Engineering Gift Guide Offers Fun, Learning Opportunities

The reviews are in for the 2021 Engineering Gift Guide, an annual list produced at Purdue University to help holiday shoppers find STEM-focused books and toys for young children and teens.

Each year, the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering at Purdue produces the guide to help shoppers with gifts that inspire learning and fun. Faculty in the School of Engineering Education and the INSPIRE student research team look for items that promote engineering practices. These range from engineering design to coding and spatial reasoning to problem solving and critical thinking items. Selected gifts are included in an online guide grouped by interests and age groups.

Student reviewers focus on two key research theories to form the list: “The Framework for Quality K-12 Engineering Education” and “Computational Thinking in K-2 Engineering Education.”

Readers will notice the many circuit and programming toys this year. Andrew Lake, a senior in electrical and computer engineering and project coordinator, reviewed the submitted trending toys.

“I think the reason we’re seeing so many more complex programming and circuit toys is that the technology behind them is getting more affordable to produce and efficient for the age-appropriate consumer,” he said.

A big part of the review process is choosing gifts that deserve special recognition, known as the “Top 10 Engineering Gift Reviews.” One screen-free coding toy stood out as unique.

“Coding Charms was something we had never seen before, and I personally found it to be a really fun way to teach coding,” said Elizabeth Schaaf, a senior in multidisciplinary engineering and the review lead.

Another toy she recommends is the STEM Apple Factory.

“While it is so simple, it allows for limitless creativity. By not providing strict criteria and guidelines, it encourages children to find creative ways to use their resources at home in a new way,” she said.

Connecting his experience in First-Year Engineering at Purdue, Lake said “Abby Invents the Foldibot,” a children’s book written by Arlyne Simon, a biomedical engineer, inventor and author, could be a game-changer.

“It goes through the entire engineering (design) process and then some by identifying stakeholders and their requirements,” he said. “That is one of the standout characteristics for me, as stakeholders and their requirements are what we first encounter in FYE. In my experience, it’s very rare to have exposure to that sort of thinking before college in toys, books, or even schoolwork. It’s rarely talked about, yet here it is in “Abby Invents the Foldibot” with a great explanation and seamless storytelling.”

The guide started with a simple idea to review toys promoted with the STEM label. Before the pandemic, submitted items were displayed each year for faculty and students to play with and provide reviews. Families were included in similar events at local venues for a child’s perspective and other important factors for parents, such as price and quality. Those activities have been suspended for safety measures during the pandemic. Under the direction of Tamara Moore, professor of engineering education and INSPIRE’s executive director, the outreach activity required necessary changes and has since provided a unique opportunity for the students to practice skills learned throughout their engineering education.

“The student research team stepped up in a critical time and figured out how to continue to produce the guide with the same quality reviews. They know the impact and the reach, so it was important for them to see it through despite the limitations,” Moore said.

The guide annually reaches hundreds of thousands of readers from over 125 countries through the website and media outlets including the Smithsonian Magazine and Forbes.

The Waynedale News Staff
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