Category Archives: Problem solving

Introducing Maker Studio Construction Sets

Maker Studio Construction Sets: Igniting Budding Engineers

Maker Studio Gears Set

We’ve got some great new ThinkFun products and programs arriving this Spring 2015. I’m proud of them and I want to take the opportunity to describe them to you. The first one I’ll describe is our new Maker Studio Construction Sets.

Our Goals Going In

We usually seek out products that build on our mission to ignite minds and give kids an early advantage. In this case, we wanted to do several things.

  1. Stimulate interest in engineering and creativity
  2. Make a product that was open-ended—not just one-and-done building
  3. Add challenges on top of the builds—ask kids to make their contraption actually accomplish a task

For the Maker Studio sets, we teamed up with two awesome inventors, David Yakos and Parker Thomas; both of them are active in the Maker movement. In fact, on our YouTube Channel, we feature David’s “Pitch Video” to us because the vision was so clear and aligned.

What Is Maker Studio?

Each Maker Studio set consists of a set of parts and instructions for how to build machines using discarded household items like food boxes and plastic bottles. The parts are magical—they are a collection of wheels, gears, axles, connectors, rubber band motor and instructions that show players how to build four machines.. Step 1 is to make household items into moving contraptions. But there’s much more to it. You can create many things with the parts in each set by using different containers and different decorations. The real beauty of Maker Studio is the fact that it has challenges to make your project do something. Push an apple across a table. Lift a soup can from the floor. That’s why we all it Open-Ended.

Made by Bella - Maker Studio Gears Set - Cable Car Challenge

Made by Bella – Maker Studio Gears Set – Cable Car Challenge

It Would Have Flopped!

It’s funny… just a few years ago these products would certainly have flopped. How do you explain something that is “open-ended” on a store shelf?

But in a world of YouTube channels and social media, we have a whole new opportunity to present the Maker Studio imagination by showcasing the cool stuff that kids are already making, then inviting our audience to join in themselves and share their own designs and builds.

And to prove our point, we’d like to introduce Bella Yakos and her YouTube Channel, Made By Bella. Bella is the 7yo daughter of one of the inventors. Take a look at some of Bella’s videos, and you’ll see why we think Maker Studio sets are going to set brains on fire!

This is new territory for us, we’re excited! We are seeing great interest from the Maker movement, STEM and STEAM advocates, and Girls in Engineering programs. It’s the beginning of a whole new category of products for us, products that let the players tell the story.

Here’s hoping that it works! I’ll keep you updated along the way.

FIRST Robotics Tournament

This past weekend I volunteered as a judge in the New Jersey Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament.  Sixty one teams competed, coming from as far away as Brazil.  The competition was played in three-team alliances, alliances playing against each other to shoot soccer balls through goals with some significant wrinkles thrown in.   The tournament lasts two full days.  Team objectives are to win the tournament and go on to the national championship, and also to compete for more than a dozen FIRST awards celebrating both technical achievement and team attributes.  These are presented at closing ceremonies each day.

The game rules this year were more different from past years than normal, which meant that veteran teams had to change their robots more, to make more fundamental design decisions, than what they were accustomed to.  Early rumors from the practice field were that teams were struggling, that a lot of things weren’t working… and the first matches were indeed low scoring without much action.  Some of us wondered whether the changes had gone too far, if and how the players could adapt during the course of competition.

These issues hit the judges square on during our Saturday working lunch, when we caucused about that day’s engineering quality awards.  What to do with well designed machines that met most of the criteria for an award, but that hadn’t worked on the field?  Would they be performing by day’s end or not?

We needn’t have worried.  Teams scouted the field to learn best practices, shared information, worked together, analyzed and adapted, and the quality of play went through the roof.  In the end the judges struggled this year with too much excellence, we had more teams deserving awards than we had awards to give.

We had grand debates as well.  Should the Entrepreneurship Award go to the young team with the big vision, the experienced team that was rededicating itself to greater service or the team whose written business plan most clearly articulated their plan?  Should the Quality award go to the simple machine that performed at outstanding levels, the more versatile robot that had mastered several game skills or the robot that had outstanding machine quality features but was average on pit quality & team integration?

In the end it was an outstanding experience all around.  If you want to discover the best of young America, get to know more about FIRST!