STEM Toys for Teens: Not Just for Little Kids

What we do:

Futurum Careers is a free online resource and magazine aimed at encouraging 14-19-year-olds worldwide to pursue careers in science, tech, engineering, maths, medicine (STEM) and research. We work with academics all over the world and translate their research into free education resources that can be used in the classroom, at home and in STEM and STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, social sciences, humanities and maths) clubs.

Why we do it:

We are passionate about STEM and STEAM education and we’re passionate about science communication. Why not combine the two?

Futurum is here because we want to help teachers deliver a high quality, broadened STEAM education that will invigorate their students’ desire to learn. We want to help scientists and researchers communicate their work to a global audience of teenagers, young adults and teachers. We want to offer teenagers and young adults – regardless of their gender, race of background – the knowledge and confidence to study STEAMM subjects – and, in turn, social mobility.

Our ultimate aim is to help students (and teachers help students) connect the subjects they are learning with real-world careers in STEAM. In the UK, Ofsted now ranks schools according to their application of Gatsby Benchmarks. The Gatsby Benchmarks are a framework of eight guidelines that define the best careers provision in schools and colleges. When schools and teachers use our content, we can support them in meeting Gatsby Benchmarks 2, Learning from career and labour market information; 4, Linking curriculum learning to careers; 5 Encounters with employers and employees; and 7 Encounters with further and higher education. The US equivalent is the NGSS – Next Generation Science Standards.

Our mission is to enable researchers to inspire, teachers to motivate, and students to aspire.

How we work with researchers:

As the name Futurum suggests, we are always looking ahead, which is why we feel strongly about the importance of sharing knowledge and innovation, and why we ensure that research is communicated in an accessible and engaging manner, to an audience that is keen to learn.

We get to know our researchers’ work, use our expertise to craft teacher and student-friendly learning resources, and ensure our researchers are proud of the materials we share with the public on their behalf.

Increasing STEM skills is a global priority and Futurum is gratified by connecting experts from all over the world with the next generation of researchers. We ensure real impact is achieved by getting researcher’s work in front of teachers, from a source they trust and in a format they can use easily.

How we support teachers:

Every teacher wants to challenge their students and to pass on the passion for their subject that made them work in education in the first place. In the real world of heavy teaching timetables and minimal planning time, however, we know that teachers can struggle to provide learning experiences that broaden their students’ knowledge and understanding beyond the confines of exam specifications.

Our job is to provide free, stimulating and high-quality resources that enable teachers to stretch their students that little bit more, and take them beyond the classroom and into the innovative world of contemporary research.

The resources we provide for teachers foster engagement, curiosity and independent learning, while showcasing career options available to young people.

Meet the Futurum team

Mark Coster, of STEM Toy Expert, guest writes this week’s blog and reminds us of the learning benefits of play:

Are high schoolers too old for toys? It’s a word that often brings up images of much younger kids playing with action figures or dollhouses. However, I contend that even the most jaded “I’m too old for that!” teenager can have fun and learn with STEM toys.

What are STEM Toys?

In our view, STEM toys are educational toys, kits, sets and games that facilitate learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills. Perhaps more importantly, however, STEM toys engage kids in learning activities that often enhance their enjoyment and interest in STEM.

At the infant to toddler age level, there isn’t much to differentiate a STEM toy from an educational toy. Building blocks, shape-sorting puzzles, and bath pipes were popular well before the term ‘STEM Toy’ was coined.

For older children, particularly teenagers, the increased access to consumer-level robotics and electronic parts, advancements in beginner-friendly coding environments, and a growing recognition of the importance of STEM skills for careers of the future, has led to an explosion in high-quality STEM toys being available.

How Can Toys be Part of a ‘Serious’ Curriculum?

To incorporate STEM toys into the school curriculum, it is important to abandon any negative connotations between the term ‘toy’ and wasting time. There is no reason why kids can’t learn highly valuable skills while having fun!

Codable robotics kits are certainly one of the most iconic types of STEM Toy available. One of the hardest facets of teaching coding to high school students is to bridge the gap between abstractions and the real world. A robot that can be coded to pick up objects, move around a room while avoiding objects, or even play simple games like tic-tac-toe, is perfect for this. STEM toys allow open-ended exploration and a degree of genuine challenge that is difficult to replicate with traditional classroom activities.

Another advantage of STEM toys in the classroom is the time-saving potential. Many companies are now producing sets and kits that not only provide all the materials for an engaging STEM activity, but also incorporate evidence-based learning outcomes that can be aligned with your curriculum.

STEM Toys in Homeschooling

One of the significant challenges of homeschool is teaching specialist subjects, such as Science and Engineering, where the parents or caregivers have limited experience. Indeed, STEM subjects are rapidly evolving, so that many adults may find that their experiences in these areas are of limited relevance to their child’s education.

STEM toys can be a valuable focal point for homeschooled children to develop these skills while also exploring their own interests in an open-ended way. For example, there are many chemistry sets now available that provide engaging at-home experiments alongside curriculum-aligned support materials to help students develop their understanding of the scientific method.

Another challenge faced by homeschooling parents is to gather the ideas and necessary materials for their children to engage in STEM activities on a regular basis. An increasingly popular option with homeschooling families is the monthly STEM subscription boxes that have exploded in popularity. Kits are available that cater to everything from coding and electronics to chemistry to engineering challenges, and many incorporate Art into STEM = STEAM!.

STEM Toys for Any Age

If you have an opportunity to try STEM toys out in your teaching environment, give them a try. You’ll quickly discover that even teenagers who protest that they’re ‘too old for toys’, get caught up in the joy. You might even discover, yourself, that you’re never too old to play with toys!

About the Author

Mark Coster, Ph.D. is an online entrepreneur and the driving force behind the STEM-focused websites, STEM Toy Expert and Organic Chemistry Explained. With 20 years of experience in chemistry education and research, and 3 willing children as guinea pigs, Mark has a passion for inspiring kids and adults to combine fun and learning with STEM Toys!