geek girls

Hidden Figures: A Parents’ Guide

Hidden Figures tells the story of Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) all three women were Computers (people who did computations before electronic computers were used) at Langley NASA.  It is based on a true story – all three of the women were brilliant mathematicians who made great advancements for NASA in mathematics, engineering, and computer programming.

If your kid (especially your daughter!) can pay attention during a dialogue-heavy movie, I highly recommend taking them.  I consider myself a space enthusiast, and I had no idea that the “West Computers” (NASA’s term for the women-of-color Computers who were segregated and worked on the west side of Langley’s campus) existed, let alone their amazing contributions to space and aeronautics science.

To fully appreciate many of the plot points, your child should be familiar with the United States Civil Rights Movements, segregation, and Jim Crow laws. Our country’s ugly history of racial discrimination is an important conversation to have anyway, and this film shows a little of what it was like to be a person of color in a segregated state in the early 1960s.

It’s rare to see a film where the heroes are women, even rarer to see a film those women are geniuses, and rarer still where those women geniuses are black women. Nine-year-old Kitty left the theater inspired to learn more about computer programming and women’s contribution to the American Space Program.

This is a big Hollywood take on true events, so there were some liberties taken with the timeline, with names and places (most of the supporting characters are composites of people who worked at NASA rolled up to represent sentiments on women and race at the time), but according to those in the know – including the real-life Katherine Johnson – the movie is true to the main characters and the general events in the movie.  According to NASA Historian Bill Barry:

“Like anything based on real-life events, there are some temporal things that, as a historian, are like, ‘eh, that didn’t really happen like that,’ but I think that the movie is true to the stories of the main characters,” he said. “On the whole I was very happy with the outcome.”

This article at History vs. Hollywood has a good breakdown of what/who was real and what was fluffed up for entertainment value is a good place to start after watching the movie with your kids.

So…

Can I bring my nine year old to Hidden Figures?

I would say yes!  As long as your child can sit through a character driven movie, I think you should ABSOLUTELY take your kids to see Hidden Figures. Just make sure that your kids are aware of the basic ideas of segregation and misogyny in the 1960s and you should be fine. Besides the racism and misogyny, there is little questionable here.  There’s a mild romantic subplot, a little drinking, and some mild swearing. Kitty had a bit of a hard time paying attention during some of the scenes that were not based in NASA, but she absorbed all of the important plot points.

It’s inspiring to see the perseverance the three main characters showed while facing some really despicable discrimination. And if your child is like Kitty, she may even come away inspired to investigate a new career path!

Can I Take My Kid to Ghostbusters? A Parents’ Guide

Ghostbusters 2016 Parent's Guide

The original 1984 Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies of all time. So I was pretty excited to hear that an all-female reboot was happening, and I knew that I would be there opening night. Since both of my kids (Nate, 16 and Kitty, 9) loved the original we went as a family.

Kitty isn’t easily freaked out. She loves action and adventure movies and counts Terminator 2 as one of her favorites. She’s seen the original Ghostbusters on multiple occasions – this new Ghostbusters was too scary for her. Even teenager Nate found it to be a bit anxiety-provoking. Here’s why:

-The ghosts are different. While most of the 1984 ghosts were relatively cartoony and seemed to delight in malicious mischief, the 2016 ghosts were scary and wanted to kill.
– Special effects have come a long way in 32 years. While the practical effects in the original were cool, they have not aged well. That’s not super scary for a kid in 2016. While the ghosts in the new movie were made to match the feel of the original, they were scarier just because they looked more “realistic”
-There were a lot of jump scares. They were pretty easy to see coming, so we were able to brace ourselves, but there were a lot.
-We saw it in 3D. It made some of the gags pretty cool, but being in a dark theater with 3D made it that much more intense.

This movie is rated PG-13, and I think that’s a pretty good guideline. it’s not gory and the horror is definitely tempered by humor -but it will scare younger kids and even sensitive older ones. It’s unlikely that your kid is going to be traumatized by the movie; Kitty didn’t have nightmares and is planning on being a Ghostbuster for Halloween, but it made for some intense moments in the theater. I think that viewing it at home in the day on a smaller screen once it comes to home video is going to be much easier for many kids.

Some other things to look out for:

-There is some swearing (including damn, shit, and bitches)
-There a few sly references to the internet controversy surrounding rebooting the franchise with women.
-There is a character that is terribly stupid. It’s pretty funny, and none of it is mean, but he is really, really over-the-top stupid.

My review? I liked it. I wanted to love it, but I liked it. It seems to rely heavily on the ad-libbing of the stars, which made a lot of the jokes one-liners that could have been in any movie. That made it feel a little disjointed to me. It lacked the charm of the original, and I think much of that had to do with the huge level of fan-service cameos and in-jokes. I loved all of the actors in the film, Kate McKinnon really stole the show as the super-quirky Holtzmann, and Melissa McCarthy proved once again that she’s a great action-comedy star. I wish the whole team had been scientists, or they at least hadn’t thrown the immensely talented Leslie Jones into the same role that Ernie Hudson filled as “blue-collar minority who joins the team for some reason”. Some of the fan service stuff was totally hokey and took me out of the film, but some of the gags were appreciated. I loved seeing a team of women Ghostbusters, and I was so excited that Kit got to see it, too – though I wished I would have waited to show her at home.

Becoming a STEMinist with StemBox – Win a StemBox!

StemBox header

Last weekend, Kitty and I were invited to join Kina McAllister, Founder and CEO of StemBox , as she led a group of 15 girls in a “StemBox Workshop”.  McAllister, formerly a HIV researcher at Fred Hutichinson Cancer Research Institute, uses the workshops to test the monthly boxes before they are shipped to girls all over the country.  We had the opportunity to test out March’s “Lemon Battery Kit”  and we were super impressed. Read on to learn all about it, and enter to win your own StemBox!

We arrived at the HiveBio Community Lab, got a name badge and the girls went into a small room.  Kina introduced herself, and then did a short lesson on electricity, the components you need to make a battery, and how the items in the kit (lemons, galvanized nails, a piece of copper and some wire) met those needs. Our mission was to create a battery that could power a small LED.  Everything we needed was included in the box that would be mailed to subscribers- with the exception of the lemons.

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StemBox Founder Kina gives a lesson on electricity.

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Safety first!

After a quick talk about safety, the girls headed downstairs to the lab. The girls were so excited to open their boxes. They had all taken the safety lesson very seriously and were all gloved up and decked out in their safety goggles in no time. Then they got down to work.  It was a little tricky for some of the younger girls to figure out the wiring pattern, as the lesson hadn’t included a mention of the multiple lemons needed to generate enough electricity to power the LED, but once that was figured out every girl successfully created a working lemon battery.  There was a little time left after the main experiment, and Kina encouraged the girls to create their own experiments. The girls added more lemons to their circuit, measured electricity with a voltmeter, added more LEDs, added more wires….it was really neat to watch the girls come up with ideas and then test them out. 

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Kit was very focused!

When this box is sent to subscribers it will include instructions and all of the materials needed minus anything perishable – which parents will have to provide; in this case lemons, some fun surprises like stickers, and links to a video demonstration and a video bio of a “STEMinist” (A STEM Feminist – I LOVE it!) currently working in the field.

McAllister came up with the idea for StemBox when she realized that the science kits that helped her get interested in science aren’t as readily available to kids today.  She knew that consistent access is a key to keeping girls interested and engaged, and a subscription box seemed like the best way to do that.  She has developed an engaging product that Kitty loved – she begged me to subscribe before we even left the building.  When we got home she was so excited to show Nate the box the folks at StemBox were kind enough to send us home with. They sat together and replicated the experiment, and then Nate showed her some other things she could do with the materials.  We’re very excited to subscribe and see what next month’s box brings!

Nate lliked it, too!

Nate lliked it, too!

StemBox is $28.33 – $36/month depending on your subscription plan. You can subscribe here.

 

StemBox has been generous enough to provide one Parenting Geekly reader with their own Lemon Battery StemBox!  Use the form below to enter:
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