Category Archives: Holiday Celebrations

Book Review :: Minecraft for Makers

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle. This post reviews the book, Minecraft for Makers.

A picture of the book, Minecraft for Makers Don’t mind the fact that this post has Halloween pictures, and…it’s almost Thanksgiving. We have been crazy busy -thankfully with good things- but that means very little time to publish thoughtful posts. However, I’m pushing forward and slowly making my way through an ever-expanding pile of MAKE books. I’m on the publisher’s list for certain MakerMedia book reviews. Often, a cardboard package will be waiting on our front porch and it’s always a race to see who opens the package first.

I can’t remember which child (or adult) opened this particular package, but I know I was the last person to sit down with this book. Oh, the delighted squeals that came from my family when they looked at the cover. A Minecraft book? for makers? You could pair anything with Minecraft and my boys would be all over it. This book was no exception.

A picture of a kid using a hot glue gun to create a Miinecraft for Maker inspired cube.

We always have popsicle sticks and hot glue on hand. I like these supplies because once the boys are tired of them, they burn nicely in our yearly bonfire.

Baichtal, John. Make: Minecraft for Makers: Minecraft in the Real World with LEGO, 3D Printing, Arduino, and More. MakerMedia: San Fransisco, 2017.

Target Audience: Older teens and makers in the their 20s. People with access to a local Makerspace.

Minecraft for Makers

My oldest son, 12, held onto it the longest. He is my biggest Minecraft player, and he is also in charge of the family Minecraft server. Although Dad submits the occasional help ticket, Ronan resets the server and installs the latest updates. Two years ago, he was the one who begged me for McEdit, a program that allows you to create Tinkercad drawings and import them into your local Minecraft world. It’s not a surprise my hands-on kid would be drawn to a Minecraft maker book. It was practically made just for him!

Except…it was a bit above his skill level. A lot of the projects combine some pretty cool, but expensive, hardware. The few simple projects rely on laser cutter access or Arduino programming knowledge. There’s also the small issue of referring to GitHub – where all of the book’s files are kept – with no instructions on how to use GitHub in this capacity. I’m a novice GitHub user and didn’t really want to create an account (FYI- you don’t need to create an account, but I couldn’t manipulate the size of the image without it).  I would have preferred a link to the Maker Media site. As far as audience goes, this book is definitely geared toward the high school or college programmer (or just out of college…seeing as how much the supplies cost).

Hacking Minecraft for Makers

Since the kids were a little overwhelmed at the “proper” projects, we chose to be inspired by the book instead. Halloween was quickly approaching so the kids took one look at the Minecraft Jack O’Lantern project and decided to create a replica, based on the supplies we had on hand. That means we didn’t use the AdaFruit NeoPixel Jewel or an Arduino (even though we own a RedBoard). For the non-Arduino user, Baichtal recommended the Flickery Flame Kit, but it wouldn’t have arrived in time for Halloween. The kids decided to use tiny LED candles, leftover from last Halloween. In short, this small-town family did what any maker (without Amazon Prime or a local Makerspace) would do: we improvised.

A picture of a cube covered in orange paper with a Minecraft faace cut out of it.

R, age 11, created this larger version of a Minecraft Jack O’Lantern.

I was the one stuck passing out candy while my husband, and the neighborhood dads, took the kids trick or treating. I can tell you that every costumed elementary and middle schooler commented on these lanterns. They immediately recognized them as Minecraft Jack O’Lanterns. They were almost as interested in them as the treats I was passing out.

A picture of a small wooden cube covered in orange paper to resemle a Minecraft Jack O'Lantern.

My two boys worked together on this one. C, age 8, built the frame and glued on the paper while his older brother used the exacto knife to cut out the face.

Finding the Right Audience

If my boys were older, I could see them tackling more of the projects in this book. They would be able to do them on their own – with very little help from the adults. However, most of the projects required a steady hand and some upper-level “maker” knowledge, not to mention a credit card to purchase supplies. This book wasn’t right for our family, but I could think of a couple of teenage boys who might be interested…

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

 

Making for Halloween

As a parent, I find the Fall “holidays” a bit draining. Why is everything stacked on top of each other? First, it’s the Fall semester (for college), which is always busier than Spring, and second, it’s college football season! There’s just not enough time for holidays (she says, tongue in cheek). Yet, we parents (mostly moms) are expected to create a fabulous experience for our children, all while stressing ourselves out even more.

Making for Halloween

I sound a bit whiny today, don’t I? And here it is, the day before Halloween. I’m not complaining, truly. I recognize that I live a blessed life. Rather, the above sentiment was my mood earlier this week. I am incredibly busy at work right now, but also trying to maintain our other commitments (healthy food & homeschooling). So, when my younger son came to me Friday afternoon and needed help making his Halloween costume…well, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the endeavor. But once we go started, everything clicked into place. The artistic nature of “making” energized me.  It was fun to be making for Halloween. I was able to get into the flow of creating…and pretty soon, I was a lot more relaxed (and a lot closer to a finished Halloween costume).

a picture of a boy making for halloween

C, age 8, painting his Halloween costume.

Crafting for Halloween

I’d like to say that I inspired the boys, but really it was the other way around. Earlier in the week, they made their own Halloween decorations and hung them around the house. Today, we were reviewing a book and they were inspired to create a few other decorations.

A picture of a boy making for halloween

R, age 11, was inspired to create a paper jack-o-lantern.

I’m sure I bring on some of the holiday stress myself; I’m not willing to participate fully in the consumer nature of these holidays, but we still try to be a part of the experience. Our neighborhood is full of excitement at Halloween, and the kids love that they get to hang out with their friends at night. So, we participate…and my husband tells me I’m not allowed to pass out pencils. (This year, I’m opting for Earthbound lollipops and lunch snacks…yeah, I’m that parent).

When the kids were younger, I didn’t buy stuff because we didn’t have the money. As they got older, I didn’t buy stuff because I didn’t want to store it all year. At least, those were the reasons I told myself. I think the real reason is that I wanted to create a “maker” culture in our home.

a picture of a very large piece of loose-leaf paper made from cardboard.

C decided he wanted to be a piece of paper (and a pencil). He painted the white background, and I added the details.

Maker Mindset

For their homemade decorations, the boys didn’t ask for help – they just grabbed the art supplies (and their secret stash of tape) and started drawing. They didn’t ask for directions or permission. It was assumed they were allowed to hang up toilet paper from the front windows. (Front windows – yes; mailbox – no).

I was feeling pretty stressed out this week, but after seeing (and appreciating) my boys’ maker mindset, I felt a lot better. It takes a lot of work to support a maker culture, but the extra time and energy is worth it.

Dad contributed his talents to creating this cardboard pencil.

A picture of a woman's arm with a hummingbird, flowers and butterfly airbrushed on it.

I wanted to continue to spread the “maker” love by showing off my airbrushed tattoos (all done by a veterinarian, no less). There’s all sorts of making for Halloween!

 

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!! However, if you aren’t celebrating anything this December, then I hope you enjoy the break from school and work. I know that I’m really looking forward to it.

Even though Santa doesn't visit our house, my kids love the idea of him and his reindeer. Or, in this case, rein-dogs. Made by C, age 6.

Even though ‘Santa’ doesn’t visit our house, my kids love his reindeer-pulled sleigh.  Made by C, age 6.

I will be taking a blogging hiatus for the next two weeks to enjoy this time with my family. I have lots of cookies to bake and a pile of books to read.  We’re looking forward to delving deeply into some self-directed projects – mine and the kids. We’ve tinkered with some Arduino in the last few weeks and made some really cool LED art projects, but we haven’t had as much time to work on robotics and programming.  We are all really excited to switch our focus from traditional “academic” work to lots of hands-on projects – electronic and not so much.

In the queue are some books to start and finish – The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis. With the homeschooling break for my kids, I will have a chance to delve deeply into my Coursera course on web development, and crack open the two new books on Lego Mindstorms that just came in.  I’m looking forward to all of it and hope that you and your family enjoy the time together.

 

Easter Celebrations

This was the first year that Calum really got into the Easter holiday. (And, by holiday, I mean that he enjoyed hunting for eggs. Though, the boys were very subdued and well-behaved at church).

Since he was competing against a five-year-old, a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, he had a little help from his dad (and his mom and his aunt).

Daddy_Calum_eggs

In addition to some of those traditional Easter things, this year we wanted to give a little something, instead of just giving something up for Lent. I thought a scrap quilt might be something that Ronan could work on and something that might actually get finished (though, I was hoping for completion by Easter. Oh well).

We opened up the project to some of our homeschool friends and everyone wanted to participate. I read the story of The Quiltmaker's Gift – one of my favorite, though lengthy, stories. Many of the older kids (5 and up), sewed the blocks together themselves into a simple nine-patch square. Ronan preferred using the sewing machine and he was fun to watch as he settled into the seat in front of the sewing machine. He took his job seriously, enjoyed it and was relatively straight with his seams (as long as he took his time). Six is a very helpful age.

Quilt_boys

Don't you model everything in your socks too?