Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Teacher Geek TOS Review

One of the more popular topics in education lately is STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, as well as giving students a full, rounded background in these areas. It is certainly possible to teach these subjects using a textbook or lectures, but I believe it is even more exciting to use hands-on methods when possible.Since these subjects play a major role in current and future professions, doesn't it make sense to teach in a manner which will get students interested and excited?


Teacher Geek believes the best way to help students learn valuable STEM concepts is to involve them in the whole process; from understanding and design to construction and innovation and redesign. To accomplish this goal they have taken these crucial concepts and developed ways to teach them through hands-on building projects with kits or individual components. They also have a large variety of concept-focused lab plans to explain and teach. Some of the topics for which Teacher Geek has materials include wind and energy, structures, vehicles, hydraulics and pneumatics,  projectile launchers, and electronic bugs. They also sell a wide variety of individual parts and supplies.

We had the opportunity to review the Advanced Hydraulic Arm from Teacher Geek. I also received a cutting tool and reamer which are necessary for assembling the kit, but are sold separately.This is a kit which retails for $16.18. Teacher Geek is generously providing a discount code for the next two months which will give purchasers 10% off Teacher Geek products. The code is: hschool

Please note that this kit is not designed to be a toy, but a teaching tool. The directions are sufficiently technical and abstract as to be a good exercise of spatial and mathematical improvisation, and the kits are more of a proof-of-concept designed to illustrate the design principles.

Advanced Hydraulic Arm

Our Experience

My husband and 10-year-old daughter assembled the hydraulic arm together. This was a project which kept them busy for two to three hours. The manual's quick start guide was really well done. She was able to complete the first couple of steps with the exception of cutting the dowel and connector strips. However, it quickly became a two person project.

After the first several steps we ran into problems with the directions. Some of the problems we experienced:
  •  Some of the measurements were incorrect at times. For example, one part of the directions stated a 40 mm dowel, when it needed to be about 90mm in order to fit.
  • It was not clear why the measurements were odd-sized, like 51mm, 76mm, and so on. Why not a more even number? With some parts tight against each other in a few places, like the 3ml syringe holder, it sometimes causes one to wonder if the kits could have used an extra millimeter here or there.
  • Changes were made in the size of the screws, but not in all the directions. In some places, this made it necessary to improvise by scaling measurements down to fit (from 19mm to 11mm). An adult might find this doable, but a child in middle school would find it challenging.
  • Some pages were very detailed in showing what holes to ream or not to ream. Other pages did not use the symbols for reaming or not reaming holes in the same consistent manner. Also, calling out the one smaller syringe clip as something to be set aside and definitely not to ream would be clearer.
  • The syringes do not fit snugly against the base of the control panel because there is not enough space between all of the holes on the panel to allow for the width of the top of the syringe.
  • Directions are given for placing parts on the arm after they are shown in the pictures.
  • It wasn't clear that dowel ends were to extend on both sides of the arm either from the directions or picture because the far ends of the dowel did not show up as well against the white background as the near ends. This was not difficult to correct.
  • The total effect of the inconsistencies in the directions led to a bit of head-scratching and frustration because one would be second-guessing oneself and the directions. Even the lengths of the tubing seemed off, because the one 81cm tube has about 10cm slack in it compared to the other tubes. In finishing up, it was actually easier to look at a picture and set aside the directions.
The kit came with extra quantities of some parts. I also found several parts in my shipment which were not mentioned in the kit. We can't find a use for them in the hydraulic arm. In fact, if some parts had been used, the arm would not have worked properly.

After cutting the required pieces for the project the cutting tool was showing slight signs of deforming after cutting the plastic, but it did hold up to complete the project. It might last for some time yet. A redesign from a thin wedge design to a chisel-type design for the cutting blade on the tool might help.

While looking at the packing list I was surprised I actually received it because there were errors in my name, address, and ZIP code.

Despite the challenges encountered in the construction, the hydraulic arm turned out very well.  It is easy to operate and after some practice both my 10 and 7 year old are able to pick up different objects with it.  They have figured out how much to push or pull the control syringes to get it to move in the direction and amount they desire.  They are certainly having fun with it.


I also used the learning lab publication with both of them. We used this after the arm was constructed and they had tried it out a little because after previewing I felt they would get more out of it after seeing the completed arm. While some of the math in it is difficult for them, they seem to be picking up the majority of the concepts it contains and applying them to the arm. My 7 year old also pointed out the hydraulic parts on construction equipment he saw while we were traveling.

While I could not find a recommended age or grade level I would not attempt construction of this project with a student any younger than 10 or 11.

My husband would be open to purchasing similar kits. They remind him of the engineers he went to college with.

Disclaimer: I received a free kit for the purpose of writing this review.  I have not been compensated in any other manner. All views expressed here are solely my own.

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