Should Your Child Have an Email?


STEM girl using-laptop for coding

It seems every application today needs an email address, and in many cases, it is warranted (e.g. password reset).  However, as a parent of a 7-year-old, I am not ready to create an unmonitored email account.  As a concerned parent, I will share with you how I manage my children’s email accounts.

A few years ago I decided to give Luminosity a try for some family brain-building exercises.  However, every member of my family was required to have his/her own email account.  At that time my youngest was almost 6 years old, and I was not about to create an email account for him; therefore, I used one of many ticks available in Gmail.

For my personal email, I use Google Gmail account.  As a Gmail user, I am able to specify any combination of strings after a plus (+) character to create an email alias.  For example, given the email, the parent can make use of the following email aliases,, and so forth.  As a result, you will see receive any emails regardless of the suffix after the (+).

This worked great for my younger child since there is no reason for him to engage in any form of email communication.  However, my pre-teen son (10 years old at the time) did need to communicate with others (e.g. teachers, family, etc).  In this case, I decided to create a separate email for him; however, I forwarded all his incoming messages to my email account.  The rationale for monitoring all incoming messages is two folds:

1) I can monitor incoming messages for security concerns

2) I can ensure that he is following up on his academic messages

Though I don’t see any emails that my son sends, I do see all incoming email messages. You as a parent must decide when is an appropriate to turn a blind eye because you wish to respect your child privacy.  However, in today’s digital age, where colleges and employers look at all postings regarding prospective candidates, it is our responsibility (parents & guardians) to help keep doors open and keep our children away from harm.

This addresses the email communication monitoring; but, it does nothing about other communication methods such as chats, online forums, etc.

During my graduate studies, I was researching online forums and came across a 12-year child who started chatting with me at 3:00 o’clock in the morning.  Why was this child up at this time in a forum that was inappropriate for her age; I’m sure her parents had no knowledge of her actions.  We lock our doors and windows at night to secure our family and might be neglecting other areas of concern.

The topic of cybersecurity is important and warrants more than a blog post; but, I wanted to introduce a possible strategy for email management.



Fantastic & Fun at Turlock STEM Learning

It is only our third week in Turlock; but, I already have repeat students, which compelled me to come up with new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) projects during our break-out sessions.  This wasn’t very hard given the scope of STEM-related fields.Turlock STEM Learning Education builds & discussion

However, this also meant that new students missed some of the previous experiences, which include dancing ballerina (a homopolar motor), kinetic gearbox, balancing levers, self-propelling rubber band car, straw tower, wall rebounding car, hashing and sorting algorithms, and more…

At the risk of repeating an activity and a discussion, I shared previous ideas, which served as a review to repeating students.  Some of these ideas are shown in above image and I will go over them in them in this blog.

The top right corner of the image is an H-Bridge model, which is used to change the direction of a DC; thereby, controlling the rotational direction of a DC motor. After playing with the model, the students got an opportunity to take a closer look at L298N Integrated Circuit, which is used in small robotics as H-Bridge to control the direction of the robot motion.

The robotic arm to the right of the image is a six Degrees Of Freedom (DOF) robotic arm, which presented numerous discussion points.  We compared the robotic arm to human arm (7 DOF), talked about the gripper gear that uses only one motor, how rotational movement translates to linear motion, and how we would need to calculate the location of the end-effector.

Next, we discussed  the mechanics of gears and demonstrated them with a lego technic set (bottom right of the image).  Students were able to see and feel how gear ratio affects torque output.  We discussed engineering trade-off and rationale for choosing higher torque for power (truck or jeep) as opposed to a race car. We also got an opportunity to review the benefit of the worm gear and how it can be used to hold a robotic arm in place.

During one of our breaks, students built a scissor gripper, which is essentially half of the “scissor lift” (in the middle of the image).  Again, students had an opportunity to build and play with a lever system that is used in numerous applications.

We also took a closer look at a rover robot (left-middle of the picture), which was another important point of discussion because every student has been programming a character (monkey, zombie, bee, etc) to advance and move in multiple directions.  Their coding knowledge of conditions, loops, and modules is directly applicable to programming the robot and it was important to highlight their new found skill, which is controlling robots and the physical world.

The last item in the picture (top left) is a DIY model of a simple robotic arm.  I shared with my students that we can build a simple robotic arm for about $5-$10 (as opposed to $150 arm to the right of the image).  Coming up with a cost-effective model to test/play with has been the theme of STEM Learning Education; so, it was important to me to showcase how kids can be resourceful and build useful and tangible elements.

Lastly, we closed out the day with a fun activity of building and firing rings of smokes through a vortex cannon.

Kids play with Vortex Canon at Turlock STEM Learning Education

Turlock STEM Learning Education Debut

The camp location was moved to a different venue for numerous reasons; but, the parents were very understanding with the last-minute change.  At STEM Learning Education, students do lots of programming; but, they also engage in some fun and informative STEM project.  Here is the synopsis of our first week.

Day 1 at Turlock STEM Learning Education

As an introductory activity, the little rock stars created name tags for themselves, which surrounded their name with flashing lights  This was an exercise in connecting the Light Emitting Diodes (LED)  in the correct orientation and using a copper wire to connect LEDs’ cathodes and anodes in parallel to a 3-volt battery.

Once we got the name tags out of the way, the young engineers started their computer programming efforts and began working through gamified challenges at their own pace.  I could almost see the static electricity sparking from their heads as they were working through the challenges.  During our coding efforts, we took some cookie breaks and ended the day by building a  self-propelling balloon-powered vehicle, which was a fun challenge.

Day 2 at Turlock STEM Learning Education

On day two, the kids began coding right away.  Two of the block-coding students got recourse adjustments because I felt that they could benefit from other supplemental work. That is, as they solve code-block challenges, they toggle to code view to see the underlying JavaScript (JS) code.  To ensure students are becoming familiar with JS and avoid simply glancing, we asked them to write the code (copy it) into their notepad so that they start recognizing and understanding the syntax coding pattern behind their code block.

For day two activities, kids tackled the classical towers of Hanoi problem, which involves moving a series of disks from one pillar to another, with the constraint that you can only move one at a time and smaller discs can only be placed on top of larger discs.  It is a great algorithm because it shows computer science students the elegance, computational efficiency, and power of the recursive algorithm, which is about 6 lines of code for this problem.

Students are not asked to write code for a recursive problem; but, they are challenged to solve the problem and in the process start recognizing a pattern.   Feel free to give a 5 disc challenge a try with this online Tower of Hanoi game. Frankly, I was amazed when some of the young students solved the challenge.

We resumed our coding effort and the students were once more engrossed in their lessons.  At times the complexity of the challenge really tests their patients; however, their perseverance (with a gentle nudge from instructors) does lead to shouting “yes” when they overcome a challenge.

I could see and sense a deep level of engagement from all the students; so, it was difficult for me to call for a break.  However, my reluctance was quickly put at rest when the kids jumped with enthusiasm at the announcement of the activity break.

The next assigned activity challenge was to build a catapult from popsicle sticks and rubber bands.  While coming up with this activity, I was unsure of its value since most kids have seen something similar in their school and I felt that the exercise would be too elementary. However, our young engineers did struggle with building their catapult.  Instead of presenting them with a solution, I asked them to search for catapult pictures on google and then find a model to mimic.  After all, this is exactly what adults do; hence, the rationale for asking the kids to look for possible solutions and decide for themselves.

The catapult exercise helped me realize that even if students have worked on an activity; they seldom have solved it to completion by themselves.  Even in our classroom environment, we encourage and help the kids along with their journey.  And if/when they complete a curriculum, then the next task is to assign them a project based activity where they can demonstrate their ability and exercise the lessons learned.

Day 3 at Turlock STEM Learning Education

The note taking idea worked great for one student; however, it became a hindrance for another student because it prevented the student from getting the adequate level of challenge; so, we made another curriculum adjustment.
Once more kids started working on their assigned tasks and after some mental judo, they were ready for their cookies and activity break.

For day three activity the students were exposed to the power of binary search algorithm. Students took turns in finding an unknown item inside the room by dividing the space into halves until the object is found.  This is a powerful algorithm and its importance can’t be emphasized enough.  Just to give you an idea, all search engines rely on a sorted tree and a hashing (more on this later) algorithm.

After the break, students returned to coding, and they were progressing very well.  After some more work, it was time for our next stem activity, which was creating a motor with a wire, magnet, and a battery.  Some students turned their motor into a dancing ballerina, which transformed their project from STEM into a STEAM activity.

Day 4 at Turlock STEM Learning Education

As usual, students begin their day by programming the computer with their assigned lesson plans.  After some work, we were once again ready for our snack and STEM activity break.  In this edition, students were given toggles and were asked to come up with a scheme to represent toggle locations with a number.  Essentially, they were inventing their own version of the binary number.  After a brief exercise, we introduced binary numbers and discussed how every number, character, or data in computers are represented by binary numbers.

It goes without saying that after every break students return to programming assignments, and today was no different.  Once more, students work for an extended period of time and then engaged in their next STEM challenge, which was building their own version of a hexbug toy.  Students used a tip of a toothbrush, a 3 volt battery, and a cellphone motor to build and play with their own digital insect.  This is one of many reasons why STEM Learning Education is so cool; we get to build our own toys!

Day 5 at Turlock STEM Learning Education

Once more students started with their computer programming assignment.  This time for our STEM break we discussed the magnetic pole and how we could determine our sense of direction from the sun.  Students also learned to count their steps to determine the distance traveled.  This lead to a discussion about vectors, where they have both direction and magnitude.  Students were then given a direction and distance to exercise their new found knowledge.  That is, use the sun to determine their direction, and step counts to determine the distance to find a marker.  They were then given new information to the next marker. They repeated this process several times until they reached the end of the rainbow where candy awaited them.

It is the last day of camp activity, and we need to go out with a bang!   So after more coding, the students were given small cups and balloons to build their own air vortex cannon.  An air vortex cannon is a device that releases doughnut-shaped air vortices — similar to smoke rings but larger, stronger and invisible. The vortices are able to ruffle hair, disturb papers or blow out candles after traveling several meters (source).

While students were playing with their air cannons, I pulled my canon made of a small plastic trash can.  As you can imagine, they all wanted to play with the bigger vortex gun.  But, after the students confiscated the canon, I pulled my giant vortex cannon.  What made this even more entertaining is that I added smoke to the canon and students could see the vortex ring travel through the air.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m not sure who had more fun, the students or the adults!  In either case, I know that I’m doing something right when parents share with me that my students are enthusiastic about the camp.

Summer 2018 Venue Location Changed

Due to numerous reasons, our venue location has changed.  We informed the parents of the change and were able to accommodate all of the students at our virtual office.  However, for session two we needed a bigger space and managed to find the Assyrian American Civic Club’s small banquet hall as a great alternative for the space that we need.

We plan to use this facility for the remaining of the summer as we gauge the level of interest from the parents and the community for a continued program.

Assyrian American Civic Club
(small banquet room; easily accessible from the east side [back] of the facility)
2618 N. Golden State Blvd, Turlock CA

Kids coding at Assyrian American Civic Club

Summer 2018 Venue Location Finalized

UPDATE: June 7th, 2018

The venue location has changed since the original posting; the classes are now held at:

Assyrian American Civic Club
(small banquet room; easily accessible from the east side [back] of the facility)
2618 N. Golden State Blvd, Turlock CA


Posted: May 28th, 2018

We’re moving forward full STEAM ahead. We have conducted the initial computer configuration and have also come up with a fantastic space configuration. Our goal during the space configuration was to strike the right balance between form and function, which meant that the psychology of the learning environment must be considered.

As with engineering, there is no such thing as a perfect solution; instead, compromises must be made for the desired outcome. For example, a building structure with no windows is more secure than the one with windows; but, it would not be an appealing home to live-in.

Similarly, to provide immediate assistance and minimize student frustration, educators need convenient access to all students while being aware of everyone’s activity (e.g. see what they are doing). This constraint would best be satisfied by orienting all the students to face the wall with close proximity to one-another, which is frequently seen in test centers and computer labs. However, such orientation fails to consider the psychology of a learning environment. Instead of forcing students into a cramped space (physically and visually), they are oriented so that there is the right balance between peripheral visual input, spacious seating, and maximizing screen visibility to tutors with only a few steps.

We recognize that there is always another way of doing things; so, we will continually iterate through different solutions to find a better way.

The summer 2018 coding camp will be held at:

Assyrian American Civic Club (see address above).

Comfort Suites Event Center
191 N Tully Rd, Turlock, CA 95380
Hotel number: (209) 667-7777

Kids projects at Maker Faire 2018

If you want to see STEM in action, then there is no better place than the annual Maker Faire in San Mateo; it is a family-friendly environment that has something to see for kids of all ages (including grandparents).

Double-Sided Van Gogh

Among many things we find students showcasing their hard work creations.  One of my favorite projects was the double-sided Van Gogh made by 8th graders to address energy efficiency & space saving concerns.

13-year-old maker

There is an abundance of wonderful projects showcased by kids.  Another great one was from 13-year-old Jeffery visiting from Chicago.  In his project, he created a remote control robot using Arduino based microcontroller that could control Lego Mindstorm motors in addition to normal DC motors.  This required to get close & personal with both electronics and mobile application development.

Wii Refreshment Alarm

After a long day of attending the Faire I was getting a bit thirsty; but, it was great to find little inventors that address our home refreshment problem.  These young engineers have hacked a Wii scale to detect a change in weight and get a notification; for example, get an alert when someone is removing favorite beverage from the cooler.

You have to attend the Maker Faire yourself to see the full spectrum of wonderful projects kids are able to undertake.  Let us know what you think?