As the years go by and technology evolves, we continue to face the question of: how can technology make education easier/better/faster? Technology by itself does not inherently improve the learning process, but does have the ability to make a substantial impact if utilized in the right way.
At CES 2016, there are a handful of companies showing off toys with technology that enhance learning and, in our opinion, are mostly succeeding.
Fisher-Price brought its new Code-a-Pillar that claims to teach toddlers coding concepts in an adorable caterpillar-esque form. The Code-a-Pillar comes with eight segments; by changing the order of the segments, kids can control how the Code-a-Pillar behaves. As you would expect from Fisher-Price, the Code-a-Pillar is durable, attractive, and has enough lights and sounds to keep any kid occupied. Whether a toddler can really learn coding concepts is debatable, but they'll certainly have fun playing around with this caterpillar.
Marbotic was at CES to show off its Smart Letters and Smart Numbers toys - connected series of wooden letter and number blocks that interact with different apps on iPads (Smart Letters) or iPad and Samsung tablets (Smart Numbers). These toys combine tactile learning with electronics. Kids use the connected blocks to practice spelling and simple math, learn letter sounds, and play games that develop pre-reading skills. Created for ages three to seven, the apps provide a good range of activities to challenge kids as they grow in reading and mathematics abilities. The blocks are comfortable to play with and fun to pick up and stamp on the tablets. Marbotic Smart Letters and Smart Numbers offer a nice compromise between tactile learning and the tablets kids love so much.
LEGO Education brought WeDo 2.0 to Las Vegas - a bluetooth-enabled LEGO brick with sensors and a programming app that teach kids in grades 2-4 how to code. WeDo 2.0 takes it to the next level and offers a series of modules that require kids to use their new skills and LEGO blocks to explore scientific concepts like friction, metamorphoses, and pollination. Aimed at educators, WeDo 2.0 offers teacher training and expanded challenge modules for 40+ hours of learning.
With so many programming toys coming out these days, it was refreshing to find MakerBloks at CES 2016 - not another “learn-to-code”, a “learn-to-engineer”! MakerBloks are small, easy to handle blocks that connect to each other magnetically. Each block represents a different type of circuitry. There are switches, resistors, different colored LED blocks, and a buzzer block. The MakerBlok app introduces you to Gabby, a young girl who lives in MakerCity. She travels around the city helping ten of her neighbors - each neighbor has a challenge that the MakerBloks help solve. The first challenge is to fix the police officer’s red and blue lights - kids must connect the bluetooth block with a red LED block and a blue LED block. Kids are then asked to figure out how to make the lights dimmer using a resistor block. If you get stuck, the app will give you hints to help you along. MakerBloks are aimed at kids 6 years and older, and are available now for pre-order on the MakerBlok website.
The ONE Music Group arrived at CES 2016 with the ONE Smart Piano and the ONE Light keyboard - connected pianos that look and feel like traditional pianos but have many more features to support learning through technology. LEDs under each key light up to guide your learning. Working with iOS and Android devices, the ONE Piano app offers games, demos, video lessons, and sheet music for learning to play no matter what your age or skill. There are other LED pianos on the market, and other learn-to-play apps, but ONE Music offers a complete package that hits all the right notes.
With concerns rising about kids using tablets and other screens for too many hours a day, it’s nice to see a new round of toys that you can physically manipulate, paired with apps that enhance the learning experience instead of just being there for technology’s sake. We... I mean, our kids... can’t wait to play with these toys as they hit the market over the next year.