Saturday, September 23, 2017

Beginning Electronics Kits for Kids

My 13-year old Leah eagerly opening the new Snap Circuits set
"to make sure it's a good one" before we put it on the shelf for school.

Thank you, Leah. How exceedingly thoughtful of you.

(Or she has some kind of ulterior motive... like wanting to play with it!!!)

Beginning electronics kits are popular around here. I started with the Snap Circuits Alternative Energy Green and just purchased the Snap Circuits Motion Electronics Discovery Kit. This one will hit the Science shelf on Monday morning. It's a great fit with the Physics block we just finished. ("Snap Circuits does it again! The Motion kit is focused on physics and things that "move" like pulleys, fans and motion detectors. Like the other sets, Snap Circuits gives your child a hands-on education in how electrical circuits work to run the everyday devices that they're familiar with.")

Kits like this can be used independently by kids age 8 and up who are strong readers. They are great for a Science work choice, and also give my students who are participating in the upcoming hackathon November 4th and 5th with HackSI some practice with how to build circuits.

My daughters are teenagers and love the Snap Circuits kits! They own several at their dad's house which they wanted to recommend here as well. They have the Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit (the original Snap Circuits set), the Snap Circuits Lights Electronics Discovery Kit, the Snap Circuits Arcade Electronics Discovery Kit, the Snap Circuits R/C Snap Rover Electronics Discovery Kit, and the Snap Circuits Battery Eliminator (which if you really get into the Snap Circuits thing is something you definitely want). Because there are so many kits, including even more than the ones we have, you will have gift ideas for several years to come!

Dav Glass from HackSI also recommended Draw Circuits and Circuit Scribe kits to us. These are a great fit for the classroom! Instead of snapping the components together on a rigid plastic board with a pre-determined grid on it, which you do with Snap Circuits, these components are magnetic and stick to their magnetic board any place you want them to go. In between the magnetic components and their magnetic board you place a sheet of plain printer paper. Then you DRAW the connecting circuits with a pen! Yes, you draw them. This is why they are called draw circuits or circuit scribe. The pen has a special ink which is conductive because it has silver in it. You can buy replacement pens easily.

Like the kits shown above, there are instruction manuals which walk the children through a series of activities step by step. You can also just take the components and combine them any way you want and see what works and what doesn't. (Depending on if you are Type A or Type B... Dav assured me that it is completely fine and 100% safe with these starter kits for kids to ignore the book and just go for it!)

It's cool that this concept for conductive silver ink which flows easily from a ballpoint pen was developed and refined by two graduate students named Brett and Analisa in 2013 and funded through a Kickstarter campaign. (Goal: $85,000. Amount of funding received in a little over a month: $674,425.)

This type of electronics kit is great for the classroom because the circuits are drawn on regular printer paper. Since the children draw directly on the page with the silver ink, the book appears to be consumable. But if you photocopy the pages and let each child draw on his or her own, you have an endless supply of pages for the activities. How awesome is that!

Dav donated to our classroom two copies of the Circuit Scribe Basic Kit.

Circuit Scribe Basic Kit – Includes STEM Workbook, Super Conductive Silver Ink Pen, and Everything You Need to Learn, Explore, and Create Your Own Circuits and Switches!

Dav recommended products such as Raspberry Pi and arduinos for kids who want to go one step farther. He brought some to show us when he visited. A Raspberry Pi is a complete computer (which is the size of a credit card... and the Raspberry Pi Zero is the size of a stick of gum). An arduino is "stupider" (his term) and will just do one thing over and over in a loop until you turn it off. It's good for small simple projects and learning to write code. The starter arduino kit he recommended, and which I bought for my classroom, was the Elegoo UNO Project Super Starter Kit with Tutorial for Arduino.

Dav also suggested a monthly classroom subscription to Creation Crate, which will send you a monthly kit with all supplies included to build interesting things with your arduino. Here is the blurb for their 12 month curriculum and the list of 12 projects:

    "Our teacher-designed curriculum is the most educational and hands on subscription box in the world. Each month you will get your hands on an arduino project and develop new programming capabilities month after month. Once you receive all 12 badges you will have more hands on programming experience than 99% of current college level computer science students."

    Month 1 - Mood Lamp

    Month 2 - Memory Game

    Month 3 - Distance Detector

    Month 4 - LED Dice Game

    Month 5 - Optical Theremin

    Month 6 - Two Player Reflex Game

    Month 7 - Weather Station

    Month 8 - Audio Visualizer

    Month 9 - Lock Box

    Month 10 - Digital Multimeter

    Month 11 - Handheld Balance Game

    Month 12 - Strength Gauge

They run it as a monthly subscription of $29.99 per month, but if you buy a pack of months in bulk you get a discount on the price.

So, there you go! I know nothing about electronics except how to use a shake flashlight. If you're low-tech like me but if you've got tech-eager kids in your house, these kits will fill their need for high-tech know-how and will spur their creativity and confidence.

UPDATE: February 5, 2018
Leah just came home from her programming class at the public library all fired up about a new kid-friendly programming product! It's called Ozobot Evo and it's a TINY ROBOT which is programmed using colored marker lines arranged in specific patterns to form codes which direct the robot's movements.

This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!

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