Monday, July 15, 2024

Science On The Grand 2024: Go Wild with Outdoor Learning Games

Van Andel Education Institute's Science on the Grand has been named one of the top education conferences in America and the 2024 edition has definitely lived up to the billing. 

Here is my session on ways to take STEM games outside and engage in real academic learning.  Big shoutout to Project Wild and Eduprotocols.

Go Wild with Outdoor Learning Games - SOTG 2024 by Andy Losik

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

WOOD TV: STEM Education at Blue Star Elementary Sparks Creativity and Learning

 We had the honor of Maranda from WOOD TV come to Blue Star and spend some time with fourth grade as we worked on a couple of different holiday projects. 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Holiday STEM Toys: Mr. Losik's 2023 Wish List

It's another holiday season and here comes another round of great gift ideas that aren't just fun, but are also good for kids. Whether we're fostering curiosity and creativity or bolstering social interaction, every one of these items is likely to put smiles on faces this December. I have been doing this list annually for a long time so be sure to check out previous versions going back to 2018

Whether you turn on your Christmas lights before the Thanksgiving dishes are done or after, finding the right present can be a yearlong task. I am always on the lookout for the right stuff for the upcoming year's list and I am always listening to my students to find out where their excitement lies regarding the latest and greatest toys that also carry some educational value. Just like every lesson or experience I design for my STEM classroom, I am looking to see which learning domain it fosters. Is it cognitive (gaining knowledge) or affective (appreciation for the beauty of the natural world or artistic culture)? Does it strengthen creativity? Is it social or does it build large and small motor skills? I don't mean to dampen the spirit of the season with this nerdy stuff but just wanted to share a little bit of the thought that goes into selecting each of these items. Okay, enough of that, onto the good stuff!

Educational Insights checks in this year with its GeoSafari Jr. line a handful of great options for 3 to 8-year-olds designed to bring them closer to their natural worlds. 

First up are the Kidnoculars binoculars that magnify things 2x and have comfortable eyepieces and a handy neck strap. Their best feature is the $12 price tag. 
GeoSafari Jr. Kidnoculars

GeoSafari Jr. Mighty Magnifiers
While the kidnoculars are great for spotting nature far away, the Mighty Magnifiers are wonderful for taking a closer look at nature up close. At around $16, the two items make great companions in an explorer bundle. A super cool feature is the built-in LED that makes these fun after dark as well.

Additionally from the GeoSafari Jr. line comes the SubScope. Priced at just under $40, young explorers can check out underwater habitats without getting wet...or at least that is the goal. With three built-in LEDs, the scope helps illuminate what's swimming around down below. Exploring ponds and lakes is great, but pack it on your next tropical adventure and check out some mangroves or tide pools. 
GeoSafari Jr. SubScope
For kids 8+ who might be looking for something on the techie side, Educational Insights offers Pyxel, the coding robot dog. While priced at $89, Pyxel is $100 less than some comparable robotic coding toys like the Sphero Bolt. As a STEM teacher, one of the main things I notice when it comes to kids learning to code is that the experience is so much more meaningful when they can make something in the real world happen as a result of their coding. It would be great if Pyxel just moved like an RC toy, but with an array of sensors, it doesn't take much for kids to really deepen their computational thinking and creativity with the code they're building. Pyxel uses the Blockly language that students in my STEM classes use as early as kindergarten so most will have a familiarity with it. 

Here's another techie suggestion for older kids. Just as Pyxel was all about coding the toy to do what you want, the Snap Circuits RC Snap Rover $89  is all about building the vehicle that can eventually be controlled with a wireless remote. Snap Circuits kits are great at teaching scientific and technical principles, but they also allow for modifications and creativity. The rover is like a puzzle in that kids need to pay attention to detail for it to function correctly, but then like an RC vehicle, they can further modify. This one was highly recommended by my students. 
RC Snap Rover

Let's take a look at some of the newest offerings from a list mainstay, Fat Brain Toys.

Nothing fosters kids' interpersonal social skills like board games, and man almighty do kids need help with their interpersonal social skills! Fat Brain's Make That Most Magnificent Thing Game $19.95 is based on the Ashley Spires picture book The Most Magnificent Thing $11.95 where a girl faces the challenges of building something "magnificent" from everyday items. In the game, all players are given the same task like "Build a musical instrument," and they are given two minutes to gather item pictures, arrange their contraption, and prepare a story about it. When time is up, each player explains their creation and then the group hands out award ribbons in categories like "Best Story" or "Most Creative Name". 


Hey Clay ($19.95) is quality air-dry clay that hardens within 24 hours and comes packaged in a big range of kits depending on what young sculptors want to build. Some of the kits available on Amazon include:
Forest Animals and others

Along with 15 jars of clay per kit, access to a free interactive app is also included that gives step-by-step instructions and teaches kids and tweens professional sculpting techniques. 
screenshot from the instructional app

In over 30 years of working with kids, blocks are still one of the best things kids can play with. Fat Brain's Timber Planks are a cornerstone of my STEM instruction and have been featured on previous lists. This year I wanted to share something for the littlest builders. These are rated for 3 years and older and have reflective edges in order to create a sensory experience as well. The Montessori Woodwerks Reflection Blocks 27 Piece Set ($49.95) encourages kids to not only stack and create but to strategically arrange the blocks so the shatter-proof mirrored surfaces play off of one another and create optical illusions. 
reflection blocks

I always like to include a book in the list and this year, I really like Boxitects ($11.95) by Kim Smith. It's a picture book that encourages kids to be creative and find joy in making things, but the real message is that learning to work with someone else can be tough but also tremendously rewarding. 

Hopefully, this helps with your Christmas and holiday shopping for elementary-aged kids. Again, be sure to go back and check out the lists from previous years for even more ideas. 

Here are some additional quick recommendations as picked by my students.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Shocker: ChatGPT Just Makes Stuff Up...Even About Us

 On the way to school today, I got to thinking about how if AI bots like Bard and ChatGPT are using what's available online to learn about subjects, then they are probably doing the same thing to learn about us. When I opened up ChatGPT and Google's Bard for comparison and asked, "Who is Andy Losik?" I got similar responses saying that both are language learners and don't have information on everyone in the world. However, when I went the language route and asked Chat GPT (Bard again declined the request) for a bio on Andy Losik the teacher and author, the results were astoundingly shockingly a seventh grader giving an oral book report on a book that doesn't exist, just making it up as it goes along.

Let's take this paragraph by paragraph and spot the errors.

Andy Losik is an experienced elementary school teacher and published author, known for his innovative teaching methods and dedication to inspiring young learners. He was born and raised in the United States and attended college at Michigan State University, where he earned his Bachelor's degree in Education.

First of all, gross...just kidding Sparty. Actually, Michigan State has a great education program but I received my Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education from Hillsdale College. Now, all of that stuff about being innovative and inspiring? I think if we are going to knit-pick errors, then we should also applaud ChatGPT when it is spot on with its analysis. Just kidding. That is all subjective fluff that the machines must have learned are parts of every edtech bio.

After graduation, Andy began his teaching career as a second-grade teacher in a public school district in Michigan. He quickly developed a reputation as an energetic and passionate educator, known for his ability to connect with students and create a positive learning environment. Over the years, Andy has taught in various grades, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and has worked with students from diverse backgrounds

Wrong. I started my career teaching fourth grade in Arizona and I have taught students from Pre-K to 6th grade. While I have had all of the elementary grades in my technology and STEM classes, I have only been a classroom teacher in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. ChatGPT throwing in the "diverse backgrounds" seems like a gratuitous booster to the bio. My first two-and-a-half years were with very diverse classes in Arizona, but to be honest, the last 23 years haven't featured much diversity here in West Michigan. 

Andy's teaching philosophy centers around creating engaging and interactive learning experiences that challenge his students to think critically and creatively. He is a firm believer in the power of technology to enhance education and has integrated various tech tools into his classroom, including iPads and other devices, to help his students learn and grow.

Okay, so this is actually pretty close to what I would write about myself and it is interesting that the bot chose to mention iPads specifically. 

In addition to his teaching career, Andy is also an accomplished author. He has written several books on topics related to education, including "The Chromebook Classroom" and "The Google Infused Classroom," both of which have been widely praised by educators and students alike.

Well, I wish. So I have written a couple of books...none directly tied to Education. The first one was a silly novel about teachers who get framed for robbing a Las Vegas casino while on a trip to a classroom management workshop and the other is the biography of former NFL offensive lineman Jared Veldheer. I feel like I did some good things with both, but ChatGPT gives me glowing ratings. If you check out the ratings on GoodReads, there are two reviews and it's a split decision.


I had absolutely nothing to do with the two books attributed to me. These are just straight-up lies. I am a fan of both books and have probably tweeted about them or commented somewhere but "The Chromebook Classroom" is by good friend John Sowash and "The Google Infused Classroom" is by Holly Clark and Tanya Avrith. To me, this is egregious and frankly dangerous. If this "machine" is going to just fabricate whatever it wants, actual people are going to get cheated out of their own accomplishments by attributing them to someone else. Even scarier is when institutions start employing AI to create bios on candidates for everything from lines of credit to jobs. The world of misinformation will be an even more dramatic chaotic mess.

Andy's work has been recognized and celebrated by his peers and the education community. He has received numerous awards and honors, including being named Teacher of the Year in his school district and being selected as a keynote speaker at several national education conferences.

Nope. While I was the MACUL Teacher of the Year in 2009, I have never been "Teacher Of The Year" in my district. In fact, neither of the districts I have worked in even give that award. Yes, I have keynoted a few Michigan conferences, but I have never been asked on the national level.

Today, Andy continues to inspire and educate young learners, both in his classroom and through his writing. He is passionate about helping teachers and students alike to embrace new technologies and teaching methods that can improve the learning experience for everyone.

More fluffy stuff to wrap up the bio that is pretty accurate, but I hope this example shows that these AI chatbots just make stuff up to fill in the number of words specified. It's scary how flippantly misinformation, even about ourselves is generated. Like Public Enemy taught us, "Can't Trust It". 

Despite my initial shock, there are at least two positives I can think of for using this tool with students. First, if the bio were factual, it would be an excellent bio. Maybe instead of treating what ChatGPT gives us as finished products, we need to just look at results more like well-structured writing templates. All I really have to do with this is change the inaccuracies to factual information, and I have something very usable. This bio also makes it really easy to show your students just how unreliable ChatGPT is when asked to generate something factual. Have it create a bio for you and then fact-check it in front of your class. To channel Carrie Underwood, maybe next time they'll think before they cheat. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Long Live Tinker Ball

Way back when our elementary STEM classes were known as Infotech and focused more on technology and tying it to literacy, Tinker Ball was one our most accessed sites. The Smithsonian Institute's Lemson Center for Invention and Innovation created Tinker Ball and the game where you stack everyday objects one might find lying around a garage is one of the longest-running student interactive sites still active. 

Give Tinker Ball a go. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Ready or Not Here Comes Mr. Losik's 2022 Holiday STEM Guide

If it was still 1982, I would be frantically circling in the JC Penny catalog all of the Green Bay Packers stuff, Stomper 4x4 sets, an Atari, and most of the stereo equipment like the gem pictured to the left. The days of big "Wishbook" showing up annually in our mailboxes may be as ancient as somebody actually riding over the river and through the woods to grandma's house in a one-horse open sleigh, but my  STEM Christmas list is here for 2022 and it is full of great brain-engaging kids' gifts. 

Like every year, I have tried to find items that keep our kids active both physically and mentally. Some of these toys will have to wait to go outside until spring in colder climates, but it will be worth the wait. I have also included at the end some all-stars that have appeared on previous lists that are worth a mention as they continue to stand out as some of the most fun and engaging materials I have in my classroom.

The bald-headed principal in "Back to the Future" might've called Marty a "slacker", but all of the accessories that can be added to a slackline these days create adventuresome and active kids. Just find two sturdy trees (or posts) and you can string up a set of climbing and balancing obstacles faster than you could even get a stand-alone playset out of the box. Ancaixin products are available on Amazon and off a wide range of toys designed to keep your kids on the move. This set is currently $39.95 on Amazon, half off of the original $79.95 price. This is just one example available on Amazon. Search "slackline attachments" and you will find all kinds of other options. 

Another fun outdoor adventure item is this set of tree climbing holds (Amazon $39.99). They're just like the climbing holds that are bolted onto climbing walls, but they are threaded onto ratchet straps. Wrap the holds around the trunk of a tree and your kids will instantly have access to the branches. With the straps, they are portable and will not damage trees. 

Here's an active toy that keeps kids out of the weather and closer to the ground but builds balance and core muscle strength. The Teeter Popper from Fat Brain Toys ($39.99) lets kids rock in a sitting or "surfing" position. The suction cups on the bottom not only provide much-needed stability, they deliver as the name implies a whole bunch of popping. The rocking and the sounds make this a great gift for children with sensory needs. When kids aren't teetering or popping, they can recline in it to watch TV or read. Teeter Popper was a 2014 American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA) toy of the year award winner and comes in 3 available colors.

Bringing home 2022 ASTRA Toy of the Year honors in the category of Active Play is Dueling Stomp Rockets ($19.99 Amazon) where two players each jump on individual air pumps and try to make their attached rockets launch higher than their opponent's rocket. The dueling rockets are the latest in a line of Stomp Rocket products available. Do a search on Amazon to see the full set of offerings, including  Stomp Racer air-powered dragsters. 

Wham-O's Yeti Footprints ($19.99  Dick's Sporting Goods) are the perfect inspiration for getting kids outside and into the snow. The oversized plastic feet attach to snowboots and act as snowshoes that leave giant footprints of the elusive abominable snowman. These not only elicit hours of silly fun, but get children thinking about the animals that leave tracks in the snow where they live. Also check out the Sno-Stompers available on Amazon. Those are a bit more at $31.99

Let's switch gears to some indoor fun and the various straw construction sets that are now available. I featured Strawbees construction kits two years ago that let kids build with straws and plastic connectors. One drawback to that original is its $50+ price tag for a 450-piece kit. Since then, toy companies have begun creating much cheaper alternatives. Amazon offers several 600-800 piece kits in the $25 range. Search for "straw construction kits" and check out all of the options. 
One of the best things about Fat Brain Toys is how they take classic toys and then rework them. Marble runs have always been great toys, but sometimes the pieces don't stack very well or the marble action can be really clunky. The way Fat Brain has reworked the marble run into its Trestle Tracks Deluxe Set ($39.95 - Amazon) is truly artful. The small steel bearing flow gracefully and the obstacle pieces are engineered to accelerate the balls through the track. Of course, the neatest aspect is that the tracks can be reconfigured over and over again. 
Speaking of new spins on a classic, check out how Fat Brain is introducing a generation to the age-old art of knitting. Getting kids into knitting has actually been happening for a while now as easier-to-use plastic looms have simplified the process. Fat Brain has taken that simplification to the next level with its hand-crank Loom Bot ($59.99). Thread the machine for either tube or panel knitting and crank away to create perfectly knitted material. The set includes 5 different needles, yarn, and detailed instructions. Fat Brain Toys includes an age-appropriateness scale and rank this item highest for 8 to 10-year-olds.

Easily the best combination of fun, learning, and value comes from Klutz and their Lego kits. This year, I am a big fan of the Lego Race Car STEM Activity Kit ($28.99 - Amazon) as it comes with 124 LEGO elements, a 64-page book, and a 3-foot section of track that kids build. The book features different scientific challenges and encourages creative mixing of the race cars' parts to experience the engineering process. 
Here's a piece of nostalgia that is making a much-needed comeback. Choose Your Own Adventure books  were a staple of my childhood and I am a strong advocate for our current school-age children experiencing them as well. Most of my lists over the years have included books and what these classics do is help kids grow their navigational skills. The books offer different paths that cause the reader to make choices based on calculated risks. We need kids to be more adventuresome as I see students all too often who are hesitant to make choices and want to be told what to build or make instead of trusting their own ideas. Sets of four books start around $15. Check Amazon for both original titles and newer ones, including ones based on Minecraft. 

Let's wrap up this year's list with some of the all-stars from lists of Christmases past. These are all items kids love to use in STEM and will keep them occupied and their brains engaged all season long. 

Here also are my most recent lists from 2021, 2020, and 2019.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Exploring the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

 Although it happened over 45 years ago, the sinking of the majestic ore freighter Edmond Fitzgerald still mystifies researchers. 

Enjoy this documentary about the largest ship ever lost on the Great Lakes. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Mr. Losik and Keynote Go to ArtPrize

 There's something that has always fascinated me about the aesthetics of sports. From the uniform colors to the logos to how the helmets and facemasks are built to what is painted on the field or court, I have always been intrigued. Nothing though is more intriguing than exploring every nook and cranny of stadiums and Detroit's old Tiger Stadium had more nooks and crannies than most. It also held more great memories for me than most other stadiums, from my first visit with my grandpa in July of 1980 to sitting in the bleachers with buddies in college. 

When I first started experimenting with my Glowforge laser cutter and engraver, an early project I created was a 2d cutout of Tiger Stadium's seating chart. From there the process really began to evolve as I started to create multiple levels and layers. 

Apple's Keynote, on the surface a slide deck maker, really was pivotal in the process as my main design tool. Four years ago at Michigan's MACUL conference, I learned how to edit shapes in Keynote and that led me down one rabbit hole after the next due to the incredible flexibility this provides to the tool. 

One of those rabbit holes involved me developing a way to create 3D laser-cut stadiums that I make with Keynote. I have a Glowforge that engraves and cuts 3mm sheets of maple into the shapes I create on the Mac. Each shape is a different layer of the stadium that I then stack and glue together. 

Building Tiger Stadium in Keynote

Developing this process wasn't overnight and has taken lots of trial and error with new techniques for achieving the correct depth, perspective, and scale. The only thing Keynote won't do is export these shapes as vector graphics, which Glowforge requires for cutting. I still have to copy and paste them into vector software like Illustrator or Inkscape.

I realized I was on to something when I began to share pictures of my creations on social media (@stadium_fire) and people began to ask to buy custom-created stadiums. Over the course of the last two years, I designed and built close to 100 different stadiums. Everything from high school football fields to the English Premier League, and from that has evolved a thriving business on Etsy

This summer I decided to tackle two big challenges I had been wanting to do since beginning to build these stadiums. #1 Build a historic set of models that traced the history of what would be known as Tiger Stadium in Detroit and #2 have my stadium art accepted for the big return of Grand Rapids' ArtPrize this fall.

I am proud to report I completed both goals and when ArtPrize opens tomorrow, "The Evolution of Michigan and Trumbull" will be on display at Flanagan's Irish Pub and feature six models from 1896 through 1999. The entire piece is 36" tall and 30" wide. 

Through hours and hours of research, I found all kinds of extra pieces of information and details. One really cool one was the art deco batting Tiger that was an accent at the end of each row in the 1920s. With Keynote, I was able to recreate that Tiger and add it to the piece as an accent to the title section.  

1920s seating accent re-created in Keynote

I also was able to re-create the early team offices and ticket booths from old photos with Keynote. 

Rendering of 1930s Team Office and Ticket Booth

ArtPrize 2022 will feature over 700 artists competing for almost $500,000 in prizes and take over downtown Grand Rapids through October 2 as one of the world's largest free art shows. If you would like to support my ArtPrize bid, you can register for a free account and vote by adding my project to your favorites. Thanks.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

MACUL 2022: Transforming the Maker Space with Glowforge

Transforming the Maker Space with Glowforge

Friday, March 18, 2022
11:30 AM
Amway Grand Hotel, Ford 

A few decorations glued on a tissue box will melt any mom's heart, but when elementary students can create in the makerspace a dovetailed wooden box engraved with mom's name on it, that's a game-changer. Glowforge not only lets even our youngest learners achieve really high-end results, but a whole class of projects can be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to 3D print one or two. Glowforge can bring joy back to learning as students amaze themselves with wooden and cardboard creations. Learn not only how to manage a Glowforge in the classroom, but how to utilize the basic tech tools your students are already using.


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

MACUL 2022: Eduprotocols - Easy Learning Frameworks with Endless Engagement


Eduprotocols: Easy Learning Frameworks with Endless Engagement

Friday March 18, 2022
1:00 PM
Amway Grand Hotel, Ford 

EduProtocols are instructional lesson frames that are designed to engage students in learning through critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. End your reliance on worksheets and other canned curricula by teaching students how to learn through exciting activities like Iron Chef, Thin Slides, CyberSandwich, and many more.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Mr. Losik's 2021 Holiday STEM Toy Guide

 It's that time of year again. Time to start sorting through the best bets for bringing holiday smiles to our kids while keeping their brains engaged. There's no shortage of choices this year, but it's important to start early because even in years with no supply chain issues, the hottest toys always end up in short supply. 

If there is a common theme running through this year's list, it's all about creativity and building new things. You will also notice there are very few screens involved. I've built a very rewarding teaching career in the arena of educational technology but after the last two years, the last thing our kids need is more screen time. There's technology involved with a lot of these toys, but ultimately this year we are looking at stuff to help our kids move beyond anything virtual and start making real, cool stuff. 

Playmake 4-in-1 Woodshop - $120 - Amazon, The child-friendly, working wood shop was the hottest thing on last year's list but nobody could find them available in time for Christmas. So far this year, there are units to be found at Amazon and Walmart, among other online sellers.

Woodworking is not only a fun hobby, but it gets kids creating in ways that develop all of the skills we are trying to build in stem. There's engineering involved with tackling a project and there are all of the different motor skills involved with applying the tools to wood.

This item is also sold under the PlayMat brand but appears to be the same product. They're in stock in mid-November so nab them quickly.

Jixelz - Free Form Puzzle Pieces - $4.95 to 16.95 - Fat Brain Toys is a company that has been a star on this list for years and this year they check in with a number of offerings. First up is Jixelz, a whole new take on jigsaw puzzle pieces. Instead of having to find the exact pieces to complete a puzzle once, kids take colored pieces and build out their own creations. The possibilities are seriously endless.

Each set of Jixelz is themed and comes with instructions to build pre-designed objects that end up looking like old-school pixelated graphics. There are all kinds of themed sets from festive Santa and Rudolf mini sets to the 1500 piece "Under the Sea" (pictured) and "Up In the Air".

Once kids follow the instructions and build a few designs, it's time to go free-form and build creatively. Jixelz is an amazingly simple idea that gives kids endless opportunities to create their own art. It makes you wonder why it took this long for someone to come up with it.

Off-brand Legos - 1000-1500 piece sets, $22.99-$29.99. - While looking to add more Lego bricks to our STEM repertoire this fall, I discovered that not only do quality, fully Lego-compatible bricks exist, they can be had on Amazon at a major discount compared to Lego-brand bricks. I remember being in elementary school and having well-intentioned relatives buy me Lego-like bricks but they never worked well together. These bricks are essentially identical minus the Lego name stamped on the studs.

The other key fact I learned from my students when I introduced these this year is that many kids who are nuts for Legos and have hundreds of dollars worth of them often struggle to free build with them. I had kindergarteners almost in tears because they didn't have instructions on how to build something. They'd just built a Millenium Falcon but had hardly ever just built for fun. The Star Wars and Harry Potter sets are a blast, but after kids build the thing on the box, hide those instructions.

Buying bundles of Legos that aren't themed gets kids creating freely and coming up with their own ideas beyond the instructions.

Fun Forts - 83 piece set - $33 - The blanket, of all things was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2011 because the joy of building forts has been a part of childhood for centuries. Power For Fun and Fun Forts bring architecture and engineering formally into the process with these easy to assemble frame kits that can then be draped with the hall of fame blankets of your choice.

There are two great aspects that stand out with this one. 1) All of your couch cushions will remain on your couch. 2) As families and friends begin to gather again, this toy gets kids playing together. It's heartbreaking to think how few opportunities kids have had to play and build together since the 2019 holiday season. That lack of socialization is showing up in the classroom as many kids struggle to work cooperatively as we resume more group activities that require them to work together.

3D Home Kit - $27.95 - Fat Brain Toys delivers something for the creative big kids on your list. For under $30, you and or your budding architects can use the same kinds of design tools to not only plan but actually build paper models of your own home or dream home. Enough materials are included to build a model representing up to a 6,000 square foot structure. This one carries a degree of difficulty best suited for teens or super creative adults.

Artie Max - $99.00 Drawing Robot  - As we move into the gadget portion of the list, the only toy on this list that connects to a tablet is the Artie Max drawing robot. It might involve some screen time, but the big benefit of Artie is that it draws what the kids code. This is a toy that bridges the gap between creating something on a device and making something in real life. 

My favorite aspect of Artie Max is that it is packed with potential and room for learning growth. It has very basic built-in activities for beginners, but as kids get deeper into coding, the robot supports 5 different coding languages and is capable of seriously high-end creations. 

Botley The Coding Robot - $49.37 This 2019 Innovative Tech Toy of the Year is for the young coder (5-7) in your family. Botley is a screen-free robot that uses sequencing cards and other sensors. It is wonderful for building logical reasoning and problem-solving in kids. Also, check out Botley 2.0. It's a price jump at $73.99 but offers some new futures like being able to interact with other 2.0 robots in the room. Both models come with lots of accessories, games, and "hidden" features that kids will discover as they play.

Deluxe Eco Robots - $33.95 - Fat Brain Toys - While we are talking robots, let's up the age level. As I asked my 3rd and 4th graders to recommend toys for the list this year, this robotics kit from Elenco Electronics was a heavy vote-getter. One kit allows kids to make 14 different robot variations. Being able to create in so many ways is one plus, but kids love that these utilize solar so they're not as dependent on batteries.

Mega Cyborg Hand - $39.95 - Speaking of award winners, Mega Cyborg Hand is the 2021 STEM Toy of the Year. This offering is from another great, brain-engaging toy company, Thames and Kosmos. Assembling an oversized and wearable hydraulic hand carries lots of STEM benefits in itself. There is physics involved, but also some anatomy as it's designed after the mechanics of the human hand. A not-so-obvious benefit is the empathy kids develop for people with disabilities that have to rely on prosthetics like artificial hands. There is a ton of potential for creative play that comes with this project too.

Thames and Kosmos Arcade Maker  Lab Candy Claw Machine - $37.99 - Having your own arcade claw game would be fun in itself but what's even more fun, and what makes this a great STEM toy is that kids actually build the machine themselves. The game comes with candy that has loops attached for the claw to grab. It also contains looped pouches that kids can fill with their own prizes.

Battat Roadster and other vehicles - Ages 3-6, $17.00 - Here's one specifically for the younger engineers this holiday season. These all disassemble with a battery-powered driver, requiring kids to choose the right screw head or socket. Like with free-building Legos, the real fun and creativity starts when users start "Frankenstein-ing" vehicles back together and swap parts across toys because the screws and bolts are all compatible. These are available online, but check your local Target as well. That is where I first found them.

Snap Circuits - Various Kits - $21-$105 - Elenco continues to grow their line of Snap Circuits toys that use principles of electronics in hundreds of fun projects. Projects vary from building transistor radios to codeable games and a new kit that teaches how to wire a smart home. As the offerings from Elenco has grown, so has the popularity of these kits. 

Gooey, smelly, and sticky stuff - Back in the 70s and 80s, playing with a chemistry set literally meant kids had the potential to actually blow something up which was pretty much the essence of being a kid in the 70s and 80s. Today's chemistry sets are a whole lot safer and actually a whole lot more productive. All we were doing was mixing random powders and seeing if they'd ignite. Now, chemistry sets make everything from bath bombs to gummi worms. Check out all of these fun items to concoct! Kiwico Bath Bombs - $15.95 KiwiCo has made the list before for its awesome subscription STEM crates, but now the company lets you purchase individual projects that are sent out in crates and others exclusive to their website. The bath bombs won't blow up your tub, but they will help young makers combine several ingredients and do some chemistry to create bombs to make bath time more soothing.

Ooze Labs Soap - $29.95 - While we're talking about chemistry in the bathroom, check out this Thames and Kosmos kit for its "Ooze Labs" line of toys. The company describes its product this way, "Real science and pretend play come together in this activity-filled kit that can be used alone or as an extension of the Ooze Labs Chemistry Station (a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor winner!). As you mold different glycerin soap shapes, you learn about the chemical properties of soap that help it pick up and wash away dirt. While you’re concocting bath bombs, you learn about how acids and bases combine to form fizzing reactions, and what a pH level is. Expand your cosmetics knowledge with an overview of the biology of skin care and other science related to soap and bath products. All materials and chemicals are non-toxic." It sounds like a good way to get kids cleaning up and in the bath tub. 

Soaps and bath bombs are fun, but let's make some candy. The Thames and Kosmos - Gummy Candy Lab - $19.99 involves a lot of the same scientific principles as young chemists experiment with polymers, flavors, and colors. Change up the Ph with some citric acid and turn those unicorns into sour unicorns. 

Molds of clouds, unicorns, and rainbows add to the joy. 

Slimey Stocking Stuffers - 

At only $4.99 to $7.99 each, Thames and Kosmos lets you wrap up the little gifts with their "Ooze Labs" family of slimes and magic sand. These might actually be more fun to give to a child of one of your really up tight relatives. Watch your sister-in-law with the museum quality house squirm as your giddy nephew opens up a tube of glow-in-the-dark slime that potentially get everywhere. Check out Amazon for all of the creepy options. 

And the time the presents are all unwrapped and we are rapidly approaching that "all out of fun" limit, here's a cozy place for your little ones...or you to find a little respite and some "me time". The Sky Nook - Hammock Swing - $39.95 is a great retreat where kids can escape the sensory overload that the season brings with it. We know that children who struggle with sensory processing greatly benefit from a space where they can do some nesting. Truth be told, a little nesting is healthful for all of us. This one is from Fat Brain Toys and is designed for 3 to 8 year olds. Check Amazon though for other hammock chairs to fit all members of your family. 

So there you have it, this year's list. This year it's all about getting away from the screens and start creating. Let's get our kids viewing themselves are makers and builders and not just students who fill out digital worksheets for school and stuck on devices at home. There is a little something for everyone to create something from these suggestions. What will you and yours create? Whatever it is, I hope it brings you great joy. The world needs joy more than ever!