Review by Christie Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2014

Curiosity Machine

Kids build, share, receive pro feedback with awesome engineering site

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Creativity
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (4 Reviews)

Take a look inside

1 video | 5 images

Pros: Nothing beats the real-world connections, true design process, and pro support built into the site’s easy-to-use interface.

Cons: Teachers may miss some classroom capabilities (student account oversight) and lesson support (topic search engine, NGSS alignment, more content).

Bottom Line: Though it may not be an instant fit for your classroom, the exceptional quality of the site’s projects and processes makes it worth any problem solving.

The Curiosity Kit guide details how much adult guidance the design process requires, and it’s clear that kids will definitely need support from a parent, teacher, or other adult. Elementary teachers using projects in class will want to invite extra adults to work with small groups of kids. Keep in mind that parental consent is required for students under age 13 to create accounts on the site.

Feedback from a site mentor may take a few days; spread work time through core classes over a few weeks to allow for such delay. Middle school teams can try an ocean engineering challenge, like connecting biome study with transportation modes and speed calculations. High school teachers will (happily) find that kids need little support. Finished your Newton’s Laws unit? Turn your kids loose on the Mars Rover challenge and revel in the practical application. More broadly: Use the site to launch conversations about real-world problems and STEM careers.

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Curiosity Machine offers more than 60 engineering projects grounded in the work of current scientists and powerfully supported by online mentors. Challenges are grouped into topics (such as aerospace and satellite systems). Users must create accounts to share work and receive feedback, but any site visitor can view all projects.

A horizontal Design Process bar organizes each challenge. The Inspiration step offers a short video clip highlighting the scientist and research behind the project. For the Plan phase, users view a materials list and upload text, a drawing/photo, or video of their ideas. In the Build/Test/Redesign phase, users continue to document and upload their progress. Online mentors provide personalized feedback (within a few days) and then send kids on to the final Reflection phase. At any time, users can access the Guide, which includes how-to steps, an instructional video, and a Learn More tab.

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With a wide variety of projects (from building an octopus chromatophore to a cam mechanism), there are endless ways to connect the engineering design process to class activities. This terrific tool empowers kids to work directly with current, real-world research through hands-on engagement and personalized, professional feedback. The high-quality Curiosity Kit PDF is replete with info and templates, including a curriculum guide and a website walkthrough.

Curiosity Machine is currently designed more for after-school enrichment or community outreach than for classroom use. The scientific practices are easy to embed, but teachers will want more in terms of classroom-ready content and suggestions for structuring design activities over multiple school days. More background information (like links to explanatory sites and a subject search engine) would help educators plan lessons that include the high-quality challenges. Including info about age ranges for each challenge could also help teachers find suitable fits, and a teacher dashboard could provide oversight as well as increase peer communication among several kids interested in the same design challenges.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Build a bubble machine; make a helicopter. Engaging video clips show the real-world inspiration behind these kid-awesome engineering challenges. Further, students can actually upload their work, receiving personalized feedback from a pro.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids plan, build, test, and revise, powerfully following a true design process. One-on-one input from an online mentor fosters productive progress. Teachers, though, would benefit from more connections to content and student oversight.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A great demo video, informative FAQ, and PDF start-up kits will rocket educators and parents into operation. Users will miss in-the-moment help (glossary, tips). Advanced language and tasks mean youngsters typically won’t work alone.

Common Sense Reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Todd B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Lancaster Mennonite School
Lancaster, PA
Transform study hall using student-centered design challenges.
I like the variety of the design challenges. There seems to be something for most students in this collection, from art to food to engineering. The student reads the challenge, watches an inspirational (hopefully!) video on the idea, and then has some open space to work through the design process. This provides the greatest learning possibility, with the attendant risk of student frustration. The greatest weakness of this site is directly related to its greatest strength. In giving students the greatest possibility of creativity, the tasks also give students the greatest possibility of losing interest in frustration when the challenge seems unattainable. I wholeheartedly affirm the mission of the curiosity machine. By using this collection of student-centered design-based activities, teachers and students will be forced work together in the best ways. Read full review