HANOVER — Looking for some fun, inexpensive stocking stuffer ideas? Dartmouth College Associate Professor of Engineering Vicki May has a list of ideas that not only fit that bill, but will encourage creativity and tinkering in young engineers.
"A lot of engineering is being creative," May said Thursday. "Engineering isn't always connected to creativity, sadly, but I think it's an important part of it."
First on her list is duct tape. May said she likes to keep duct tape on hand in her house for her children Spencer, 9, and Elsa, 8, for their projects. Today duct tape comes in a wide range of fun colors and has the ability to bind almost anything children can think of.
"The other day my son asked for a Kleenex box that he could use," May said.
Include a few empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls to get them started to create and build something, she said.
Next on May's list is a simple solar cooker made out of aluminum foil to learn about solar energy. Include ingredients to bake something like sun s'mores. When working with middle school students, May used these solar cookers to bake brownies and cook hot dogs, she said. You can learn more about the solar cooker at http://climatekids.nasa.gov/smores.
Third on May's list are parts to build a spinning top out of cardboard and washers. Building a top helps children understand rotational motion, she said. The Montshire Museum provides a great tutorial online, May said.
Fourth, the simple fun of a glue gun and Popsicle sticks. While many parents don't like letting their children use glue guns, May's children have been using glue guns since they were 4 years old, she said.
Children can build anything with Popsicle sticks and test ways to make the design more sturdy.
"It's not unlike Legos, but I find my daughter likes Popsicle sticks and glue guns more than Legos," May said.
Last but not least, number five on May's list is the CoffeeBot, which is not actually a robot but a collection of household items such as an old coffee container for the bot body. Again it's building, learning what works and magnets.
"They are just fun," May said. "Who's not going to have fun with magnets?"
For instructions go to http://makezine.com/projects/make-34/coffee-bots.
These ideas inspire creativity and encourage inquiry-based learning that makes for a strong foundation in engineering at a young age, May said. "It's fun connecting and building something," she said. "It teaches spatial reasoning. It teaches them how to make things, how to connect things, which you need as an engineer. They have to figure it out. It's not deep engineering, but it's a start."
Earlier this year, May was named the 2013 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.