10 Best Science Toys | March 2017
- comes in a sturdy storage box
- group activities
- improves fine motor skills
- comes with 155 pieces
- 128 page color instructions
- fun for children and teens
|Brand||Thames & Kosmos|
- can be used to build anything
- beautiful refracting light display
- sound activated base
- uses gravity as your tool
- cards have puzzles and solutions
- great for car rides
- teaches polymers and adsorbents
- great for science fair projects
- powders and beads are safely sealed
|Brand||Be Amazing! Toys|
- as easy or as complex as you want
- clear and concise manual
- parts are securely mounted on module
- impact-resistant frame
- includes 5 blank microscope slides
- extensive 50 piece accessory kit
|Brand||My First Lab|
How to Teach Critical Thinking
I grew up on a 2-acre plot of land in Virginia. Surrounded by trees, our lawn was covered in leaves every autumn like clockwork.
Before he invested in a gas-powered blower, my father would hand me a rake every week.
The first time he gave me that rake, I complained. I got blisters in no time at all. He said, "Keep raking. You'll figure it out soon enough." Convinced I was holding it wrong, I tried everything. I tucked the rake under my arm. I even tried holding it lefty.
It wasn't until I stopped making progress and believed the chore would never end that I retreated to my father's workroom in search of some much-needed band-aids. And there on the top of his unplugged lathe was a pair of leather gloves. I realized then that he'd set them out for me ahead of time. In fact, I stared right at them when he handed me the rake three hours prior.
That was how I learned to pay attention. I didn't pay attention when he raked the lawn himself, wearing those gloves every time. And I didn't pay attention when he handed me the rake. But I pay attention now.
This is what science toys do. They tell you everything you need to know. But if you don't pay attention, the experiments won't work. Then again, they're not supposed to, are they?
The Science of Science Toys
When it comes to the science involved in making science toys, LEGO is king. It's a well-known fact that the people at LEGO have been precision-engineering new bricks to fit old bricks since 1958--not an easy task by any means.
What many people don't know, or didn't (myself included), is that most other toy manufacturers don't care as much as LEGO. If you break one of the pieces of a generic, build-it-yourself, plastic robot you bought five years ago and then break a completely different piece from a seemingly identical set you bought yesterday, there's a good chance you won't be able to mix and match those two sets.
Well, why not?
A) Because recipes change: The grade of plastic used five years ago might not be the same grade used today. Check out this awesome blog post by a chemistry professor from Australia detailing "The Chemistry of LEGO" in an easy-to-understand graphic. That's not at all the same recipe they used in 1958, but the people at LEGO are smart and know how to make new recipes that are compatible with the old ones.
B) Because factories relocate (now more than ever): The molds used in an American factory yesterday might not be the same molds used in a Chinese factory today. It's not a matter of sub-par technology. It's a matter of metrics. Non-American manufacturers don't measure things in inches.
Your best bet? Try not to mix and match seemingly identical toys you purchased months or years apart.
Landing on the Moon from Scratch
Invented by John Ayrton Paris in 1825, the thaumatrope, depicted in the image to the left, was based on the idea that "scientific learning in children could be stimulated through a combination of amusement and instruction."
While not exactly a pedagogical revolutionary on par with John Dewey, Paris did have a few good ideas. More importantly, he put his ideas to the test and the result kept children occupied long before the advent of mind-melting video games. Which isn't to say that video games can't be educational.
On the contrary, gratuitously violent video games, such as Grand Theft Auto V, oftentimes have no more of a dedicated fan base than brain-teasing, mind-bending puzzlers with a sense of humor, such as Portal 2. We even have combinations of the two with games like Dark Souls that actively teach pattern recognition skills, without which you have no hope of ever completing the game. Or role-playing games like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that require so much reading you might as well have tackled a 5,000-page fantasy novel by the time you complete the main quest.
My point is that science toys have evolved. As a result, we have the pleasure... nay, the privilege... of conducting real-time physics experiments via computer programs (or should I say games?) such as Kerbal Space Program in which you design, build, and launch a cartoon lunar lander in a scientifically accurate environment that does not care at all whether or not you succeed.
As a science toy, Kerbal Space Program will chew you up and spit you out if you don't bring your absolute best critical thinking skills to the table. And if you can't handle that, then go back to playing with thaumatropes.