Curiosity Machine

Website review by
Leslie Crenna, Common Sense Media
Curiosity Machine Website Poster Image
Open-ended STEM challenges support innovative thinking.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Educational Value

Kids as young as 10 can learn the process of investigation while they work to develop basic LED circuits or create novel solutions to college-level research questions such as how to deliver Internet connections to remote areas. Whether building a skyscraper with bio-glue or learning about cutting-edge camouflage concepts, kids rely on curiosity and satisfaction coupled with some mentoring. Instructions could definitely have more detail, and challenges might benefit from having target age ranges, but this free site is an outstanding resource for science-minded kids and beyond. Curiosity Machine pushes the envelope of design and creativity and supports young thinkers through their discovery process. 

Positive Messages

Kids can create a world of possibilities with a little encouragement and support. 

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the Curiosity Machine experience is like having a big sister or brother who's into science and shows you cool stuff. The interface is bright and bold, the videos intriguing, and the feedback very positive. Everything is free, powered by Iridescent, a U.S.-based nonprofit that lines up mentors with impressive credentials. Kids under 13 must go through an age gate and apply for an account via email or via snail mail and a hard-copy permission form signed by their parents.

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What's it about?

Sixty mostly science or engineering challenges grouped into 13 categories push past the ordinary with biomimicry, ocean engineering, and robotics. Each challenge follows a loosely implemented process of inspiration, planning, building, testing, redesigning, and reflecting. After watching an interview-based video introduction, kids choose a challenge and launch into the creation process, uploading plans, stills, and videos of their work, including written reflections displayed together on one page.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss the "on" and "off" nature of switches and how it relates to computer science.

  • Kids can further explore underwater sea habitats by going snorkeling or pursuing diving certification.

  • Enjoy the challenges together -- perhaps hold a mini family team competition and compare results.

Website details

  • Subjects: Science: engineering, biology, ecosystems, electricity, energy, life cycle, motion, physics, substance properties
  • Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: investigation, part-whole relationships, problem solving
    Creativity: combining knowledge, developing novel solutions, imagination, innovation, making new creations
    Communication: asking questions, conveying messages effectively
  • Genre: Creating
  • Topics: Science and Nature
  • Price: Free
  • Pricing structure: Free

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love experimenting

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