STEM: Incorporating Engineering and Geography

STEM: Incorporating Engineering and Geography

This is part 3 of a series about incorporating geography with STEM. In part one, I wrote about studying science and geography together and in part two, I shared ideas for learning about technology in conjunction with geography. Now we move onto the E in STEM, which is engineering. Engineering is a field of study that is growing leaps and bounds every year.

What exactly does an engineer do?

You should ask is there anything that an engineer doesn’t do. An engineer uses scientific and mathematical principles to develop solutions to problems. They are the geniuses who find ways to meet our needs. They research, analyse, design, invent, create, build, program, test, supervise, improvise, and much much more.

Cartographers (map makers) are engineers. Cartographers develop and produce maps. The earliest known maps were carved into stone and clay, eventually leading to paper maps, and now modern, digital maps are accessible online or through software.

Created by Tyler Hogan in 2011, WonderMaps is one example of a digital map that is accessible through software. With a love of maps that developed when he was only 4 years old, Tyler is an example of a cartographer who has a passion for paper maps and technology. Take a look at the video tutorial and you’ll see how much work Tyler put into creating this amazing software.


Can you imagine how freaked out with excitement explorers from history like Leif Eriksson, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark would be to have such a gift as WonderMaps.

There are easy-to-use layers and customizable features of over 250 maps. These include:

  • 65+ maps of the world
  • 60+ maps of the USA
  • 130+ historical maps, including 25 biblical maps

So, if one of your kids has an interest in engineering and maps, you may have a future cartographer on your hands!

*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.

Minecraft Story Cubes

Minecraft Story Cubes 2

I honestly wish I would have thought of this idea when my son was much younger and was really into creative writing and story telling. We probably would have spent hours everyday making up stories. But, as a just turned 14-year-old, he LOVES Minecraft, but isn’t into story telling another.

However, he is responsible for coming up with all the themes on the story cubes. I learned A LOT while we were making these.

The story cubes will provide hours of entertainment for any Minecraft fan. You can incorporate them into your language arts curriculum and see creative writing and storytelling soar.

Included are 8 printable cubes:

actions, friends, enemies, goals, 2 objects cubes, and 2 situations cubes

Minecraft Story Cubes 3

Throw the cubes into the air, see whatever topic appears, and then let your imagination take over. Example from the cubes above:

You are an Iron Golem. You are in the jungle.

You have armor and diamonds with you. Your goal is to harvest.

Your enemy is the Ender Dragon.

Uh oh, zombie pigmen are coming after you! What do you do?

To make things worse, a creeper just destroyed your house!

buy now Minecraft

Minecraft Story Cubes 4

buy now Minecraft

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Leather Bound Books

You may have seen this set of unbelievably amazing leather bound Harry Potter books with removable bookmarks. The creator, Meg, made one set for a charity project and her images went viral. I drooled over them and then immediately contacted her to see if she planned to eventually start selling them. She is the sweetest girl, working hard in nursing school, while also now working hard getting her book binding business set up.

In case you are wondering, she IS going to start selling sets and even individual books very soon. She said that the supplies were about $300 per set, mostly because of the cost of the leather she uses, which is very high quality. Because it takes her roughly 120 hours to complete one set by hand, she is pricing the books at $1250. Since I already had the set of Harry Potter bookmarks she used and I had some fake leather as well, she ended up talking me into trying to cover my own set of books myself and gave me several tips. Fake leather is way cheaper, but much harder to work with, as she warned me.

So here is my completed set of leather-bound Harry Potter books.

leather-bound Harry Potter books

Those embellishments on the spine are a set of horcrux bookmarks, which can be purchased on Amazon. We would never use them as bookmarks, so we removed the excess metal on the backs and attached them to each spine using E6000 glue. I wished I could have placed them in order of when the horcruxes were discovered, but it made more sense to match them up by size of each spine.

The metal number titles came from Hobby Lobby.

For a permanent bookmark inside each book, I braided embroidery thread using the Hogwarts house colors and glued each ribbon of thread to the spine before adhering the leather. You can see each one sticking out of the bottom.

leather-bound Harry Potter books

For the front…I created my own fake metal embellishments using cardboard. They look extremely realistic in person! To see how this is done, check out the step-by-step on my 221B Baker Street post. The metal color was obtained by first painting the finished cardboard with black paint and then lightly coating it with metallic silver paint.

Also on the cover are metal plates stamped with the words STONE, CHAMBER, PRISONER, GOBLET, ORDER, PRINCE, and HALLOWS, shorten versions of each title.

leather-bound Harry Potter books

I am quite pleased with myself! And these are all mine, since my son decided I wasn’t allowed to touch his set of very worn, much-loved books. I had to buy my own.

*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.

Our April Bookshelf

April Bookshelf

Fifteen monthly suggestions from the Milk and Cookies bookworms

From Mom

MapheadMaphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. Record-setting Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings explores the world of maps and map obsessives. Jennings takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the “unreal estate” charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. Jennings also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been.

As You WishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

How to be a Christian Without Being Religious How to be a Christian Without Being Religious. Since the days of the early church, Christians have struggled to find a way to be “good”–to please God by their own efforts. They end up carrying a burden God never intended them to bear. And what’s more, their brand of Christianity ends up looking like any other religion of the world–bound by joyless rules and rituals. Fritz Ridenour’s study of the book of Romans provides an antidote to the pharisaical spirit and shows that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. It is not people reaching up, but God reaching down. All Christians can enjoy their birthright when they realize who they are in Christ. The result is a life full of hope, joy, power, and potential.

Hercule Poirot's ChristmasHercule Poirot’s Christmas. Agatha Christie, the acknowledged mistress of suspense—creator of indomitable sleuth Miss Marple, meticulous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and so many other unforgettable characters—brings her entire oeuvre of ingenious whodunits, locked room mysteries, and perplexing puzzles to Harper Paperbacks. In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, the holidays are anything but merry when a family reunion is marred by murder—and the notoriously fastidious investigator is quickly on the case.

Twelve Extraordinary WomenTwelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible. They were ordinary, common, and in some cases shockingly low-caste, yet each was made extraordinary by her life-changing encounter with God. Readers will be challenged and motivated by Twelve Extraordinary Women, a poignant and personal look into the lives of some of the Bible’s most faithful women. Their struggles and temptations are the same trials faced by all believers at all ages. Inside this book, best-selling author and Bible teacher John MacArthur shows that the God to whom they were so committed is the same God who continues to mold and use ordinary people today.


From the teenager

Blockopedia AprilMinecraft: Blockopedia. Discover everything you ever wanted to know about the amazing blocks of Minecraft in this mega-oversized Blockopedia that comes in a ground-breaking new hexagonal format! Presented in a ground-breaking format – a hexagonal book – Blockopedia contains everything you need to know to make the most of the blocks that make up the Minecraft world. It’s a beautiful and comprehensive reference tool for beginners and more experienced players alike.

Car ScienceCar Science. Top Gear’s Richard Hammond is in the driving seat for this turbo-charged tour through the nuts and bolts of car technology – now in paperback! Underneath the bonnet of every car, there’s a lot of fast, furious, and spectacular science going on. G-force, combustion, power, you name it, a car’s got it. Help your child discover all about the science of cars in this explosive tour. Find out how cars revolutionised the world, see how a car functions with jaw-dropping diagrams, cutaway drawings and cool graphics. Steer to the fundamental science behind the mechanics and then sit back for an exciting look into the future of minimal emissions, maximum fun. Plus, find great things your child will love to make and do.

SherlockThe Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases. Forensic expert Wagner has crafted a volume that stands out from the plethora of recent memoirs of contemporary scientific detectives. By using the immortal and well-known Sherlock Holmes stories as her starting point, Wagner blends familiar examples from Doyle’s accounts into a history of the growth of forensic science, pointing out where fiction strayed from fact. The author avoids the technical details that mar so many other efforts in this genre, injecting life into her narrative by weaving in true crime cases that either influenced Holmes’s creator or may have been influenced by a published story from the Baker Street sleuth.

Star Wars AprilAftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This New York Times bestseller reveals what happened after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. It turns out, there’s more than just the Empire for the good guys to worry about.

For the homeschool

Penny CandyWhatever Happened to Penny Candy? A Fast, Clear, and Fun Explanation of the Economics You Need For Success in Your Career, Business, and Investments. This clearly written, award-winning book about economics is a remarkably easy and fun explanation of money (its origin and history), the dollar (its origin and history), investment cycles, velocity, business cycles, recessions, inflation, the demand for money, government (its economic behavior), and more. All explanations and interpretations are according to the Austrian and Monetarist schools of economic theory.

How to Read a BookHow to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. With half a million copies in print, How to Read a Book is the best and most successful guide to reading comprehension for the general reader, completely rewritten and updated with new material. Originally published in 1940, this book is a rare phenomenon, a living classic that introduces and elucidates the various levels of reading and how to achieve them—from elementary reading, through systematic skimming and inspectional reading, to speed reading. Readers will learn when and how to “judge a book by its cover,” and also how to X-ray it, read critically, and extract the author’s message from the text.

Investments AprilThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens: 8 Steps to Having More Money Than Your Parents Ever Dreamed Of. From the personal-finance duo Fortune magazine called “funny, smart, cynical, [and] opinionated” comes savvy financial advice for today’s street-smart young investors. The Motley Fool has made investing fun and easy for millions of people. Now, it custom designs its wit and wisdom for today’s money-savvy teens. The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens helps teens stand out from the ho-hum mutual-fund crowd, build a portfolio of stocks they can actually care about, and take advantage of the investor’s best friend—time—to watch their profits multiply.

Sherlock puzzlesThe Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Collection: 150 enigmas for you to solve, inspired by the world’s greatest detective, Join the world’s greatest fictional detective and use your own powers of deduction to solve these ingenious enigmas. This remarkable collection features all kinds of puzzles to suit all tastes and levels of logical skills from “elementary” to “impenetrable.” These specially commissioned puzzles set in the world of Sherlock Holmes are designed to test your powers of perception, logic and deduction. Solutions to each puzzle are included.

VocabVocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power, volumes I and II. This popular series takes vocabulary a step further by using visual and rhyming mnemonics which makes learning vocabulary fun and effective.

*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.

Hanging Literature

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. A Hobbit wall hanging

The Hobbit is one of my all-time favorite books and I just wanted to show off what I recently made for our living room wall. This 24″ x 36″ frame held a gorgeous picture of a simplistic cream-colored vase of cream-colored flowers. I really should have taken a photo of it, but I forgot. As much as I loved the photo, I got tired of it after a few years.

What better way to recycle a wall hanging than to use it to bring more of your fandom into your home.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. A Hobbit wall hanging

I used the back side of the flower poster, but I had to make it look like a page from an old book. So I stained it using a wet tea bag. It was so easy and I love how natural it turned out. It truly looks like the old paper you’d find in an old, well-loved book.

To stain paper, keep a tea bag slightly damp, but not soaking wet. Keep a paper towel handy and as you rub the tea bag over the paper, use the paper towel to blot and smear the water.

Go over different sections of the paper several times to make various areas darker.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. A Hobbit wall hanging

This was the part where precise measurements and alignment came into play. In the Silhouette Cameo software, I fiddled with different fonts and sizes to get some of the text from the first page of The Hobbit to fit into the 24″ x 36″ frame. I ended up removing some of the original words, so that I could fit the more important sentences on the page.

After cutting the text out with the Silhouette Cameo, I carefully removed the excess vinyl from around all the words. This took a bit of time.

The photo above shows the final text cut out, with transfer tape covering it. Transfer tape allows you to move a lot of vinyl at one time. Could you imagine having to place each and every letter, one at a time, on the tea-stained poster?! This is the transfer tape I purchase and this is the vinyl.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. A Hobbit wall hanging

The vinyl poster, after placing all the text. It looks just like a giant page from the book.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. A Hobbit wall hanging

If you have never read The Hobbit, I highly recommend it. You can purchase your own copy of The Hobbit at Amazon for only $7.49. Or you can buy this gorgeous, cloth-covered illustrated version for $20.12. Another Hobbit related book that we have enjoyed is A Hobbit Devotional, featuring 60 humorous, challenging, and encouraging devotionals. Each reading sketches a scene from The Hobbit, relates it to a contemporary life situation you might experience yourself, and brings in the teaching of a relevant Bible story or verse.

*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.

STEM: Incorporating Technology and Geography

STEM: Incorporating Technology and Geography

One would think that teaching about inventions would be easy. Unfortunately, since many of our greatest inventors lived during the age of what is known as the patent wars, giving proper credit where credit is due is often difficult. For this reason alone, sometimes it is a good idea to study an invention apart from the inventor.

Too often I have read history books in which an invention is casually mentioned as part of one person’s biography. But we have many inventions that need to be studied as part of their own timeline. Sometimes, a product’s timeline from start to finish can even surpass the length of a person’s timeline. An inkling of an idea could start in the mind of one person, only to be fully realized a decade later by someone new, and then perfected decades later by a third person, and lastly patented by someone not even involved with the early steps of the invention. Just Google “who invented (insert product)” and you’ll see.

What is an easy way to get started on studying inventions? Incorporate them with your geography! Like I said in my post about studying science and geography together, research proves that kids learn more effectively when subjects are blended together instead of separately taught.  I love maps with all my heart. If I can throw something on a map, I’ll do it. We map everything, including the “birthplace” of some of technology’s greatest achievements.

WonderMaps by Bright Ideas Press is my go-to map program. While we do have large laminated maps in our house, for certain studies like this one, I prefer smaller printable maps instead. 

STEM: Incorporating Technology and Geography

To map our American inventions, we first selected the United States of America index page.

STEM: Incorporating Technology and Geography

This the general United States of America map in WonderMaps, with all of the features live. The features include borders, state names, capital locations and names, major city locations and names, rivers, terrains and more.

STEM: Incorporating Technology and Geography

I deselected features that I did not need in my map and was left with the clean version above.

STEM: Incorporating Technology and Geography

I love the bright colors that make the terrain stand out, but if you’d prefer a plain black and white outline map, you can click BW Overlay instead and you’ll be left with the map above.

To get you started on your technological adventure around America, here is a list of 10 popular inventions that changed the world. For the purpose of this list, I am noting the person who is most often given credit for the invention.

cotton-ginEli Whitney lived in Georgia when he invented the cotton gin in 1793. Read more about the cotton gin here.


light-bulbThomas Edison perfected and patented the incandescent light bulb in New Jersey in 1878. Read more about the light bulb here.


phoneAlexander Graham Bell is credited with patenting the first practical telephone in 1875 at his Boston, Massachusetts laboratory. Read more about the history of the telephone here.


Model-TThe Ford Model T was the first affordable automobile, produced by Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan and introduced in 1908. Read more about Ford Model T here.


airplaneThe Wright brothers invented and flew the first airplane in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Read more about the history of flying machines here.


washingA washing machine called the Thor, which was manufactured in Chicago, Illinois in 1908, is cited as the first electric washing machine. Read more about the history of the washing machine here.


televisionModern television first took root in the mind of teenager Philo T. Farnsworth and he was the first to successfully demonstrate the idea, in San Francisco, California in 1927. Read more about the history of the television here.


robotsAn industrial robot is a programmable machine that is typically housed in manufacturing plants for the purpose of welding, painting, assembly, packaging, etc. Unimate was the first industrial robot ever created and it worked on a New Jersey General Motors assembly line in 1961. Read more about industrial robots here.


pcThe earliest computers were not personal in any shape or form. They were huge and required a team of users to operate. Bill Gates himself calls Henry Edward Roberts the father of the modern personal computer. Mr. Roberts founded a company in New Mexico called MITS, where he perfected his invention in 1975. Read more about the history of the personal computer here.


kevlarKevlar is a super strong synthetic fiber used to make body armor. It was developed by Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist at DuPont in Delaware in 1965. Read more about the history of Kevlar here.

Books that you may enjoy


*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.