Product: Invent Your Own Machines (ages 9-14)
Glows: A unique approach to online learning that is playful, social, and personalized.
Grows: While the flexibility of the program is part of its charm, some kids might get overwhelmed with so many packs and projects to pick from.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Ready, Set, Invent!
Invent Your Own Machines is JAM’s newest online engineering course. Made up of hands-on projects like balloon poppers, catapults, mazes, and mechanical arms the course has both an engineering and creativity focus. Kids use everyday materials to invent crazy contraptions and epic machines that don’t always work right on the first, second or even third try! But no matter—JAM calls failures “the fun stuff” of inventing. I had a chance to try out the course and here are my three key takeaways.
Video-based learning can be fun and social.
Invent Your Own Machines, like all of JAM’s online courses is video-based. Within the course kids watch videos from the expert mentor (Paul Long, JAM’s staff inventor and a mechanical engineer is the mentor for this course). These videos are playful and engaging and serve as springboards for projects kids can take on. The tone is friendly and encouraging and there is a strong emphasis on learning by experimenting and practicing.
Once a child creates a project they can record and share a video of it with everyone else in the course. I found this structure to be especially engaging: it was amazing to see kids sharing their ideas, inspirations, and learnings with each other. This is peer learning at its best. Once a child posts a video, staff moderators provide constructive feedback. Kids can watch, like or comment on another Jammer’s (JAM’s term for its kid participants) video to provide support and encouragement. There are lots of ways to get help, either by asking for tips from other kids or by reaching out to staff moderators for feedback.
To post a project, kids must first unlock the project by earning enough XP (experience points). They earn XP by participating in a variety of ways, including viewing or liking videos, giving feedback to other Jammers, and asking questions.
I liked this format because it encourages kids to develop the habit of watching videos created by other Jammers as a form of “research.” Solving engineering problems requires creativity and know how, both of which can be gleaned by watching how others approached a similar challenge. While it is not mandatory to watch the videos (kids earn XP even for clicking through them) the thumbnails on the videos serve another purpose: they offer kids a view of other kid inventors. This view alone can inspire a kid to keep trying, even when their cardboard robotic arm has failed to work for the umpteenth time.
Kids choose what to work on from packs of project cards.
Invent Your Own Machines contains 113 projects organized within 24 themes (called “packs”) like Ramps, Rockets, Cookie Dunkers, Gear, and Epic Machines. As a Jammer gains experience within a pack by completing projects, they unlock more advanced levels within that theme. Packs range in level of difficulty from easy to hard, but kids can try them out in any order they choose. This flexibility gives kids the opportunity to organize their learning in ways that align with their interests.
Kids have a whole year to complete the course, so they drive the pace, too. I imagine some will binge-create, speeding through a bunch of packs very quickly, while other kids might work through the packs and projects much more slowly. I liked this aspect since I didn’t feel any pressure to follow a set curriculum. I chose what I wanted to work on when I had the time and interest.
It’s moderated and safe.
I found the JAM learning community to be warm, welcoming, and kid-focused. Moderators are available seven days a week to answer questions and provide encouragement, feedback, and help. JAM has lots of safeguards in place to protect kids’ safety and privacy, like rules limiting the age of participants (no one over 18 allowed) and a rule that moderators review every post that comes in. And there are no private chats. Like Connected Camps, their moderators all undergo rigorous background checks and are clearly hired because of their enthusiasm, screen presence and commitment to making learning fun for kids.
JAM’s Invent Your Own Machines online course provides a way for young inventors all over the world to unlock their inner engineer by sharing their successes and failures via video. Kids can customize their path through the course and get support from a positive, encouraging community. While it took me a little while to learn how everything worked there were tons of resources available to guide me. I loved the course’s emphasis on creativity, problem-solving and learning by making mistakes. With JAM’s emphasis on learning in a community it can be said that the more kids that get involved, the better!
Disclosure: I received a free trial of the course from the company, which I used as the basis for this review.
Ande Mata is a Connected Camps Counselor with an Associates degree in Social Science and a Bachelors Degree in Applied Psychology from Azusa Pacific University . She loves school and bringing positivity towards teamwork based activities both in Minecraft and to learning in general.