Tag Archives: parenting

Parenting, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Christmas, and The Traditional Proclamation of Shenanigans

Here’s one one that may file me firmly in the nerd/geek category as a dad:

Tonight, Christmas eve, with the tots all tucked in, my wife and I were wrapping some final gifts for the kids. As I grabbed the last one for my 4 year old son, I examined the packaging. 

It is a “Code-a-Pillar”, a popular new STEM toy that helps kids learn the basic concept behind computer programming code. It is a caterpillar with different segments you can attach behind the head, and depending on the order you put the segments in, it will wiggle across the floor differently. For example, you may start with a straight segment and then a right turn segment, so it would drive first straight then right. If you started with the left turn segment he would turn left first instead. So by the order you build him in you “code” his actions and solve problems (like getting around an obstacle).

As I read the packaging, it rightly advertised “learn and play”, “problem solving” and “think critically”. But then the nerd-siren began to sound. I read “8 different segments, unlimited combinations”. I immediately grabbed my green broom and headed to the village square to begin the customary proceedings of declaring a right and proper shenanigans.

I (smuggly) announced to my wife that at most it would be 8 factorial combinations, and even though it was 2 am and I had just driven for over 3 hours on pure ice after a long day of Christmas celebrations, I began to do the math in my rapidly fading mind. After missing the 40,320 answer by about 2000 ( in multipling 1680 by 4, I forgot that last pesky 30 x 4 and hit 6600…duh), I realized that I had wrapped it before even checking for duplicate segments which would have reduced the possible combinations even further.

That didn’t stop me from explaining to my wife (poor, patient woman) that 38k (wrong 40k) was not the same as “endless”. She rightly pointed out to me that to a 4 year old, with the attention span of a hummingbird’s heartbeat, it might as well be endless. 

I began to complain about a STEM toy claiming to teach math and the like, and was about to righteously be disappointed that I would miss out on teaching my son what the fun “8!” on the box meant. Then I remembered how difficult it was yesterday explaining 6/2 and 1-4 even using blocks to count. I started to imagine explaining combinatorics and the concept of multiplication, let alone factorial…we don’t have quite that many blocks.

As a last resort for being right, I noted the 3 to 6 age range of the toy and started to figure whether a very advanced 6 year old could understand my complaint, and well, let’s hope this Code-a-Pillar is REALLY effective at teaching some math.