How Smartivity puts STEM to play

As conversations around STEM and STEAM grow in India, there is a corresponding hike in the number of related toys appearing on shelves. The biggest player in the Indian market is Delhi-based Smartivity. Begun by four engineers (three of whom are IITians), the four-year-old company sprung up to fill a gap. “India is a service-oriented economy, with hardly any focus on [true] engineering, on doing things with your hands. If we continue on this track, we will remain a market of consumers and not makers, and this will impact the next generation,” says Tushar Amin, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer (pictured second from right).

The quartet felt they could address this by introducing practical applications of STEM fundamentals at a younger age. Today, their gender agnostic toys like Pump It Move It Hydraulic Crane and Roller Coaster Marble Slide (bestsellers at toy stores like Hamleys) are helping children learn everything from gear ratio to centrifugal force. Their learners’ logs (which come with every product), interestingly also ‘introduce’ mistakes, “because in science, mistakes are the sure shot way of questioning and learning”.

How Smartivity puts STEM to play

And kids are questioning and experimenting and giving them feedback, so much so that they’ve started a STEM Ninjas programme. Over 60 innovative children join them for three to four hours every week and are involved “right from the conceptual level to testing and prototyping”. Seven of their top innovators even get a monthly salary!

One of their biggest challenges is societal conditioning. “Seventy percent of our users are boys because parents are reluctant to buy construction toys for girls,” says Amin. “We tried to tackle this by launching SmartCraft, STEM toys girls. Like a Princess Castle that is pretty but also brings in mechanics [a dance floor that works on a gear mechanism], physics and electrical components. But then retailers got back saying the label ‘STEM for girls’ was alienating for boys who wanted to buy it.”

With exports to over 24 countries, including the US, Australia and China, they will be launching a subscription service this Christmas, besides launching products in three new categories next year, which will explore design thinking, programmable toys and exer-gaming.

How Smartivity puts STEM to play

Coding with LEGO

This February, Lego Education unveiled Spike Prime, a coding and robotics set for students (grades six to eight). The Danish company is no stranger to the world of STEM toys, with earlier sets like Duplo and Mindstorms designed to encourage learning through play, but Spike Prime has gone a step further. “We thought through the entire product, from new building elements to the technology, and a fun app,” says Siddharth Muthyala, the experience and design lead for Lego Education. Prime, which is set to hit shelves in early 2020 (currently open for pre-order), was designed specifically for the classroom, and comes with 33 lesson plans (each 45 minutes long). Students can work in pairs with the elements — Lego bricks, coding language, a programmable ‘Hub’ with Bluetooth connectivity, motors and sensors — to construct creations that include a break-dancing robot, and program them to do things like race, predict the weather and even do sit-ups.

How Smartivity puts STEM to play

About the inspiration for Prime — which Fast Company called “the coolest way to learn engineering since 1998” — Muthyala says it was a gap in the “STEAM offerings for middle school students. There’s nothing that combines approachable lessons with a high ceiling for exploration and mastery of STEAM fundamentals.” That skill, he adds, is important, given that for children entering the school system this year, more than half the jobs that will exist when they enter the workforce don’t even exist today.

Sindhuri Nandhakumar

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 5:47:10 AM |

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