Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Science toys for kids

I can't help but notice that there are a TON more science-based toys for kids these days.  When I was growing up, I thought it was incredibly cool to have a KNEX-type building set that came with an attachable solar panel. Put the solar panel under a lamp, and my windmill would move! 

But now, there is a whole slew of toys that allow kids to tinker and experiment in completely different ways.  Here's a short list of things I've seen.  Please comment with more toy ideas for budding scientists and computer scientists...besides Tower of Hanoi. ;-)



1. Robot Turtles. This board game teaches kids about computational thinking, using a basic checkerboard layout, obstacles, and three simple commands for your turtle: turn right, turn left, and move forward one.  It can get as complicated as you like, with multiple types of obstacles, and the need to combine commands that are frequently used together using a "function frog" card.  This board game started as a Kickstarter project, which I also think it pretty cool.

2. My friend Lucas works for a local company called Modular Robotics.  Their robotics kit, Moss, allows kids to put together robots with obstacle sensors and light sensors, and moving kinetic parts, all without wires.  Sensors and moving parts fit together with magnets, and can even communicate with your smartphone.

3. Of course, I love the ubiquity of the HexBug robots.  This kit is pretty cool -- you can turn different sensors on your robots on and off to see how the robot reacts.  Getting kids to try different settings, including combinations that "don't work," is essential to understanding the real life of a scientist -- one failure after another, but each failure teaches you something new about your system!

4. I would be amiss if I didn't mention GoldieBlox and all that they are doing to get girls involved with engineering and confident in their problem solving abilities early on.  The original commercial involves a pretty awesome Rube Goldberg machine that is a few steps ahead of my generation's version: Mouse Trap.

What else have you seen for budding scientists? Please comment!