3D printers have the potential to revolutionize the way we live our lives. Imagine being able to simply download designs and print everyday household goods from the comfort of your own home! Unfortunately, up until relatively recently commercially available 3D printers have been incredibly expensive and full of faults. However, in the past couple of years we have seen a wave of budget, decent quality printers hit the market. So we’ve decided to include them as one of our best STEM toys for teens in 2017.
One of the most well known companies are XYZprinting who offer range entry-level printers that require little setup. The da Vinci Jr. 1.0 is the lowest in the range, but still provides good printing resolution of 100-400 microns! This means you can still create awesome, fairly detailed designs.
What’s more, the super easy to use XYZmaker software make this printer perfect for beginners. With the help of online step-by-step tutorials, you can use the software’s model library and range of tools to create 3D designs. Furthermore, you also have access to the XYZprinting Gallery where you can download thousands of free 3D models ranging from tools to toys to smart phone accessories! It’s great for creative exploration, which is why we recommend it as one of the best STEM toys for teens.
One of the downsides of these printers is that they are only compatible with XYZ’s printing filament. Whilst this is certainly annoying, XYZ’s filament has undergone tests to ensure it is non-toxic and free from pollutants. Additionally, the auto-feeding filament system, fully enclosed design and non-heated print tray make the Jr. 1.0 an even safer buy for first timers. However, if you would like the freedom to buy any filament, the popular Monoprice Select 3D is a great value alternative.
Second on our list of the best STEM toys for teens in 2017 is the awesome Mindstorms EV3 set from Lego. This kit gives you the power to bring your Lego creations to life in a new way. First your kid can build their own robots using the 550 Lego Technic elements and interactive guide from Lego. Next they can download the EV3 App and begin programming them with a simple drag-and-drop icon interface. When ready, or if they already have some coding skills, your teen can download the advanced EV3 Software for PC/Mac and begin more complex programming. This is why we recommend Mindstorms as one of the best coding toys for teens!
There are 5 build guides from Lego available, as well as a further 12 robot guides developed by the Mindstorms Community which come with the EV3 Software. However, there is literally unlimited scope to create your own machines, contraptions and robots. This is enabled with high-tech hardware including 3 servo motors, infrared sensors, color sensors and touch sensors. From rubix cubes solvers, to mini Lego car factories, to full size wheelchairs, the things that fans around the world have made with Mindstorms are mind blowing! Check out the video…
Cozmo is the revolutionary new robotics kit from Anki which teaches kids coding and programming. Packed with high spec hardware including a 30 fps VGA camera with state of the art facial recognition software, high resolution facial display, powerful CPU and 4 motors with over 50 gears, it’s so much more than just a toy! All this computing power enables Cozmo to recognize you (and your pets!), learn from experiences and evolve a unique personality the more you hang out. It really is like having your own little robot friend!
Download the app and begin playing games with Cozmo, unlocking new skills, modes and more. This is where this little robots 100s of emotions really shine. If he wins he gets happy, loses and he gets grumpy. If you ignore him he gets frustrated, if he’s bored he will get curious and explore… you get the picture. What’s more, Anki regularly release new updates to keep things fresh. For example, a recent update gave Cozmo the ability to recognize pets! It’s innovations like this which warrant this set one of the best STEM toys for teens in 2017.
Cozmo Software Development Kit
And we haven’t even got to the best bit! With the Cozmo Software Development Kit (SDK) Anki give you the power to create your own custom software. There are 10 example scripts to get you started, which include teaching Cozmo to sing a scale, patrol for intruders and turning him into an alarm clock! With access to higher level functions including the vision, behavior and animation systems, as well as the ability to connect to third part API’s like Twitter and Hue, the possibilities really are pretty much endless. Furthermore, the SDK uses the widely used programming language Python, so kids develop valuable skills with Cozmo. Read more in our full article on STEM toys for coding & programming.
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Cozmo or Mindstorms, Makeblock robotics kits are a great place to start. Similar to the above two, these sets are all about building and programming your own robots. Although, the programming aspect is simplified as Makeblock uses the icon based, drag-and-drop Scratch 2.0 interface. That said, it is still a great introduction to programming for teens.
Part of the building process involves assembling electrical components, made easy with color coded wires. This differs from sets like Mindstorms where all these parts come pre-assembled. As such, Makeblock is great for developing electrical engineering skills. The entry-level set comes with build instructions for 2 robots, however there are lots of cool expansions including a robotic arm, light & motion sensors and LED light board for creating your own facial expressions, animations and emotions! As with other sets, Makeblock are designed for tinkering and exploring your imagination. This trait is why we picked Makeblock as one of the best STEM toys for teens this year.
Microscopes are one of the best STEM toys for teens for inspiring kids to get into science as they expose the world around. Otherwise uninspiring things like skin, hair and plants become something new and exciting, which promotes a natural curiosity in science. You may see cheaper scopes with higher magnification, but low quality parts result in low image quality, which can be disappointing for kids. Conversely, the Duo-Scope features lab-grade parts with glass optics that produce clear, high resolution images. My First Lab’s DuoScope is great value and we think it’s one of the best science toys for teens.
The set comes with a 50 piece accessory kit including a petri dish, pipette, forceps, non-toxic stains and blank slides. As such, it is also a great way for kids to get to grips with basic scientific equipment. What’s more, it also includes four prepared slides to get things started, as well as many suggestions for further observations. These include observing live microorganisms from pond water, how to stain specimens, how to grow and observe mold, comparing insect wings and observing onion cell mitosis. As it’s a duo-scope it also has the options to illuminate objects from above, as well as from below with an LED light. This is a great all-rounder and a perfect intro to microscopy.
Summary of the Best STEM Toys for Teens 2017
A lot of research has gone into compiling and writing the reviews in this article, so we hope you now have a more informed choice on what’s out there! If you felt the toys featured here were too advanced for your kid, check out our article on the best STEM toys for tweens. Otherwise, happy shopping!