Fractal Christmas trees!


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Erica from What do we do all day? has a great STEAM Christmas activity involving fractals and Christmas trees – Sierpinski Fractal Triangle: Holiday Math Art for Kids.

I am using this with a Year 4 class as an end of year STEAM challenge, to see how big a class tree we can build together. Hopefully we won’t get too many paper cuts!

Each student gets a template of the tetrahedron (available from the link above). They then trace around it on coloured paper (green for a tree) to make four tetrahedron nets on one A4 piece of paper. They cut them out, fold, sticky tape each one into a tetrahedron, and then stick four to make a fractal element. Four of those stacked together makes another fractal element, and so on…

The Fractal Foundation provides an Educator’s Guide to fractals if you want to know more about these beautiful patterns. A simple Google search on fractals in nature provides some rich images of fractals, such as ferns, sea shells, succulent plants, trees and snowflakes.


Christmas science activity e-book


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Emma from Science Sparks in the UK has released a free e-book filled with 12 fun Christmas science activities for kids, all with items and materials that most people would already have in the house! Something to fill the start of the school holidays with some messy experimental fun 🙂

Maths games – old and new


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I have very clear happy childhood memories of sneakily hiding under my bed covers when I was supposed to be asleep, so I could play on my Little Professor, released by Texas Instruments in 1976.

It was a handheld drill-and-practice aid for basic maths that suggested problems and rewarded you with a message on its display when you gave the correct answer. The LED display made it possible to play in the dark once I had memorised the button positions.

Just finding an image of it makes me smile and remember the HOURS I spent having fun and testing myself – both secretly at bed time and during daylight hours.


Last week when I took my young daughter to our local library, after looking at a few non-fiction books, she asked to play on one of their iPads and I said she could play one game.

The game she chose to play is one that she had played there before on a visit with her dad. I hadn’t seen it before. It was a game where you’re helping a bird to fly up a tree to get to a key and let another bird out. But not really. That’s just the visual interface. Really, it was just like the Little Professor in App form!

The game involves solving simple addition problems, then slightly harder ones, then simple subtraction problems and so on, with visual rewards provided through the bird collecting things as it flies up the tree on a mission to get a key and free another bird.

There are hundreds of maths apps and games available, so I’m not reviewing this App in particular, just commenting on the embedded nature of the maths problems in the game dynamics, and the ease with which my emerging mathematician engaged with the problems.

At five years old my daughter’s maths skills seem fairly limited, but using her fingers, and then her fingers and toes she was able to get a fair way into the game. The satisfaction she got from solving the problems was immense, with big smiles and jumping up and down with excitement.

I am so proud that my young daughter chose to play a maths game, and loved it! I am so proud that she could do it, and that she persevered when the problems got harder. She stopped playing not long after the first bird had unlocked the next bird, but she loved the challenges it gave her. Here’s hoping that she stays as engaged with maths concepts when she starts school next year!

LEGO as a Maths Manipulative


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LEGO® is being used as a fun and versatile tool in primary school classrooms to engage young children in learning about key maths concepts. In an article published on Scholastic in December 2013 Alycia Zimmerman, an elementary school teacher from New York City describes how she uses LEGO with her students, and shares five useful worksheets that you can use too.


The mathematical concepts that Alycia discusses the use of LEGO include composing and decomposing numbers, building the number sense needed for arithmetic operations, part-part-total explorations, subitizing, building and deconstructing arrays, skip counting with arrays, area models, square numbers, multiplication and division, fractions and central tendency. Below are direct links to Alycia’s worksheets from the Scholastic article.

Article sourced via boredpanda


Coding competition


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Now in its second year, the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge uses video games to engage Australian school students in years 5 to 12 in STEM learning in new and exciting ways.

The awards consider what the place of video games is in education? How can video games enhance learning in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)?

The award website provides resources for parents and teachers that are designed to help foster engagement for children and students, outline why it is important for children to code and highlight the vast benefits of learning to code.

It also provides resources for children and students who want to get stuck in and build something.

Chad Habel, a Senior Lecturer within the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide and the Director of Game Truck Australia, is a strong advocate of the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge and of game-based learning more broadly, as he explains in an interview for the challenge:

…as well as giving students a portfolio, involvement in the challenge gives them an opportunity to develop their computational thinking. This will assist students through their education and beyond with skills such as logic and problem solving, self-efficacy, confidence and risk management. Finally, it will let students know that they are capable of understanding and using STEM, and that anything is possible.

The 2015 winners included a South Australian high school student, who won the Year 9-12 individual category. He created a game where you rescue and protect endangered Australian animals, using GameMaker Studio. I hope to see more SA entries in the future!

Building blocks of scientific thinking



In play children are constantly being creative, whether using natural materials in a nature play context, the food on the dinner table, toys that come with their own back-story, or free-play toys like Lego or Minecraft.

Play brings to bear imagination, creativity, flexible thinking, problem-solving… and these are all ways of approaching the world that in childhood and in adulthood support scientific inquiry, design thinking, engineering solutions, perseverance and more.

This article from ABC Radio National discusses how Lego and Minecraft support creativity and problem solving: Minecraft and Lego: the building blocks of creativity?

And this initiative in South Australia in April 2015 had the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board inviting school children to design national parks of the future using Minecraft.

Gifts for Budding Engineers


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Purdue University has created an interesting list of suggestions for toys, books and activities that can help children to develop engineering interest and skills. I have not reviewed what’s included in the guide, but it looks like an interesting resource for those of you who have a child like mine, who is naturally designing and building things all the time.

Purdue University Engineering Gift Guide

“Wondering just what to pick up this holiday season for the budding engineer?  Let Purdue University help with this year’s engineering gift guide for kids.” Source: The STEAM Hub: 2015 Engineering Gift Guide

Hello world…


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Welcome to Science Play. Here you will find posts about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), with a focus on how children engage with and learn about STEM. Children are natural learners, and their play is infused with scientific experiments, theory and practice, building, creation and exploration. Many governments around the world, and particularly in Australia, have recognised that increasing children’s participation in STEM will have a positive flow on impact on economic outcomes. STEM is also simply fun and interesting to explore!