my first time.  They were not what I expected.  I always thought they looked like the ‘frogs eggs’ you see in the rose syrup drinks.  But this was a lump of spongy looking bubbles.  I was a little skeptical that the tadpoles would really hatch from that thing, but there was no harm in waiting.

Batch 2 – Day 1: Spongy floating frog’s eggs!

Then true enough out came super tiny tadpoles, the smallest I’ve ever seen!  And if you looked very carefully you could even see the little orange-coloured gills which help them breathe in water before they develop lungs.  I did not know to look out for this until we read a book on frogs.  Since we had frogs eggs and tadpoles, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about the lifecycle of a frog.

Batch 2 – Day 4: Hatched!

Batch 2 – Day 4: Super tiny tadpoles!

Jon was a little worried that there were too many tadpoles – what would we do with the frogs?  But it didn’t look like too many yet.  Then…the next day even more tadpoles hatched out.  Then I got worried.  There must be at least 130 baby tadpoles now!  No kidding!

Batch 2 – Day 5: Even more!!!!

So, I’m now looking for ways to distribute the tadpoles to anyone who wants to teach their child about the lifecycle of a frog.  The alternatives I’m aware of are not that appealing – throw them away or give them to a fish farm as food for the big fishes (in line with lifecycle but I rather not for now).

It actually takes quite long for a frog to grow.  According to the book we read, 30 days to hatch (ok, this was totally inaccurate for us), grow hind legs at 6 weeks, grow front legs at 10-12 weeks, tail disappears at 12-14 weeks, adult at 1 year.  So you’ll have a lot of time to decide what you want to do with your frog.  In the meantime the kids can watch firsthand how the tadpoles develop.

Yup, so anyone interested in a couple of tadpoles?  One of two frogs is very manageable, but over a hundred?  No way.  And for all you know, these frogs might ‘quack’.  How cool would that be? :)

Batch 1 Wk6 & Batch 2 Day5: Brothers & Sisters

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