Education empowers individuals and prepares them for life. It provides opportunities for them to develop to their full potential and become active participants in the transformation of their societies. According to educationist John Dewey, “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.” Education is seen as the foundation of society which brings economic wealth and social prosperity.
The role of education evolves with changing times, though its core purpose will remain the same. The methods of educational delivery have been changing along with the role of the teacher and the traditional classroom. The COVID-19 pandemic is one such example, when major changes were initiated in the teaching and learning process in education. Today’s challenges necessitate providing forms of education that will not only help the young generation gain employment in future but also enable them to think critically, solve problems and make informed decisions.
Advancements in science and technology will create many STEM-related jobs. Strong foundation in STEM is requisite for becoming future-ready and hence, emphasizes upon the need of sound STEM education in schools. Skills gained will prepare children for the future, providing them with a chance to improve their quality of life. STEM learning can be made more interesting, engaging, lasting and applicable to real life situations with the use of hands-on methodology including toy-based pedagogical approach.
Children experience the world through play. Toys provide opportunity for play while fulfilling an educational role. Toys play an important role in growth and mental development of a child, supporting creativity, cognitive growth and motor skills development. They are part and parcel of a society’s culture, a creative expression of its useful and practical knowledge. Toys have been used in education for a long time. The fascination for toys transcends several social disparities and can give equitable learning opportunities to all children.
In the context of science education in particular, they are one of the best learning tools for interactive, experiential and learner-centred education as they nurture the natural curiosity and creativity of children. Children often find science difficult or tedious. In such cases, the joyful appeal can create a ‘pull’ factor and can be creatively used for initiating the learning process among them. Use of toys in science education can create interest and develop deeper understanding of science and mathematics concepts, and spirit of innovation. An important aspect being the experience of joy and the element of creativity.
Toys can be helpful to learn various scientific concepts, principles or phenomena by providing an opportunity to engage and explore, whereby a child effortlessly gets exposed to the principles of science. Innovation can be fostered through tinkering, making and even breaking toys! The activity of breaking and reassembling toys, making new toys and experimenting with various designs and materials can give a child much joy, coupled with learning. A teacher can be a facilitator to this process, making their experience richer and learning more effective.
The activity of making their own toys can be a good lesson in enhancing STEM skills and introduces children to scientific methods of working. Such experiences help them understand how things work, cause-and-effect relationships, and develop skills of scientific reasoning. They learn how to plan, work step-by-step, use basic tools, observe, estimate, measure, evaluate their own work and gauge the scope for improvement. Life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, team work, focus, are developed in the process.
Toys do not have to be very expensive to be effective as a learning tool. They can be created from simple, easily available, low-cost, local materials – even by children themselves and, thus, easily accessible for all. In fact, toys can be creatively used to promote Equality, Access and Participatory learning opportunities.
Some teaching learning materials based on joyful aspects of toys, which have been effective in attracting the interest of students, are presented here.
- Newton’s Cradle
This is a well-known executive toy but more so, an excellent tool for explaining some physics concepts. One can spend hours playing with this toy, and observing it as the pendulum movement of the spheres amazes everyone. This toy can be prepared from simple materials like cardboard, marbles, thread, and glue.
Here, five metal spheres are suspended from a stand using thread such that they remain in a straight line and in contact with each other. One sphere at one end is slightly drawn aside and then released. On impact, the impulse is carried forward by the three in-between spheres to the sphere at the other end, which bounces with almost the same energy as the first sphere. This sphere in turn, strikes back at the sphere next to it. The impulse is carried up to the sphere at the opposite end which again bounces. The process continues for some time. Some energy is lost by way of sound and heat, and hence the process stops after some time. Interesting observations can be made on trying this process with two, three or four spheres and releasing them simultaneously.
Newton’s Cradle works on the principle of conservation of energy and linear momentum. It can be used to explain Newton’s three laws of motion, especially the third law which states that: “To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
- Musical Pipes
This toy is liked by children as it produces musical sounds on striking with a metal rod. They enjoy the process of striking the tubes a lot. Musical Pipes toy consists of hollow metal tubes of progressively increasing lengths, hanging from a support. The child, when striking the tubes, can realize the cause-and-effect phenomenon in production of different sounds.
This toy is based on the principle of resonance. Resonance means matching of a given frequency with the natural frequency of a vibrating object and resulting in production of sound of high intensity. When the pipes are struck with the metal rod, the air inside the metal tubes vibrates. As all the tubes have different lengths, the air inside these tubes also have different column heights. When the frequency of striking matches with the vibration frequency of air, resonance is produced and a sound of specific pitch. Since the lengths of tubes are different, the sound produced in each tube has a different pitch. Pitch is simply the rate at which vibrations are produced.
- Magic Coin Box
A Magic Coin Box can be used to explain the principle of reflection of light and optical illusion. The front side of the box is made of glass while the other sides are made from opaque material. There is a slit on the top. To begin with, the box seems empty. Next, a coin is inserted into the box through the slit. The observer expects to see the coin as it drops into the box. However, the coin is not seen and the box remains empty.
To a young child this seems like magic. However, the trick is accomplished by insertion of a plain mirror inside the box at 45o angle. A hidden space is created behind the mirror into which the coin drops. On observing from the front, the mirror cannot be seen due to reflection of light, and the illusion of an empty box is created.
- Flower in the Pot
This toy is an easy-to-make toy. Two pieces of cardboard are taken: one having a picture of a plant and another having a picture of a flower pot. Notice the position of each picture. The cardboards are glued back-to-back with a stick inserted vertically between them. To operate the toy, the stick is rotated back and forth between the palms with speed. What happens next is amazing! Both pictures merge and appear as one picture – that of a plant growing in the flower pot. This happens due to persistence of vision. Persistence of vision is the ability of the retina of the human eye to retain the impression of an image for a short time (around one-tenth of a second) after the image has disappeared and before the next image is processed by it. When multiple images appear in rapid succession (at least 10 frames per second), we get the illusion of a single, persistent, moving image.
One addition made to this toy is the attachment of a thread with beads or pellets on each side of the thread. On rotation, in addition to the optical illusion, the beads strike the cardboards and sound is produced, which is enjoyable for children. Use of other sound producing materials instead of cardboard can create a better ‘noisemaker’ toy.
A periscope is a simple toy that can be used to look around walls, corners or other obstacles. It works on the principle of reflection of light. This ability makes the toy exciting, as it seems magical to younger children while older children can use it to play detective. Here, one part of the tube can be rotated and the difference observed.
This periscope is quite simple in design and is made up of a tube. At each end of this tube, a plain mirror is arranged. The mirrors are arranged parallel to each other and at an angle of 45o and set in a straight line. Light is always reflected from a plain mirror at the same angle at which it is incident on the mirror. In the periscope, light is incident on the top mirror at a 45o angle and is reflected at the same angle to the bottom mirror. That reflected light hits the second mirror at a 45o angle and is reflected at the same angle, into the eye of the viewer. As the length of the tube of the periscope increases, the image obtained becomes smaller. Periscopes are used in submarines so the people inside can see what is on the surface of the water, even if the submarine is below the water. Periscopes in submarines have magnifying lenses between the mirrors to make the reflected image bigger.