Written by Andrew Peterman, member of Mr. COD, senior at Middleton High School and BadgerBots summer camp instructor.
BadgerBots invited our FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team, Mr. COD, to conduct a Holiday Toy Review. The goal is to provide parents with recommendations for tech toys to consider as holiday gifts for their kids. As high school juniors and seniors with expertise in building and programming robots, we can offer informed opinions on what makes a great tech toy. Tech toys can be great gifts for kids because they make learning fun. And they're not just fun – they actually help kids get better at solving problems, improve their critical thinking, and encourage creativity.
Mr. COD has been competing in the FIRST robotics programs for nine years and has advanced to the state championships almost every year. We have won many robot design and programming awards, and two of our members are BadgerBots summer camp instructors. We also had the valuable assistance of another FTC team, Attack Hamsterz. Attack Hamsterz is an all-girl team in its second year of robotics competition. They earned a place in the FTC state tournament in their inaugural year, and won awards for promoting STEM in the community and for gracious professionalism in competition. Attack Hamsterz is comprised of freshmen, sophomores and juniors from Middleton High School and Memorial High School, and has one BadgerBots summer camp instructor in its ranks. We see Attack Hamsterz often as both our teams build and program our robots on-site at BadgerBots, and last year we shared a coach.
We chose three tech toys to review. They were: LEGO Gear Bots, Osmo Coding Kit and Sphero Mini. We rated each toy on a 5 point scale in three categories: fun, ease of use and skill development.
LEGO Gear Bots $20
The LEGO Gear Bots from Klutz includes LEGOs and a 64-page instruction booklet for building fun, physics-driven kinetic creatures that kids definitely will enjoy. The book provides instructions for eight different projects that children can build with the LEGOs and paper origami-type cut-outs.
Our reviewers noticed a lot of the simplicity of the builds that the book provides. The toy did very well at what it was meant to do, which was give children entertainment and a fun time building LEGOs. The creative and simple builds provide a fun experience for younger kids. Makayla said, “No coding and pretty basic mechanics. It would be a good intro to LEGO and to work on fine motor skills.” This is also a great experience for older kids who are interested in playing with LEGOs for the first time. The complaints were that it is too simple, not very educational, and wouldn’t hold a kid’s attention for long. Garryck said, “I thought the ideas and final builds were cool, but I don't really see a kid playing with this for super long. It would be fun to build them, but once they are done with all the designs I don't see them playing with it again.”
Overall, we give it a thumbs up because it is fun, and at a cost of $20, it is a cheaper alternative to LEGO products where the average LEGO set costs more than $30. While your child might not learn a lot, your child will be entertained by the variety of different builds of the same LEGOs being used.
Osmo Coding Kit $45
With the Osmo Coding Kit, kids interact with hand held pieces and an iPad or iPhone to control the character Awbie while he goes on a fun-filled adventure. Other games include creating music and solving coding puzzles. An Osmo Base is included, but an iPad or iPhone is not included. No Wi-Fi is necessary for game play after you download the game apps. The game designers say that kids learn logic, coding fundamentals, basics of programming, teamwork, listening, critical thinking, observation, creative problem solving, music creation and pattern recognition.
The Osmo Coding Kit is very fun and very educational. Kids learn how to use block coding and have different and entertaining apps to try. Reviewers Rachel and Anya said, “You can definitely learn a lot of block coding and the basics of coding from this toy. It also helps teach troubleshooting skills if something doesn't work on the first try.” Nihal said, “This toy serves the very foundation of block coding, although it's extremely easy to understand, it provides insight into programming. This is meant for young kids who have no experience with programming whatsoever.”
Our reviewers’ biggest complaint was the difficulty of using the product at first. Rachel and Anya said, “It did take time to get working and at times was definitely frustrating because the camera would not always pick up on the blocks placed in front of the screen. After getting it to work, it is easy and user friendly but it might require assistance from an older sibling or adult.” Nihal said, “The physical blocks themselves sometimes can interfere with the app, so make sure that all blocks are out of the Osmo's camera other than the one you want to use.”
A downside to the Osmo is that it requires an iPad or iPhone, which not all families have. If you do have an iPad or iPhone, and have younger children, this is a perfect gift to get them. The Osmo Coding Kit gets a thumbs up for the interactivity and creativity that is required of this product. Nihal said, “It's a fun mix of learning and engagement that creates a healthy learning environment.”
Sphero Mini $50
Sphero Mini is a small sphere the size of a ping pong ball that has motors inside that make the ball move. It is equipped with a gyroscope, accelerometer and colorful LED lights. After you download the Sphero app on your phone, you can use that app to control the movement of the sphere. It also comes with small bowling pins and traffic cones that you can try to avoid or knock down. Sphero Mini is a fun toy for your child but doesn't have many purposes other than moving around and hitting things, it isn't very educational.* Ethan said, “This toy is a robot ball that can be driven and programmed. For a young kid, this thing can be pretty fun to drive around. However, the programming features are very limited and there is not much depth to the software capabilities of the robot.” Nihal said, “This toy is strictly for entertainment, there is nothing to really learn from it.”
The toy still has entertaining modes like golf or space defense. Unfortunately, we hesitate to recommend this toy for your child as it doesn't have much potential and replay-ability, and there are cheaper, more fun options out there.
To wrap up this holiday tech toy review, LEGO Gear Bots is a great toy to get this holiday season as your child will have fun building many different projects like a moving chameleon or a DJ octopus. The variety this toy provides is great and it’s a fun toy to spend time on. The Osmo Coding Kit is amazing for kids to learn how to use block coding in creative and interactive ways. The Sphero Mini is very entertaining, but might not hold your kids’ attention for long, and, overall isn't the greatest purchase you could make for your child for the holidays. We recommend the Osmo Coding Kit if your family has an iPad or iPhone, and we also recommend LEGO Gear Bots for the holidays.