Shadow Stories

shadow storiesMake a shadow puppet bird, then fly through a story as your narrative appears on the big screen!

We read Shadows, written by April Pulley Sayre, and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson (Henry Holt, 2002). This beautifully illustrated non-fiction rhyming book examines the various shadows two children find at places like the beach, tall grass, a baseball game, and a creek. The rhymes are lovely and lyrical. One of my favorites is “Dragonfly shadows zip and pop / Running horse shadows never stop.” Lovely!

You’ll need:

shadow puppet bird

The construction of the bird is very simple (in fact, if you want to make a smaller version, check out this post). Trace and cut the bird and bird wing templates onto white poster board. Use a hole punch to create an eye for the bird.

Next, decorate your bird (we busted out the Bling Bin and markers for this purpose). To create textures around the edges of the puppet, we also offered craft ties, small feathers, fabric flowers, and paper tissue squares. Twist two pipe cleaners into bird feet, and tape them to the back of the bird’s body.

Tab and hot glue the wing to the bird’s body, then tape the short end of a bendy straw to the underside of the wing. The straw is the “stick” that will allow you to flap the bird’s wing up and down.

shadow puppet bird wingUse packing tape to attach a 12″ piece of PVC pipe to the back of the bird (regular tape isn’t quite strong enough). We wrapped our PVC pipes with colored masking tape, but that’s definitely optional. Your bird is done!

shadow puppeteerAll we need now is a shadow puppet show set! We made our set on an old overhead projector. Oh how do I love thee overhead projector? Let me count the ways

overhead projector setTo build the set, Marissa cut a tree, a nest, a lake, and a birdhouse out of black poster board. Making the sun was a little more challenging – our initial attempts looked like a giant spider or a vicious super nova. Marissa solved the problem by hot gluing sun rays to a piece of archival mylar (clear cellophane works too). She also used a scrap of mylar to make a sprinkling of birdseed on the ground.

shadow setDuring the shadow puppet story, a storm rolls in, so Marissa also made a cloud, mylar rain, and a thunderbolt.

shadow raincloudShe mounted all the moving set pieces on bits of balloon stick (pencils work too).

shadow puppet set piecesAt story time, we lowered the shades, turned out the lights, and fired up the projector! One by one, kids stepped up to the screen. Then, as I narrated, they flew their birds through the story! Hmmm…we might have made that birdhouse a little too tall…

puppeteer in actionHere’s our lovely puppeteer in action! Ready for a show?


 

A Day in Digitopolis, Part I

day in digitopolis part 1We’ve all wanted to jump into books. Who doesn’t, for example, want to go to Diagon Alley and hit the shops? Join Hazel for stories in the Honeycomb? Explore Babilonium with Candy Quackenbush? Or sail the skies with Matt Cruise on the Aurora? Part of my job at the Cotsen Children’s Library is to bring these places to life for kids, and this month, we headed to The Lands Beyond to visit Digitopolis, the mathematical kingdom in The Phantom Tollbooth.

The math event was intended for children ages 4-10, and my goal was to make it full of exploration, demonstrations, games, challenges, and unexpected connections. And by the four million eight hundred and twenty-seven thousand six hundred fifty-nine hairs on my head, I think we did it!

A Day in Digitopolis took place in the atrium of Princeton University’s Frick Chemistry Laboratory, a soaring, three-story structure of glass and metalwork. Here’s our welcome desk with two student volunteers and Pi balloons.

digitopolis welcome deskBut before I get started on all the details, I’d like to introduce our event collaborator, Bedtime Math. Founded by Laura Overdeck, Bedtime Math is a NJ-based nonprofit organization that provides playful, zany math problems for parents to do with their kids everyday. In addition to sharing their content through their books, e-mail, and free app, they created Crazy 8s, an after-school math club that has been launched in over 6,000 locations nationwide. These guys know, and love, math.

bedtime math booksBedtime Math brought 3 fantastic activities to the event: Spy Training, Beach Ball Party, and Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry. Here’s Spy Training, which was all about codes and ciphers…

spy trainingAnd here’s Beach Ball Party, which involved counting, stacking, and chasing beach balls determined to make a break for it.

beach ball partyIt also involved Ellen Williams (who you last spotted being pelted with marshmallows in this post) inflating dozens and dozens of beach balls for kids at the event. That’s her in the lower right corner of the photo, hard at work. Very impressive lungs has our Ellen (did I mention she sings in multiple choirs?).

But the total show stopper was Bedtime Math’s Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry. This took place in a darkened classroom off the main event floor. Here, kids could build illuminated structures with glow stick bracelets and styrofoam balls. The results were totally amazing.

glowing geometrySome kids decided to use the original plastic connectors that came with the bracelets to make unique geometric creations. Here’s one of my favorites. A series of loops that, when spun, becomes a sphere!

 

Bedtime Math was recently invited to the White House to take part in an early STEM learning summit. Seriously. When it comes to amazing math connections for kids, Bedtime Math has it down!

Moving to a different section of the event floor, we find the fabled number mines of Digitopolis. In the book, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug learn that numbers are, in fact, excavated out of the earth, much like jewels and precious stones. The talented Maria Evans from the Arts Council of Princeton built a 6′ tabletop mine out of cardboard boxes, papier-mâché, Valspar faux stone spray paint, and a couple of giant plastic gemstones I found in our art cabinet. YES!

number mines 1The mines were stocked with an assortment of wooden numbers. I used 4″ numbers I found online at Woodcrafter. If you’d like a cheaper option, I recommend printing paper numbers on card stock.

At the event table, kids reached into the mine, extracted a number, and then decorated it with a combination of metallic markers and glitter markers. We also had plastic gems and glue on hand for some additional bling.

number mines 4number mines 5

number mines 2The mines were staffed by high school volunteers from the Arts Council, who were suitably decked out in miner helmets.

number mines 3Elsewhere in Digitopolis was the “Fibonacci Forest,” hosted by the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. This table focused on math in nature. Specifically, symmetry, shapes (like spheres, hexagons, spirals), fractals, and Fibonacci numbers. The Watershed brought a ton of items for kids to touch, connect with, and explore (including my personal favorite, this nautilus shell).

nature math 1nature math 2The Watershed also did a cool fractal tree project. It involved a half-sheet of green paper, brown markers, and rulers (here are the instructions if you’d like to see them).

nature math 3We decorated the finished fractal trees with bird and leaf stamps, but you can also just use markers or color pencils.

nature math 4And speaking of wildlife, how about some zebra math? We were delighted to be joined by Princeton University Professor Dan Rubenstein from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Among other things, Dan does field work with African zebras.

zebra math 1Some researchers believe that zebra stripes exist to confuse predators. So Dan and his constituents developed “Dazzle Confusion,” an iPad game in which kids “become the lion” and tried to tap black, white, or striped moving targets to determine which one is most difficult to hit.

zebra math 2At the end of the game, the program tabulated the kids’ results and displayed them on a large screen. As the event progressed, the results continued to accrue. This lead to conversations about data collection, measurement, central tendencies, and averages.

zebra math 3It’s worth noting that although there was much variation on kids’ “strikes” on the targets, there was a strong trend (p < .08) showing that the striped targets were hardest to hit! How’s that for some real world math?

Continuing with the technology theme, the Princeton Women in Computer Science designed an original math game for kids using Scratch, a visual programming language developed by MIT.

scratchHere’s a screen shot of the game, which was created by sophmore Lucy Lin. If you’d like to test drive the game yourself, here’s the link.

scratch screen shotThe game was cool, but even cooler was the fact that there was another laptop running tandem to the gaming laptops that showed all the algorithms behind the Scratch program. And volunteers were on hand to answer any and all questions about computing. They also had a couple of encryption puzzles for kids to crack.

Meanwhile, the Princeton Chemistry Outreach Program (we’ve exploded things with these guys before) was busy making awesome math / science connections with kids. Dr. Wagner and her students ran hands-on experiments with parts per million, vitamin c clocks, and timed invisible ink.

chemistry outreach 1chemistry outreach 2chemistry outreach 3For those who prefer their math undiluted, the Princeton University Mathematics Club came out en force to host a “Playful Problems” table. Here, kids found a plethora of logic puzzles, word problems, visual puzzles, calculator tricks, the works!

math club 1math club 2There were 12 different activities for children ages 4-10. The activities ranged from easy to moderately difficult. Here’s an example of our simplest puzzle, which was created by Casandra Monroe (whom you first met here). Here’s the template if you’d like it.

milo number grid puzzleBelow is a list of what we offered at the event table (if you’d like more details on any of them, just e-mail me!). In addition to using Google to find some of these puzzles, Math Wizardry for Kids (Barron’s, 1995) and How to be a Math Genius (DK Children, 2012) were terrific resources.

  • Suduko
  • Lattice multiplication
  • Logic grid puzzle
  • Matchstick puzzles (we used Q-tips instead of matchsticks)
  • Milo number grid maze (see above)
  • 24 Game
  • Multiplying by 9 finger trick
  • Make a paper star with only 1 cut
  • Superimposed shapes puzzle
  • Visual sequencing puzzle
  • Word problems
  • Birthday calculator trick

Important! If you put together your own Playful Problems table, make sure you provide an answer sheet for each problem. That way, parents and kids can check their answers or get a little hint. Also important! No matter how easy the puzzle, provide an answer sheet (you don’t want younger kids to think that their puzzle was too “easy” for a solution sheet).

For those wanting a bit a exercise with their mathematics, we had a giant 16′ x 16′ floor maze (building instruction for it are in this post). Kids had to get from start to finish in the maze – without making a single right-hand turn. If you got stuck, the solution was posted on some glass doors opposite the entry to the maze.

no right turn maze at eventBy the way, did you notice the cute play cart parked in the upper right corner of the above image? That’s one of our “Trio of Treats.”

trio of treatsI always try to include something for the littlest patrons, so I bought 3 adorable food carts and stocked them with math play sets. The food carts are by KidKraft (Sweet & Sunny Lemonade Stand) and the play sets are by Learning Resources. We used  Piece-A-Pizza Fractions, Number Pops, and Count ‘Em Up Popcorn.

And, because little kids love to take things in and out of containers, I bought a fabric basket for the pizza cart, a plastic box with a hinged lid for the ice pop cart, and a clear container for the popcorn cart. After the event, we donated the carts and math sets to a local non-profit preschool.

trio of treats customerOne of the most popular event tables, however, was “Visit the 4th Dimension.” It was hosted by scienceSeeds (whom you first met here, and then again here).

scienceseeds 1At the event table, kids learned about the different dimensions (1st is a line, 2nd is a square, 3rd is a cube, 4th is a tesseract). ScienceSeeds brought their 3D printers to the event and made models. You can see a tesseract in progress below. Awesome.

scienceseeds 2Kids could also make 3D models of their own using drinking straws and plastic connectors. You can buy the plastic connectors online (from Strawbees). However, scienceSeeds has a die cut machine and was able to purchase the die cuts (from Accucut) and make their own connectors from plastic sheets (from Grafix).

scienceseeds 4Like I said, their table was hopping – they estimate they went through at least 3,500 straws!

scienceseeds 3The thing I liked most about the project is that there was no limit to the shape, size, or intended use of the 3D models.

3D model 13D model 23D model 53D model 33D model 4

If plastic connectors are not in your budget, I’ve seen similar activities that used straws and pipe cleaner pieces (like this one), or sculptures that that involved cutting and sliding the ends of bendy straws into one another (like this one). I’ve also seen toothpick and marshmallow, (or toothpick and gum drop) geometric structures. But I tend to avoid those because of food allergies.

Whew! Believe it or not, I’m only halfway through all the event activities! You can check out Part II here…prepare to meet Digitopolis’ famous celebrities, get a bit of hands-on history, listen to some musical fractions, and view some truly stunning representations of infinity…

Great Snakes!

great snakesYou’re walking through the jungle when, suddenly…a snake slides onto your shoulders. Stop! Do NOT panic! It’s perfectly safe. This snake is made out of self-adhesive foam!

You’ll need:

First, trace the 2 halves of your snake onto a 9″ x 12″ sheet of self-adhesive foam (I purchase my sheets from Blick Art Supplies and Michaels Craft store). The “head” half of my snake was approximately 11″ long. The “tail” half was approximately 12″ long.

Cut both snake halves out, but don’t peel the backing from them just yet. The next step is to cut, peel, and stick little pieces of foam to your snake’s body. I did a triangle pattern, but stripes also look fantastic. And don’t forget the eye!

snake halvesWhen the snake is decorated to your satisfaction, peel the backing off the big pieces and stick them to the front of your shirt. It looks best if you wrap the ends a little past your shoulders.

finished shoulder snakeIf you’d like to add a tongue to your snake, fork one end of a 2″ piece of curling ribbon, and stick it to the underside of the snake’s head.

snake tongueIt’s important to note that the snake doesn’t go all the way around your neck. This foam doesn’t do too well on long, uneven curves. I didn’t want it to buckle, pop off, and tangle in (or stick to) longer hair.

snake from the backI tested the foam on plain t-shirts, as well as shirts with embroidery, plain decals, and glitter decals. All of them were fine, with the minor exception being the glitter decal. The foam did take some glitter off with it, but no more than comes off when you rub the decal with your fingers. However, when I peeled the foam off a mesh sports jersey with vinyl numbers, bits of the foam ripped off the snake and stuck to the vinyl numbers! So if you’re wearing a mesh sports jersey, peel slowly, and know that you might have to do a little extra peeling where the foam sticks.

And there you have it! A super easy shoulder snake, ready for your next story time. May I suggest Snake, His Story by James Marshall? It’s one of my favorites!