An interview with ToyLabs Founder, Tim Curley
So where did ToyLabs come from and how was it brought to life?
In 2013 I started ToyLabs with a commitment to inspire young minds with fun and exciting hands-on science projects in support of STEM education, while providing parents and teachers with great tools that make it easier for them to engage their kids in science education. Much of this was motivated by my own experience working with my young daughter (now six) and son (now ten) to create interesting science projects on our own.
Tell us a little about some of the ToyLabs solar projects.
We launched our first project – The Volta Racer Solar Car Kit – in 2013. The Volta Racer is the world’s first solar powered car using a polycrystalline solar panel built on a flexible substrate – it’s been widely adopted by teachers, parents and kids around the world to teach kids the basic principles of mechanical engineering, electronics and renewable energy. The Volta Racer received the prestigious Good Design Award and Parents Magazine’s Best Boredom Buster Award in 2014. And, it’s now permanently integrated with The Carnegie Science Museum’s NETL Energy Exhibit and Energy Shows.
Last year we started the development of the Volta Flyer – the World’s First Solar Powered Airplane Science Project for Kids. Like the Racer, the Flyer helps to teach kids about the basic principles of renewable energy (how solar can be used to power flight), mechanical engineering (how super lightweight materials can be assembled in a way that provides strength agility for the airplanes wing and fuselage assembly), electronics (simple circuit design for solar power management and propulsion), and aeronautics (how wing camber and ailerons impact lift, etc.). We’ve just introduced the Volta Flyer through a Kickstarter campaign with plans to ship at the end of March.
How do you feel the ToyLabs projects are promoting STEM education?
An important part of STEM learning is what’s known as Experiential Education (or Practical Work, Practical Activities) teaching philosophy that promotes learning by doing. The strategy allows children to practice guided tactile learning in which they absorb knowledge not only through instruction (listening and reading) but by participating in practical hands-on experiences. Experiential learning is praised as a top teaching method by higher educational institutions – especially those in the fields of science, art and technology. This strategy offers numerous advantages to students in elementary classrooms.
So, the science projects (products) we develop at ToyLabs require kids to use their hands and their minds to complete the process of building something, and then take those completed projects outside to engage the physical world while they play and experiment with them.
Who seems to be getting the most out of these learning toys?
We’re passionate about STEM education and supporting those that are passionate about teaching it. We work with the University of New South Wales Sunswift Solar Car Team as they provide schools throughout Australia with projects that teach kids about how they developed their Solar Car ‘Eve’. They use the Volta Racer to demonstrate how Eve works and they let the students build and race them.
The Carnegie Science Center recently selected ToyLab’s Volta Racer to help teach kids about renewable energy and STEM topics. Carnegie has integrated the Volta Racer into live demonstrations during their Energy Show (a live theater presentation all about energy education), and within the museum’s Energy Zone NETL exhibits. Visitors interact with the exhibit pushing buttons in sequence to illuminate banks of lights to propel the Volta Racers down the tracks. This hands-on STEM learning activity helps kids understand how solar energy is used to power vehicles.
How can schools and teachers get involved with your work?
We offer schools and teachers a special EDU discount to make it affordable for them to adopt our products for teaching purposes.