Ten and a bit of the best STE(A)M gifts for Christmas
Paul Smith-Keitley
26 November 2018

Everyone is trying to sell STEM or STEAM products to you this holiday season, and everyone is promising to turn your child into the next Grace Hopper or Elon Musk – stage school is so 2000…..

We have tried to pick something for all prices, but be warned, there are some very different things on this list. So without further ado lets begin, we’ve also listed some famous people who have, or have had careers in these areas.Join

1. Code.org this one is a no brainer and should be on everyone’s list. Code.org are the people behind the annual ‘Hour of Code’ event. By getting big business like Disney and Microsoft to allow them to use their Intellectual Property, they make coding puzzles and games based upon characters from franchises such as Star Wars and Minecraft. The end result being challenges that kids actually want to take on and complete. The good news is that thanks to industry sponsors it is free, the even better news is that there is no age limit so if Mum or Dad want to explore Python or Javascript they can. Famous coders include Bill Gates, Grace Hopper and Jack Dorsey


2. Robot Arm Educational Kit – less than £50. Everyone loves watching a factory robot picking things up and moving them from place to place. This kit lets you build one of your very own, and when we say build, we mean just that. Constructors have to build the motors and the gearboxes. In the end you will have a fully functioning 3 axis robot that can move 100g load. Great fun for everyone, uses 4D cell batteries which last quite a long time. There is a controller included, but it is also possible to attach it to PC via USB and program it. Famous roboticists include, Joanna Bryson and Steve Grand

Robot Arm Educational Kit

3. Adventure-bot – there are educational robots out there that you build, or program, or learn from and then there is the Adventure-Bot, brainchild of Canadian, nuclear physicist turned roboticist pound for pound it is the most flexible, easiest to use and most powerful kit out there. It can move. speak, play music, follow things, recognize shapes, colours and people, it can even track them. The built in AI enabled camera lets it describe its surroundings. Its not going to win a drag race when it comes to moving but that goes some way to extending battery life. Programming – it has its own script language, RoboScratch, Blockly, Python, Javascript, C# and C++ and like most things Canadian its user friendly and easy to get to grips with. Famous AI engineers include Andrew Ng and Carol E Reiley

Adventure Bot

4. Intel NUC less than £200, lets hope I don’t get lynched by the Raspberry Pi fans, but here is a left field alternative. The Intel NUC is a diminutive PC that you throw together yourself. Technically known as a barebones system you basically add RAM and storage and head off from there. Typically 4GB RAM and a 32GB SSD will get you started for less than £200. You have the choice of multiple versions of Linux, the world’s leading open source operating system or you can even install Windows on it. With wireless and wired networking connection it is easy to build anything from a music jukebox to a smart set top box for your TV, with both HDMI and VGA outputs you can connect it to virtually any display, its sort of like a Pi’s big brother that’s brighter and faster with more friends. Famous computer engineers include, Ada Lovelace and Steve Wozniak.

5. Chemistry Set when I was 8 my parents bought me a chemistry set for my birthday, at first I was allowed to do experiments on the kitchen table, but after the smelly Sulphur dioxide one my test tubes and I were banished to the garden shed. I loved that set things that changed colour, things that snapped, crackled and popped (some quite loudly). I bought our daughter one last year and she loved the goo experiments and things that glowed in the dark, we are still finding experimental remains that were put in the freezer to set. Chemistry is often overlooked and this a safe, inexpensive to allow kids to build an understanding of solids and liquids and freak you out with strange smells. Famous scientists include Marie Curie, first woman to win a Nobel Prize and Percy Julian, holder of more than 130 chemical patents.

Chemistry Set

6. Oculus Go £199 The Oculus Go is a sort of mid level VR kit, not quite up there Hololens and its bigger brother the Rift, but more capable than a phone based VR solution. It is self contained meaning you don’t need to hook it to a PC to make it run, which in turn means no cables to fall over. With over a 1000 apps and games available there is plenty to keep you busy. Being a lightweight device also makes it suitable for pre-teens. Virtual Reality pioneers include Thomas Furness III and Steven LaValle

Oculus Go

7. Hotwire Electronics Kit less than £50. I know this back to my misspent youth again, things like this didn’t exist, I used to have to get the bus a couple of towns over to the ex-WD store (old military stuff being sold off) on a Thursday, that was stock delivery day, where I would root through boxes of stuff, make a pile, pay the man and then go home and plead with my Dad to go pick it up at the weekend – I built my first robot using bits from this shop when I was 14, it lasted a week before it scared my mum who beat it with a brush! Anyway I digress this kit has enough parts to run 100 experiments, and even allowing for the fact that some are very similar works out less than a pound per experience. The really cool thing with this kit is that all the parts are mounted on small boards and they just clip together, which is easier than soldering or using clips and at the same time alleviates possible issues due to bad connections Famous electronic engineers include Nikola Tesla and Ingeborg Hochmair, developer of the world’s first micrococlear implant

Hotwire Electronics

8. 3D Printer at around £250 the XYZ DaVinci Junior printer represents good value as an entry level printer. With a 15cm*15cm*15cm work area, the compact printer can turn out your masterpieces overnight. Using the free TinkerCAD from Adobe you can create or modify 3D designs and use these either on their own or as part of a larger project. Able to fit in a space less than 45cm x 45cm printing is virtually silent, other models in the same series add WiFi and multicoloured printing, while the 3 in 1 model which features scanning and a laser etching add-on is still less than £500. For those with younger kids and their little fingers or big dogs and their large noses (we have both) the nice thing is that unlike many low end printers it is a closed unit, meaning neither of these two groups will interrupt its printing progress.3D Printing pioneers include Bill Masters and Scott Crump

3D Printer

9. Forgotten Women: The Scientists – less than £10, yes I know it isn’t a gadget, I know it doesn’t need batteries, it’s a book. Not just any book, one that chronicles the 68 female Nobel Prize winners. Chapters including Earth & Universe; Biology & Natural Sciences; Medicine & Psychology; Physics & Chemistry; Mathematics and Technology & Inventions profile the female scientists who have defied the odds, and the opposition, to change the world around us. A great read, about great people who will inspire our children to greatness.

Forgotten Women

10. Da Vinci Catapult Building Kit – less than £15. Everyone has heard the name Leonardo DaVinci and everyone has seen the films of medieval battles where huge machines hurled rocks and other more nasty things at castle walls. I once built a 1/8 scale trebuchet with an out of school club and used it to throw water balloons, all looked great until our first test, we achieved more height than we expected, actually over a house, there were shocked screams so we assumed nobody was lambasted by our errant balloon and we moved to a larger site to continue our experiment! This kit comes with all the parts (including projectiles) to build a 16cm tall model of one of DaVinci’s catapult capable of throwing one of the soft clay missiles over 15 feet! Who said engineers were boring and didn’t know how to have fun. Brilliant engineers have obviously included Leonardo DaVinci, but also Isambard Kingdom Brunel and more recently Li Fan

Da Vinci Catapult Building Kit

11. The ‘bit’ – a STEAMCo experience – our final offering ‘the bit at the end’ is really a sharing gift, one that you would share with your child’s school, or if you were feeling particularly philanthropic with a school not doing quite so well with limited resources. STEAMCo is a CIC run on a shoestring by the charismatic and enthusiastic Nick Corston, (disclosure here, I have know Nick for more years than many reading this have been alive, he is a man – a Rocket Man, on a mission to make education, engaging, inspiring and fun again) Basically he will turn up a school or other venue, unload his trailer, which I am sure is part Tardis, and literally blow the minds of the students, teachers and parents as they all engage in coding, engineering, science and rocketry. Such is the effect of this guy that students who took part in his events 2 years ago were still talking about it last week, and just remember 2 years to a 12 year old is age. Take a look at the stuff Nick does here and if you think gift giving is all about making people happy and thankful, take a look at the kids in his videos.

So there is our list of gifts for the holidays, from little things to some big things, the one thing they have in common is that they will make people think and they will make people happy, chances are they will learn something too.