New Tech & Learning Toys
November is typically a great month with new technology and educational toys coming out for the holiday season. This year is no exception. Most of the top tech toys that I have seen in the stores this fall are also educational. These gift ideas are both great for parents to give their children this holiday season along with ideas for teachers to add to their holiday classroom wish list.
Interactive Gaming Tech
Microsoft released an add-on component to the Xbox called Kinect. Kinect allows the user to interface with the system using voice and body movements rather than having to use a controller. There are specific games that use this new technology that encourages the player to interact with the system and other players around them. This is similar to the controller system that the Wii uses, but is touted as being more responsive.
Paper Jamz is a great new (inexpensive) musical and technology toy. The paper guitar and drums have a touch-technology imbedded into the paper instrument. When the child strums or select chords, the instrument will play with the sound being heard through the paper amplifier. There are three different ways to play including a Perfect Play, Rhythm Mode, and Free Style Mode. Perfect Play allows you to play along with one of the three pre-programmed songs even if you don’t know the song. Rhythm Mode plays the accompaniment of the song while the child plays the lead guitar and Free Style Mode allows you to play any chords or notes on the guitar. There are different styles of guitars to buy, and each guitar has different song pre-loaded onto it. There is also a headphone jack which would be great for students who may be playing their Paper Jamz in a classroom setting. This would be a great musical toy to have for indoor recess or in an elementary music class as a free-choice activity.
Reading & Tech
The Vtech V-reader is an e-book reader for pre-school children or struggling readers. The e-book device loads various stories either from a book cartridge or from connecting the V-reader to a computer and downloading books. Each ‘book’ contains stories, a story dictionary, and reading games. As the student reads the story, words are read aloud and highlighted. The stories contain picture animations and sounds that make the story interactive. If the student selects a word on the screen it can provide a definition and learning questions. If a student touches a picture on the screen various animations and interactive elements can be explored. This is a great new learning toy to encourage young readers.
Another similar reading toy that I saw ‘in action’ this weekend when I went to a gathering is the Leapster Explorer. The Leapster Explorer is a handheld video gaming device with an educational twist. Games and activities can be loaded via store purchases, or Leaplet apps that are downloaded through the computer. This system can run various educational games, e-books, videos, flash cards, and life skills games. All of the learning games are based on National Standards and cover subject areas like reading, math, geography, and science. What I found very interesting is when the kids had difficulty with one of the activities, he would ask the other kids for help. A device that you would typically think of as a one-to-one computing device actually encouraged the interaction amongst the children including learning the various educational concepts in the games. As a parent or a teacher, the data derived from the games on the Leapester can be viewed online to monitor your child’s or student’s progress. This would be a great tool to help students when they struggle or to encourage enrichment of certain subjects that students are interested in gaining more knowledge. Again – another great new tech tool to encourage young learners to be actively engaged in their learning.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Toys
Lego Mindstorms are robotics kits for kids ages 10 and up. The kit includes materials and directions to create 4 different robots and 6 different building challenges. The robots are then programmed using the computer and the NXT technology. Kids can then take the challenge to the next level by using the pieces to create and program their own robot. In a classroom setting this would be great to use in a science, math, or technology class. Students could work together to have a robot build-off or even use it as a spring board to get involved in competitive robot competitions.
K’nex is a popular building toy, similar to Lego’s. They have come out with new kits for the holiday season including cars, animals, and amusement park attractions. This is a great educational toy to have in the classroom as connections can be made to science, math and technology. K’nex even has an educator website with lesson plans, connections with kits and standards, and various products that would be great to use in the classroom setting. Using K’nex as a learning toy can also include helping students to build gross and fine motor skills.
All of these great learning toys are available now and would be great additions to classroom instruction and learning!
Article by Laura Ketcham
Picture by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar