A 21st Century Stocking Stuffer for Kids – an Online Programming Class

Stocking stuffer for kids

If you are looking for a unique stocking stuffer for a 4th – 12th grader this year, consider giving one of FundaFunda’s Online Intro to Game Programming Classes.

At $9.95 it is a really good price for a 4 week online class that is graded and where a student can earn a certificate on successful completion. (They can also finish with a $10 coupon off any of our other courses if they pass).

This class is intended for students who have never done any programming. It touches not only on program logic but also game design and game graphics – so it is a really good way to expose students to all those different aspects of video game creation.

Students do have to complete the class in the allotted time, but they have flexibility each day as to when they will go online to do their assignments.

There are classes starting on December 29th and January 5th.

At the end of the course we ask students to complete a survey. Here’s why some of them said they would recommend it to others (I just cut and paste so you are getting EXACTLY what they entered).

i would recomend this course to my friends because it teaches a lot of really useful programming skills and it kind of changes the way you look at the computer after learning all of the things it teaches.

Because technology is one of the new languages. Many people should be able to learn a little bit of it.

Because it is super fun.

its a fun course and if someone wants to learn the basics its really simple and well done in this course

The class was fun and good to figure out if you really would be good at programming.


If you are giving this as a stocking stuffer – here is a graphic you can print off to put in the stocking.


And 3 people can each win a class. Just enter below and come and check back on 23rd to see who won!! You can pick either of the classes offered if you are a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gifts Teachers will like – for under $5

Teacher gifts

  The last week of school is a fun time for teachers as their students shower them with gifts showing their appreciation. As I have been the fortunate recipient of many gifts over the years, I thought I would share some of my own feelings about what makes a “good” gift. Firstly, I know for me it really is “the thought that counts”. Handwritten notes from the students are very special. This year one wrote a note that  referenced a recent lesson and that made me smile. So parents, don’t stress too much about what you will get – but do encourage your kids to write the notes!


Secondly, there are lots of inexpensive things you can buy that will be appreciated. Most parents are buying for a number of teachers and teachers all know that so they aren’t expecting anything more than a small item. Here are some ideas:

1. Food

Target has a large range of beautifully packaged items that cost $5 or less. I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating these items.

Target Collage

The other option would be to bake your own food. This year I got very yummy chocolate chip cookies (they are long gone), peanut brittle and a variety of other homemade items.

2. Gift Cards

gift cards

Money is often tight for teachers so a gift card for $5 is a nice way for them to be able to spoil themselves with a treat. Any coffee shop (is a great idea – Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts etc). Ice cream / frozen yoghurt stores are another nice place to get gift cards from. And Amazon and iTunes of course as you can get ebooks and movies and apps for under $5.

3. Seasonal items


Tree ornaments can serve as a nice reminder of the student for years to come. These can be bought or handmade.

If you come from another country then something from that countries traditions is cool. Last year my daughter gave her teachers Christmas Crackers as every South African family would have those at their Christmas dinner tables.



4. Interesting hand made items

One of the nicest things I received a few years ago was a personalized hand soap in a dispenser. I found this blog post which explains how to make these. The photo is from that post.

Pinterest will have many more ideas.



5. Plants

I must admit that most of the plants I receive die within a month, but I am sure most people do a better job at looking after them. I even managed to kill a mini cactus. But herbs and small plants aren’t expensive and are pretty as well as functional.

You can pick them up in grocery stores – but you can also order online at stores like Amazon.


Any more ideas? Please share them in the comments.

Knot So Fast Review

Knot so fast game

If you are looking for something a little different to give as a gift to a middle or high schooler, Knot So Fast is worth considering.

Thinkfun has come up with something that has been around for ages (literally!) – knot tying – and turned it into a game.

The kit comes with a piece of rope, a ring – which is needed for some of the knots, and an instruction booklet.


There are 40 challenges, and of course they start easy and end up super-complicated.

A diagram shows what the knot looks like – and the person playing has to study it carefully and figure out exactly how to twist and turn the rope to achieve that. Fun facts on each page give more information about the knot and how it is usually used.


Knot So Fast has been designed as a single player game, but you could turn it into a multiplayer game by buying more rope and rings. If you did that – players could race to see who was first to create the knot correctly. Or if you only had the kit as is, you could time the players as each created the knot and see who could do it the quickest.

I like this little game because it not only exercises the mind but also teaches a useful skill. Because it is small and compact it is easy to take on vacation and even to do on long road trips.

Please note: the links in this post are Affiliate Links – that means I make a small amount but you don’t pay anything extra.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

It’s that time again: The Hour of Code!!

I am re-publishing this post I wrote last year as once again it is time for the Hour of Code. I have update the information provided in the post so that it is all relevant to 2014.

This week marks the second Hour of Code – an initiative to try and encourage every student in the USA and all over the world, to spend one hour having a hands-on experience with programming.

As Steve Jobs said – programming teaches critical thinking and logic. Programming is now also used in so many different areas of life – in fact, it is hard to find areas where programming is not used. And programming provides a growing number of jobs.

Yet – only 1 of every 10 students in the US is currently exposed to programming during their school years.

Programming jobs infographic

This is what President Obama said this week:

I learned to program while I was in high school. I traveled to another school in our city once a week to a class that taught us COBOL and FORTRAN. At home we owned an Apple, and I taught myself Applesoft Basic.

My own children learned to program while they were in elementary school. If you teach children while they are young, they take to it really easily. In Estonia they are starting to teach students from age 7 as part of their regular school day.

However, in the US and many other countries, programming is not taught in the majority of schools. And many parents feel they don’t have the skills to teach it at home.

The Hour of Code is hoping to change that. This is one of their promo videos:

It is not too late to register if you are a teacher or leaders of a youth organization – Sign up here and you will receive all the info you need.

If you are in Knoxville – all students from K – 12th are invited to join in the Hour of Code which the Knox County 4-H Computers and Technology Project Group are hosting at Brehm Animal Science Building at the University of Cape Town from 6:45-8pm on Thursday 11 December. All the details can be found on their Facebook group.

To further assist students to get to experience the world of programming, I am offering a $9.95 online 4 week course called Intro to Game Programming. This course is designed for 5th-12th graders and will give students a taste of the world of programming.

Students will learn

  • elements of game design
  • how to make graphics for games
  • program logic
  • how to create their first simple program

All the tools used are free and work on both iOS and Windows systems.

Find out when the next class starts here.

All students who successfully complete the class get a $10 coupon to use on any other coding class of  ours.

Roominate: an Engineering Toy Designed by Girls for Girls

Roominate Kits

Thanks to one of my students, Sofia T., for this review of Roominate. The links in this review are affiliate ones (and Sofia will be getting part of any money earned to say thanks for a great review). It doesn’t cost you anything more to buy through these links. Roominate did not pay us to write and post this. But this is a product I am excited about and want others to know about. It was designed by two female Stanford students after they realized how few girls got to play with cool building toys.

 ♦   ♦   ♦

What would your dream room look like? Have you ever dreamed of designing and building a miniature room with working lights and motors? With Roominate, an engineering-oriented building toy for girls of all ages, you can create fully furnished rooms and buildings involving lights and motors powered by circuits. I highly recommend Roominate, because it inspires creativity and problem-solving skills, while being extremely engaging and enjoyable.

photo 2(1).JPG

Each Roominate set includes several panels for building walls, connectors, and pieces that can be connected to form furniture such as tables, chairs, shelves, and ev

en bunsen burners! There are endless possibilities for room designs, functions, and even the way items as basic as a chair are constructed. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy Roominate.

Sets also include at least one light or motor. These can be operated by attaching a button or by plugging in the circuit wires. Incorporating these into the design teaches both problem solving and creativity. For example, when I was trying to design an elevator by wrapping string around a motor and attaching it to a small ‘cab’, the cab spun when I wired the motor, and the string easily became tangled. However, I solved the problem by tying the string around a connector attached to the motor.This shows how Roominate can reinforce problem solving skills and teach children to be creative in their solutions.

photo 1.JPG

Another way Roominate encourages creativity is not only through designing the furniture, but through decorating the room. Most Roominate sets include colored paper to tape onto the wall pieces, or cut decorations out of. They also include stickers of flowers, fish, dogs, desserts, and candy. However, there are many more options for decoration beyond these stickers and sheets of paper!

For example, I made posters of the solar system, atomic models, and the periodic table for my Roominate science classroom by cutting out rectangles from paper and drawing on them. I greatly enjoy building with my Roominate sets, and believe that you will enjoy exercising your creativity and problem solving through this toy, too.


Thanksgiving Draw: A fun Thanksgiving Game

Thanksgiving drawing game


If you are looking for a fun game to play with your class, or with your family, I have created a “Pictionary” type game that may be what you are looking for.

The game is delivered as a pdf (so you can get it right away) and you print off the cards on to card stock. There are 24 cards and you just play until you run out of cards.

The game comes with 2 versions – one for a classroom where students will be divided into groups of 4 – 6 and one for a family set up where everyone is playing together.

Because the game is a pdf it is easy to print as many sets as you need.

Basically, players take turns drawing. Of course all the words are related to Thanksgiving. This game is suitable for elementary age and up. (Younger family members will enjoy getting involved in the guessing even if they can’t draw). Correctly guessed words score a point.

Of course, you don’t have to buy the one I created – you could also find a list of Thanksgiving words and make your own. But if you are pushed for time, and don’t want the hassle – this one only costs 99c.

I would love to see pictures if any of you get this and play it – post them on our Facebook page!

Online Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunts

Online thanksgiving scavenger hunt

Online Scavenger Hunts or Webquests are a great way for students to learn – by discovering the information themselves. They are far more likely to remember facts they have found – than they are to remember facts you told them.

I have searched online and found a number of Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunts and you are sure to find something here you can use for your class. You could also use this as a family.

Turn this into a fun assignment by offering a small prize to the winner – or the first few to finish.


A 23 question Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt for upper elementary or middle school students. This one is very nicely laid out and it is obvious what link to use to find the information needed.


Another good one with about 20 questions. The website the students need to access is listed with the related questions below it. The questions are a mixture of historical ones and general ones related to Thanksgiving today.

A nicely done hunt for 4th graders. There are 11 questions (and a reward game at the end) with links to help students find the answers.

This one has 6 questions and would be good for middle school. It uses articles, audio and photos to provide the necessary information


This is just 5 questions and they are multiple choice. They could be used as a bellringer activity. Answers are provided.

11 questions that either have answers in an article on the page, or links are provided to find the answers. Suitable for upper elementary.

This is actually a number of webquests each focusing on a different aspect of Thanksgiving. They cover the history of Thanksgiving and traditions linked to the holiday. This is for older students – middle and up.

Thanks to mochajelly for the cute Thanksgiving Divider 

Creating a Digital Student Newspaper

Class newspaper


For a number of years now I have had the students in my media class produce a student newspaper. But until now it has always been a paper and ink one. This year I knew it was time to make the transition to digital and it was actually a LOT easier than I expected.

Here’s exactly what we did:

1. Brainstormed ideas for the name of our newspaper. We persevered until we found one with an available domain name.

2. Bought the domain name on Godaddy.com – I bought their special deal that included a Managed WordPress set up. Total cost was $13.17 for one year. Using this option means you don’t have to worry about the technical stuff and you just follow their really easy instructions to get started. I was so glad I had done this as I was worried this part would be hard to do as my husband had set up this blog and I had no prior experience.

3. Found a theme that looked like a newspaper. This took a bit of time and we eventually settled on Graphene which was free.

4. Downloaded a few plug ins:

Jetpack – this gives us stats on number of visitors and we are also using their subscription form

Advanced Ads


All-in-One Event Calendar by Time.ly

Akismet - to prevent spam


NextGen Gallery

WordPress SEO

5. For the article writing  / editing process we are using Google Drive. I set up folders for “Drafts”, “Edited”, “Approved” and “Published”. Students upload their articles into “Drafts”. One of the editors edits it and moves it to the “Edited” folder. I then make sure no one has written something that will get me fired or them expelled and I move it into “Approved”. Finally our Layout Editor takes the article and puts it on the website and moves it to “Published”. This system is very easy to use.

newspaper google drive

We don’t have editions of the newspaper but just constantly update with new articles. We are trying to make this a business venture but so far the students haven’t managed to sell any advertising or classifieds but hopefully that will change soon.

I was really very surprised at how much easier it has been to “go digital” with the paper. I think one of the reasons has been that our Layout Editor learned to use WordPress very quickly and has been diligent about keeping the paper looking fresh all the time.

If you are reading this before June 2015 – take a look at Connexion. After that I am not sure if we will continue so if the link is dead, that is why (I don’t teach Media every year).


Student Contest Roundup October 31, 2014




The Geography Olympiad is a fairly new contest – only in its 3rd year – and it has different levels for all age groups. This is particularly exciting for high school students who may be missing the Geo Bee.  This year there will be a number of changes including the debut of their National Qualifying Quiz Tournaments, which will be held around the country.  This will give students an alternative way of qualifying for the National Qualifying Exams.  Good luck throughout the 2014-15 season!



Future City is a contest for teams of middle school students where they learn what it takes to build a city.  The Future City Competition is a national project-based learning experience where middle schooler, sixth through eighth grade imagine, design and build cities of the future.  Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity software.  They get to actually build scale models and present their ideas before judges at regional competitions.  Regional winners then advance to the finals in Washington D.C.


Christopher Columbus Awards

This is another cool contest for middle school students where they get to investigate a problem in their community and apply scientific principles to find a solution.  They work in teams of three or four to address widespread issues within their community.  Their goal is to provide a feasible solution to the problem.  They need to provide credible scientific data to back up their solution.  Then provide a well-written essay with visuals to present to the judges.  They win scholarships and a trip to Disney World and get a behind-the-scenes look at how it works.



Philosophy Slam is a contest for all school students – no matter where they live in the world. Younger students can draw while older ones use words to express their opinion on the current year’s topics.  The contest is designed to make philosophy fun for kids of all ages and abilities and to promote a philosophical discussion between kids and adults.  Since everyone has life experiences, even kids, Kids Philosophy Slam asks kids to write, create poetry or create artwork regarding a philosophical question posed each year.

American Legion Oratorical Contest

If students enjoy public speaking and the constitution – then here’s a contest for them. Prepare a speech according to the rules, wow the judges and you can earn a lot of scholarship money.  The Oratorical contest presents students with an academic speaking challenge that teaches them important leadership qualities.  It also gives them an insight into our nation’s laws, the ability to think and speak clearly and give them an understanding of their rights and privileges as an American.  This contest is open to high school students twenty years and younger currently enrolled in a high school program.


Shell Game by ThinkFun: Review

Shell Game from ThinkFun

Shell Game by ThinkFun is an excellent memory training solitaire game that is perfect for students who finish their work early, or just to play at home.

It works similarly to the “Shell Game” used by con men but this time it becomes a series of puzzles to solve using brain power. There are a total of 60 puzzles which start simply but become increasingly challenging. If you can’t work out how to solve any of them there is a solutions booklet provided.

The puzzles are all on separate pages in the puzzle book. Find the items listed as the ‘start’ items – here you need the Red A, Blue B and a grey stone.

Shell Game Start

Take those items and put them on the center circles opposite their start positions.

Shell Game 2


Next you have to cover everything up with shells.

Shell Game 4

Now comes the thinking part! Switch the a shell with another shell joined by an arc. Keep switching until you think you have moved the stones to the correct “end” location.

Shell Game 5


Think you have it correct? Lift the shells to check.

Shell Game 6


Still not clear? Here’s a video that demonstrates it.



I would highly recommend this game for upper elementary and older, though younger kids will be able to master the easier ones too. Now that I have played and reviewed it, I will be donating the review copy I was given to the after school center I help out in as this will be perfect for the students to play when they have completed their homework.

You can purchase Shell Game on Amazon.

Please note: the links in this post are Affiliate Links – that means I make a small amount but you don’t pay anything extra.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

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