Tag Archives: Holiday Gift

A Classic STEM toy: Rock Tumbler

National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit is truly a gift that keeps on giving. We got one last year at Christmas time, and it has been running ever since, except in the coldest months of the year. It is noisy, so you will need to have a place where the sound is not a problem. We run it in the garage (thus the moratorium during the deep cold Minnesota Winter).

There are other rock tumblers out there, and if you want to get serious, you’ll want to shop around and maybe even look at the Vibratory Tumblers, a related technology.

Warning: Figure out a way of disposing of the sludge that does NOT involve putting it down a drain. It will ruin your drains. Dig a hole in the back yard, or make an evaporation system (that’s what we do) so you can throw the dried sludge in the trash.

Expect to buy more rocks, as well as more raw materials. Here are a few examples of what we invested in:

Polly Plastics Rock Tumbler Tumbling Media Grit Kit & Plastic Filler in Heavy Duty Resealable Bags

Crystal Allies Materials: 1lb Bulk Rough Pink Rose Quartz Crystals from Brazil – Large 1″

Crystal Allies Materials: 3 Pounds Bulk Rough 10-Stone Assorted Brazilian Mix – Large 1″

Educational Kids Gift: The Human Body by Smithsonian

There is a new series of educational kits called Exploration Station, coming out in a few day. You can pre-order them. I’ll post about three of them, starting with Exploration Station: The Human Body.

Nicely packaged, the box itself will be useful even after the stuff inside is long gone.

The kids are designed for learning by kids six years and above, but I think they are ideal for third or fourth graders. All the kids follow a similar theme. There is one item that will end up on a bedroom shelf along with other toys like items. In this case, a make it yourself human skeleton one foot tall. There is a book on the subject, in this case, the human body. There is a large sheet of heavy duty laminated material and a set of stickers to stick on to it. In this case, it is a 13 by 18 inch poster with a depiction of the human body. In addition, this kit includes a set of flash cards about various aspects of the human body or physiology.

The back of the box. Note that this is for kids 6 and older. Eight or nine is an ideal age.

The science is good, the book is engaging, lots of words but also lots of pictures. The manipulable materials are fun and educational.

Comes with a great book at about 3rd or 4th grade reading level.

I think the kits were originally designated to be about $22, but the pre-order price is closer to $15 . I think they are worth the larger price, but the lower price is very nice.

Includes flash cards, a set of stickers, and a large body picture (not shown) to put the stickers on, and a small skeleton you can build yourself.

This is an ideal holiday gift for a kid in the right age range. It is not going to fill your space with a pile of useless crap, and it is not going to make a mess, or any noise. The educational value is high, and the quality is right in the range for an item of this price range. The only down side is that it is a little hard to wrap round things, but you’ll mange.

I recommend the Exploration Station: The Human Body for the kid in your life.

Just got Makey Makey, in search of a banana …

I just got this Makey Makey kit (which, by the way, is on sale at the link provided, at this moment).

A Makey Makey is a device that allows a do-it-yourselfer to create a closed loop electrical signal, that the Makey Makey device converts into a specific serial signal that is sent via USB to a computer. The signal is a keystroke or mouse event. So, you can hook the Makey Makey to, say, a banana and a laptop, then when you touch the banana the laptop gets a mouse button click or a space bar or something. The kit is designed to give easy access to the key signals most used in gaming, but I think it allows the full range of keystrokes, and it can also interface as a sensor to an Arduino or similar, so you can use a banana to control, say, your robot. Or whatever.

I’ve not used it yet, so this is not a review, just a note that I’ve got one. Do you have one? This should be fun.

OK, off to get the bananas.