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Archive for the ‘Engineering’ Category

More from Goldie Blox

The engineering toy aimed at young girls continues to expand, and they’ve moved past just engineering basics and have some great new products.

Goldie Blox kits are for children aged 4-9. The latest entry is, not a kit, but an action figure!

This is no dress-up Princess, either, Goldie’s action figure ziplines!



New Stirling Engine Designs from DStar

DStar Engines has produced some of the highest quality and widest variety of Stirling Engines to hit the market. From their popular Low-Temperature Stirling Engine, to the unique Stirling Engine Powered Vehicle. Now two new varieties of Stirling Engine are available.

The first is the Magnetic Ringbom Stirling Engine.



New Product Time: More Goldie Blox, Deluxe Spirograph, and Kaleidoscope Bulb

Just a quick entry to show off some of the new products we have in stock on the web and in the store. Let’s start with Goldie Blox’s latest entry into their market: Goldie Blox and the Dunk Tank.

???????????????????????Like other entries in the Goldie Blox series, this engineering kit teaches basic principles for children aged 4-9 while also telling a story that girls can follow and learn.

Goldie needs to get her dog Nacho clean. Trouble is nacho hates water and loves being a dirty dog. After many tries to get Nacho clean, Goldie finally comes up with the perfect contraption. As kids read along, they help Goldie build a dunk tank (and learn about hinges and levers) to get Nacho clean. All parts with tis set work with piece from the other parts of the Goldie Blox series.  In this entry students learn about hinges and levers!


PicoTurbine Wind Turbine Classroom Kits

Alternative energy is rapidly becoming one of the major topics of study in the classroom and Spectrum has supplied kits that produce energy via solar, hydrogen and wind. In that latter production category we have recently added a series of Savonius Wind Turbines and Windmill generators by PicoTurbine:

4907a (more…)

Goldie Blox makes a Rube Golberg Machine Video

Goldie Blox is the Engineering/Inventor toy aimed at girls – not just with pink colors on the box but by using methods that girls actually use in play. It has come onto the market with a splash and they have added the new Goldie Blox and the Parade Float to the series.

To promote the new products Goldie Blox has produced a video wherin several resourceful girls make their own massive Rube Goldberg device, many of the pieces involve parts from Goldie Blox kits.

And, yeah, they set it to a re-written version of the Beastie Boy’s “Girls”.


Want to get Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine? Or Goldie Blox and the Parade Float?


Jr. Scientist Series – The Weird

So in previous posts covering the products in the new Jr. Scientists series we covered their robotic kits, then in part 2 we covered their crystal kits and the telescope kit. But that is the final chapter in this science set series, and let’s just say that the products in this last post are a little – strange. Let’s start off with the very unusual: The Hand Dynamo Helicopter and Flip Flop Turtle.

Yes, you read that correctly.



The Classic Spirograph Returns

Ah, Spirograph:



Spirograph has a long history as a toy – dating back to 1965.  Its actually not the original – as the copy above says it was based off a drafting tool invented Denys Fisher. It probably looked something like this tool from 1968 (scanned from the Edmund Scientific 1968 catalog).



Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine

We’ve had our strong disagreements with efforts to get more girls interested in science. While some feel the effort should not be made to appeal to girls at all (not out of chauvanism, but out of the idea that there should be no consideration for gender learning & play processes) our main issue has often been with the very poor execution of said efforts: from the utterly disastrous European Commision’s ‘Science, Its a girl Thing’  video  to several science toy companies very poor efforts to appeal to girls by presenting them with inferior versions of boy’s science toys.

The key problem in the past has been a lack of innovation. Slapping a pink label on a science kit, putting a pretty, pretty princess on the box, disguising the kit as something else besides science GoldieBloxcharacterare all things that have been tried before and hardly even qualified as ‘innovation’.  But now at least some efforts are being made to address the issue.

Goldie Blox is a case of  innovation that would not exist without the internet. The company is a start-up, not  a major toy company, and was funded via kickstarter, the famous home of armchair venture angel investors. The company was conceived by Debbie Starling, a Stanford engineer who has made it her life’s work to tackle the gender gap in science & engineering.

Starling’s idea was simple: do some actual research on how girls play & learn and then design a product that would be educational and fun. The research found that girls tend to ‘play with purpose’. In other words, they want an end to their means. While boys may take a construction toy and start slapping pieces together, girls prefer to have some reason to do so. (Note: we are grossly, grossly overstating the research here).

To that end the character of Goldie Blox was invented. Unlike the blonde princess of Be Amazing’s girl toy line or a Barbie Doll, Goldie has overalls and a tool belt.

For a toy with purpose, a story was made for the toy to be demonstrated: Goldie has a pet dog named Nacho (along with a lot of other friends as we shall see). Nacho wants to chase his tail, and Goldie wants to help out. To that end Goldie develops the Spinning Machine.


The story of the Spinning Machine is told with a book included with the Spinning Machine. As children read they also build various parts and extensions to the Spinning Machine. The story does not just begin and end with a tail-chasing dog named Nacho, soon everyone is in on the act and the Spinning Machine gets quite complicated:


While children work with the Spinning Machine they learn a lot of basic concepts about a system known as a belt drive, which is used in all sorts of machinery.

As indicated from the title, this is expected to be part of a whole series of science/engineering toys not merely aimed at girls, but designed for girls. Time will tell if it is a success but so far the pre-launch hype has definitely garner attention.

Do you want to buy Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine?







Sexism in the Science Toy Store Part…something

Over the weekend there was a bit of internet outrage over a United Kingdom department store Marks & Spencer apparent decision to place science toys in what was clearly labeled the ‘Boy’s Stuff’:


There was more than a bit of outrage over this and it is not hard to see why. The toys here are all science toys: A Visible Human Body, A planetarium toy, Dinosaurs, and more.

Had this shelf not been marked as ‘Boys’ Stuff’ obviously it would not have received the outrage aimed at it.

Its hard to tell what the store was trying to do here. It does not seem to be the regular toy section, what with the bowls (kitchen or plant pots it cannot be determined).  Is this a kiosk? And endcap? It is very hard to tell.  In any case it was pretty poor decision on the part of this store.

That being said, sometimes we can go a little too far with our recreational outrage. This photo was included with a link to an online petition. This petition did go one step further and demanded that all toys have no gender aim. While I can understand the sentiment, the aim might be misguided.

Sometimes a little “gender-aiming” of a product is needed. Now I have ranted in the past about extremely poor efforts by manufacturers to aim science products at young girls (with such products usually being a poor imitation of the ‘boys’ kit with a pink coat of paint).:


Examples like this are what is wrong with such efforts. The kits end up being limited in scope, limited in appeal, and limited to which kids you can sell to. A soap-making kit aimed only at girls is a bit limited and rather odd. Let us remember that Tyler Durden of Fight Club made soap. So why should soap making be limited to girls only? Conversely, why should engineering and building kits be limited to boys only? The answer is that most boy’s toys these days aren’t.

Its actually a bit of a double-standard – most toys that are thought of as traditional ‘boy’ toys actually have taken a lot of effort in the past couple of decades to avoid having any gender typing on the packaging. Most of them have a mix of children, or no children at all – just the product picture. It has actually helped a lot to take a neutral stance on this, and in fact such a neutral stance tends to make the ‘aimed at girls’ products stick out like a sore thumb and makes a lot of folks uncomfortable: We as the retailer are uncomfortable using such blatant gender targeting, parents are uncomfortable buying such products for their daughters, and the girls are actually smart enough to know when they are being targeted.

So should no effort be made to aim science products at children? The answer here is: it depends. The trick is to do it properly, and with subtlety. That is a very fine line to tread.

For example: Tomorrow we will be going to the New York Toy Fair. One of the booths we will be visiting while we are there is a little start-up company called Goldie Blox.

Goldie Blox was initiated with a kickstarter fundraiser and plans to ship this April. It is a toy very much aimed at girls:


Essentially, Goldie Blox is a lever and pully design system children put together either by the instructions or in their own way to make the various characters on the poles spin around. The bright colors and female characters definitely aim this product at girls. To our knowledge, it is the only engineering/inventing toy aimed at girls – most other times such aimed products are in the chemistry or biology fields.

Is it a good thing? I know of several parents of daughters who have been waiting for this product to become available. So it looks to be popular at the very least.

However, looking back at the outrage over Marks & Spencer’s sexist toy placement, there were more than a few comments that raged against the very existence of this product. Gender neutrality, they growled, should be to order of the day.

Trouble is, when it comes to mechanical/engineering/invention toys…we already tried that!

Time will tell if Goldie Blox is successful in its mission. And while I might seem hypocritical by wishing them success while condemning other companies efforts to aim at girls I would point out a few things:

1) Goldie Blox is not an inferior version of a another Kit! This has always been one of the big issues with science toys aimed at girls (I really need to make up an acronym for that sort of thing if I write any more of these). Usually they end up with limited scope, or just a poor version of a better set with a box with pink colors.

2) Goldie Blox is not trying to sneak science kits in front of girls! This is a huge failing of science kits aimed at girls (That’s it, I am calling them SKAAG from now on!). The general philosophy behind SKAAG is that young girls need to be fooled into doing science. So kits are hidden as “make your own perfume kit”, “gel jewelry kits” and so on.  The idea seems to be that girls won’t want to do science if it is presented as such. While Goldie Blox has bright colors and fun characters it never hides the fact that it is an invention/engineering kit (of sorts).

I don’t know everything about Goldie Blox, it could make some massive missteps somewhere in its presentation, but I also refuse to condemn it because it doesn’t completely adhere to a gender neutral manifest of some sort. Start ups in the toy industry tend to be one shaky ground to begin with, I refuse to stomp the ground and make it worse for them.


fischertechnik Mechanics & Statics Engineering Kit

fischertechnik (yes, with the lower case ‘f’) makes high quality school education physics & robotics construction kits  that can both entertain and teach students. The kits use a construction toy style (like LEGO or K’NEX)to build the projects. They produce many different kits, and we will be adding them to our product line. But for this post we thought we would concentrate on one particular bit of engineering education: The fischertechnik Mechanic & Static Engineering kit


This kit has over 500 components for building 30 different models. Included with the kit is a 134 page, full-color construction booklet to help you build the models. Since this is an engineering kit you start with simple designs like Bars & turntables, but soon you will be constructing things like a planetary gear:


Of course, this being an engineering kit about statics and mechanics you have to have a bridge model:


Or other concepts in mechanics such as a balance scale:


But soon you’ll be producing such exciting models that are based on practical, real-life concepts such as this mechanical mixer – not unlike the model you would see in a kitchen:


There are plenty of other models and the kit has lessons on Dynamics, Electric moors, worm gears, crank gears, madnril screws, and much more!

The Mechanic & Static Engineering kit is powered by a 9V battery (not included) and includes the motor, switch & battery tray.  This is an excellent kit for the classroom or for kids who love to build aged 9+!

Want to buy the fischertechnik Mechanics & Statics Kit?