6 STEAM tinkering tools for the holidays

By Thomas C. Murray and Samantha A. Edwards
December 18th, 2015

Engage kids of all ages with these STEM and coding learning toyssteam-tools


The year that was brought with it a renewed, and much welcome, interest in science and technology, as STEAM, makerspaces, 3D printing, and coding all became hot topics. Each year, as parents look to celebrate the various holidays with our kids, many of us rack our brains trying to find gifts that are both fun and educational. This year is no different and fortunately, the latest STEAM push has made many of the learning tools very desirable as holiday gifts.

The following are six ed-tech tools that will undoubtedly spark the creative and innovative side of kids of all ages (parents and teachers included). These tools are dynamic, engaging, and fun for everyone. Best of all, they’ll help students focus on higher-order thinking skills as they make, design, create, and code their way into 2016.


Designed for kids ages 5-13, this unique gaming accessory works with an iPad to offer interactive learning experiences through five games — Tangram, Words, Numbers, Newton, and Masterpiece. One of Time Magazine’s “2014 Best Inventions of the Year,” more than 7,500 schools are already teaching with Osmo. From spacial to literacy skills, the learning games that come with Osmo give kids an opportunity to practice social skills while learning critical thinking skills. Aimed at bringing “iPad addicted kids back to life,” as the Wall Street Journal put it, the Osmo…is meant to break the zombie-like stares and bring more of the real world back into the mix, by providing games that interact with just about any physical object—pen, paper, blocks, even toys your kids already own.”

Makey Makey

Make some magic this holiday season. Inspired by the Maker Movement, this JoyLabz created invention kit for all ages combines computer programming and hands-on maker tools limited only by imagination. Whether your plan is to turn a banana into a piano, play Super Mario Bros on a Play-Doh game pad, design a pencil joystick to play Pac-Man, or create floor pads to master Dance Dance Revolution, your child’s creativity will be pushed, pressed, and plugged-in as they think critically and have a blast.

Ozobot Bit

Measuring in at slightly more than an inch, this bite-sized programmable robot is one of the world’s smallest — but great things come in small packages. The Ozobot’s multi-level interactive capabilities make it perfect for a beginning programmer that would like to explore a color-based coding language, as well as the seasoned programmer looking for a bigger challenge (via OzoBlockly-a block-based visual editor). There is something for every type of thinker with this tiny tinker robot. According USA Today, “With…Ozobot Bit, Kids can graduate to “if,then” programming.”

Dash and Dot

Parents will find themselves dashing through the snow to pick up Wonder Workshop’s adorable robotic duo this holiday season — Dash and Dot. Kid-friendly and programmable, the pair come with five free apps to explore a variety of skills including coding, sequencing, measurement, problem solving, and critical thinking. Dash and Dot come fully assembled and ready for their first adventure only minutes after taking them out of the box. Like any well-maketed toy, don’t forget the accessories. Some favorites include Dash’s Xylophone, Building Brick Connectors, and even a launcher! From the 2015 National Parenting Gold Award to the Time To Play Magazine 2015 Holiday Most Wanted List, and a myriad of other awards, Dash and Dot have an award case that makes other robots jealous.

Gizmos and Gadgets Kit

Gizmos and Gadgets is LittleBits’s most popular kit, and embraces true STEAM curricular integration. The well-designed kit comes with 15 electronic building blocks and easy-to-follow guides and instructions that include both text and photos, as well as accessories to fire up the imagination and spark creativity. “With more than 60 color-coded modules, there’s nearly an infinite amount of hacking, programming, and playing that kids can do with this easy-to-use playset,” writes Time.

Sphero SPRK Edition

The clear polycarbonate shell of this transparent ball of robotic fun enables students to feel closer to the robotic action inside by viewing all of the components that make it maneuver. SPRK builds confidence for beginning coders, while providing veteran programmers an opportunity to flourish through a variety of user-friendly apps. This programmable Sphero robot will SPRK the imagination of any student as they navigate their way through rolls, spins, flips, and color changes (build an obstacle course and try and get Sphero through for an added challenge). Its text-based programming language, OVAL, is hidden behind an easy-to-use block-based format. Collaboration is encouraged by free access to the SPRK Lightning Lab, which is a hub of learning and sharing for all Sphero users, both iOS and Android. Also, if your child is a fan of Star Wars — and who isn’t this week? — check out the Sphero’s droid-inspired BB-8.


Whether it’s coding, making, or building, there’s something for every child this holiday season that can help them tap creativity, develop high level thinking skills, while learning through play. These six ed-tech learning tools are sure to be a hit this holiday season, as well as something teachers will appreciate and kids will love.

About the Author:

Thomas C. Murray serves as the state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education located in Washington, DC. He has testified before the United States Congress and works alongside that body and the U.S. Senate, the White House, the U.S. Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning while helping to lead Future Ready Schools and Digital Learning Day. Murray was also named the “Education Policy Person of the Year” by the Academy of Arts and Sciences at the 2015 Bammy Awards.

Samantha A. Edwards is a digital media specialist at Fogelsville Elementary School in the Parkland School District in Pennsylvania. A Keystone Technology Integrator award winner, she is passionate about STEAM education and providing all kids with opportunities to tinker, design, code, and become creative problem solvers.