October 29, 2018

140 games, toys and books to INSPIRE your children

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Krystal Mahlke was facing a Christmas list filled with video games for her son when she first looked through the annual Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue’s INSPIRE Research Institute.

Three years later, the guide is the go-to holiday reference for Mahlke’s 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

INSPIRE Books Books with engineering principles for all ages are part of the array of items in the fifth annual INSPIRE Engineering Gift Guide. (Purdue University photo/Brian Huchel) Download image

“They both love STEM-related activities and themes,” Mahlke said. “The biggest problem is seeing advertisements but not knowing what is worth the money and what will end up in the back of a closest.

“The gift guide has taken the guesswork out of that.”

INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering has issued its annual Engineering Gift Guide for the fifth consecutive year. It boasts 140 toys, books and games this year for children as young as 1 year old up to 18-year-olds in categories ranging from building and circuits to logic and puzzles.

One giant leap has been in the number of books included in this year’s guide, said Elizabeth Gajdzik, assistant director of INSPIRE.

 “The books are not just for older kids with a strict textbook-style setup,” she said. “Authors are trying to make it more accessible to small children, from 3 years old all the way up to older children.

This year, INSPIRE has several big publishing companies providing books with an engineering theme, she added.

“Today, we’re seeing all kinds of really great books for kids, including both fiction and nonfiction offerings, that are focused on engineering, coding and design,” said Monica Cardella, director of INSPIRE and associate professor of engineering education. “Engineering-related books are really important for connecting with kids who might love reading more than building - and for helping the kids who love building to develop literacy skills.”

Included in the section of almost 30 books are picture books, graphic novels, information resources and an entire book series.

INSPIRE is a research institute in the College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Education established in 2006 that investigates how children learn engineering in formal and informal spaces and how to increase the ability and interest of a diverse group of students who could become engineers. INSPIRE uses this research to create resources for educators and parents.

The gift guide is available online at https://engineering.purdue.edu/INSPIRE/EngineeringGiftGuide.

A YouTube video about the guide is available at https://youtu.be/zOwYrxvsb4Q.

With five years of gift guides now published, INSPIRE’s 11-person guide team continues to see new and different trends. Among those this year is the use of nontraditional directions.

We are seeing companies present instructions to children through blueprints, graphic novels, and augmented reality,” Gajdzik said. “These forms of instruction provide kids with other ways to put their spatial reasoning skills into practice and to learn to apply what they are reading to build, solve a challenge or play a game.”

“Kids must use spatial reasoning and have to read different facts to figure out how things go together,” Gajdzik said. “Those are two really exciting things. They’re not just telling them to do this then do this.

“It’s thinking beyond the traditional step-by-step instructions.”

Some puzzle games also are bringing facets of engineering into their fun, including logic and spatial reasoning skills.

“It’s a series of challenges that start off simply but build in difficulty so that even the undergrads find it hard,” Cardella said.

Toys, games and books included in the guide go through an extensive review process. From the engineering aspect, at least three faculty, staff or students conducted evaluations of each toy. Students with INSPIRE have an engineering background and are trained on how to review the submissions.

Those reviews are then used to develop ratings and desciptions of how the gifts promote engineering thinking and design, which are included on the INSPIRE’s gift guide website.

And then there are the most important groups of evaluators: parents and children. Events to review the toys and games were held throughout August and September at Lafayette’s science center, Imagination Station, as well as the West Lafayette and Klondike Branch public libraries.

For Mahlke, having those evaluations is most important as well as the guide breakdowns by price and age.

“I can go into the low end and find something that will last a few years,” she said. “Also I can find some that are good for both of my kids.”

As part of the testing, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were able to earn engineering patches by taking part in the toy review process. The toys also were made available for three days to students, faculty and staff in the Kurz Atrium of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

As part of the guide, a seal was issued by Purdue and INSPIRE to toys, games, books and apps for the fourth straight year to let consumers know that a gift promotes engineering thinking and design and was selected to be in the guide. Companies can include it on the gift itself or on their website.

Gajdzik said INSPIRE continues to receive submissions not only from previously included toy companies and publishers but also from new ones they hadn’t worked with before.

“It’s exciting that they are finding value in what we’re doing,” Gajdzik said. 

Writer: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu 

Sources: Elizabeth Gajdzik, 765-494-9599, egajdzik@purdue.edu

Monica Cardella, 765-496-1206, cardella@purdue.edu

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