Three Key Components for Educational Toys New Experience, Exploring the World and Self-experimentation
Jan 12, 2018

12 January 2018 – The HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair closed yesterday with a record attendance of more than 49,000 visitors. Among the series of seminars organised during the four-day fair was “STEM and STEAM Toys – More than a Buzzword,” moderated by industry veteran Christopher Byrne, EVP, Content Director of TTPM, who joined five other experts in sharing their insights on STEM toys.

Helping children learn about science, technology, engineering and math in response to today’s tech-centric world, STEM toys has been a key industry trend that has recently expanded to STEAM, which incorporates art.

Unlocking creativity is the key
At the seminar, Mr Byrne asked Kelly Toy, Head of Marketing of Woobleworks, how educators can integrate STEAM toy design with STEM. “Art in STEM and STEM in art. Waking up kid’s creative thinking and problem-solving skills is STEAM-based, which has been used a lot in art projects,” said Ms Toy.

She cited the example of the company’s 3D printing pen. “STEAM thinking is using kids’ imagination help think what they want to create, then plan to execute and sketch with the 3D pen. That 3D structure is spatial thinking, and kids are learning skills from trial and error, from concept to translating it into a 3D model. Ultimately, the 3D pen becomes a STEAM tool and is now used by 3,000 schools from all over the world. The pen has undergone changes in application for various subjects, from mathematics to art and history classes. It serves to unlock kids’ creativity where they can have fun. In short, it helps to engage minds and create fun,” she added.

Engaging kids to learn among themselves
Engaging kids is key and new technology that might look complicated to adults could be an effective tool to engage kids in learning, said Josh Loerzel, VP of Sales & Marketing of Zing, who elaborated by citing his company’s stop-motion filmmaking mobile app. “Today, kids even as young as three-years-old are given smartphones, which should be used smarter,” he said. “We designed an app to make movies. Kids can download the app and make the stop-motion movie themselves. In order to engage kids in learning, we teach kids daily use of this app.”

Mr Loerzel pointed out that accessibility is key. “We need at least 30 pictures to make a second’s long movie and so it’s about how to engage kids to get excited spending a few hours to make a film.” The company has enlisted a group of children to produce movies by offering online tutorials on filmmaking. “Once done, the film can be uploaded and shared. The app is easy to dive in to make the movie,” he said.

Sunny Lauridsen, VP of Licensing of JustPlay, advised engaging kids with STEM play patterns from a young age, including using licensed characters with STEM focus and good storytelling. “For example, we once had a licensed character that was a scientist taking over the world in his lab. Kids could look at his creativity, his lab and read his story.”

Nora Yeung, Creator of Creative Coding HK Ltd, noted that kids can learn science or mathematics from five to eight years of age with smart robots. “Lego compatible with robot technology would be more economical. Give kids rescue missions to learn about engineering by attaching Lego pieces to the robot,” she said, adding that olderer childrencan learn the mechanics of a robot using simple programming. “Robots can turn out to be anything the kids like.”

Job landscape is changing
Educators play an important role in introducing STEM or STEAM tools into the curriculum. Douglas Moore, Principal of The English Castle Language School, said that educators should take advantage of new technology to make learning fun. “Kids should be allowed to play, create the world they narrate and to have more fun. For example, they can use robots to quickly learn mathematics or they can make stop-motion films by using the mobile app,” he said.

Ms Toy pointed out that current curriculum are preparing kids for jobs that may not exist in the future. “The job landscape is changing. Learning to learn is the key thing. Kids should be allowed to develop skills for the future job market,” she stressed.

Developing collaborative skills
Mr Byrne added that more and more jobs are collaborative in nature, which makes preparing kids to develop collaboration and socialisation skills crucial. Mr Moore cited one of his school’s activity as an example, “We allow kids to construct a paper bridge together and take it outside to create a stop-motion movie. They could work together on this kind of project, which is not necessarily inside the classroom,” he said. “Kids love competition. When they are asked to design a maze with paper building, one would do the design, another would hold the paper building. They help each other and learn collaborative skills and giving feedback.”

Mr Loerzel said Zing uses social media to market STEM/STEAM toys. “Kids are watching YouTube and other social media platforms. We identify where kids are going to build a sharing community. Kids will figure out for themselves how to do it and teach each other. They will be immersed in this community, where they are able to share, get feedback and likes.”

In order to make effective STEM or STEAM toys, Mr Loerzel said making the toy fun in itself is essential. “Like our mobile app, it is a gadget even without the movie-making function. It could still be fun in itself,” he said.

Let kids decide
Mr Moore added that to keep children engaged in learning, “don’t push the kids to play this or that STEM or STEAM toys, this will not succeed. Let them decide. Keep things simple and let them play because these are what kids need,” Mr Moore stressed.

Mr Byrne concluded that new experiences, exploring the world and self-experimentation are three key components of good STEAM toys. “Let kids have their individual experiences and letting them decide on their own are the key process of learning. No one knows how the future will change and what the future jobs are, just like no one could have predicted that we have artificial intelligent robots in this era.”

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