Education

Continuing the Search for STEM Toys

Last week, I highlighted the Circuit Playground, an inexpensive platform I use to engage my kids in programming. I wholeheartedly endorse the Playground for its simplicity and plethora of sensors.

But what if you really want a screen, a feature the Playground is missing unless you attach a TFT Gizmo? If that’s what you’re looking for, then get a Clue!

Adafruit CLUE

Sometimes blinking, rainbow LEDs aren’t able to convey as much information as a little LCD screen. This is where the Adafruit CLUE shines. This board is about the size of the Circuit Playground, but instead of a face of ten NeoPixels, it has a 240×240 color TFT display (same dimensions as the TFT Gizmo). It also has a bunch of sensors, including:

  • Bluetooth Low Energy (I’m going to try to connect mine up with my daughter’s Circuit Playground Bluefruit)
  • 1 NeoPixel that can display any rainbow color (16 million variations!)
  • 3-axis accelerometer for motion detection
  • Temperature sensor
  • Light sensor
  • Microphone
  • Speaker
  • 2 push buttons
  • 3 capacitance touch inputs

Those are pretty much similar to the Playground. But it has more:

  • 3-axis magnetometer/compass
  • Light/gesture/proximity sensor
  • Humidity sensor
  • Barometric/pressure/altitude sensor
  • Bright white LEDs
Picture curtesy Adafruit and Kevin Walters

The CLUE is probably my favorite, supplanting my favorite Playground because of the additional screen and sensors. But it’s also more expensive at $40. It’s programmable in either Arduino (C++) or CircuitPython (Python).

Here’s one sample project that we had fun building: Paper, Rock, Scissors! There’s others, and many of the Circuit Playground projects can be adapted to the Clue.

Next up, let’s get things moving!

Crickit

One thing the Playground and Clue both miss is the ability to move. Well, that’s not strictly true. Both can power some small servos, but they need a bit more power to make a robot. Enter the Crickit, or Creative Robotics & Interactive Construction Kit

This board comes in several flavors, including flavors that work with either the Circuit Playground Express (or Bluefruit) and the Clue (technically the micro:bit, but it’s completely compatible). There’s also a FeatherWing and RaspberryPi versions, if those are more appealing.

The board can be powered by either a 5V wall adapter or a 3xAAA battery pack. It has the ability to “drive” (not included):

  • Four analog or digital hobby servos (micro, mini, standard or large size)
  • Two DC motors up to 1 amp
  • Four high power devices (5 volt)
  • Eight signal input/output channels
  • Four capacitive touch (which double as additional analog/digital signal I/O)
  • NeoPixels
  • Speakers
Picture curtesy Adafruit

Any of the Crickets will set you back $30. You can pair it with a robot chassis kit for an additional $25 and you’ve got a robot that can move around on its own.

In addition to building the robot, here are other Crickit projects you can try.

Conclusion

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the fun you can have learning to program without spending a lot of money.

How do you get your children involved in STEM? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hasta luego!

 

2 thoughts on “Continuing the Search for STEM Toys

  1. I know quite a few people who are around my age that learnt how to program from playing Minecraft (building mods and mini games). Some of them have gone onto running their own dev companies.

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