Reviewed by Debbie Talbot
When I think back to my childhood, the toys I remember most are my educational ones such as my chemistry set, microscope and circuit building set. I would spend hours using them. Just because it is the summer holidays and the kids are off school doesn’t mean their education needs a break, it just needs to be subtly done with educational toys. With computers, mobile internet and everything being online, coding is the next big things and it is already being taught in schools, I was therefore very excited to be offered John Adams Power Tracks to review.
My twins are 7 years old and one in particular loves science toys, jigsaws and anything logical and structured. The Power Tracks STEM coding kit is therefore the perfect combination of learning through play for him. With his twin brother loving any kind of vehicle, particularly battery-operated ones, I know both of my twins would be delighted with this set.
The product arrived quickly in perfect condition. It was well packed but the packaging materials were not overdone. I think the adults were actually more excited about this kit than the children. In fact the adults did play with this toy before the children. I read the instructions which I found to be easy to follow. This was a relief as I do struggle at times with instruction booklets.
The box contained:
- Volty the Robot (requires 3x AAA batteries – not supplied)
- 24 double sided circuit tiles
- 10 double circuit diagrams
- 40 command cards
Power Tracks is a STEM kit (aimed at 5 to 9 year olds) that teaches the basics of coding and circuit building using a tabletop circuit (like jigsaw pieces) and a programmable robot that, if coded correctly, will move around the circuit.
I was delighted to see that the circuit diagrams ranged from simple to more complicated (there are 20 circuits to male, or you can design your own). This allows children to try coding simple circuits first and then move onto harder ones as their experience/confidence increases.
We started off by opening up Volty the Robot, what a cool name, using a small screwdriver and inserting 3 x AAA batteries. I had forgotten to buy some batteries, so the ones from the TV remote controls came in handy. Once the batteries were inserted we switched Volty on using the switch underneath. We then picked one of the simple circuits which had no turns and just a few steps to code.
Setting up the coding circuit was just like making a jigsaw. We had great fun picking out the right pieces of the double-sided circuit tiles to make that circuit. We then picked out the right command cards so that we knew the order in which to programme the various direction commands. We then pressed the bottom left switch on Volty and the robot was ready to accept instructions. As we pressed each direction command, the screen clearly displayed which order the commands were in. It starts at 1 for the 1st command and accepts up to 40 commands across 1 to 4 screens. The screen also shows you which directions you have programmed using the 4 direction buttons on the robot. If you realise you have gone wrong you can press the delete button and redo the commands.
After we had used the command cards to programme in the simple circuit, we placed Volty correctly lined up on correct circuit tile and then pressed the tick middle button on the robot. Off Volty went. As the confidence of the kids increased, we programmed in commands using the more complex circuit diagrams. We did make some errors (how can learn without making errors?), but that just created more fun and a lot of laughter. At one point Volty shot off under the bed, I think somewhere our coding went slightly wrong. I think that in time we will have the confidence to code using the most complex circuit diagrams. The circuit is also made up of lights and sounds to add a bit more integration and complexity. When Volty reaches the point from where he started, he does a light song and dance to announce completion.
This educational kit is so much fun for adults and children alike. It teaches the very basics of circuit design, simple instructions and programming the robot with left/right instructions. We loved being able to build a circuit (the jigsaw pieces make it easy) and then working out the direction in which Volty had to be coded for him to follow the track.
Power Tracks is a great way to entertain the kids this summer while at the same time teaching them the basics of a skill that will help them in their future learning, all in a hands-on, interactive and visual way.
The circuit tiles are very durable and will stand up to be played with over and over again.
I have been fortunate to try out a few John Adams products over the years and I think I now have a new favourite. If you want to teach your children something new and relevant to what they will learn at school, then we can highly recommend Power Tracks. Volty is a fun little robot that is easy to use.
A great concept of circuit building and coding in a child-friendly package. Easy to use and fantastic fun.
Update 4/8/20 – this game is a firm favourite in our house. We love slotting together the jigsaw like pieces and then figuring out how to programme the robot.