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The 5 Best STEM Toys for Kids of All Ages

https://www.reviewgeek.com/27142/the-5-best-stem-toys-for-kids-of-all-ages/

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A young boy playing Minecraft on a Piper Computer kit.
Josh Hendrickson

Children are educational sponges. They’ll pick up whatever you throw at them, so it’s important to keep challenging them even from a young age. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) toys do just that—and provide fun along the way.

What to Look for in STEM Toys

No one group or organization owns and defines what makes a STEM toy. But the Toy Association, the American trade association for the U.S. Toy industry, has researched the topic heavily, and they make some reliable recommendations on what makes a good STEM toy.

  • STEM/STEAM Focused: Obviously, the toy should focus heavily on Science, Technology, Education, or Math. Some toys may include Art (for STEAM) as part of the goal. A STEM toy might cover concepts like building bridges, learning to code, or even feature science experiences.
  • Open-Ended Fun Play: It’s not a toy if it isn’t fun. So, especially for younger children, the more a STEM toy resembles a game your child might otherwise play, the better. STEM toys should also allow for trial and error, as that’s a fundamental aspect of the learning process.
  • Real-World Grounding: Since STEM toys are typically physical, they should be grounded in real-world physics. A small truck your kid can push is merely a toy. A truck that teaches greater force yields more dramatic results, on the other hand, is a STEM toy.
  • Age Targetting: Some manufacturers target specific age ranges for STEM Toys. It helps to know whether a toy is too advanced or simple for where your child is at right now.

Chances are, you have a good idea of what you want to accomplish with STEM toys. If you’re hoping your brilliant little child will grow up to work for Google or Microsoft, then start with something that teaches coding concepts, for instance. Use your best judgment on whether it looks likes fun then check the age-range.

Best for Toddlers: Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar Twist

A Code-a-pillar with white body, blue accents, and green eyes.
Fisher-Price

For burgeoning young minds, the Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar Twist will hit several concepts, like problem-solving and elementary coding concepts.

Your child will turn dials on each segment of the “Code-a-Pillar,” and those dials will cause the toy to perform actions in a sequence. You can set up obstacles and paths and challenge your children to get the toy from point A to point B without crashing.

It’s a great start to fundamental coding concepts where each point in the code can influence, or even break, the next.

Best for Toddlers

Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar Twist

If you want to instill basic coding and problem-solving skills at an early age, the Code-A-Pillar is a good choice. Children turn dials to create sequential action that causes the toy to navigate the room.

For Pre-Schoolers: Learning Resources Coding Critters

A coding critters toy, featuring two pups, a slide, a dog house, and a book.
Learning Resources

Coding Critters are like a more advanced Code-A-Pillar. It comes with several pieces, including a book, a “playset” (like a slide), a small animal toy, and a larger programmable animal toy.

Your child will read and interact with a story and use buttons to program actions into the toy (either a dog, dinosaur, or cat). The book walks them through steps to take to accomplish a task (like finding a friend who is hiding, etc.).

The programmable toy also has a “pet mode” to feed, pet, or even make the animal dance or sing.

For Pre-Schoolers

For Engineering Concepts: Thames & Kosmos Structural Engineering: Bridges & Skyscrapers

A bridge built from small connector pieces.
Thames & Kosmos

Have you ever played a bridge-building simulator app? What if you could play that in real life? That’s precisely the idea behind this Structural Engineering set, which obviously hits on the Engineering section of STEM.

Suitable for children eight years and up, this set will teach your children concepts of stability, support, and sound building choices. They can either build bridges or skyscrapers. But of course, bridges are the real star since it won’t be long before you’re rolling four Hot Wheels toy cars across at once—for science, of course.

For Engineering

Learning to Code: Kano Computer Kit Touch

A pair of hands touching a Kano Touch PC to draw and code.
Kano

If you want your children to learn more advanced coding concepts, look no further than Kano’s computer kits. The latest version mimics a tablet, including the touch screen. Your kids will “build” the tablet (though that mostly amounts to connecting components) to get started.

Once the system is up and running, they’ll work with programs like Scratch to learn coding fundamentals. Scratch is advanced enough to build simple games with, yet works of an intuitive drag and drop puzzle piece like system.

The best part is since the Kano Computer Kits have a Raspberry Pi for a brain, your child is getting a good “first computer” complete with browser and keyboard with touchpad. They can watch YouTube, compose songs, and even draw with the touchscreen. Maybe you can finally wean them off your personal iPad.

Learn to Code

Kano Computer Kit Touch – Build and code a tablet

Kano’s Touch PC kit is about as close as you can get to building your own tablet. But the included coding lessons are the main attraction. Your kids can learn to code, make songs, and draw art on this little computer.

Build Your Own PC: Piper Computer Kit

While Kano veers more towards teaching your children software coding concepts, Piper excels at marrying software to hardware and getting the two to interact. Your children will “build a PC,” which includes constructing a case, connecting a Raspberry Pi, Speakers, and screen.

You’ll notice there’s no keyboard in this kit, and that’s because your child will also build a controller along the way using wires, switches, and the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. The first time they connect to wires together to make a character in the story lessons move forward is a pretty big wow moment.

Though this set is more expensive than others out there, you do get a fully working computer out of it, including lessons based in Minecraft, a full Linux Operating System, and a browser. When it’s time to stop, the Piper kit even folds up like a laptop.

Build Your Own PC

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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