Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Learning with K'NEX Education, a review

I am so excited to share this resource with my fellow homeschooling families. T received this K'NEX Education set as a Christmas gift from his Aunt, Uncle and Cousins (they are also a homeschooling family). I was just about as excited as he was when he opened this gift on Christmas morning. Honestly, I did not even know that K'NEX offered educational kits. No, I did not make him wait until now to start playing with it. He actually built one of the models the same day but I didn't get any photos and his Dad was helping so I didn't get to see the steps. The following review contains photos from a few weeks ago, I am just getting around to writing the post.

First, I am in no way affiliated with K'NEX, we received this set as a gift from a family member. We loved it so much I had to share. There are so many different sets, I can't wait to try more of them. They have simple sets for Early Childhood, Elementary sets, and even Middle/High school sets. The elementary sets follow STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) which includes the set I am reviewing.

We have Intro to Simple Machines: Gears which is recommended for grades 3-5. My son is in the middle of 2nd grade (technically speaking) but with Montessori education they are often introduced to concepts earlier than in traditional education. My 7.5yr old son had no problem understanding the concepts or building the models. He does have a long history with building toys, which I am sure helped. This set only costs $39.99, which actually shocked me. (Sorry Sis, I only looked up the price because I wanted to review it). When I saw this gift I thought it had to have cost a lot. What can I say? I'm used to paying Lego prices. I was wonderfully surprised by the reasonable prices of these sets, especially since this particular set includes 7 models.

The first thing I noticed with this set was the sturdy plastic box it came in. It has a snap on clear lid that allows you to see through it. They are also stackable, which means if you buy several you can stack them neatly and you can see inside to know which set you are working with before opening it. It comes with an instruction manual for the child (or children) to use when building. There is also a CD that contains the teachers guide. I saved the teachers guide to my iPad so that it was easy to access. There are also blackline masters on the CD that show diagrams that the children can use. Instead of printing out these sheets, I just had T look at them on the iPad.

This set contains 193 pieces of K'NEX which can be assembled into one of 7 models. Only one model can be made at a time. The instructions are written more for a traditional school setting so if you have more than one child, they can work together on a single model or you can buy two sets and they can each build their own.

Let's get to the building. T had so much fun building these three models! He learned all about spur gears and crown gears, and the difference between them. We started with the Crank Fan model which teaches about spur gears and the relationship between gears of different sizes and the input/output of the fan. First, he pulled out two gears of the same size and meshed them together as spur gears work. He discovered that the driver gear will turn one way and the driven gear will turn the opposite direction.

T had no problem following the instructions by himself. He wouldn't even let me help, so I sat and took pictures instead.

His first model had two gears of the same size one on top of the other.

Here is another view of the same model.

The completed model, he is turning the blade using the crank on the back

Side view.

We measured how fast the blade turned in relation to the crank. We found that for each turn of the crank, the blade turned one time.

Next, we swapped out the gears with a tiny blue gear on top and a large yellow gear on bottom (the colors don't mean anything, I just mention so you can see what I am talking about). The large gear is the driver gear because it is connected to the crank. When you turn the driver gear, it turns the driven gear on top which is connected to the fan blade. We measured and the fan blade rotated 6 times for every full turn of the crank. It was much more difficult to turn the crank. There was much more input but also much more output.

Finally, we switched the gears making the tiny gear the driver gear on the bottom and the large gear the driven gear on top. This gave us opposite results as the previous model. The crank was very easy to turn but the blade moved very slowly. For every single turn of the fan blade we had to turn the crank 6 times.

He concluded that you would use the different gear configurations depending on your input/output needs. One configuration would give you more output but would take more effort, the other would give less output but would take less effort. 

We worked on crown gears another day. There were two similar models and he wanted to make both the same afternoon. The first was a blender and the second was an egg beater. 

Crown gears mesh together with one horizontal and one vertical. They also turn in opposite directions. In the photo he is looking at the blackline master in the teacher guide for the crown gears and then trying it out with the gears.

The gears meshed together mid construction.

Adding the top of the blender

A closeup on the gear box.

Of course, we had to add a little extra demonstration by using a real blender. We made a strawberry yogurt smoothie. We looked at the gears and it was a little different because some of it is enclosed but it did help with his understanding.


Finally, he built the egg beater model. He was actually most excited about this one. It has two sets of crown gears.

In case you don't know what an egg beater looks like, there is a photo in the instruction manual. We actually do not have one so T was happy to see the photo.

Close up of the two sets of crown gears. Two yellow medium sized gears are connected to the crank. They are meshed together with two tiny blue gears which are connected to the beaters.

This model was more for fun since it was the same concept as the last. It was great to reenforce though. T enjoyed beating some dish soap and water in our science lab (an attached bathroom).

You know I am going to suggestion a book to go with this. We love the book The Way Things Work by David Macaulay. I had so much great information in it, including a section on gears. We looked at both spur gears and crown gears.

It even had an eggbeater shown as an example.

I hope you enjoyed this review. We had a blast learning with K'NEX Education and plan to buy more sets in the future. I think the set is fun, educational, durable and open ended. I will also mention that K'NEX has great customer service. We had one problem, a single piece was broken when we opened the box, so I emailed them. They mailed me a replacement (and an extra piece) free of charge and in less than a week. Great customer service!

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