Engineer Creation

Engineer Creation | STEM Toys Mint More Engineers!

Engineer Toys and Games Create Future Engineering Talent and Jobs

Engineer oriented STEM games and toys can provide a catalyst for more engineering talent creation. An article in the prestigious Smithsonian Magazine recently listed ten such educational toys recommended by engineers to provide as holiday gifts.

Engineer Intrigue Formulated From STEM Toys

Every year since 2015, the Inspire Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering at Purdue University has compiled a guide of skill-building, mind-stretching STEM toys. All can help produce an engineer of the future!

Previously, they brought children into the lab to test drive the games and puzzles, but the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors have led the engineers to pick the toys on their own for the past three years. Several of the toy-testers are parents, and they’ve used that to formulate their rankings, curating a select group of activities, all released in recent years, that can serve children in future STEM pursuits.

Playing with these toys, games and puzzles promote fundamental skills that can help children develop mathematical or engineer tasks used later in life. For instance, building blocks boost spatial awareness and their understanding of how objects influence one another in the physical world. Other toys promote creative thinking, brainstorming solutions or trial and error.

Two STEM Toys Stand Out For Very Young Children

The Institute recommends two STEM toys for kids as young as three. One recommendation is Intro to Gears, which instructs kids to follow directions to build four geared machines or use their creativity to make whatever they want.

For the youngest children, simply placing the gears on the board and spinning them is an entertaining activity that will teach resilience: When a gear doesn’t spin, they’ll have to make some changes to the design to correct it. Older kids can create more advanced constructions by placing the gears at 90-degree angles from each other.

The instruction booklet walks a potential young engineer through experiments to teach how gears of different sizes can change the axis of rotation. It explains where gears are used in real life and reinforces learning of ratios and mathematics in a hands-on activity.

You can really feel it,” says Morgan Hynes, the deputy director of Inspire and a professor of engineering education at Purdue. “You can see it and feel the difference when you are speeding something up or slowing it down and giving it more power. You can experience that in a physical way, which I think is fun.” 

A second recommended engineer STEM education tool is Sensory Leaves, which offers a fresh take on teaching math to young learners. The set has various boards that children place leaves on top of, whether by matching a pattern or in response to a prompt.

Parents can supervise children through these activities to reinforce learning. “It’s a great way to introduce young children to counting and sorting and categorizing and logical thinking as well,” Hynes says. “But I think what stood out… was that there were connections to science and biology.”

With six different shapes, the leaves show children how to identify various trees, including maples, redbuds, and live oaks. The activities also help children recognize patterns, shapes, and colors. Textured bugs on the leaves add another level to some of the counting challenges. And to top it all off, the pieces are made from recycled materials.

Producing The Engineer Of The Future

The Inspire Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering also offers eight other STEM toy and game suggestions for minting more engineer talent. At the core of all these recommendations is cultivating early STEM skills to produce more engineers. Kids are encouraged by these fun, but educational projects, tools, and methodologies.

Hands-on learning is the best way to get involved, such as buying a kit where kids can build a robot themselves. When one builds a robot, they learn how to read technical diagrams and follow detailed instructions.

More such tools need to be created and implemented int our educational systems to foster additional engineer, scientist, and technical talent in the future. This in turn will help solve our country’s engineer, science and R&D (research and development) shortages helping us to better compete in the global marketplace.

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