Archive for December, 2009

Holiday Cheer!!!

The excitement of opening gifts is most likely over, but school doesn’t start for another week.

Here is a great activity to use up left-over sweets and your kids will love it too!

Gingerbread Architecture


  • Frosting— normal icing (not “whipped”)
  • Graham crackers
  • Plastic knives
  • Paper plate, cardboard, etc. for base of house
  • Small Milk Carton or box for house foundation
  • Ruler

Suggested Sweet (or whatever you have at your house)

  • Gum drops
  • Mini candy canes
  • Mini Marshmallows
  • Peppermints
  • Powdered sugar
  • Pretzel sticks
  • Pull ‘n Peel Twizzlers
  • Red & Green M&Ms
  • Red & Green Sprinkles
  • Red hots
  • Shredded coconut


  • Discover basic understanding of what an architect does
  • Estimate perimeter using non-traditional units of measurement
  • Estimate surface area using non-traditional units of measurement (may be too advanced for younger children)
  • Make a gingerbread house!

Set up: Clean off the kitchen table or flat surface (some place that can get MESSY). Have the materials available for

Intro: Ask your child(ren) if they know what an architect does? An elementary definition, an architect is a person who designs and builds buildings, etc. One important concept of architecture is knowing how much of a certain material one would need in the construction of their structure/building. While building today’s Gingerbread house you are going to work with some familiar math concepts in architecture with unfamiliar units—candy!

Perimeter: What if you want to make a border all the way around your house. What might happen if you didn’t know how much material you needed? (run out, have too much, etc.) How could you figure out how much material you need? (Measure all four sides) This measurement is called PERIMETER. Perimeter is a big word that basically means add all four sides. Ask your child(ren) to measure all four sides of their gingerbread house and find the perimeter. (Don’t tell them what to use to measure.) Because our gingerbread houses are square, is there another way that you could have figured out the perimeter (how much material you need to go around all four sides)? (Yes, a square has four equal sides, so you could multiply one side length by four.)

Perimeter Practice: You may know that you can measure objects in centimeters or inches, but did you know that you can also measure things with M&M’s or marshmallows? Ask your child(ren) to estimate the perimeter of different objects using non-traditional tools. (ex: measure the perimeter of the plate with M&M’s or measure the perimeter of a napkin with sprinkles) Estimate means that it’s okay to say that the length of a graham cracker square is 9 M&M’s even if it’s actually 9.25 M&M’s or so.

Discussion Point: You will find there are different measurements for the same item (i.e. for the perimeter of the plate could be 30 gum drops OR 45 red hots). Can these both be right? Yes, they were measuring in different units. One person measured in red hots and another person measured in gum drops; gum drops are bigger than red hots, so it makes sense that you would need fewer gum drops to cover the same length.

Surface Area: What would you need to know about a wall to paint it? (how big it is, etc.) One way to talk about how big the wall is, is to determine its area. How can you find the (surface) area of the wall? (Area=length x height) Estimate the area (or surface area) of one graham cracker wall using M&Ms.

Ok, so what if you wanted to paint the entire outside of your house white…how would you know how much paint to buy? To figure it out, you would need to know the surface area of the house. What is surface area? (Technically, surface area is the sum of all the areas of all the shapes that cover the surface of the object.) How could we find the SA of our house? SA= area of wall 1 + area of wall 2 + area of wall 3 + area of wall 4 + area of roof. (Note: Will you use 1 or 2 graham cracker squares to build your roof?) That’s kind of a long process, do we really need to measure each wall or are there any shortcuts? Recall that the graham cracker house is a cube. Also, we’re constructing out of graham crackers, so if you used 6 graham crackers to build your house, your SA would be 6*(SA of one graham cracker).

Time to be the Architect and Construct your Gingerbread house!

Procedure: Frost the graham cracker walls to the sides of the juice carton. Place one graham cracker square on top to make the base of the roof. Next, lean two graham cracker squares against each other to make a pointy roof. Cement with lots of frosting. Then, decorate with candy to your heart’s delight!

Building and of course eating a Gingerbread house is always a kid favorite and now you can integrate simple math concepts within the creative experience.


December 28, 2009 at 9:27 am Leave a comment

Santa and Science

I can not remember what my parents told me about Santa or at what age I started asking probing questions. I can imagine they thought long and hard about their approach before tackling the subject. What if my parents had taken Gregory Mone’s, a contributing editor at Popular Science Magazine, advice and related Santa to “scientific what-ifs.”

Read Mone’s opinion and others in today’s New York Times “Room for Debate: The Truth About Santa” article.

When and how parents decide to “come clean” about Santa is entirely up to them, but encouraging a child to think about Santa AND science is definitely cool.

Keep in mind, even at the age of 28, at my parent’s house if you don’t believe you don’t receive.

Happy Holidays!


December 22, 2009 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Last Thursday, December 10th, the annual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony was help. Since 1901, 156 individuals have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Of those 156, ONLY FOUR are women. Learn more about the four amazing women laureates.

This year the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Ada Yonath, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, and Thomas A. Steitz. The last woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was in 1964.

Ada Yonath

With your continued support; one day a Girlstart alumna could be the next Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner.

December 18, 2009 at 8:30 pm 1 comment

New Addition at the Shedd Aquarium

This is why I think being a marine biologist would be so cool!

A baby beluga whale was born Monday  at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois.

Beluga whale Puiji and new calf

See the Chicago Sun Times article and fabulous video!

This summer Girlstart campers will have the opportunity to discover more wonders of the sea! Camp registration opens January 11th, 2010. Check out themes and dates soon at


December 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm Leave a comment

Bring the Stars Inside

The colder weather is here and the street lights come on earlier and earlier each evening, but the kids STILL want to play.

Here is a fun, easy, and educational (don’t tell them that part) activity that is perfect for this occasion.

Construction paper
Push pen, paper clip, or anything small to poke a hole


1. Pick a constellation to draw. This provides an opportunity for children to learn how to online research (with parent supervision). Star map is a good key word to start. OR you can visit to find constellations by the month OR
2. Trace the light end of the flashlight to know how big your constellation can be.
3. Trace or print the constellation.
4. Use your hole poking device to indicate the star locations (careful of the table surface).
5. Cut your constellation paper about ½ in wider than traced flashlight end.
6. Have parents help tape around flashlight.
7. Sit on the bed with the lights and observe your constellation
8. Repeat as many times to create your own bedroom planetarium.

Science in the Sky
This activity provides a great opportunity to talk about astronomy, astrology, and even aerospace engineering (working for NASA). Constellations refer to visible stars which create an image, remember to remind your child(ren) that they have to use their imagination to see the constellation picture.

For more Science in the Sky fun stop by Girlstart’s Starry Science Family Extravaganza tomorrow, Saturday December 5th from 11am-1pm at Cook Elementary School. For more information visit The Saturday weather forecast looks great, so we will see you there!


December 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Great Inventions

Square has created a program that will let your mobile phone take credit card payments- anywhere, anytime! Great for small businesses or nonprofits.

December 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

Puppys Love Science Too

December 1, 2009 at 4:38 pm Leave a comment

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