Category Archives: Great ideas

Holiday STEM Gift Ideas

Boston Tech Mom has posted her annual STEM Gift Ideas for 2018 and has also discussed the gifts recommended by educators from Project Lead the Way.

Eric Olson recommends the monthly subscriptions of fun STEM projects from KiwiCo. They’re available in 7 lines, by age:  Explore & Discover (0-3 years), Play & Learn (3-4 years), Science, Art & More (5-8 years), Geography & Culture (6-11 years), Art & Design (9-16+ years), Science & Engineering (9-16+ years), Engineering and Design (14-104 years). Choose 1, 3, 6, or 12 months, with increasing discounts. Change among lines at any time.

Kevin Osborn has an eclectic list of recommendations for makers and robotics fans:

1. Screwdrivers! They are definitely not all created equal! Wiha screwdrivers are always excellent, and you can buy them in multi-bit sets or as dedicated drivers with ergonomic handles. Once you start using them, you’ll want to throw out your other screwdrivers. If you are not buying a set, at least get a #1 and #2 Phillips head. They are available locally at YouDoIt Electronics or online. And if you ever need to open your Macbook or Android phone, specialty screwdrivers are needed. This Japanese made set is terrific and has regular drivers included, so it’s just about got you covered for any job involving small screws.

2. To explore electronics on a budget, look at Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express, which has a bunch of sensors, a speaker, microphone, addressable LEDs, etc. It can be programmed in the browser with Microsoft’s MakeCode, with Arduino, or you can drag-and-drop Python programs to it. Many accessories are available, including Crickit, which turns the Circuit Playground #xpress into a great platform for building your own robots.

3. mBot is not like so many “STEM” robot toys that are expensive one-trick ponies (once you’ve learned what they have to teach you, they are no longer very interesting). mBot includes distance sensing, line following, motion, and more, and it’s part of a more extensive line (makeblock) that’s sort of an Erector Set of robotics. With many attachment points, you can also add on your own embellishments (both artistic and functional) with standard screws and nuts. Buy two to set up your own robot sumo contest!

Newton Schools Foundation: Donor will Match up to $25K in Contributions to Calculus Project

The Newton Schools Foundation has announced that, for a third year in a row, an anonymous donor will match up to $25,000 in donations made in March for the Newton Public School’s Calculus Project.  The Calculus Project works in all of Newton’s middle and high schools to have more Hispanic, African American, and low-income students successfully complete calculus in high school, as a path to success in college.  Since its start in 2013, the program has increased enrollment by 70%, 200%, and 800% for these groups, respectively.  The program provides intensive, small-group summer classes, enrichment activities, and year-round mentoring and tutoring.  In 2018, the summer program includes instruction in Computer Science, field trips to STEM-related companies, and college campus visits for rising 11th graders with a focus on STEM majors and careers. The program currently include 138 students in four grades next year will expand next year to cohorts in Grades 8-12.

While the NPS operating budget funds part of the program, tax-deductible donations via the NSF are needed for the summer program, tutoring, enrichment activities, and supplies.

More Recommendations for Holiday STEM Gift Ideas

Boston Tech Mom builds on her recent list of recommended STEM-oriented gifts with a blog post about Project Lead The Way’s recommended STEM gifts focused on engineering and computer science.

Eric Olson recommends that you consider the wide range of STEM educational products at

Kevin Osborn recommends Engadget’s article on Learning Toys and STEM Toys We Love.

Public radio’s Science Friday had a really interesting discussion this week of the Best Science Books of 2016 with Maria Popova of Brain Pickings and Lee Billings of Scientific American.  Their recommendations are written on the site along with the podcast, and the comments contain many more book recommendations.

Boston Tech Mom’s STEM Gift Ideas

Just in time for the holidays, Boston Tech Mom has compiled a list of recommended STEM-oriented gifts in the areas of Toys & Kits, STEM Reading, Maker Movement (DIY), Robotics Team, and Coding Club.

Newton LigerBots Host Their FIRST-Ever Worldwide 3D-Printed-Parts Competition and Announce Winners

The LigerBots — Newton’s high-school FIRST robotics team — ran its first-ever worldwide competition, team1965in which other FIRST teams from around the globe submitted 3D-printed parts that they had created for use in their robots in the last two years.  A panel of LigerBots judged the entries on three criteria: creativity in how teams solved a problem, elegance of the solution, and overall complexity.

First Place:  FRC Team #1965 FireBirds from Boston created team4613a full tread drive, including treads, sprockets, and axles.

Second Place:  FRC Team #4613 Barker Redbacks from Sydney, Australia created a low-cost and lightweight gearbox — and offered to help other teams worldwide by sending them a gearbox.team868

Third Place: FRC Team #868 – TechHOUNDS from Carmel, Indiana created a pair of two-inch Mecanum wheels that were not available otherwise.

And huge congratulations to the LigerBots for creating and running this contest!

LigerBots Explain ‘Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition’ in Newton TAB and will Demonstrate Same at BU Event, Apr. 2-3

Be sure to read the LigerBots’ op-ed column in the Newton TAB, which explains, with examples, the value of two key tenets that drive the innovation, success, and character-building of FIRST Robotics:

  • Gracious Professionalism — “the idea that rather than taunting or jeering opponents, teams should compliment and even help their competitors when needed”
  • Coopertition — “displaying unqualified kindness and respect, even in the face of fierce competition”

The LigerBots invite the entire community to see, cheer, and learn about this at its next competition, on April 2-3 at Boston University (Agganis Arena, 925 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston — see schedule).  It’s free, open to all, inspirational, and a blast.

NSF Launches $25K Matching-Fund Campaign for NPS Calculus Project

The Newton Schools Foundation has announced that anonymous donor will match up to $25,000 in donations made in March for the Newton Public School’s Calculus Project.  The Calculus Project, successful since its start in 2012, works in all of Newton’s middle and high schools to have more African American, Hispanic, and low-income students successfully complete calculus in high school, as a path to success in college.  The program provides intensive, small-group summer classes, enrichment activities, and year-round mentoring and tutoring.  While the NPS operating budget funds part of the program, tax-deductible donations via the NSF are needed for the summer program, tutoring, enrichment activities, and supplies.

Science Club for Girls: 4 Days Left for Junior-Mentor Challenge Grant

As noted earlier, December 9 is the deadline for Science Club for Girlsfundraising challenge, through which donations will be matched 3-for-1 for SCfG’s very successful Junior Mentor program.  This program funds near-peer mentors in Grades 8-12 to inspire younger girls to dream big and get excited about STEM.  These funds are doubly effective:  They offer leadership training to 90 Junior Mentors for job preparation, teamwork, and communication skills — and they offer inspiration and STEM education to the 600 younger girls who are mentored.  The drive ends in four days and has raised $3,255 out of the $5,000 needed.  We’re asking NewtonSTEM readers to step up with tax-deductible donations of any amount.

NSHS DaVinci STEAM Program is Underway

Newton South’s new STEAM-focused, collaborative, interdisciplinary program — DaVinci — started this fall with a cohort of 22 Sophomores who are studying various intersections of Theory of Creativity, Biochemistry, and Math. Terms they use to describe the experience so far:  Hands-on, engaged, entertaining, individualized, outside the box. Recent questions: What is life? What is creative life? How do we model life? Can you find an object with a mathematical pattern in it and describe the pattern with an equation?

Russian School of Math Volunteers at Boys & Girls Club

DSC_2641Selected high-school students from the Russian School of Math are volunteering at the John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club to engage B&G Club members in Grades 2-4 in the wonder and fun of mathematics.  The program is in its fourth week and will continue through May, with the expectation that it will be repeated in following years.  Sixteen RSM high-school students were selected for the program based on their interest in teaching and their ability to relate well with elementary students.  Each Thursday, 8 of them come to the B&G Club, under the supervision of an RSM teacher, for an hour of math teaching and games with 16 B&G Club members.  Each RSM volunteer and each B&G Club member involved has made a year-long commitment.  The program is free for B&G Club members, offered as part of RSM’s community-appreciation activities.  (B&G Club membership is open to all for $125 per family per year.)