Eduporium Experiment | SAM Labs Curious Cars Kit
In order to be a successful scientist, engineer, programmer, mathematician, or artist, it is crucial to understand how everything in a system fits and works together. Professionals who excel in these professions are constantly asking themselves like “What does each piece do? When combined with other parts, what changes? How do they work together? What makes them work? Why is a combination of parts more powerful than when you use them on their own?” STEM education should also encompass these questions and concepts in a way that is fun and engaging to students, but they can get pretty confusing and abstract! How can we put them together in an easy-to-follow package and present them to students in a medium that they will understand?
If you ask the minds at SAM Labs, that question is easily answered - just make it fun! They have worked hard to make the concepts of programming and engineering tangible for learners of all ages. This week, thanks to their inventiveness, I took the Eduporium Experiment for a test drive with the SAM Labs Curious Cars Kit.
Now, unlike most Eduporium Experiments, I wasn’t walking into this one completely blind. Our team had, in fact, sat down over Google Hangouts to do our own personal professional development session with a member of the SAM Labs team a week or so ago, so I was already fairly familiar with the Curious Cars kit. I was excited to explore it further, however, since we, of course, hadn’t had as much time to play around with it in our PD session as we would have had we just been exploring it on our own.
Personally, I think the design of the SAM Labs products is pretty ingenious. The Curious Cars kit in particular comes with six pieces of technology, all very uniform in size, and all encased in soft, malleable plastic. They are clearly labeled in simple language, and the whole kit is very fun to touch, which is designed to be encouraging for learners and get them started with getting their hands on the technology. I am a tactile learner myself, and right out of the box the kit’s bright colors and varied material textures appealed to me immensely. The Curious Cars Base Kit comes with six blocks, as I mentioned before, that all teach different programming concepts. It has two motors, a button, a slider, a tilt sensor, and a light. All of these blocks are used throughout the course of multiple lessons (taught via the SAM Labs Curious Cars app) to teach students how to build their own cool cars and even get their feet wet with coding!
Like many of our 21st century learning products, the first step to getting the Curious Cars Kit up and playing is downloading a free app to your phone or tablet. Once the app is launched, the user is immediately greeted with fun, appealing graphics and gentle music that draws them into the world of SAM Labs and gets them excited to learn. The app is designed like a game in more than one way: it guides students through little learning modules, starting out very simple and getting more complex as they get deeper into the material, and introducing new concepts (i.e. blocks) with fun mini games between each lesson. As a former game design student, I thought the app’s design was an excellent choice. Kids are introduced to new concepts through familiar games (a riff on the classic game, Brickbreaker, for example, is used to introduce the Slider block), which prepare them to use them in the practical application of building their cars. I played through the whole app in about an hour, and over the course of my time I got to build a racecar, a bulldozer, and even a rocket ship! Although it took me a fairly short amount of time (because I’m older than SAM Labs’ intended audience), I still felt like I was learning and growing with each lesson I played. And it really did feel like play!
I think that this kit would appeal to any young learner in the digital age. It’s engaging, fun, and hands-on. It encourages kids to try new things and go beyond the box to create their own mobile inventions! The Curious Cars Kit really is a great introduction to engineering, programming, and modular design, and I believe it more than earns its place in any 21st century classroom.