Friday, June 12, 2015

Kick That Cookie Cutter Kit To the Curb!

Think outside the box, or just throw the box away!

Sometimes it's difficult as a parent or teacher to come up with ways for kids to be creative. Even Pinterest can either be overwhelming or annoying. So, we default to buying kits for our kids to open up the box, follow the directions on the box (or in the box) and build something from the materials in the box...anything to keep them learning and having fun.

But is this really the way to go? Is this helping them be creative and thinking outside the box?

These days kids have endless energy and seemed to be endlessly consumed with technology and/or sports. How can we channel that energy into something meaningful that can give their mind a break from their normal schedules? Excite them to try something new, or to look at something a different way?

The writing is on the wall when we think of what the future holds for our kids, the digital natives. Going green, inspiring the entrepreneur, balancing the use of technology, fixing or improving the way things are manufactured; ultimately, finding ways for them to think outside the box to improve our world. Obviously, this doesn't happen over night. Honestly, at the end of the day, we want our kids to be happy, to be confident, to be good citizens, right?

Well, this summer, my intern, Thomas Holmes (a junior high student at Pembroke Hill School) and I have been researching solar robotic kits. We started with this because they are important to our future, they are very trendy right now with schools and clubs, and the buzz around town is that they don't work!

Three kits we reviewed:

1. Eco Science- opened this box and found that we were missing the solar panel. Kinda hard to make a solar panel robot with out, um, the solar panel!
Including the solar panel in the solar panel kit would have been helpful!

2. OWI/Solar Kit- this kit was bought with the intention of exciting kids to be creative in that they could build "6 in 1" different solar robotics. Well, thanks to the plastic "break off" pieces, we couldn't use the wheels for any of the projects, AT ALL. When you break off the pieces, you are left with jagged edges. Wheels don't roll that well with jagged, edges, in case you couldn't figure that out.
Had to tape together the wires to make them work
and doesn't look anything like the picture on the box.

In case you didn't know,
jagged wheels don't roll.

3. Green Science- a little better... actually not. We got further along with building the robot, because we had all the parts and the parts were individual (no breaking apart plastic pieces), but, there are still issues with each of the two kits.

This is what it is suppose to look like.
This is what it really looked like and needed
extra materials not listed on the box.

Here is Thomas' critique of both:
  • Rover 
    Motor works well in lamplight and sunlight instantly but wheels do not have enough traction to run on anything but the desk. The rover shuts down as soon as it exits the lamplight. Does not have a very high speed and is unstable. The can serves no purpose but seems to slow it down because of weight and aerodynamics. There is an optional body shell but it is only a waste of time. Children would enjoy building this but would be disappointed in the results and need at least one older person helping. Over all I would keep looking for a better product. However if the wheels could be given some traction it would more than likely work outside and go on until it wasn't under direct light. I tried rubber bands over the wheels a possible solution to adding traction, but do not work. Perhaps glue could be applied around the wheels? One plus about this kit is that there is an engine cover which the robot does not have. This will help to keep any dirt, water, etc out of the engine to maintain it's functionality.
Again, not even close to what it really looks like.

Not exactly a dinosaur robot.

  • Robot: Highly difficult to build even for an older child. It does not work very well and the engine is not protected from dust and other such things. More durable than the rover but overall not better. Very slow and arms are dead weight on the almost over encumbered

These kits are just examples of a bigger issue: QUALITY. There seems to be a lack in the quality of materials, the quality of marketing, the quality of instructions and the overall quality of inspiring creativity.

If you do buy kits for your kids, keep these three things in mind:
  1. Research the kit before you buy it or at least read all the fine print on the box. Many times there will be (in the smallest font possible) a list of materials you need to purchase in addition to the kit to get the project going. False advertising and misleading pictures are popular with kits that don't work
  2. Prep your kid for what may happen with the kit. It may not work.  If it does work as planned ask them how they could improve it.
  3. Have them put the project together in a different way. Inspire them to think outside the box and add more materials to the kit or avoid the useless materials included. 

At the STEAM Studio this summer and fall Thomas and his team of kids will build our own Solar Energy Robotic products to test and then sell. They won't be kits but bundled activities in which kids will have the basic pieces they need (motor with wire, solar panel, screws, pieces to build the frame) then ideas for them to build out their own robot, rover, or something new from there. We have partnered with Brightergy, they are providing us with the 3D printer (to create the needed parts) and solar panels.

It's always been our vision for kids who come to our STEAM Studio to: research, design, create, build, and manufacture QUALITY ideas which then become a reality. This is just one project which is moving us in that direction.
Think of ways to avoid raising cookie cutter kids,
instead encourage them to be their own individual selves!

Sing it girl! You don't have to always follow the written instructions...think about the unwritten.


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