Simply take them out and get experimenting, building and exploring together: class packs containing educational toys are classic resources used in science education. The topics they cover range from mechanics and statics through to energy, IT and mathematics. In these coronavirus times, some class packs can even be used for hybrid learning. That's according to Albrecht Betzold, a business studies graduate and one of three managing directors of teaching resource specialist Betzold GmbH.
"While students are in the classroom, the teacher can give all of them a pack to take home with them, such as the counting set in the case of the youngest kids. Then during times of distance learning, the children can cover their learning steps in a very vivid and tactile way. This improves educational outcomes compared with screen-based learning alone", explained Betzold.
Fischertechnik adds class packs to its range
However, class packs containing educational toys still particularly come into their own when children learn together in school – which will hopefully soon be the norm again. Small groups of students can then work on the same tasks in general sciences classes or physics, for example.
The new class packs from Fischertechnik, a long-standing German manufacturer of construction toys, are also designed for this. The manufacturer only added such kits designed for teaching entire classes to its range in 2021. "We are initially offering primary-level sets focused at children aged 8 and 9”, explained Marc Schrag, who is responsible at Fischertechnik for sales in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
The new class packs are designed as robust boxes, each containing 16 sets on the respective topic. "Ideally, we would expect these to be shared among 15 groups of two and the teacher", said Marc Schrag. Adults who themselves used Fischertechnik kits in school as children (put together by the teaching resource trade at the time) will immediately be familiar with the concept. However, the new class packs come with fresh approaches. The topics covered include gear units, electronics, solar energy and optics.
Teaching students to program via app and Sphero kits
Science class packs are an international phenomenon. Globally, they fit into the STEAM category, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. In the US, Sphero from Colorado is one company offering such sets. The manufacturer of educational, computer science and robotic toys is represented on the market with product ranges such as littleBits and Sphero.
"The littleBits STEAM+ Class Pack", explained Darren Tobin of Sphero, "is the ultimate STEAM learning toolkit." It includes, for instance, 250 electronic modules that children can use in the classroom to gradually develop their knowledge and skills in areas such as programming. A dedicated app serves as an interface between the class pack with its electronic elements and the coding.
Eitech fosters imagination with perforated strips
The metal construction kit is a classic that goes back a long way in educational toy history. School construction kits with Märklin Metall parts from publisher Klett, for example, were once a common feature of many industrial arts lessons in Germany. But the construction kits from Eitech designed for schools are very current. The metal construction kit with 10 mm hole spacing is an evolution of the construction system developed in Gotha, Thuringia, in the 1950s.
With the C167 school construction kit, children aged 7 to 15 in particular can work on industrial arts, engineering, physics and matter/nature/technology (MNT). According to Markus Hildebrandt from Eitech, based in Pfaffschwende, the set is also being used in schools for children with learning disabilities and in vocational schools. Everything from model vehicles to model cableways can be built with the perforated metal strips, wheels, shafts, gear parts, screws and a dollop of imagination. The class pack contains the appropriate number of kits depending on the lesson.
Some 100 class packs in the Betzold range
In addition to manufacturers of educational toys themselves, many specialist retailers and publishers also offer STEAM class packs. The company Betzold wears both hats: "We are not just a knowledgeable retailer specialising in educational resources but also an inventor and creator of these same materials," said Albrecht Betzold. Accordingly, it has itself designed and produced around half of the some 100 STEAM class packs currently in its range.
Although the children are always front and centre when designing educational toys for entire classes, they are not the only target group. After all, the teachers also have to be provided with appropriate supporting material that will allow them to use the sets to best effect in the classroom. At Betzold, an in-house editorial team therefore puts together guides for teachers, including video tutorials. Supporting didactic materials, such as lesson plans with a link to the curriculum, are also extremely important at Fischertechnik. The Black Forest-based company therefore works with educationalists to develop these.