Looking for the STEM toys that will inspire your young engineers? The now established Geomag portfolio has been expanded to include the Mechanics Gravity range: does it have the same magnetic attraction?
Good STEM toys tick the boxes that are challenging, interesting, satisfying, and inspiring, but they should also be fun. A decision to play with something always has more value if it is the child’s choice and not the parents’ choice. Does Geomag’s latest offering get that ‘new toy sensation’ from kids?
The kit being reviewed is the ‘Geomag Mechanics Gravity – Loops and Turns’. What’s in the box? There are about 120 small pieces of plastic (made from 74 percent recycled plastic), ten-ball bearings, and an instruction booklet. Immediately there is the first realization that this is not the Geomag of yesteryear, where ball bearings and magnetized rods could be assembled in infinite combinations – the imagination was the limit, as they say.
This kit is aimed at people aged eight and over, rather than the simpler Geomag toy aimed at five-year-olds and over – although it was first introduced in 1998, it was thought to be suitable for three-year-olds, but that was clear in an era just before swallowing small plastic parts was endemic.
Made largely from recycled materials, toys of this nature should be of much less importance than single-use plastics. Durability will be key as these parts will be reconfigured and played with for many years to come – won’t they? Perhaps, but E&T may not have felt that this was the only set to be bought. Perhaps the reason for this is that the most important part is the instruction booklet. The way the parts fit together isn’t instinctive: when the parts fall out of the box, the response is more “What’s this?” instead of ‘What can I make?’
With instructions in hand, a fun circuit can be built. This is satisfying to build and the ball bearing runway produced is pleasantly sturdy. If the goal is to build a predetermined structure, then it passes the test.
Once built, the rather clumsy ‘cannons’ fire the ball bearings around a short track at such a rate that arriving at the end of the track seems almost instantaneous. There are a few extra parts in the kit that allows for minimal expansion, but may not be enough to make enough difference to make it worth it. Moreover, there are not really enough parts to build something new that is satisfactory. The secret comes out regarding this kit as part of the ‘Combo System’.
This combo system includes three other kits: Race Track, Vertical Motor, and Elevator Circuit. When used in ‘combo’ these open the possibilities. Granted, the instruction book shows how to put the kits together after the stock models are made, rather than encouraging the user to freestyle their own designs. Let’s hope that emerging tech minds will make that leap themselves. Note that despite being styled the same way, the Mechanics Gravity range is not compatible with the traditional Geomag toys.
The kit is a lot of fun to build and will keep an eager youngster busy for about an hour. Perhaps with the addition of further kits, more ambitious designs can be created and the kit becomes more than a one-off 3D puzzle. What about the STEM factor? Geomag claims: “The movement is provided by the invisible forces of gravity and magnetism, without the use of electricity or batteries. The playing experience is based on these fundamental principles of physics. Mechanics Gravity is a STEM product that can really spark curiosity and inspire you to learn more about science.”
E&T is not so sure. Gravity, as a force of nature, is instinctively learned by every toddler who takes those first failed steps. Magnetism is more interesting to an inquiring mind, but – unlike the original Geomag – there is less to think about from a magnetic point of view other than how the guns work, as this is the only magnetic part in the kit. However, the guns fire the ball bearing at impressive speeds, even though the ‘trigger’ ball is moving very slowly.
Does the young engineer want to know how this works? Or just how it can be used? E&T thinks it may have limited learning value for most, but maybe Mechanics Gravity can inspire the next hyperloop designer!