CURIOSITY MACHINE offers kids a unique learning experience as they watch short videos, then pursue their own investigations guided by real-life mathematicians, scientists, and other professionals. "A transistor is an extremely elegant way to manipulate information," says Manu Prakash, associate professor at Stanford University, who investigates hydrodynamic fields with the goal of creating a bigger, better, cheaper fluid-based computer. His short video interview, a how-to video, and a few overview paragraphs lead to a cool Rube Goldberg-style DIY challenge for kids. It's easy for kids to document their findings as they design and test projects; there's the option to include video, photo, and text, which makes this website a great fit for school projects. Its engaging and approachable interface and reflection questions keep kids thinking and questioning -- and that's the point!
Though there are still a few hiccups in functionality ("Start Building" buttons don't do anything) and at least three empty categories, Curiosity Machine effectively captures basic as well as cutting-edge science in a kid-friendly atmosphere. Perhaps to its credit, the challenges are not the sort a teacher would give you so much as an older sibling visiting from college. In fact, an older sibling can sign up to be a mentor directly through the site. These automatically assigned real-life mentors should probably introduce themselves, but otherwise the level of engagement is perfect, with relatively quick response to questions, gentle suggestions, and positive encouragement no matter how kids muddle through the at-home challenges. Most of the real learning is sparked by working with real materials -- which kids have to assemble themselves -- while the computer is reduced to more of a reporting and communication tool.