Kids are getting more and more reliant on tech, whether that’s a good thing or not. It’s hard to limit the time that they use electronic devices and while I will always try to encourage more imaginative play and keep them “offline” for most of the day by encouraging use of electronics only at weekends as a treat rather than as a right, it is great when you can use the desire for tech to encourage learning – they have fun, they are having a treat but they are learning from it too.
STEM education lends itself to tech by its very nature and so I have been looking at increasing the number of STEM related products I use for homeschool and especially those that have some form of creative element to make it more of a rounded STEAM approach.
Amongst our favorite products of this type I have picked three that have been particularly enjoyed by the kids and which really do add real educational value while being lots of fun! We have incorporated these and other similar “toys” into our homeschool curriculum and it makes a huge difference to the engagement of the kids and breaks up the day.
The Kano is a kit that allows your child to build their own computer and to learn to use it in coding, building webpages and drawing online amongst other things. The kit consists of a raspberry pi 2 motherboard (computer brain in non tech speak, interesting how it was called a “mother” board and not a “father” board isn’t it :0)) combined with various bits like a wonderful orange keyboard, casing, wifi dongle, speaker and hdmi cables. The Pi 3 is shipping with the Kano from June 2016.
The kit comes with brilliant instructions that allow the kids to understand what the pieces do and to build their own working computer from the ground up. The computer can then be used for most things that a desktop computer can be, with the limitation that obviously this is not high end – an online gamer product this is not (which is a good thing).
Cam is nine and has been coding on a basic level for a couple of years or so now. This product lets him plug into a screen and use Scratch to create his own games and even to learn to code Minecraft (this was HUGELY popular). The benefits of coding are well known and this is a perfect safe introduction without costing a fortune. It is also expandable so you can add a monitor or add electronics for larger scale projects, it even works with our next top pick….
The Lego WEDO has been around for a while now and is an excellent first step into robotics for even the most un-tech of us!
The basic kit that we have is the 9580, it is not the cheapest addition to the homeschool cupboard but for that you get a decent amount of Lego (about 150 pieces) and some surprisingly sophisticated tech like motion sensors, motors and light sensors etc. A newer version with Wifi called the Wedo 2.0 (original I know) is also available but we haven’t upgraded yet.
The aim is to follow the online instructions to build creatures and objects with the familiar Lego bricks but then to incorporate robotic movement and logic to make these creations animated. To do this you need to hook up the creation to a laptop or desktop computer (or the KANO 🙂 ) and then use either scratch or Lego’s own software (sold separately) to program your crocodile to bite when something goes near his mouth or to start something moving when a noise is heard etc. Not only did the thought of a snapping Lego crocodile encourage the kids to spend time building and coding but the joy when it started to try and “eat” things was amazing!
The Lego WEDO combines creative learning with tech perfectly and the kids will enjoy making things come to life while also increasing their logic abilities with coding. For younger kids there is a Duplo version and for older ones there is the Mindstorms range.
Although expensive, these things are limited in number. Try to get a good deal and then when the kids grow out of it the resale will mean that you probably will end up renting this for a relatively small amount…just don’t lose any pieces as it is almost worthless if you just lose one or two!!!
Something not related to coding at last!
This product is amazing. We have been learning about electronics in homeschool this term and previously had an electronics kit which had fiddly little wires that kept coming out and instructions that had been written with a PhD in mind (ages 8+, really???) We tried the multi award winning snap circuits as an alternative and easy entry point to cover both Cam and Mimi (age 6) and cannot praise this enough.
Here you have a plastic board with lots of plastic modules and the kit has a series of different length wires encased in plastic with buttons that “snap” easily into place to create your circuit (hence the clever branding). Complete with light and sound sensors, speaker, motor and resistors etc. this introduces basic concepts of electronics and how electricity works with visible results that will delight children.
A great example of the clever design and accessibility of the product comes in one of the first tutorials in the excellently written and very accessible manual. A circuit that took about 5 minutes to make incorporated a speaker, a music box, whistle chip and slide switch. When the switch was turned to the “on” position the speaker transmitted “happy birthday” to HUGE smiles, but then stopped. Why don’t you clap? A few claps later and the sound was detected triggering another chorus of happy birthday and more smiles! This lead to a discussion about how switches work and incorporated different energy states, how does sound turn into electrical energy and then back to sound? We then added a resistor and explained that this reduced the current, so what will happen to the speaker now? Cam tentatively theorised that the speaker might be quieter because less energy would reach it…when the sound was reduced the pride was palpable (his and mine!). Good job and a proud mommy!
We were using the SC Jr version but these award winning products come in a variety of different sizes and variations, like light versions!
I hope you enjoy using these wonderful products as much as we do (no pun intended) and I would love to hear from you with your family experiences or other suggestions for STEM Tech that we can try. x♥x