Curiosity Machine:

Bringing cutting-edge research to K-12 students and parents

October 30, 2012, by Dara Olmsted

The Curiosity Machine is a website and mobile app that hosts a collection of exciting and challenging engineering projects designed for children and their parents to encourage curiosity, creativity, and persistence. The activities help families move beyond passive consumption of information and encourage them to make tinkering, building, creating and inventing a family hobby.

Curiosity Machine Experiments

The project-based activities use very low-cost household materials and are tied to the National Science Education Standards. Unlike most projects for kids, very detailed step-by-step instructions are not given; only basic instructions to an open-ended design challenge are given. Part of the challenge is figuring out how to build the invention and redesigning it until it is successful.

Children and their parents are encouraged to photograph and film their trials and inventions and submit their photos and videos to receive feedback from professional and amateur engineers. The Curiosity Machine includes a gamified component, where the children progress through levels, earn online badges, and ultimately create an online portfolio.

Scientist Videos

The activities on the Curiosity Machine are linked to short videos of scientists explaining their work (such as MacArthur Fellow and CalTech professor John Dabiri explaining jellyfish movement). Each video highlights one central physics concept and hooks the students’ attention by showing them the real-world applications of these concepts. Each video will be accompanied by five related hands-on activities. The playlist of videos can be found here.

Scaffolded Content

The videos and lessons are scaffolded so that students can develop skills that build on one another. Students progress through three main levels, Builder –> Engineer –> Inventor and develop competency in: 1) articulating scientific questions; 2) using models to present and elaborate on ideas; 3) executing the engineering design cycle; 4) persisting in redesign; and 5) using multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.


The Curiosity Machine will have an embedded assessment program built in, where students are asked a series of four questions about the project to determine whether they truly understand the key concepts. The assessment will be tied to their engineering portfolio (a compendium of their activities) and will track total hours of participation in in-person and online activities, allowing us to study our programs and determine the optimal way to impact students’ learning.


External evaluation on STEM learning in our in-person NSF-funded Family Science program (from which the Curiosity Machine is based) shows our programs make an impact:

  • 75% of children reported a better understanding of science and engineering,
  • 66% of children reported that they are doing more science related activities with their families,
  • 74% of children reported being less averse to challenges and challenging activities, and
  • 67% of parents said they were more confident talking about science and engineering topics with others.

Test It

The website, videos, and activities are still in development, but we are always looking for schools and parents to test the activities and give us feedback. Contact Kevin ([email protected]) for more information.

About Us

The Curiosity Machine is run by Iridescent, a national engineering non-profit that has reached over 16,000 children, parents, and engineers through hands-on engineering programs in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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