STEM education has been firmly in the spotlight for a long time now, with no signs of wavering. Learning materials promising to infuse science, technology, engineering and math into your homeschool are everywhere. But without actually opening the box and trying the products, it can be hard to know if pre-packaged STEM projects are truly worthwhile, or if they’re just really expensive toys masquerading as educational. Let’s take a look at one popular STEM toy and see if it’s worth the hype.
[Disclosure of Material Connections: I received a complimentary Fischertechnik Profi E-tronic from Timberdoodle, in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions — and photographs! ;) — are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.]
Homeschool STEM Made Easy With Fischertechnik E-tronic: a Timberdoodle Review
Our homeschool is undeniably bookish (you’ve seen our living room, right?) But we always have some sort of hands-on project going, too: art, collage, LEGO bricks, jigsaw puzzles, and STEM activities.
The latest project on our kitchen table? This working garage door model from Fischertechnik E-tronic, a high school level STEM / robotics kit from Timberdoodle’s 11th grade package.
Spoiler alert: the garage door is only one of the amazing things you can build with this set.
What is Fischertechnik?
Fischertechnik is the term used for all the STEM products produced by the German engineering toy company of the same name. The company was founded in the 1960s, so it’s been a staple in the toy market for a very long time.
I was awed by these German Fischertechnik construction sets as a kid (we lived in Eastern Europe but visited West Germany from time to time). Fischertechnik has always been ahead of the curve, using construction as the basis to teach hydraulics, statics, electronics, and even robotics.
Fun fact: if you’ve used a plastic expanding screw plug — such as the kind used to anchor heavy items into drywall — you’ve used one of Mr. Fischer’s inventions! By the time Fischertechnik founder Artur Fischer passed away in 2016, he had surpassed Thomas Edison in number of patents held.
There are many kinds of Fischertechnik sets, but Fischertechnik E-tronic, as the name implies, includes a lot of exciting electronic components:
- a controller module with 16 pre-set programs,
- 9V battery pack,
- mini switches,
- reed contact,
- and the raw wires and connectors needed to build circuits.
It also includes over 300 versatile construction pieces such as
- mounting plates,
- chain links,
- flexible tracks,
- various channel-and-groove building blocks,
- and so much more.
We were super impressed by how many different kinds were in the box!
With this set, kids can build sixteen different projects, ranging from a simple electric circuits to an automated elevator. Of course, since this is a construction kit, the possibilities for building are unlimited.
Best of all, the knowledge and electrical skills learned here directly transfer to real life! It really does meet the criteria for a practical robotics elective.
Is Fischertecnik E-tronic screen-free?
Yes! It doesn’t require any external devices: no PC, no tablet, no phone. Fischertechnik E-tronic can be used completely offline, with just the 9V battery pack to power it.
(Here are some other screen-free STEM construction toys we love: Robotis Dream 2.0 and GraviTrax.)
What ages is Fischertechnik E-tronic for?
Fischertechnik products are designed for a wide range of ages. This particular set, E-tronic, is best for ages 9 through 18.
Fischertechnik creates all sorts of products. Timberdoodle stocks four different Fischertechnik sets:
- Advanced Universal 4 with Engineer (mechanical construction; ages 7+)
- Profi Mechanic and Static 2 with Engineer (mechanics and structural design; ages 9+)
- Profi Hydraulic with Engineer (hydraulics; ages 9+), and
- Profi E-tronic (electronics; ages 9+).
These four are included in Timberdoodle’s full grade kits for
- second grade,
- seventh grade,
- eighth grade, and
- eleventh grade, respectively.
Of course, all the Fischertechnik products are sold separately as well; we’re using the Fischertechnik Profi E-tronic set on its own in our eclectic homeschool.
The Profi E-tronic is substantial. (The word prófi means professional in German.) Fischertechnik marks the product for ages 9 and up, while Timberdoodle recommends it as a “1/2 credit (elective-STEM/Robotics) for high school students”.
When you think about the fact a credit is generally 150 hours, that’s remarkable: a student could spend 75 hours working through the projects in the Profi E-tronic set.
So why am I reviewing this kit when I don’t have a high schooler?
Well, there’s no age requirement for fun! Like I said, Fischertechnik themselves suggest Profi E-tronic for ages 9 and up.
Secondly, this set really appeals to my 11-year-old daughter, who regularly circles the most exciting products she finds in the Timberdoodle catalog. She loves learning, and especially loves science. Why not go with her interests? There’s no legitimate reason to hold her back.
Thirdly — and perhaps most importantly — grade labels simply aren’t a limiting factor when homeschooling! It’s one of the things I love so much about home education: the ability to fully customize and individualize education to suit the unique learners God has given us. We don’t have to stay in any confining boxes, or let any sort of labels define us. Outside of the required core subjects, I love this built-in flexibility we have to be as interest-led as we want.
So even through Aveline is chronologically a rising sixth-grader, she dove right in to the E-tronic set with no hesitation. As at it happened, at same time we were scheduled to review this kit, her online science class was also covering circuits! She was able to turn in the short video below as part of a circuits assignment for the class.
(If you don’t see the Fischertechnik garage-door-in-action video embedded above, click here to watch it!)
What electronic skills do kids learn with the Fischertechnik E-tronic set?
Kids start by building a simple electrical circuit from scratch: they even have to cut and strip wires and screw in flat plugs! This was a bit of challenge for Aveline, since she’s not quite coordinated enough to use an exacto knife, and we didn’t have a dedicated wire stripping tool. But she got the job done with a pair of school scissors — a win for perseverance and problem solving!
Kids working through Fischertechnik E-tronic encounter a series of progressively difficult skill-building projects. Each project integrates Fishertechnik’s trademark mechanical construction pieces with electronic components such as
- a push button,
- a continuity tester,
- a refrigerator light,
- a series connection,
- a parallel connection,
- a multiway switch,
- a simple elevator with a pole-reversing switch,
- a flashing circuit,
- a touch sensor, and
- a control module.
As the projects increase in complexity, so do the circuits and the wiring schematics — and the kids’ knowledge! With each completed task, students gain the skills necessary to build the capstone projects —
- a marble run,
- a alarm system,
- an elevator,
- a bathroom fan, and
- an automatic garage door.
One thing I liked most about Fischertechnik E-tronic is how the product is designed to systematically guide kids through the principles of electronic wiring. Kids don’t just hook together a bunch of components with no sense of what they’re doing. With Fischertechnik E-tronic, the process of building is equally as important as the results. This is in direct contrast to many gimmicky STEM products on the market, in which kids end up with a flashy project, but have very little awareness of how they got there.
Is there a robotics element to Fischertechnik E-tronic?
Yes! Once students have mastered various types of circuits, they will begin to construct more elaborate structures, and will use the E-tronic controller module to run programs on what they’ve built!
Fischertechnik describes the E-tronic module as “similar to a small computer.” While you “cannot program the E-Tronics module yourself…you can select and execute the relevant program using the five small slide switches.”
This controller module is what elevates Fischertechnik E-tronic from a circuit-building set to an introductory robotics set.
With this controller, students are able to
- trigger the garage door to open when a magnet is passed in front of the sensor,
- set the motor to automatically shut off when the elevator reaches the ground floor,
- automatically lift a marble back up to the top of the marble run when the marble reaches the bottom (then turn off the motor when the marble reaches the top),
- force an alarm LED to flash when a door is opened,
- automatically switch on a fan when light is switched on, and even
- create their own custom projects after the entire course has been completed.
These are super thrilling projects, and such an incredible way to celebrate all the skills learned! Aveline absolutely loved this kit, and will be playing with it for countless hours into the future.
Would I recommend Fischertechnik?
Absolutely yes. It’s definitely hefty enough to serve as a solid middle-school or high-school STEM elective.
If you have kids much younger than that range, though, I’d go with something like Robotis Dream 2.0. It’s an elementary robotics curriculum which combines hands-on building with explicit, workbook-style explanations of the physics and electronics principles at play.
Fischertechnik E-tronic, on the other hand, requires more abstract thinking, so students need to be able to think more independently in order to extrapolate and infer the scientific principles at work. This makes it ideal for older kids.
A side note: Fischertechnik comes with an excellent visual instruction manual. But you’ll definitely want to follow the QR code on the inside front cover manual to access a free guide containing additional information about each project as well. We found this extra info absolutely essential to understand not only the function of each electronic component, but also the overall purpose of tasks kids are asked to complete. Plus, there are challenge questions for kids to take each project even further! (To keep this product screen-free, I simply went to the link via QR code, clicked “print”, then stapled the pages together and tucked them in to the back of the instruction manual.)
Overall, we’re all super impressed with Fischertechnik E-tronic, and it’s earned a permanent spot in our game closet!
Ready to add a STEM / robotics elective to your homeschool? Check out Fischertechnik E-tronic on the Timberdoodle site!
Remember, you can infuse kinesthetic learning into any homeschool philosophy. Whether you’re classical, literature-based, traditional, eclectic, or all or none of the above, there’s always room for more hands-on fun. Get ideas for hands-on learning in your homeschool.
Want to explore beyond Fischertechnik?
Here are some other Timberdoodle STEM toys we’ve loved —
And don’t miss my review of Walls & Warriors, a super fun single-player logic game.
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