Since before the days of Lincoln Logs, technical toys have helped kids develop spatial abilities and construction knowledge. From Lego bricks in the 1930s to Raspberry Pi single-board computers today, such toys have been laying an educational foundation for millions of lucky children.
Though it's difficult to prove there is a link between the availability of these toys and a desire to join the engineering profession, we suspect there is one. We've pulled together a small sample of tech toys, starting from early in the last century up though today. From Tinker Toys and Erector sets to LeapPads and littleBits, we offer a short history of some of the best toys for aspiring engineers.
The Lego Mindstorms EV3, for builders 10 and older, consists of software and hardware that lets young users build 17 different programmable robots. A programmable brick controls the system, which includes modular sensors, motors, and Lego parts. Lego says the EV3 version, an enhancement of the original Lego Mindstorms concept, includes "expanded on-brick programming," as well as Android and iOS smart device integration. The programmable brick concept was created at the MIT Media Lab. (Source: The Lego Group)
These are great toys for geeks! (I mean "geek" in the best way possible. :)) My friend's son is a Lego freak. I know he would love that Mindstorms EV3. I may have to suggest his mom get it for him for Xmas! In fact I think a lot of these would be great gifts to help inspire young minds into engineering.
Chuck, that is a great slide show. Between my childhood and my two sons I have had experience with most of the toys in the show.
I was also lucky that when I was young my father worked at an elecronics lab. We had lots of surplus parts that he would bring home (there was a set shelf life, and older parts still worked). I also got a lot of early breadboards. I would play with them a little, then scavenge for parts. Finally, he would bring home trade journals and previous version vendor manuals (such as the Motorola and GE Transistor books). Then, of course, I would also buy Heathkits. I think they are back in business.
My sons, now in late teens and early twenties, were big fans of Lego. We also had a "CAD" package from Lego that would allow the visualization of a project and the creation of a "manual" for building it. We have been to Billund. It is quite impresive. As you get near the town small piles of very large Lego bricks (two or three feet long) appear in the side of the road. The factory is very modern and Legoland is fantastic.
At IBM in the UK there was a lab that had done a neet project using a Mindstorm brick as a part of a vehicle to demonstrate a new software product. It was a real demonstration and the kids loved it at open houses.
One thing I do like in the school today is that the physics classes have extra credit projects where you are constrained to certian specs and parts. One usually involves a mousetrap as locomotive power. Another is usually a bridge building project. These really test the student's (and often, partent's) creatvity. I think my wife and I enjoy them more than the kids did.
What about Heathkits? They were the kings of educational kits in my day. Radio Shack had a good assortment of such kits as well. My first "real" kit was a color organ, you know, the box you put next to your speaker when you blast the music, and all kinds of different lights light up? It actually didn't work on my first attempt and my dad had to help with my sloppy soldering.
I have about two thirds of those toys packed away in my garage. When my kids were young, I tracked down toys such as Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. Plus, I bought them all of the newer tech toys (Leap Pad, Legos, K'NEX) including some that are not pictured, such as Transformers and various robots. I kept them all for future grandchidren. Until they get consumed by electronics, kids can be very creative with these toys.
Great slideshow and quite timely because I'm using the latest LEGO Mindstorms' kit the EV3 in my Digital Electronics class. I work at the Lawrence County Center of Technology in Moulton, Alabama teaching high school students the wonders of Electronics and Robotics Technology. Currently, I'm having the students become familiar with the EV3 by building small mobile robots. Some of the students are using the LEGO Robot Command App to control their bots via smartphone Bluetooth. It's amazing to see these kids build and test the robots without a lot of instructional training. I'm a firm believer in Project Based Instruction and the immediate results educators can see by students building and exploring technology (LEGO EV3) through creative play. Great Article!!!
I have most of the earlier versions of the LEGO Mindstorms kit that used the yellow programmable brick (the RCX) as well as the NXT and EV3 units. I've used the RCX brick to teach both pre-engineering and mechanical engineering students basic electrical-electronics. I was so thrilled about the education benefits to of using the RCX to explore electrical-electronics, software and mechatronics that I wrote two books listed below for McGraw. I'm contemplating on writing another book with projects based on the latest Mindstorms kit the EV3.
The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit is awesome. The programmable brick has 8 ports for input sensors, switches, and motors. Also, you can control the programmable brick based LEGO bot using the LEGO Robot Command App availabe for Apple and Android based smartphones and tablets. I'm having a ball with the my EV3 kit as well as my high school electronics tech students. It will definitely make a great Christmas gift your friend's son as well as the parents.
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