5 ways to get little hands on STEM kit without buying it

In previous posts on tech learning games and projects, and on robots, we mentioned a lot of cool kit–toys and technology. If you’re interested in trying this kit but can’t buy it yourself, consider some of these options:

Danielle Delgado wants to be a robotics engineer but for now uses her 3-D printer to make gifts for friends. Michael Chow/The Republic (AZ Central)

PUBLIC LIBRARIES: they’re struggling to stay digitally relevant and a few Toronto libraries are setting up digital innovation centers with community 3D printers alongside their community computers.

This story about twelve-year-old Danielle Delgado’s (pictured above) presentation of her 3D printer to kids at Guadalupe Branch Library of the Maricopa County Library District says that this Arizona library will be hosting a weekly 3-D printing club this summer.

Take these articles with you when you ask your local library to get involved too. And why not suggest Goldiblox, littleBits and Bigshot as well (see 8 tech learning games and projects)?

SCHOOLS: like libraries, schools are building up their digital and STEM toolkits. Make your school aware of the types of options available, or better yet, pick one and urge your school to get it on a trial basis.

Here’s some evidence that schools are successfully using 3D printers–and if they can get on with 3D printers, surely they can get on with any of the projects we mentioned earlier.

– 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot is lobbying for a 3D printer in every school and have set up donation mechanisms for groups to support the effort

– 5 tips from a teacher who is using 3D printers with students. The teacher’s blog is here. It has these pictures of the teacher and her classroom makerspace:

classroom makerspace C Mytko

– In California teachers are learning to build 3D printers for the classroom.

SCOUTS (girls and boys): these groups are also on the STEM bandwagon (see girlscout blurb in our other post) and local troops and state branches might be open to getting this kit for their scouts.

THE SHARING ECONOMY: instead of getting these for yourself, go in with a few other families and create a mini “toy library” that you share. Some communities already have toy or tool lending libraries, where this type of kit might fit.

Here’s a story about a Toronto tool library that also loans kitchen equipment and runs 3D printing workshops.

In fact, we are currently in the middle of “Sharing Spring”, a global movement to collaborate, participate, rethink, swap, celebrate and create. A number of cities are organizing sharefests — and what better topic for a sharefest than fun tech kit that also happens to be educational?

LOCAL MAKER/HACKING GROUPS: many major cities now have groups dedicated to helping people, often including kids, make and hack electronics and computer code. For example in london there’s Technology Will Save Us and Seattle has Makerhaus, Metrix: Create Space (and others, if you can believe it).

Good Luck, and let us have your experiences and ideas in the comments.

Learning with Robots—not as teachers, though

We recently came across Alicia Gibb, a role model for women in technology — she hacks cakes (pictures below) to make them noisy and flashing. But she’s also made Pathosbot, a roller skating robot, shown above.

Alicia Gibb appeared in a news story about two sisters who are developing the Pi-Bot, a robot-building kit aimed at schools. Building robots gave Melissa Jawaharlal the critical thinking and problem sovling skills that she used to gain an engineering degree. Now she wants to share the experience with others.

Pi-bot is currently in a kick-starter campaign (through April 10th) to get started. The sisters aim to get their robots in schools at a more affordable price than some rival offerings.

The Roberta Initiative  is an existing German effort to improve students’ learning using Robots. It aims to:

support youngsters, in particular girls, to develop a long-term interest and to be motivated to engage in information technology, technology and the natural sciences.

Through Roberta, teachers aim to deliver new knowledge, but also to have it wrapped in positive emotions about the experience–which is particularly helpful to girls. Although they don’t say explicitly, the Roberta robots look like they might be based on LEGO mindstorm. (We reported on mindstorm in our post on 8 tech learning games and projects)

And now for the CAKE HACKS:
Thank you Alicia Gibb. You go girl roboticists!

There are probably more interesting programs out there for learning with robots–let us know in the comments.

6 ways bicycles teach resilience

320px-Bicycle_wheel_01Bicycles = sustainable transportation, right? But there are (at least) 5 other ways bicycles can teach us about resilience.


I recenlty dragged my road bike out of the shed after a very long winter’s rest. A bit of work on the front wheel hub and brakes, and within about 20 minutes it was ready to go. This hands-on accessibility is part of what makes bicycles so empowering. We can see, understand and manage how they work–something you can talk about with even younger kids. What does pedaling do? What makes the wheel stop?


The basic form of bicycle is pretty standard…or is it? One of our aims with the Kids Future Press inaugural title, Bicycles, Airships and Things that Go, is to show the existing wide range of bicycle types and how bikes are a great site for innovation–something we need more of for long term resilience! Materials, frame structures, method of operation are all up for reinvention. Here are a few examples:


The Fliz bike prototype from German designers
Tom Hambrock and Juri Spetter


Yojiro Oshima, of Craft & Industrial Design
Department at Musashino Art University in
Tokyo, made this wooden bike


IDEO worked with frame-builder Rock Lobster
to reimagine the utility bike, with interchangeable
front racks and a very discreete electric motor.


Seattle company Valid Cycles builds
custom bamboo bicycles.

What can bikes carry? What can they be made out of? How else can we propel ourselves on 2 wheels? These are some questions to ask ourselves and our kids.


As part of green travel, bicycles are connected to buildings and streets. Buildings will have to make more room for bikes, both inside and out. Statistics show that cycling is taking off across America, with a 50% increase in the numbers commuting by bike between 2000 and 2011.

Look around the places you visit– where can we park bikes? How should bike parking look? Which part of the street or side”walk” is available to bikes? Meanwhile bicycle safety helps us learn about diverse areas such as lighting, visibility and design against crime.


Helios handle bars with built in lights and a smart bluetooth
connection: turns any bike into a traceable smart bike


Cycling is only as practical as it is culturally acceptable. Can we dress normally when we ride bikes? Do our clothes make it comfortable to ride a bike and look stylish? Observe what cyclist wear and carry. . . and ask–why? Specialist clothing companies like Iva Jean, Telaio Clothing and Sonia McBride all design fashionable women’s clothes that perform well on a bike. So cycling fashion, particularly clothes, bags, and helmets, is also connected to resilience.


zip pencil skirt for cycling by Iva Jean


Research on cycling repeatedly shows that it has multiple physical and mental health benefits. Even kids can feel that cycling is energizing, but did you know that it increases longevity, is good for your heart and other muscles, improves your coordination and balance, stimulates your mental health and supports your immune system? There are a range of good articles about this on Bikeradar, Discovery, Bicycling, Better Health Victoria (Australia). Plus, it’s a fun activity to do with a group, which builds social capital.

So — how does bicycling make us healthy and happy? What does it feel like to bike somewhere versus walking or riding in the car?


So get those bikes into your observations and discussions of resilience with your kids. Bicycles teach about:

  • basic mechanics and DIY
  • innovation
  • urban design and safety
  • green transport
  • fashion
  • health


8 tech learning games and projects

Are you looking for creative, hands-on ways to engage your kids with design and technology? Ranging from inexpensive iPad apps to more pricey kits, here are 8 projects to try.

1.    littleBits are LEGO™ – like bricks that are “wired” so kids can easily build simple circuits for basic functions such as light, sound, sensing, or motor operation. The bricks, which are color coded and snap together with magnets, have tiny circuit-boards making it possible to create fairly sophisticated electronics in an intuitive way.

boxes of littleBits
Read a review from a family with children.


GoldieBlox Toy2.    GoldieBlox aim to get girls building by combining a story book with a set of construction blocks. They say, “Girls have strong verbal skills. They love stories and characters. They aren’t as interested in building for the sake of building; they want to know why. GoldieBlox stories replace the 1-2-3 instruction manual and provide narrative-based building, centered around a role model character who solves problems by building machines.”

3.    Big Shot is a build-it-yourself digital camera in a kit that you and the kids assemble and then use as a regular digital camera. A big goal of the company is to “draw young minds to science and engineering,” particularly young people in underserved communities.

bigshot camera

4.    3D printer: There are many, many 3D printers on the market, some you can get as a kit of parts to assemble yourself, others are assembled out of the box. Two that have kids in mind are Cube 3D and ultimaker. Read how Kai Falkenberg’s kindergartner can 3D print.

In addition, according to makezine, Hasbro has teamed up with a 3D printing company to bring out a “toy” 3D printer that involves playdoh.

5.    Electronic playdough: Speaking of playdough, it’s quite easy to create circuits from playdough by making salty, conductive dough and sugary, insulating dough and using these doughs to string together a battery and components such as lights or sensors. Instruction available over at Squishy Circuits.

playdough circuits

6.    Mindstorm is LEGO’s robot-building kit that enables kids to program walking, talking robots. Using an icon-based programming interface helps kids bring their creations to life.

7.    Hopscotch is a character-based iPad programming app that lets kids write simple programs to control the characters. The programming language works by dragging and dropping small blocks of instruction into a script panel.

hopscotch ipad app


8.    Move the Turtle is an iPad app that engages kids with the basics of programming.  As with hopscotch, children use a simple interface to give a turtle instructions for moving around the screen. Read a review on Wired.


This is just a starter collection of ideas. When you’ve given some of these a try, let us know how you get on in the comments. Have ideas for other projects and kit? Please share them in the comments too.