Fun Engineering and Design

Posted: June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

Here are some fun ways to learn about Engineering and Design.

Click the picture below to be taken to the site.

Fantastic Contraption –

Design and re-design using

Garry’s Mod –

[WARNING- Parents, this is a great engineering game, however, because it uses the physics engine, objects and props of other games, it may pull up items like guns from those other games. Please make sure that option is turned off.]

Garry’s Mod (GMOD)

Google Sketchup –

Google Sketchup

Click Here for Windows

Click here for Mac

Crayon Physics –


Crayon Physics


MIT Android App Inventor -Make your own Android Apps


Create your own games and cartoons using Scratch

Learn to Code using


Have your own recording studio using Audacity

5 things Minecraft teaches kids (plus one bad thing, too)


A woman walks her child to school as he is dressed as a character from Minecraft in New York October 31, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

The popular build-and-survive video game Minecraft could very well be the most surprising tech success of this decade. Created in 2009 by programmer Markus “Notch” Persson, expanded by a small team, and advertised mostly by word of mouth, it now has more than 100 million users. To drive home its success, Microsoft bought the game a few months ago for a staggering $2.5 billion.

I’m sure you’ve heard many kids, teens, and adults in your life talking about Minecraft. Here’s why that might be a good thing, and how to keep it from turning bad.

1. It builds creativity

I’m a huge fan of Lego. My son and I have spent hours building the model on the box and then taking it apart and making whatever else we wanted by rearranging the parts. Minecraft gives kids the same creative freedom, but it’s easier on your bank account. Plus, you’ll never step on a loose piece barefoot in the dark.

If you haven’t played or seen it, Minecraft is a very blocky world in that everything is built from blocks. The ground is made up of blocks, trees are blocks, and even your character avatar is very blocky. You get progress in the game by scavenging or mining blocks of various materials such as stone, wood, lava, etc. You use these as the basis for your creations, or combine them in “recipes” to create more advanced materials, tools and objects.

Some of the things Minecraft players have built are truly staggering: massive vehicles, intricate skyscrapers, working analog computers, and even the entire country of Denmark exactly to scale. Click here to see it.

There are also game modifications, or “mods,” that add more advanced items like robots, nuclear reactors, and a whole range of high-tech real-world materials. If you can think it, you can probably build it on Minecraft.

2. It teaches real-world skills

One overlooked value of most strategy-based video games is resource management. The player has a finite amount of resources at any given time and needs to decide wisely how to use them most effectively.

Do you use that wood block now to upgrade your ax for mining, or save it for the house you’re building? Do you spend your time mining or exploring for new resources?

Even if they don’t realize it, kids are learning cost-benefit analysis, such as when to save versus when to spend and other key budgeting and financial skills that are so important later on in life. Of course, they might need you to help them make this connection.

Kids learn patience with Minecraft. It takes a while to assemble the resources you need, so instant gratification isn’t an option. Any adult who has ever saved up for a car or a house down payment knows that patience is important.

Kids learn perseverance through the game. For instance, your child might not build that amazing monument correctly the first time it comes tumbling down under its own weight. They can learn how to recognize where they made mistakes and try again.

Kids also learn about teamwork. While Minecraft can be played solo, it also has online options. Given that it is online, kids can play with others from around the world. They can team up and learn how to work cooperatively to make amazing things. That also builds pride in cooperation with others.

Of course, they might also learn how to deal with people who don’t want to play nice. This is where parental monitoring is essential. If you want your child and friends to be able to play together, but not worry about strangers, you can set up a dedicated Minecraft server. It isn’t as hard as it sounds, and it lets you set the rules and who can play.

Before your kid does anything online, however, whether it’s Minecraft, Facebook, or just basic browsing, have them read and sign my 10 Commandments for Kids Online. It’s a great starting place for speaking with kids about what is and isn’t acceptable online, and how to recognize dangers.

3. Kids can play anywhere

Unlike high-end video games that only work on certain systems or require expensive hardware to run, Minecraft works just about anywhere. It runs on computers, smartphones and tablets, most video game consoles, several handheld gaming systems, and more.

That means you can give your kid a free hand-me-down or inexpensive older gadget and they can go to town. Or you can let them jump on your smartphone or tablet while in the car or running errands to keep them occupied.

If you are handing your kid a gadget, there are a few things you need to do first. If it’s your gadget, learn how to let kids use your tablet or smartphone without messing up your settings or getting into things they shouldn’t. If they’re using their own personal gadgets, make sure you prepare it so they can’t get into anything online they shouldn’t. You should also install an app that lets you control when they can use the gadget so they’re forced to take breaks.

4. It’s kid friendly

Violence is a big complaint with video games. Sure, older video games were violent but the graphics were so cartoonish and crude it wasn’t the same as gunning down the highly detailed, lifelike characters found in modern games.

Minecraft does have some fighting elements to it. You have to fend off “mobs” of monsters but the graphics are blocky and bloodless, like an old-school video game.

For concerned parents of younger kids, Minecraft also features a “Peaceful” mode. This is the easiest setting and turns off all enemies. It also makes it nearly impossible to die, so you can just explore and build.

5. Fun for the whole family

I’m always a fan of parents playing video games with their kids. That way, you’re right there to monitor the game, teach them to be good sports, or shut it off when their time is up or when they start melting down. Plus, there are plenty of fun video games that you might genuinely enjoy. The LEGO series, for example, is very clever and not too difficult.

Minecraft is another fun one. You can sit next to your children and give them advice, or create your own character and jump into the game using a different computer or gadget. I know a few families who have Minecraft night and everyone joins in to work on a fun in-game project.

The one bad thing: Minecraft isn’t all roses and sunlight. I already mentioned that playing online can lead to encounters with strangers who might not be that nice. The detailed replica of Denmark I mentioned at the beginning struggles with constant visits from spoilsport players who want to destroy it.

Even worse than that, however, is that Minecraft like any other game or Internet service can become addictive. You might find that it’s all your kid wants to do. My son Ian and his friends talk about the game non-stop and I have to put strict limits and conditions on how long he can play each day.

If you suspect your child is suffering from an addiction to Minecraft, or the Internet in general, check out reSTART. You can take a revealing quiz, get insightful articles on the dangers and find links to treatment centers and therapists who can help.

If you aren’t sure how long your child is spending playing Minecraft, the RescueTime program and app can tell you exactly where your child’s time is going. It might show there’s a problem you didn’t realize.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at

Inspired by a Great Teacher? 
Nominate a Colleague for the Big Apple Awards

The Big Apple Awards celebrate the hard work and dedication of all New York City public school teachers.  Nominate one today.

Why Be An Engineer?

Posted: December 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Read Exxon Mobil’s take on the situation

America has a problem: Not enough U.S. students are pursuing engineering careers.

That troubling fact helps explain why there are currently millions of vacant jobs across our nation, even as the number of Americans not in the labor force is the highest it’s ever been.

BAE InfographicNew_10-2014There simply are not enough applicants with adequate skills to fill many of the most promising positions available in the 21st century. This lack of skills is especially acute in jobs that increasingly rely on science, technology, engineering, and math.

This set of circumstances is worrisome for science-based companies like ExxonMobil, of course. But more broadly it is troubling for America’s future competitiveness in the global economy.

To help address this predicament, ExxonMobil has launched a nationwide initiative seeking to inspire the next generation of engineers. OurBe an Engineer campaign aims to highlight the meaningful contributions that engineers make to the world, as well as provide resources to assist young people interested in pursuing the profession.

In the weeks and months ahead we’ll be running a number of commercials on television in support of this effort. You cancatch them at ExxonMobil’s YouTube channelas well.

Over the next few weeks I will occasionally turn this space over to guest bloggers who will share their experiences as engineers and why engineering can make for a rewarding and valuable career. Among them is Dan Mote, longtime educator and currently the president of the National Academy of Engineering.

Today, though, I want to share with you a few thoughts on the state of engineering in America offered by our Chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson.

Rex is an engineer himself, with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas. These remarks, culled from various interviews and speeches he has given the last few years, are instructive for why we are pushing ahead with our Be an Engineer initiative:

We’ve got to help young people understand how exciting the world of the engineer is to be able to create things that have never been created before. …

One of the challenges we’ve had as a profession is that young people don’t really know what an engineer does. And it can take on a certain connotation of being nothing more than a technician, when in reality scientists discover things and help us understand why they are. Mathematicians help us calculate and measure. …

Engineers are the marriage of science and mathematics. We take those two things, we put them together and we create everything around us, from your iPad to this building we’re sitting in to the medium that we’re broadcasting to people today to the houses we live in to the cars we drive. They are all engineering products.

I am confident that the more that young people actually learn what engineers do and accomplish for society, the more they will be drawn to pursuing careers in that direction.


Have your monitor use less energy using this website.

I’m really happy that my article was published in the NY Teacher newspaper!!!

Check it out!

Teacher to teacher: ‘Play, Pause and Rewind’ learning works for all -By Francesco Portelos