Thursday, June 15 2017 11:32

Toy Review: STEM Play with Techno Gears Bionic Bug & Marble Mania Catapult

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STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) play is hot right now, and looking ahead it's a category that will only continue to grow. For some toys placed in that category of hands-on learning, not all are necessarily "new," but sometimes new spins on some old classics. Marble play is pretty timeless, and I even had a Marbleworks set some 30-40 years ago, one that I believe my mom might still have. Likewise, my wife and I have played with some similar things with our own kids, and one recent offering is the Techno Gears Marble Mania Catapult set, sent to us for review by The Learning Journey, along with their new Techno Gears Bionic Bug.


With the Catapult set, there's a lot of hands-on action that needs to take place, with kids (or kids and parents) tasked with building the 100+ piece set which consists of interlocking pieces that are pretty unique in the construction space. What I do need to note (and many of you know that I'm pretty particular on plastics) is that the Marble Mania pieces are made of that thin, very rigid plastic that feels sorta low end. While we didn't run into problems, this is the type of plastic that's most likely to snap or break, so that is something to keep in mind here. Also, the spring-loaded mechanism that launches the marble is pretty hard to push - even for a grownup.

The toy took around an hour to build and it's pretty fun - launching (or catapulting) a marble roughly 18" to the top, where gravity takes over. While the build is fun, I don't see a ton of replay value in this particular set as there's not a lot of customization/rebuild options available unless you purchase other Marble Mania sets. See it in-action below.

The Techno Gears Bionic Bug is the winner of the two toys sent to us in this batch - tapping into the current robotics craze with a simple, gear-driven set that puts crazy motion in the body of a silly bug. This one requires a few AA batteries, so make sure to have those on-hand. 


Kids can snap the pieces together to see a range of motions all driven by the single gear on the electric motor. Of note here is that the pieces do need to be fit together perfectly to work (ours required a little post-build grownup tweaking), but it works great as long as everything is nice and tight. 

The best part is that this set is only $20, so it's fun at a reasonable price.

These sets and many more are available direct from The Learning Journey, or from associates like Amazon.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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