STEM Stars Gift Ideas

It is that time of year! If you’re a nerd like me you love “techy” gifts and gadgets for the holidays! If you are like most of my family, you have no idea what to get someone who is more interested in having a good soldering iron than having a nice sweater. Here are some STEM Star gift suggestions for all budgets!

1. More Classes at Silicon STEM Academy!

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Classes at Silicon STEM Academy are the gift that keeps on giving. If your student is currently admitted into the STEM Star program, you can contact info@siliconstemacademy.com and enroll your student in a month-to-month subscription so they can continue working on their original project, or transition into a new one! As STEM Stars is an independently driven project course it truly never ends!

For students who are thinking about becoming a STEM Star, there are two options. Students can apply to be a STEM Star, or, they can enroll in the 6-week Practicum class that will run as a part of the STEM Stars class beginning in January. Students in the Practicum will have all the same community and access to equipment as the STEM Stars, the only difference is that instead of designing their own project from scratch, they will build a project that has already been designed, tested, and documented by the instructors.

Hurry, space in both the Practicum and STEM Stars courses are limited, so reserve your spot today!

 

2. Soldering Iron

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A soldering iron is a key part of any maker’s toolkit. STEM Stars have used soldering irons extensively to build their projects, and having a soldering iron at home will allow them to continue their work outside of the classroom. A decent soldering iron will last for years and years if cared for properly. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t need to be that expensive. They do, however, need to be AT LEAST 25 watts. A simple pen style such as this one by Xool works file and has adjustable temperature control – and for less than $10 it’s an easy gift for kids and teens. Another similar suggestion is this adjustable iron from Adafruit which will only set you back $22.  For a big upgrade (in quality and cost) you can invest in a professional iron with a separate power supply. A favorite of mine is the Hakko FX-888D which will run you about $100. Soldering guns, cordless, and torches are not for circuit soldering and should be avoided.

In addition to the iron, there are certain accessories that your student will need to use their iron effectively. Most important is solder; I recommend 60/40 lead/tin rosin-core solder, such as this one sold by Adafruit. Not all solder is created equally. Lead free solder melts at a much higher temperature and is more difficult to work with. Lead without any flux (rosin) is not for use with electronics – the flux helps with the electrical conductivity. It is also important to have a stand to place your extremely hot iron in, and also to house your sponge for use during soldering. Solder wick is also good for cleaning up all those inevitable mistakes that we make while soldering. Helping hands are a stand that helps hold wires and electronics while soldering; they aren’t a necessity but are very useful. Last but not least, brass wool (like steel wool but brass) is good for helping to keep your soldering iron in good working order. You can purchase it at your local grocery store.

Of course, you also need something to solder – so project wire and wire strippers are always a good addition. I prefer stranded core wire (22AWG is the size I typically use for most small projects) because it is easier to work with than solid core. If you were looking a project on which to practice your soldering, this DIY digital watch kit, or this Christmas tree PCB kit are great choices.

This can all be overwhelming to someone who is just beginning to understand the world of electronics. If you are interested in getting your child started in soldering at home, you can always skip the grocery list of parts and tools and buy a pre-packaged kit, such as this one from Adafruit, that has everything you need – including a multimeter!

 

3. Raspberry Pi Zero

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The Raspberry Pi Zero is a small, $10 single board computer that even has built-in wifi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)!  It uses a micro SD card slot for storing data – including the operating system –  but be aware the micro SD is not included in some versions. It connects to a display via mini-HDMI, uses micro USB 5V 2A input for power, and has a micro USB out for USB devices such as a keyboard and mouse (you will need an adapter or hub), and 512 MB of RAM. Like the larger Raspberry Pi A+ and B+ models, the Raspberry Pi Zero has a single core 1Ghz processor. Instead of collecting all of the peripherals for the Pi Zero if you don’t already have them, you can buy a complete kit such as this one offered by Adafruit that includes everything you need to open the box and get started!

There are so many cool things you can do with these computers, including a streaming music box, the computer that controls a DIY electric skateboard,  a DIY motion sensing security camera, a tiny arcade, or seat it inside of an old school video game controller! You can check these projects out, and more, at Lifehacker.com.

4. Neopixels

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I really can’t think of a project that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of bright, shiny, blinky lights! Neopixels are individually addressable RGB (or RGBW) LED’s that can be programmed to change color and turn on and off by any small computer or microcontroller. Any STEM Star will know what these are immediately and will quickly find a use (or many uses) for them. They come in many form factors including rings, panels, rolls, and individual LED’s. You can browse Adafruit’s catalog here, and you can learn all about Neopixels in the Neopixel Uber Guide.

Neopixels are simply a brand name for Adafruit’s version, but you can find individually addressable LED’s from many retailers including SparkFun and Amazon.

 

5. Adabox Subscription

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The Adabox is a quarterly subscription service that delivers an entirely new project-in-a-box every three months. The kit includes all of the parts you need, including very detailed instructions and customer support, in order to build the project. While Adabox is designed for beginners, I have a subscription myself and still have a blast learning how to use new components and building new projects.

Adabox contents are kept secret until the delivery dates, so it is always a surprise. Past projects include a bluetooth robot, an introduction to several IoT projects, a wifi music box, a small MAME arcade system, and others!

6. Project Kits

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Having a STEM Star in your house probably means that it isn’t unheard of to find your charging cords missing, miscellaneous items in the house taken apart and not fully reassembled, or strange cobbles of electronics randomly strewn in their room. Rather than worrying your own possessions will be cannibalized by your STEM Star in search of the next project, why not gift them a complete kit that has everything they need to complete a project from beginning to end?

Check out the full-color POV light painting kit as seen in the image above, this LED time-square watch kit, or this mini guitar kit. The information pages for each project indicate the difficulty level and tools/skills needed to complete each project. You can check out a full list of project kits here at Adafruit.

 

The best gifts are the gifts that keep on giving. A gift that inspires your student to create, and leads them to engage in critical thinking processes will provide them a leg up in life. As always, feel free to reach out to any instructors at Silicon STEM Academy to discuss class offerings or ask questions about potential gifts for your STEM Star. Happy holidays!

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