EdTech Trend: Teaching with Smart Toys

By Monica Burns 07.01.2014 blog

In this series we’ve covered a number of EdTech trends that are increasing in popularity, including augmented reality and interactive textbooks. Smart Toys are another EdTech trend that you may be interested in learning more about. Smart toys are different than standard educational products or everyday toys. They adapt to the level of the user and react to their decisions. Smart Toys are often connected to another electronic device like a tablet, laptop or smartphone.

You may have seen smart toys used with young students in early childhood settings. These can be as simple as manipulatives that interact with a touch screen. One example is Tiggly – a toy where preschoolers can tap a screen with different shapes to play games.

Despite what we might think of when the word toys comes to mind, there are plenty of choices that are perfect for middle and high school students. They ask teens to problem solve and think critically. Many of these smart toys help students develop STEM skills like programming and coding while asking them to interact with devices they can hold in their hands.

Students looking to become creators can interact with everyday items in a new way thanks to MaKey MaKey. This tool lets users hook circuit clips to fruit, play-doh and all sorts of things, and send signals to a computer by turning these items into keys. Teens can design their own games and interactive experiences using this engaging technology.

Osmo turns an iPad into a tool that interacts with objects they hold in their hand. Students can set up Osmo and watch their doodles appear on the screen of their iPad. They can connect their drawings on pencil and paper to virtual games taking place on their screen. Osmo also lets students connect Tangrams they physically move on a table to an app on their iPad. This iPad extension comes with different objects and games for combining real and virtual experiences.

Another smart toy that is transforming STEM education in schools is Sphero. This baseball sized device is controlled by by bluetooth technology through an app on an iOS or Android device. Students send it instructions on where to move, what color to light up as, and how fast it should roll across the floor. Sphero has developed a collection of lesson plans for teachers that help them figure out the best way to use the device with their students.

If these smart toys don’t fit into your curriculum you may decide to feature them in an afterschool club. Teens are sure to gravitate towards activities that let them be creators and problem solvers. This is especially true when they see the real world potential for using similar technology in their future careers.

Have you tried any of these smart toys? Do you think they have a place in schools? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monica Burns is an Education Consultant, EdTech Blogger, and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site ClassTechTips.com for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.

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