Maggie’s Birthday Bike

Maggie started showing interest in her balance bike at the end of February, and by the time her birthday loomed near at the beginning of April, it was clear she would probably be ready for a bike with pedals this summer! She’s much smaller than Griffin was when he started on a pedal bike, so I hunted down a smaller version and we gave it to her on Sunday for her birthday. She was beyond excited to try it! However, it was raining pretty hard all day that day, and even into the morning on Monday. She begged me to let her try it, but knowing there would inevitably be some spills, I told her we needed to wait until it stopped raining.

Well, Monday afternoon it stopped raining, and she was raring to go! I wasn’t sure how it would go for her, but low and behold, on one of her first tries, she took off! I pulled my phone out and grabbed some video. We spent the rest of the day touring the neighborhood with her practicing her new pedal bike. She’s hooked and asks to ride it at every opportunity now! It’s pretty amazing, and such a testament to the balance bike.

I hope you enjoy these short videos of her first rides!

Maiden Voyage of the Artemis

Have you ever dreamed of being an officer on the bridge of a real starship? Now’s your chance! We will be testing out a sophisticated software program, the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. With this software, each of you can choose a particular job: Captain, Helm, Science, Communication, Engineering, and Weapon Control. Together you will operate your ship and defend the sector from evil aliens. This activity requires your laptop, the ability to work as a team, and a desire to save the galaxy. For our first starship this spring, we can only handle a small crew. If our mission is successful, we’ll sign up more officers next year!

So reads the description of my spring activity offering at school. For those that don’t know, Artemis is a computer game that basically recreates the bridge from the Star Trek enterprise. (It doesn’t have a Star Trek license, though, so the ship is called the Artemis, and you fight Kraliens rather than the other aliens that start with K.) It works best in a classroom or office with a large monitor or projection screen to act as the viewing screen at the front of the bridge. A series of networked laptops connect as different stations on the bridge. The Helm, for example, has controls to steer the ship. Weapons controls phasers and torpedos. Science can scan objects in nearby space and provide information (weaknesses for enemies, possible resources, etc.) Engineering manages ship resources, and can overcharge certain systems at the cost of other systems and at the risk of overheating. The engineer also directs damage control teams who can repair compromised systems.

“I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain!”

The communications officer sends and receives messages from space stations, allied ships, and enemies. Finally, the captain doesn’t have a computer at all. She sits in a chair in the middle and orchestrates all of it. (If you’re interested, check out this lively and not-school-appropriate video of the game being played.)

So, yeah, it’s basically my Star Trek boyhood fantasy.

But it’s also a brilliant software package for middle school because it requires discipline, cooperation, and strategic thinking, skills that were almost entirely lacking during our first misadventure.

On Tuesday a dozen students gathered in my classroom for their first mission. We spent some time installing the software, deciding which station each person would play and who would be their second. (There are only six stations, so one primary player and an apprentice at each station.) Then we launched the server and configured it for a peacetime mission so that we could learn how to use our new starship.

So far, so good. Then I discovered what happens when you set a group of 10-13 year olds loose on the command deck of a state-of-the-art spacecraft. Anarchy! Everybody gleefully pushing buttons at once without reading any of the documentation. Shouts from every person in the room with conflicting reports, questions, orders, and requests. It was awesome. In short order, the ship was traveling at its highest possible speed off the edge of the map into interstellar space. Unfortunately, the helmsman couldn’t manage to steer. Everyone thought this was very amusing, except that they kept getting distress calls from a space station that was rapidly receding behind them. And when other people tried to steer, they couldn’t manage it either. The session ended with everyone thinking it was some sort of bug in the software.

Screenshot of the engineering interface. The sliders at the bottom allow you to shunt power to and from different ship systems, which can dramatically affect game play.
Screenshot of the engineering interface. The sliders at the bottom allow you to shunt power to and from different ship systems, which can dramatically affect game play.

I did some research afterwards and discovered that no, it was not a glitch. The engineers, in fact, had reduced power to the maneuvering drives which meant that the ship couldn’t, um, maneuver. (In their defense, they claim that the captain told them to maximize power to the warp drives… so they did exactly that.)

I sent an in-character email to the entire crew that afternoon, explaining what the engineering team at DS4 had discovered. After some frantic finger-pointing, they were all a bit sheepish, and are hoping to do better next time. They even agreed to watch a short set of training videos which will help them understand what, for example, a maneuvering drive does.

We have five more sessions lined up. I am hopeful that the crew will pull together so that we can actually, you know, explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no middle schooler has gone before…

Artemis Screenshot


Joint Birthday Party

Griffin and Maggie, turning seven and four respectively, agreed to have a joint birthday party this year. Each of them invited seven friends, and we all gathered at a local park for cupcakes and fun. It was a gorgeous day, and the whole event felt unusually relaxed. The kids rampaged around while the adults chatted, kept nominal watch, and guarded the cupcakes (my strategy: eat them).

Space Science

For years we have despaired that our children would grow up to be shiftless, unmotivated drones. Fortunately, for at least the past six months, they have settled onto a pair of robust dreams for the future. Maggie will be an astronaut. Griffin, who is less excited about the discomforts of space travel, will be a space scientist, staying on the ground but helping Maggie with her experiments.

Maggie, future astronaut.
Future astronaut.
Future space scientist.
Future space scientist.

Clever Fool

Griffin got me with two April Fool’s Day jokes already this morning: he told me he made me some brownies for a treat (which turned out to be brown E’s) and he handed me a shoe box and said he got me a new pair (which turned out to be a pear)! He was so delighted with himself, and so was I!

April Fool's!
April Fool’s!
And a third surprise: googly eyes!
And a third surprise: googly eyes!