May 25, 2017

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Curiosity Machine: Science Tied to the Curriculum and the Maker Movement | SLJ Review

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1704-TK-Curiosity-projects“How do children succeed? With curiosity, creativity, and persistence,” reads the website of Curiosity Machine, a membership-based community offering engineering design challenges.

The 80-plus activities available through the site cross disciplines and are inspired by man-made and natural structures. For example, one involves designing a pine cone that opens and closes, and another, constructing a working crane that utilizes simple machines to move heavy objects. Each challenge has a performance goal; for example, the crane should stand on its own and be able to support and move a load of marbles, but there is no right or wrong design. Challenges include a video prompt for inspiration, a list of supplies, short how-to videos, and further reading. Difficulty levels are also provided. For each stage of the activity—“planning,” “build, test, redesign,” and “reflection”—there’s a page with additional notes. Educators and students can upload images of their designs to show their progress and receive feedback.

1704-TK-CuriosityMachine1Paid memberships, available to schools, libraries, and other organizations, provide access to all the challenges and additional levels of support. Schools can schedule training sessions for adults who wish to volunteer to lead or assist with the program in the classroom. Parents who want to work with their children at home can sign up for parent pedagogy training. The five training modules address such topics as growth mindset and asking open-ended questions, and will empower parents to think of their home as a learning environment. Professional development is also available for teachers, who learn how to scaffold the activities for different ages and abilities and how the program aligns with the Next ­Generation ­Science Standards (NGSS).

A mentor program is also available. Mentors are volunteers from a variety of science and engineering backgrounds and include experienced professionals and college students. They undergo training on providing guidance and feedback to students.

While a paid membership is required to access the full range of Curiosity Machine resources, five complete challenges are available for free by signing up for an educator’s account. Each activity includes lesson plans and handouts for grades three to five and six to eight, and educators are able to post pictures of the designs as well as reflections. Additionally, the 23 challenges inspired by aerospace company Boeing, part of its 100 Days of Learning, are also free. However, only two of these include educator resources. All the materials needed for Curiosity Machine challenges are inexpensive and easily found in stores. Each project includes lists of recommended and optional materials, but neither list is set in stone. Students can use similar supplies, or any useful, found object that works, to complete their design.

1704-TK-Curiosity-websiteMembership packages are closely tailored to the needs and size of the school, library, or organization. A flat fee of $1,000 includes access to 15 design challenges for a year, multiple teacher accounts, and allows up to 100 students to post projects to the site. But representatives from Iridescent, the Curiosity Machine parent company, suggest a school try out the five free activities before committing to a paid membership. They partner directly with schools to find the best combination of challenges, training and professional development, mentors, and even funding, to ensure successful implementation of the program.

Verdict The creators of Curiosity Machine have accomplished the difficult: they’ve tied concrete science curriculum to the maker movement in a way that doesn’t dilute the free-form trial-and-error nature of the making process. While it may sound counterintuitive, the best thing about Curiosity Machine may be the minimal instructions. Students are given the tools to plan, design, and test their structures, but the rest is up to them. It is expected that they will try, fail, and try again. The process-over-product approach, combined with inexpensive building materials and free educator resources, make Curiosity Machine an all-around win.

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This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Addie Matteson About Addie Matteson

Addie Matteson is a middle school librarian at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, GA.

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