Ten of the best STE(A)M gifts for Christmas
Paul Smith-Keitley
26 November 2018

Everyone is trying to sell STEM products to you this holiday season and everyone is promising to turn your child into the next Elon Musk – stage school is so 2000…..

We have tried to pick items that might light that spark of curiosity and inspiration. Remember... have fun and learn something new!

1. Code.org

Code.org are the people behind the annual ‘Hour of Code’ event. They make coding puzzles and games based upon characters from franchises such as Star Wars and Minecraft.

Thanks to industry sponsors - code.org is free and there's no age limit. Mum or Dad can explore Python, JavaScript and more!

Famous coders include Bill Gates, Grace Hopper and Jack Dorsey


2. Robot Arm Educational Kit

Less than £50. Everyone loves watching a factory robot picking things up and moving them around. This kit lets you build one of your very own!

Constructors have to build the motors and the gearboxes to create a fully functioning 3 axis robot that can move 100g load. Use the included controller or attach it to a computer via USB!

Famous roboticists include, Joanna Bryson and Steve Grand

Robot Arm Educational Kit

3. Adventure-bot

There are educational robots out there that you build, or program, or learn from and then there is the Adventure-Bot!

Brainchild of Canadian, nuclear physicist turned roboticist - pound for pound the Adventure Bot is the most flexible, easiest to use and most powerful kit out there. It can move. speak, play music, follow things, recognise shapes, colours and people, it can even track them.

The built in AI enabled camera lets it describe its surroundings. It's not going to win a drag race when it comes to moving but that goes some way to extending battery life. Programming – it has its own script language, RoboScratch, Blockly, Python, Javascript, C# and C++ and like most things Canadian its user friendly and easy to get to grips with.

Famous AI engineers include Andrew Ng and Carol E Reiley

Adventure Bot

4. Intel NUC

The Intel NUC is a diminutive PC that you throw together yourself. Technically known as a barebones system you basically add RAM and storage and head off from there. Typically 4GB RAM and a 32GB SSD will get you started for less than £200.

You have the choice of multiple versions of Linux, the world’s leading open source operating system or you can even install Windows. With wireless and wired networking connection it is easy to build anything from a music jukebox to a smart set top box for your TV, with both HDMI and VGA outputs you can connect it to virtually any display.

Famous computer engineers include, Ada Lovelace and Steve Wozniak.

5. Chemistry Set

When I was eight my parents bought me a chemistry set for my birthday. At first I was allowed to do experiments on the kitchen table, but after the smelly Sulphur dioxide one my test tubes and I were banished to the garden shed.

I bought my daughter one last year and she loved the goo experiments and things that glowed in the dark. We are still finding experimental remains that were put in the freezer to set. This is a safe, inexpensive set that allows kids to build an understanding of solids and liquids and freak you out with strange smells.

Famous scientists include Marie Curie, first woman to win a Nobel Prize and Percy Julian, holder of more than 130 chemical patents.

Chemistry Set

6. Oculus Go

£199 The Oculus Go is a mid level VR kit. Not quite up there Hololens; the bigger brother of the Rift, but more capable than a phone based VR solution. It is self contained meaning you don’t need to hook it to a PC to make it run.

With over a 1,000 apps and games available there is plenty to keep you busy.

Virtual Reality pioneers include Thomas Furness III and Steven LaValle

Oculus Go

7. Hotwire Electronics Kit

This kit has enough parts to run a hundred experiments. Even allowing for the fact that some are very similar, it works out less than a pound per experience.

All the parts are mounted on small boards that clip together.

Famous electronic engineers include Nikola Tesla and Ingeborg Hochmair, developer of the world’s first micrococlear implant

Hotwire Electronics

8. 3D Printer

At around £250 the XYZ DaVinci Junior printer represents good value as an entry level printer. With a 15cm*15cm*15cm work area, the compact printer can turn out your masterpieces overnight.

Using the free TinkerCAD from Adobe you can create or modify 3D designs and use these either on their own or as part of a larger project. Other models in the same series add WiFi and multicoloured printing, while the 3 in 1 model which features scanning and a laser etching add-on is still less than £500.

For those with younger kids and their little fingers or big dogs and their large noses (we have both) the nice thing is that unlike many low end printers it is a closed unit, meaning neither of these two groups will interrupt its printing progress.

3D Printing pioneers include Bill Masters and Scott Crump

3D Printer

9. Forgotten Women: The Scientists

I know it isn’t a gadget, I know it doesn’t need batteries, it’s a book. Not just any book....

Forgotten Women: The Scientists chronicles the 68 female Nobel Prize winners who have defied the odds, and the opposition, to change the world around us. A great read, about great people who will inspire our children.

Forgotten Women

10. Da Vinci Catapult Building Kit

Less than £15. Everyone has heard the name Leonardo DaVinci and everyone has seen the films of medieval battles where huge machines hurled rocks and other more nasty things at castle walls.

I once built a 1/8 scale trebuchet with an out of school club and used it to throw water balloons, all looked great until our first test, we achieved more height than we expected, actually over a house. There were shocked screams so we assumed nobody was lambasted by our errant balloon and we moved to a larger site to continue our experiment!

This kit comes with all the parts (including projectiles) to build a 16cm tall model of one of DaVinci’s catapult capable of throwing one of the soft clay missiles over 15 feet! Who said engineers were boring and didn’t know how to have fun.

Brilliant engineers have obviously included Leonardo DaVinci, but also Isambard Kingdom Brunel and more recently Li Fan

Da Vinci Catapult Building Kit

11. The extra bit..... a STEAMCo experience

Our final offering is really a sharing gift.... STEAMCo is a CIC run by the charismatic Nick Corston. Disclosure here: I've know Nick for many years - he is a Rocket Man on a mission to make education, engaging, inspiring and fun again!

Nick will turn up at a school, unload his Tardis-like trailer,, and literally blow the minds of the students, teachers and parents as they all engage in coding, engineering, science and rocketry.

Such is the effect of this guy that students who took part in his events 2 years ago were still talking about it last week. Take a look at the stuff Nick does here and take a look at the kids in his videos.

So there is our list of gifts for the holidays - some little and some large. In common, they will make people think feel happy and learn!