February 13, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Toy Fair '07: Is it cool to like science now?

NEW YORK--Amid the madness of the 2007 American International Toy Fair here, a somewhat unexpected trend was visible: apparently, science rules.

Sure, there were plenty of dolls, toy pistols, building blocks and action figures, but toys designed to get kids interested in science had a noticeably prominent spot on the show floor.

School-oriented manufacturer Educational Insights was offering solar-energy playsets, digital recording labs and robotics kits, as well as binoculars, telescopes and microscopes that ran the gamut from preschool-oriented devices in primary colors to gadgets sophisticated enough for high school students.

Photos of science toys at fair

One of Uncle Milton's Toys, the company that introduced the ant farm 50 years ago, was showcasing night lights that display the phases of the moon and souped-up board games where the players climb a topographically accurate miniature of Mount Everest.

And it seemed as though just about every company, whether it specialized in the educational market or not, was offering something for kids who want to be James Bond, 24's Jack Bauer or a member of the CSI crew: fingerprinting kits, circuit sets for creating intruder alarms, and other spy- and detective-oriented toys.

It all seemed a bit odd to me, as I recall not so fondly the pre-teen days when I found it socially obligatory to hide my chemistry and electronics sets if friends came to visit. The ubiquity of science kits and gadgets at the Toy Fair made me wonder--is science actually cool now?

A lot of it is practical--there's simply been an increased demand for educational toys. "In the past five or six years, it seems like the homeschool market has really taken off," said Zack Larkin, sales manager for C&A Scientific Co., which was showing off its new microscopes and chemistry lab sets at the Toy Fair.

It's not just homeschooled kids, either. In today's hypercompetitive education climate, where SAT and college preparation starts at an ever-younger age, parents may see science-oriented playthings as a way to give their kids an edge and bolster their interest in subjects like chemistry, biology and earth science.

Additionally, schools are quicker than ever to snatch up toys that will engage students in science and potentially boost grades. In the 2007-2008 school year, science testing will be mandated in public schools as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, something many of the sales representatives and publicists at the Toy Fair were quick to mention to prospective buyers.

But all talk of government education requirements aside, science still might be legitimately cool among today's kids. Despite the perpetual debate over whether the United States is losing ground in raising the world's best scientists, today's pop-culture climate is remarkably conducive to making science trendy.

Looking at the various anatomy play sets, I couldn't help but wonder if the Gross-Out Heart Dissection toys would appeal to kids who have heard their parents and older siblings rave about Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs and House M.D. The ubiquity of forensic science and spy gear at the Toy Fair can probably be traced to the popular Spy Kids movie franchise, teen TV detective show Veronica Mars, and of course the perpetual popularity of the James Bond movies. And interest in the dioramas of wildlife figurines from Safari Ltd. will almost undoubtedly get a boost from the runaway hit movie Night at the Museum.

Even YouTube has its influence. Be Amazing, a toy company that specializes in chemistry sets, was drawing massive crowds with its demonstration of a "geyser" apparatus that allows kids to replicate the Diet Coke and Mentos experiments that have resulted in an explosive (literally) viral video sensation.

Just think about it: maybe the apparent lapse in American kids' interest in science and engineering could be reversed by the popularity of online videos depicting wacky prank-experiments where kids blow things up, rewire gadgets and "pimp out" vehicles. Clearly, science doesn't have to be relevant for it to be cool.

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Thanks alot Al Bore
Remember Al Gore and how HE INVENTED THE INTERNET?

I will never forget the time Al Gore was bragging about a high school in California being wired to the Internet. Later he introduced a student I think he was 17 who had wrote a web page and had it hosted on the Internet.

Duh, one thing they forgot to mention which CNet News pointed out later was the fact that this so called brilliant web author couldn't spell!

The question now is " Is it education, new kicks, or just jumping on the bandwagon of thrills by mass destruction.

No subject can be taught with out the basics OF reading, writing, and math. Throw out the calculators, and computers in elementary school and get back to the basics. Then and only then introduce students to the world of science and computers.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
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I'ts not scienece that's cool
The introduction of high tech, and the computer age to the masses was a monumental point in history. Historical advances in medicine, transportation, and environmental protection are only a few examples of what has been accomplished.

With all the advances high tech and the computer age has given us there are two horrific tragedies occurring.

Companies and politicians who have other wise never developed any form of technical innovation grandstand and take credit for the blood sweat, and tears of others. How can anyone forget ? Hello I?m Al Gore and I invented the Internet.? My God what kind of person could do that, and then later attempt to defend it.

Then there are the companies that hire an army of lawyers and patents innovations that the creators felt it was necessary for the advancement of civilization to offer it free, or innovations that were lost in the endless libraries of the world.

Companies with the sole purpose being to sue simply to make a profit from the blood, sweat and tears of others with no concerns how it would affect the high tech industry, their community, or even the world.

The other tragedy is giving science, high tech, and computers to those whose only concern is to jump on the fad of mass destruction, or injuring someone who cannot defend their selves just for the thrill or to get a laugh. An excellent example is the Cnet News story ?Teens misbehaving, for all online to watch ?

It?s like giving automobiles to 16 year olds without any teaching at all. A 6 year old can cause a lot of destruction by simply copying the actions of others. ? If I pour this with that. It will make a boom boom.?

The numbers of injuries and deaths increase every month. Pick up a newspaper, watch the news on TV, or hit the news sights like Cnet, CNN, or Fox. It is tragic. Lets start a new fad. Let?s teach our children the basics, and what is really important. Parents stop pushing your children off on video games, or the Internet when you think you need a brake or someone to watch them.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
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Science Stuff
Thanks for the information on science toys. As a teacher, I can tell you that science is growing in interest. My class has brought a number of items you highlight in your story. We found thinkgeek.com and coolstuffexpress.com to excellent sources for science related gadgets and learning kits. Just my 2 cents.
Posted by ScienceTeacherK12 (1 comment )
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