Fantastic Contraption is my link for you for this Fun Friday – which is particularly fun, because our district’s Spring Break begins tomorrow! This website reminds me a bit of the Bubble Ball app for iOS. Kids who like to build and problem solve will enjoy this site. This is a great way to emphasize the importance of mistakes, and how we can learn from them. There is an option to pay for the full version ($10), but I was completely satisfied with the free version. I thought the tutorials were very helpful, so definitely encourage your students to walk themselves through those. Many gifted students will skip immediately to the hard levels, get frustrated by their difficulty, and quit. Remind them that starting from the beginning is not a sign of weakness!
By the way, I would like to congratulate Cindy and mitzif, who commented on my Write about This post, and won app codes for the full version! (Brad was kind enough to offer an extra one.) If you haven’t had a chance to check out Write about This, and you happen to be on Spring Break next week, too, you should take a moment to try it out!
My 2nd graders showed so much zeal for our unit on building bridges that I have been on the hunt for other ways to satisfy their curiosity. Though “Discover Engineering” seems to be geared more toward older students, there are still a few activities and games that my 2nd graders would enjoy. There are links to games, videos, and activities related to engineering under the “Cool Stuff” tab, as well as other recommended sites. One of my favorite videos from the site, “The Spirit of Innovation”, is embedded below. I will definitely be adding it to my “Inspirational Videos for Students” Pinterest board.
As I was cyber searching for holiday gifts this weekend, I began to arrive at an unattractive conclusion. Despite all of our efforts to combat sexism, it is alive and well in our toy industry. My daughter had asked for some Nerf products for Christmas, and I was dismayed to see that, on many of the websites, these were labelled as “Gender: Boy”. Delving into the matter further, I noticed that many of the building or engineering toys I found were also given this label. In addition, even if the items were not categorized for a specific gender, the product descriptions often referred to “he” or “him” as the toy recipients, and usually had photos of boys playing with them.
According to this article in Atlantic, 90% of America’s engineers are male. This is no surprise to me, considering the enormous gender bias that we greet our children with from Day 1 of their infancy. In order to even the playing field, we need to seriously reconsider the preconceived notion that we, Americans, have about how boys and girls should play. As teachers and parents, we should offer our children all kinds of toys, despite gender bias, and without prejudicial language. And toy manufacturers and reviewers need to move on to the 21st century, where girls and boys should not be forced into traditional gender roles.
Debbie Sterling, creator of Goldie Blox, is trying to raise the number of female engineers by offering a new toy which combines a story with a set of pieces for construction. This unique approach to introducing girls to the joy of building things for a purpose is absolutely ingenious. According to Sterling, a Stanford graduate, she spent a year researching what features in this toy would appeal to girls. Then, through Kickstarter, Sterling raised the funding to produce her toy, and her website states that they are estimated to begin delivery in April of 2013.
Although I lament the fact that this toy will be gender-biased, albeit toward the female gender this time, I think that Goldie Blox is definitely taking a step in the right direction. Before we can completely stop color-coding our playthings for boys and girls, we will need to convince the majority of Americans to rectify our language and our subconscious decisions that lead our children to believe that only certain types of toys are appropriate for each gender. I hope that the press that Goldie Blox is receiving will begin a conversation in our country that might eventually lead to this toy revolution.
Ewok Escape is one of 12 Design Challenges (7 current ones, and 5 in the archives) offered by Boston’s Museum of Science on their website. The question posed by this particular challenge is, “CAN YOU DESIGN AND BUILD A BALANCING DEVICE TO HELP AN EWOK ESCAPE THE IMPERIAL FORCES BY SLIDING DOWN A TIGHTROPE TO SAFETY?” What student wouldn’t want to accept that challenge? Each of the challenges come with Educator Guides in PDF format, and many of them have additional worksheets, as well. If your students aren’t Star Wars fans, they can use other figures that pique their interest, or they can try to design a house for an animal or tools to help them survive in case of a shipwreck!
I have never been good at building things, or at solving spatial puzzles, for that matter. But Bridge Builder is an intriguing problem-solving game that your students will enjoy. The object is to use the provided triangles to create a bridge for the motorcycle. You can rotate the triangles and change their size, if you wish. This game, though internet based, reminds me of the Bubble Ball app for iDevices I have reviewed in the past. Bridge Builder is part of the website called Toy Theater, which offers many learning activities for younger students in several different subjects.