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Tips for Students: Hack Your Toys! With David Simpson

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article expands on highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents. 

Authored by: David Simpson, Founder and Chief Tech Guide, Innovators Inc.

Summary

In this hands-on STEM/STEAM workshop, participants will hack (TRANSLATION FOR ADULTS: “explore the inner workings of”) one of their toys! (With permission, of course.)

Fun and Educational Hands-On DIY technology workshop for kids!

CAUTION! Prepare to experience science!

Do you like taking things apart (and putting them back together)? Then this workshop is for you!

We all like toys, right? Yes!

But do we really know how they work, inside? Uh, maybe.

Like for instance that R/C car…or that drone. Or that bubble blaster…or that robot.

Get the idea?

If it’s put together with screws, we want to take it apart!

And other things that might be around, like an old, battery-powered radio. Or, an old, battery-operated cassette player.

What makes them work? What’s really inside?

Come to this workshop and find out!

(Battery-operated only! NOTHING PLUG IN)

There’s always something more to HACK!

PARENTAL APPROVAL REQUIRED! (Seriously!)

Students should provide:
(1) Toy Suitable for Hacking (parental consent required)
(1) Phillips-Head Screwdriver
(1) Standard (Flat-Blade) Screwdriver
(1) Parts Tub (small bowl or storage container)
PLUS:
A fresh set of batteries
Some writing paper and a pen or pencil

Tips

  1. Screwdriver tips
    1. Remember; “Lefty, loose-ie. Righty, tight-ie”. In other words, counter-clockwise to loosen, clockwise to tighten.
    2. Make sure you have a good, solid contact between the screwdriver and the screw before turning. Otherwise, you might strip the metal from the head of the screw, making it almost impossible to turn.
  2. Safety First
  3. Keep track of your stuff
  4. Help your neighbor
  5. Pay attention
  6. Have fun

Things students can do to explore this topic further

Overall, fostering curiosity, creativity, and hands-on experimentation – like toy hacking – is key to helping students explore its connections to various STEM/STEAM disciplines. Beyond this workshop, here are some things students can do to explore this topic further:

  1. Electronics and Circuitry – Encourage students to delve deeper into understanding the electronics and circuitry of their toys. They can explore basic concepts such as circuits, switches, resistors, capacitors, and LEDs. Online resources, books, and beginner electronics kits can aid in this exploration. (see below)
  2. Programming and Robotics – Introduce students to programming languages and robotics platforms that they can use to enhance their engagement. Platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi offer hands-on opportunities for students to create and program their ideas to perform new functions or behaviors.
  3. Mechanical Engineering – Explore the mechanical components of the toys, such as gears, motors, and linkages. Students can learn about mechanical engineering principles by taking apart and analyzing how these components work together to make the toy function.
  4. Reverse Engineering – Encourage students to reverse engineer their toys by taking them apart and documenting how each component functions. This process can help them understand the design and engineering principles behind the toy’s construction.
  5. 3D Printing and Prototyping – Introduce students to 3D printing and prototyping technologies, which they can use to create custom parts and accessories for their hacked toys. They can design and iterate on their creations using software like Tinkercad or Fusion 360.
  6. Internet of Things (IoT) – Explore how toys can be connected to the internet to enable new features and functionalities. Students can learn about IoT concepts such as sensors, actuators, and communication protocols, and experiment with connecting their toys to online platforms or mobile apps.
  7. STEM/STEAM Professionals – Connect students with professionals working in STEM/STEAM fields, such as electrical engineers, computer scientists, mechanical engineers, and product designers. Guest speakers or virtual field trips can provide students with valuable insights into real-world applications of their skills and interests.
  8. Complementary Subjects – Encourage students to explore complementary subjects such as physics, mathematics, computer science, and design thinking. These subjects provide a strong foundation for understanding the principles behind toy hacking and can inspire students to pursue further studies in related fields.

Resources

Make: Magazine – As the leading voice of the maker movement, Make: publishes projects, skill-building tutorials, in-depth reviews and inspirational stories, accessible by all ages and skill ranges.

Maker Faire – From tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers, Maker Faire is where novices and experts of all ages come together to show what they’ve made and share what they’ve learned. A community built on curiosity, collaboration, and resourcefulness, celebrating the best of the global maker movement.

Maker Shed – stuff for making!

Beanz Magazine – beanz magazine is a bi-monthly online and print magazine about learning to code, computer science, and how we use technology in our daily lives. The magazine includes hard to find information, for example, a list of 20+ programming languages for education, as well as coding schools, summer tech camps, and more.

Innovators Inc. – Innovators Inc. develops and delivers hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workshops to children in schools, community centers and in partnership with retailers to critical acclaim from kids and parents alike. Our “learning-by-doing” workshops are more than just building, and include the science behind the fun.

Speaker Bio:
My mission is to make learning about science and engineering fun and cool for kids by doing!

I believe that within each of us lie remarkable ideas and inspiration and that with an understanding of mechanics, electronics, programming and the tools of creation, our potential is unlimited!

When I was a kid, I had the best childhood. Both of my parents are artists and designers so I didn’t have coring books and crayons, I had colored paper and colored pencils. And they’d say, “Here, draw your own ideas.” That was the greatest gift! I had rubber cement and razor blades. What kid gets to play with that kind of stuff? But that develop confidence and independent thinking. A deeper relationship with the physical world. Empowerment to create the world I could imagine.

And I built balsa wood model airplanes. And I learn to solder. And I build every kit Radio Shack had. And I figured I could combine parts from one kit with parts from another kit to create something entirely new. And, when I was old enough, I started teaching tech to kids. For the Liberty Science Center, the Civil Air Patrol and the International Spy Museum. And in articles for Make Magazine. And that became the inspiration for Innovators Inc.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.

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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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