Creative Solution to Hands-on Learning

With academic funding cuts, and an emphasis on standardized testing crowding out creativity in the classroom, educators are finding an affordable, hands-on solution with solar-powered, robot-building kits, one example is the Mini Solar Kits, that encourage creative thinking, problem solving and a love of science.

The easy-to-build kits provide a mix of creative, active learning since the designs are activated by a mini solar panel that brings them to life. When students watch the robots they built themselves speed up or slow down depending on light intensity, they’re not only learning and experimenting with cause and effect but also enjoying hands-on science without the carbon emission. Powered by outdoor sunshine or indoor halogen lighting, these kits are perfect for sparking the imaginations of elementary or middle school kids with little or no kit building experience.

The 6-in-1 Educational Solar Kit allows children to snap together 21 parts to create six different working models including an airboat, windmill, puppy and two different planes. The kit was named one of Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products, and 10 Best Educational Products in 2009.

At the Baker Demonstration School (Wilmette, Ill.) founded by Clara Belle Baker, a leader in progressive education, the curriculum emphasizes hands-on learning over lectures. The school used the kit in its Summer Discovery Program. According to Joan Beadle, director of the program, the kits provided a great experience for the campers.

“Each camper had the ability to take their kit home and interchange the parts to create a new robot. We received many comments from the parents on how their children enjoyed putting together all the different models included in the one kit. The kits we used challenged the children intellectually, engaged their interests, and provided lasting play and learning opportunities,” says Beadle.

In Perth Amboy, N.J., the Jewish Renaissance Foundation uses robot kits each year for their 21st Century Community Learning Center Programs. The program focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to prepare students for 21st-century careers. The program serves over 300 fourth graders a year and used mini solar kits to supplement an environmental science activity.

Noel Haynes, administrative director at Delta Prep, consistently re-orders the kits because they provide an effective and affordable way for students to experience the science behind robotics. “Boys or girls, they all enjoy a hands-on way to understand how things work.”

There are a variety of mini solar kits, including things like a transforming robot and the solar system, with provides paintable planets that revolve around a solar-powered sun,

The 21st CLCC program at the Jewish Renaissance Foundation is funded in its entirety with federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by No Child Left Behind, Title IV, Part B, 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CLCC) grant funds through a grant agreement with the New Jersey Department of Education.