PT (Parent/Teacher) Mailbag: Black Friday STEM Suggestions?

PT Mailbag: Your chance to ask an engineer the questions you always wanted in STEM and preparing your students for success. Harry Kennedy has interned for 3 Fortune 500 Companies, and at his full time job, he recruited and taught workshops for aspiring engineers in college. His perspective will focus on transferable skills that are left after the "fun" is over. 

Dear Harry,

I have a daughter that's 8. She's interested in STEM and robotics, but is getting tired of playing with Legos. She loves to create outside of the instruction kit and I want to introduce new concepts like motors and automation. Any suggestions?

Sincerely - Daddy S. Little-girl

I'll assume Mr. Little-girl hasn't seen our HAKboards that can be used to teach students as young as 8. If you haven't seen them as well, check the video below and click here

But back to the question at hand. I love this question because his daughter takes her knowledge beyond the instructional kit. That shows a comprehension of how the individual components contribute to the full solution, skills of a true engineer. 

The default answer is Lego Mindstorm or Vex robotics, but for my take on it I'll provide 3 other companies that provide an open ended experience that help build technical skills. Still consider Lego and Vex though since schools usually have a program centered around either of the two. 

Lego Kit on Amazon: 

Vex Kit on Amazon: 

First up is Little bits (http://littlebits.cc/). Little Bits teaches students how to build circuits by using a color coated system to identify which parts are inputs (ie switches), output (lights), or power (batteries). Students can use these parts with little to no code in order to easily create and recreate projects. Check it out on Amazon Here. 

Next up, a new company called UBTech (https://www.ubtrobot.com/us/). This company focuses on robots that you can program using a software called scratch. It has a similar look and feel to Legos, but the scratch interface for programming is being implemented more in schools and has a function structure similar to the "C coding language" you would learn in high school.Check it out on Amazon here.

The final company is the most cost efficient and open-ended of the three. There are some challenges that come with creating your own project, but introducing your child to it now will develop useful skills that will remain long after the fun of the activity is over. 

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Elegoo Industries

Elegoo Industries (https://www.elegoo.com/) is a great company for open ended projects. It's based off the popular ArduinioMicrocontroller. I love it because it has the raw feeling of the electrical components, but it's also easy to setup so there's little to no intimidation. Even better, all the parts could be used in other workshops or creations. 

These kits do require the student to learn to code, but YouTube has tons of examples. In the future I might make a few my own with the kit I have. You will also be challenged with the open ended projects because concepts like voltage and current can prevent the project from working like planned. It's a great way to learn the process of debugging and problem solving, but just be aware that there might be times you're just as stumped as your child trying to make a robot that's never been made before. 

Buy it from Amazon Here:

Have any other products to recommend? leave a comment and share to other teachers and parents that would benefit.