Review: The Magic School Bus Engineering Lab

Magic School Bus Engineering Lab
Photo Courtesy of Amazon.com

Today we see a great deal of focus on STEM in schools. If you don't know, STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The idea behind this focus is to get kids more interested in these fields. For that reason, schools are creating STEM programs to allow kids to explore these fields with hands-on activities. You can do the same thing at home with this engineering lab from the Magic School Bus people.

Kids love the Magic School Bus book series and probably no kids love it better than gifted kids. The books in the series appeal to the curiosity about the world we see in so many gifted kids and help quench their thirst for knowledge. So, what could be more perfect to get your child interested in engineering than this lab?

Why STEM Is Important

The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are arguably our future. Each of these fields represent some aspect of our everyday lives. Science helps us understand the weather, ecology, medicine, nature, and so much more. And where would we be without technology? We have have computers, smart phones, and even smart tv's these days. Engineering allows us to enjoy roads and bridges, buildings, including our homes, and all the appliances within those buildings. Without mathematics, we would have a hard time with our finances, whether figuring out our investments, working with a family budget, or even going to the grocery store.

Because STEM fields are so important to our lives, we want to encourage our children to learn about these fields and hopefully be drawn to enter one as their chosen career.

STEM careers are plentiful and most often provide a good income. For example, the 2009 list of the 10 most wanted employees released by the US Department of Labor included eight in STEM areas: accounting, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, information sciences and systems, computer engineering, civil engineering, and economics and finance.

The US Department of Labor also listed the ten fastest growing occupations, six of which are clearly STEM-related occupations with high median salaries:

  • Biomedical engineers, $77,400
  • Network systems and data communications analysts, $71,100
  • Financial examiners, $70,930
  • Medical scientists, except epidemiologists, $72,590
  • Physician assistants, $81,230
  • Biochemists and biophysicists, $82,840

It's no wonder, then, that we want to nurture an interest in STEM and encourage our children to enter these fields. You don't have to wait for your child's school to provide STEM activities or even for your child to start school. There are things that you can do at home to foster an interest in STEM fields. Toys such as the Magic School Bus Engineering Lab can allow you to foster that interest at home, even before your child starts school.

What the Magic School Bus Engineering Lab Includes

This lab comes with enough items to complete 33 different experiments. It includes a data notebook (handy for recording experiments), solar panels, a motor, a buzzer, electric wires, dowel rods, straws, string, balloons, and more.

Experiments are explained on 33 experiment cards and provide directions for experiments in the different fields of engineering, for example, mechanical, electrical. civil, and chemical. What a great introduction to engineering!

Review

The lab doesn't include anything that you couldn't find easily on your own. But you can't get the cards that feature the beloved Ms. Frizzle outlining some engineering problem that must be solved. As children figure out how to solve these problems, they learn engineering principles — and have some fun in the process.

Scholastic recommends this lab for children between the ages of 5 and 10. That is an accurate age range, although younger children will definitely need help from their parents. But that's OK because it provides an excellent opportunity for parents to spend some quality time with their child.

On the downside, some of the items in the lab are a little flimsier than they could be and are sometimes harder to work with than they should be. For example, in one experiment with motion, kids are supposed to poke the dowels through the cardboard wheels. The wheels don't have holes in them and the dowels aren't pointed. That makes it extremely difficult to just poke the dowel through the wheel. However, parents can help by first making a hole in the cardboard wheel with a sharp object. This is one of the reasons an adult often needs to help children complete the experiments provided. It may seem a bit crazy to include dowels rods without pointed ends and then expect a child to poke that dull end through a piece of cardboard, but you have to remember that we don't want young children to be using items with sharp ends that could hurt them.

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