5 tools and toys encouraging science and logic in the classroom

25 Jul 2016

The education system is an evolving beast, with subjects supposedly reflections of what children need to learn to give them suitable preparation for the real world. So how about having a bit more science in schools?

Finding the right way to inspire the next generation of programmers, engineers, scientists or doctors is never easy – more logic, engineering and science in schools could be a help.

Science in schools

However, choosing the right toys or activities to inspire interest can prove difficult. Here, Siliconrepublic.com looks at 5 of the options currently out there to get kids excited about STEM.

Henry’s Piano and the Lévó

Created by Colm Ó hAnluain when he was frustrated at current teaching techniques around engineering, Henry’s Piano and the Lévó are the prime products of Irish company Cog & Axle.

Struggling to work out how to teach his 30 students the dynamics behind simple machines, Ó hAnluain devised the Lévó in his shed in Tipperary.

A wooden contraption that uses levers, pulleys and inclined planes, the Lévó is a tangible device to help show the basics behind really simple engineering.

Henry's Piano Cog & Axel science in schools

Paired with a book called Henry’s Piano – giving the children a context – the entire set is a simple way to bring standard, perhaps boring, engineering logic to life in the classroom. The teaching tool explores friction and mechanical advantage, and is suitable for kids between four and 14.

“I believe Henry’s Piano and the Lévó brings the learning and teaching of science, maths and literacy together in an enjoyable way, through story and hands on activities,” said Ó hAnluain, who only thought of the book after fellow teachers queried him on what the Lévó was all about.

Lego – with a space twist

Engineering is actually part of many of our childhoods, with Lego the ultimate building toy of most people’s youths. An early introduction into shapes, supports and structure, it may not be terribly advanced, but look at the popularity of block-inspired games such as Minecraft and you see Lego’s premise is fairly solid.

Such is the influence of Lego – with a blockbuster movie following decades of Christmas-present success – the actual figurines can become quite marketable. But, rather than plumping for pop singers or sports stars, Lego’s latest project could be ‘Women of NASA’.

NASA Women in Science Lego science in schools

Five female scientists and astronauts who have played an emphatic role in space exploration have been given the Lego treatment for the Danish company’s wildly successful Lego Ideas project, where the public suggests topics to be replicated on a large scale.

Getting science to become more popular in schools could be achieved by showcasing some key role models.

The five are: Sally Ride, astronaut and first American woman in space; Margaret Hamilton, pioneering computer scientist who developed the on-board flight software for the Apollo missions to the moon; Katherine Johnson, mathematician and space scientist who calculated the trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo; Nancy Grace Roman, the astronomer known as the “Mother of Hubble” for her work on the Hubble Space Telescope; and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.

Margaret Hamilton’ science in schools

Margaret Hamilton’s Lego figurine stands up well to its real-life inspiration, pictured here with the reams of code which helped send humankind to the moon


Minecraft is one of the most successful computer games of the 21st century, with this month marking a particularly key moment for the brilliantly basic game – it is set to become an advanced AI playground for developers. Closer to the classroom, though, it’s getting kids into coding, computing and engineering in a big way.

Last September, a professor in University College Cork argued that Minecraft in the classroom will help students in the long run, with this one element of computer science in schools a priority.

Given the game has a MinecraftEdu application – already in use in other countries around the world – the push for inclusion on the Irish curriculum has begun.

It is already included in some classes in the UK, with a similar push a year earlier seeing it – alongside Football Manager – suggested as genuine logic-learning tools in the classroom.

The reason why it’s so popular? Minecraft is all about solving problems. If you want to build a structure, how do you assemble the blocks? How many are needed, and how can you manage scale?

A perfect example of this was in February this year, when Irish schoolchildren created 1916 scenes using MinecraftEdu as a way to celebrate the centenary.

Hello Ruby

Hello Ruby is a story and workbook that will help introduce young minds to computational thinking, with impressive illustrations taking readers through a logic-based storyline that ends with basics of coding.

It was written and illustrated by Linda Liukas, the Finnish co-founder of Rails Girls and a former employee of Codecademy – obvious pedigree.

Young readers meet ‘brave little’ Ruby, whose adventures with animal friends teach about sequences, not repeating yourself and, ultimately, the programming culture.

Given that programming is essentially storytelling – though with less obvious flair – perhaps books like this can best get children involved at the earliest possible opportunity. Again, computer science in schools can only be a good thing.

Your child doesn’t even need a computer to complete the activities associated with each chapter of the book, as it’s all about learning how to think like a computer, with fun games and printable resources from the Hello Ruby website.

Soft robotics toolkit

Soft robotics is an area you may not be aware of, but it’s growing into a major sector, with dramatic improvements in design, availability of materials and reduction in operating costs.

Dr Dónal Holland – a lecturer in biomechanics at the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering – is one of the people behind the Soft Robotics Toolkit.

The free resource is available online for anyone – whether that be schools or established engineers – and Dr Holland discussed the success of the project at Inspirefest this summer.

With robots created from cardboard, plastics, glue and more, the accessibility in this field makes it perfect for classrooms. The speed at which some robots are created is impressive, too.

The toolkit helps robotics enthusiasts create all sorts of devices, with the pack including CAD files for 3D-printing parts like silicone moulds, which can be edited to a researcher’s specifications.

Some of the projects completed through use of the toolkit are remarkable:

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Main image of science in schools via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic