Building and Coding and STEM, Oh, My!

What happens when you combine building and coding and STEM? Easy: Endless amounts of educational, family-friendly fun.

Code Programming Game Series (ThinkFun)

code programming gameThe games in this series are designed to teach core coding concepts through hands-on, screen-free, unplugged play—and they do a wonderful job. Each one consists of a map and 40 levelled challenges (beginner, intermediate, and advanced). In On the Brink, the player takes a challenge card and will use logic and problem-solving skills to move his or her robot along colored pathways from start to finish. Rover Control is similar, but the pathways are colorless, so the player has to figure out not only how to program the robot to get from A to B, but also how to color the pathway, since the robots can’t move without the colors. Robot Repair takes thing up another notch. Instead of moving the robot, the player needs to repair the robot. Each of the challenge cards presents a problem and gives a series of clues for how to fix it. The player uses logic and deductive reasoning to solve the problem and re-activate the robot. $14.99 each at many online and brick-and-mortar retailers. For one player, age 8+.

Marbleocity Mini Maker Kits (Tinkineer)

mini maker kitsTinkineer’s Marbleocity kits introduce engineering principles and physics concepts in a unique, engaging way that combines hands-on building with a graphic novel. With the Mini Coaster, the Tinkeneers characters in the graphic novel, Kelvin, Joule, Newt and friends, teach you and your young engineer about how roller coasters work, and as you assemble your own coaster from the laser-cut wood, metal axles, and marbles (all you need to provide is glue), you’ll learn about kinetic energy and conservation of energy. The Mini Skate Park is a little more complex, and features a stair descent, rail slide, and a jump, all of which teach you about projectile motion and centripetal force (don’t feel bad if you have to look that up—consider it part of the learning experience). Both kits take an hour or two to build and when you’re done, you’ll have a very cool looking, fully operational sculpture. Available at many retailers for about $29.99. Larger kits run around $60, but are well worth the investment. For Ages 9+ (adult supervision recommended).

Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun)

roller coaster challengeThis game is half logic, half roller coaster building set, and all entertainment (with a dollop of education slipped in in a very unobtrusive way). The game comes with 40 challenge card, ranging from easy to nearly impossible (don’t worry, the instruction booklet includes solutions), and all the pieces you need to build your coaster. Choose a card and set up the pieces as indicated. But that’s just the beginning, since the cards typically specify the beginning and end points and possible something in the middle. Beyond that, it’s up to you to figure out how to use the remaining pieces to connect those points in a way that produces a working coaster, complete with dips, curves, loops, and more. Along the way, you’ll have to use logic, problem-solving skills, and plenty of creativity. And if you get tired (or frustrated) by the game, you can put away the cards and build your own coaster any way you’d like. Under $30. Ages 6+.