Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia show, which is in Chicago through September 3, provided thrills, chills and even a few spills on my recent visit. I was originally invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of the technology behind the show, but that didn’t pan out. Instead, I was offered a chance to just see the show. And when I say “just,” well, holy moly, what a treat it was! Luzia is an amazing blend of creativity, technology, and spectacular athletic performances. [Read more…]
We’re always on the lookout for smart products that help parents raise smart kids. We found a promising one in the new Kano Pixel Kit. It teaches kids to code while providing unique opportunities for creative expression.
This post originally appeared on our companion site, The Maker Mom. It contains affiliate links.
The Kano team sent me a kit for review and it’s one of my favorite STEM toys of the year so far. In addition to coding animations and interactive art that responds to sound or movement, Kano’s 128 lights on a 16×8 grid can produce 16 million colors. The creative possibilities are endless.
Kano, best known for their $150 DIY computer kit, is rolling out a series of other kid-friendly technologies. The Pixel Kit is part of that collection. The kit contains almost everything you need to get started–just add your own computer.
Kano Pixel Kit
The items are neatly packaged and the kit is simple to assemble. The colorful instruction booklet provides clear directions to get the product up and running.
You, I mean your kid, can start playing with the Pixel Kit right away. It comes preloaded with three “light shows” and three games. This allows your child can get a feel for what’s possible before downloading the app and starting to code their own fun.
The instruction booklet guides users through the features of the light board which include a built-in microphone, a joystick and two buttons. My version also included a tilt sensor came, but this might not be included in future versions according to company literature.
The real excitement comes when you connect the kit to your computer (via the USB cable provides or wi-fi) and download the free app. The Pixel Kit is compatible with Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, and the Kano Computer Kit. I had issues with it connecting to one of my older computers, but the process was seamless when I tried it with another.
If your child uses Scratch, Blockly, or similar learn-to-code programs, Kano’s drag-and-drop Kano Code will come naturally. But even if coding is new to your family, the robust assortment of tutorials will get you started in no time. After that, you’re limited only by imagination. As you see in my video above, you can watch the programming play out on your screen with a virtual Pixel Kit at the same time you see it working on the actual kit.
A growing online Pixel Kit community will provide additional inspiration and support as your child dives into the technology. Kano also provides resources and lessons for educators, so if that’s your jam, take a peek.
Like many other programs for kids, Kano provides virtual rewards. I prefer intrinsic motivation to gamification and I’m not fond of rewarding kids for just showing up, so I rolled my eyes (side effect of living with teens underfoot) when I saw these awards in my Kano App account.
The Kano Pixel Kit retails for $79.99. It’s more costly than a Snap Circuits Light Set, but less expensive than a Sphero programmable robot. The Kit hits a sweet spot for curious kids who are more driven by art and creativity than robots or technology, but the latter groups will like it, too.
As with many areas of technology, girls seem to be missing from the drone scene. Drones are, no pun intended, really taking off. Why not get your girl involved while drones are still an emerging technology? And again, no pun intended, but drones are a great way to launch the summer soar, a time during which your kids can develop math and tech skills without the constraints of a classroom environment.
As if that’s not compelling enough, here are five additional reasons you should buy drones for your girls this year.
Girls and Drones: Five Reasons to Buy Your Daughter a Drone
This post originally appeared on The Maker Mom. From May to early August, I’m serving as The Maker Mom-in-Residence at mHUB, Chicago’s new innovation center for physical product development and manufacturing. In addition to making cool stuff as I learn to use their 3D printers, laser cutter and more, I’m also going to feature mHUB members and the products they are working to launch. I also expect to interview Chicago Makers and local women in STEM.
First up is Joseph Greer, founder of MakeXchange, which recently launched an electronics invention set for beginners. I met him last summer when he first joined the mHUB community. It’s been exciting to see his idea come to fruition in the last nine months. The Arduino Inventor’s Lab (and the companion airplane kit) is currently on pre-order. We’ll be sure to share on this site if he other local workshops or programs planned.
The holidays are almost here. That means it’s time for a roundup of our best STEM Gifts for kids. The items on this list include Maker Mom favorites geared for teens and tweens. If you want to add a few books to the mix (who wouldn’t?) then don’t miss The Maker Mom’s Guide to STEM and Maker Books for Kids (and Parents).
Best STEM Gifts for Kids
I first wrote about these handy solderless kits to learn about circuits and electronics in 2014. “The Circuit Stickers Starter Kit comes with everything you need to get going, including a handy, dandy sketchbook that provides an educational overview and instructions. It also serves as the workspace for building the circuits. In addition, it includes copper tape, button cell batteries and the namesake circuit stickers, tiny stickers with embedded circuits and surprisingly bright LEDs in three colors, as well as a few other goodies.” Read the full review here. Check out Chibitronics’ latest offerings here. I still recommend their STEM Starter Kit.
I was taken by the, dare I say, cute, electronic bits from the moment I laid my hands on them. But back in the early days, it was hard for consumers to know what to do with them once you lit the lights and sounded the sounds. Now not only do the bits come with instructions for suggested products, but they have a wide range of kits. Some, like Rule Your Room Kit, are geared toward kids, but others are designed for inventors (who, admittedly, may be kids).
I love how this iPad extension blends technology and real world play. And smart play at that. Is it educational technology or just fun? You decide. Every visitor who’s tried this at my house has been amazed at Osmo’s reflective technology. Watch it in action with my video overview.
The Ozobot Bit is the smallest and most affordable of the bunch at only about $60 per palm-sized robot. You can play with the Ozobot Bit through tablet-based apps (iOS and Android), draw coded paths for the robot to follow, and even code its actions with OzoBlockly, a drag and drop programming language. The brand has added new bundling options and cute extensions like this construction kit.
I feel nostalgic about this product because I remember the early prototypes on their initial crowdfunding campaign. Roominate was invented by women with an eye toward a girl-friendly engineering product. Kids get to build things and dabble in electrical engineering by adding easy-to-use circuits to make things light up and move. Although designed with girls in mind, boys like it, too. The company grew, made it onto Shark Tank and was eventually acquired by Playmonster.
Sphero is another good starter robot.
Even with newcomers on the market Snap Circuits are still a great way to get started with hands-on electronics. Their line extends far beyond the Junior Kit. One kit (maybe two) is likely enough for one house. If your child takes to these, at some point you can simply to move onto more other types of electronics systems. (That said, you can check YouTube for ideas on how to work beyond the snap board.)
They’ve added engaging new kits to their line of STEAM kits, one of which I’ll plan to review in the coming weeks. The Teknikio Fabtronic Sewing Kit remains a favorite way to introduce kids to sewable circuits, or e-textiles. Read the original review here.
You can’t go wrong with a ThinkFun game! They offer loads of options for brain-bending logic games and puzzles.
Remember those friendly robots, Dash and Dot? Robots don’t get hardier than the very kid-friendly Dash and Dot from the Wonder Workshop. The robots can be operated like remote control toys via iOS and Android apps, but they can also be programmed with Blockly and a proprietary language. Be sure you have a device that’s optimized for their apps before you buy these adorable bots. Prices start at $150 for just Dash and rise if you add Dot and accessories like the xylophone or launcher. In the last year the brand has added more accessories, a competition league, teacher support and more vibrant online community. Read my original review here.
The X-Cube, a 2015 top pick, was developed by Dane Christianson when he was a student at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube on steroids. When I say it’s been exciting to watch Dane expand his company’s line, I mean that in the most literal sense. Dane is a member of mHUB, the product development space I’ve been working for throughout 2016. Dane just put the finishing touches on the X-2, which is like the X-Cube on steroids. The X-Cube retails for $40, but as of publication time, it’s selling for $29.99 on Amazon.
Yellow Scope Science Kits
Yellow Scope Science Kit, the science kit designed with girls in mind that’s fun for all kids, recently expanded their line. Read about their newest kit, which sells at a lower price point.
Picture books are among the delights of parenting young children. We revisited this old post, updating it with new titles. It’s great to see the growing number of books bringing the stories of women in STEM into the spotlight.
I generally groan when unsolicited items show up on my doorstep in hopes of a review, but I whooped with joy when I opened a large sturdy envelope to find an advance copy of Ada Twist, Scientist.
I love it! [Read more…]
This is a guest post from Melanie, who works hard to keep our event calendar full and exciting. She was sent these Blue Orange Games, Dr. Eureka and Fast Flip, for review. All opinions are her own. This post contains affiliate links.
I am always on the search for great games that my four kids will enjoy playing together, but will also stretch their brains and challenge them to work their brains, especially in the summer.
I found two great options from Blue Orange Games this summer, one that provides some unique problem-solving challenges and one that is also a handy travel game.
It’s been a while since I was up top in Chicago’s John Hancock Observatory on the 94th floor. So long, in fact, that I didn’t realize it’s now called 360 Chicago. It looks and feels a bit different up there, too, thanks to new exhibits, a bar area, a new-to-me outdoor experience, western-facing stadium seating area to watch the sunset, and the revamped Tilt! experience. Instead of merely pressing your face against the glass 1,000 feet up to get a glimpse of what’s down below, Tilt actually leans you forward (downward) on a 30-degree angle. You can see it in my Instagram video below.
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to get a fresh look at the high altitude space when a PR agency invited me up.
Although I didn’t spend much time in the concourse area where guests queue-up for the elevator ride, I wouldn’t have minded a leisurely walk through the line. It seems they’ve taken a cue from Disney and refashioned the line into part of the guest experience. The area provides an overview and peek inside the rich culture of a handful of Chicago neighborhoods.
STEM-minded families will appreciate the interactive displays that showcase Chicago’s history, architecture, and neighborhoods. Architecture buffs will especially appreciate the new weekly Tuesday evening Sunset Series. From 6-9 pm eagle-eyed docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation will be on hand to help you spot local architectural gems and explain what makes those buildings so special. Keep reading below the video to learn more about the other weekly Sunset Series special events.
Alas, during my visit on a gray April evening, there wasn’t much of a sunset, but the views of the city, suburbs and Lake Michigan were outstanding.
Locals Save at 360Chicago
Chicagoans get a special deal all year long up top the Hancock. Anyone who can show an ID proving that they live in the 606 zip code will receive 50 percent savings on general admission every day of the week throughout 2016. With the 606 Resident Appreciation Rate, adult admission is $10 instead of the regular $20, and youth (ages 3-11) admission is $6.50 instead of $13 (children under 3 are free regardless of where their parents live).
360 Chicago #SunsetSeries
The Sunset Series on the 94th floor at the Hancock is open to all visitors with paid admission. In addition to the CAF docents on Tuesday evenings, the series includes:
- Monday Night Photography On this night only, visitors can bring in tripods to capture the incredible images of the skyline, lights and views. Nick Ulivieri, a professional photographer lauded for his Chicago imagery, serves as the 360 CHICAGO photography ambassador, and will help develop photography workshops and contests over the year.
- Thursday Night Music featuring DJs from Mode Events offer entertainment while visitors toast sunsets.
Food and beverages, as well as western-facing stadium seating (there’s not a bad spot in the house) are available on the 94th floor.
The observation deck is open all year round from 9 am to 11 pm. See 360 Chicago for up-to-date ticket information and pricing. Note that the Tilt attraction is an additional $7. My experience was provided at no cost, but, at less than $10, I think it’s worth it for a unique thrill.
Chicago’s Notebaert Nature Museum and the Chicago Academy of Science recently unveiled a new exhibit: Weather to Climate: Our Changing World. It opened on April 2. 2016 and after a few months at the Nature Museum, it will travel to Boston.
This is at once one of the livelier exhibits at the museum with its many screens (including one where kids try their hand at reporting the weather on “live TV”), video games, and a big spinning wheel, but also one of the most depressing. It’s hard for adults, at least, not to feel bummed out by the time you exit. Thankfully, the smile-inducing butterfly exhibit is just down the hall.
There’s a lot of fun to be had at the Nature Museum, so if you haven’t been there in a while, make it a point to stop in soon. If you don’t have young kids, an afternoon visit after the little ones have returned home for naps and school field trips are wrapping up, will offer the best chance to take in the museum’s many exhibits
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is located at 2430 North Cannon Drive, just off Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton in Lincoln Park.
After sharing my favorite STEM and STEAM gift picks of the year, like Oprah, I love to give a few of them away to readers. Hence, the 8 Crazy Days of STEM Giveaways. This was originally posted on our parent site, The Maker Mom, but I’m sharing here for your convenience.
Day 1 Let’s get this party started! It’s 11/27, AKA STEM Girl Friday, so it makes sense to start with a $25 gift credit to KitHub, a company founded by two incredible women in STEM, Luz Rivas and Tara Tiger Brown. Check out their site and think about what you’d buy with that credit.
Day 2 It’s Small Business Saturday, so let’s celebrate an The X-Cube giveaway! Developed by a Dane Christianson when he was a student at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology, this crazy 3D logic puzzle has 52 moving parts, 102 stickers, and 125 decillion possible permutations. Dane is now the president of Moving Parts, LLC. He’s still in his early 20s, so hopefully we can look forward many more years of insanely challenging puzzles.
Day 4 E-Textile Exploration with the electronic textiles is another way to learn basic principles. Win the Teknikio Fabtronic Sewing Kit ($20; see my review here) and SparkFun’s LilyTwinkle Protosnap Kit ($19.95).
Day 7 Keeping with the science theme, how about a Yellowscope Chemistry Kit? The science kit designed with tween girls in mind, but is fun for boys, too.
Day 8 We’re capping off an amazing week of giveaways with the biggest one of all, one of this year’s most coveted STEM gifts, the littleBits Gadgets and Gizmos Set! Even if you don’t win the giveaway, you can still win by saving 20% on littleBits orders of $150 or more with the code MAKERMOM (and typically orders over $60 include free shipping, too).
To Enter Holiday STEM Toy Giveaway 2015
Fill out the Google Doc below to enter. Enter by 7:00 PM CST on 12/09/15. Must be 18 to enter. Open to US residents only. Retail value of prizes offered over the course of the 8 Crazy Days of Giveaways range in value from roughly $25 to $199 USD. Winners will be chosen at random via Random.org. We will notify the winners by email. If a selected winner does not respond within 48 hours of notification, a new winner will be chosen at random. You may only enter each individual giveaway once. However, to do that, you will fill out this same form and simply change the item you are entering to win each time. Please note that most prizes will be by the brands or their representatives.