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10 awesome geek gifts for girls

Here are some fun building, engineering and robotics gifts for girls (and boys) who want a present that they can do something with — especially if they're a little past the GoldieBlox stage.

Roominate Dollhouse Kit: Yes, you can build a little two-story dollhouse for the small plastic creatures of your choice. But how will they get up to the second floor? With your motorized pulley-operated elevator. Then they can wait while you design them a slide to get down.

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LittleBits: Tiny circuit boards that snap together with magnets: make an alarm clock, a hopping bunny or a light-up whale-shaped tissue box that wags its tail. Or anything you can think of.

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SnapCircuits: We've had a variety of these kits, from the basics to the remote control rover (not available on their website but easy to find). They're not toys that see constant use, but they come out again and again, and my children have consistently been able to get their circuits working, much to their delight.

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Lego Mindstorms: Mindstorms takes Lego to a different level. Kids get a programmable heart and robot instructions, and — with enough time, determination and (fun) effort — the ability to create something that does everything from shooting Lego missiles to spying on your brother.

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Soldering kit: You can buy these just about anywhere. I picked up three last year and my father taught my oldest son and daughter (and me) to solder. My daughter (then 8) outshone us all.

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Make: Electronics kit: Go beyond soldering and into serious electronics with Charles Platt's Make: Electronics book, which adult geeks everywhere have told me is the gold standard for electronics explanations and projects. But the problem with a book of projects is always that you don't have the stuff on hand, and by the time you've mustered up a trip to Radio Shack, you've lost steam. Go all out for the kit, and you'll have everything you need (although the trip to Radio Shack would be cheaper).

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Kodu: Got an Xbox or is one in your holiday giving plans? We don't, but I've heard (and read) great things about Kodu, a visual programming language that allows kids to create their own video games on the Xbox or a PC.

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Bigshot Camera Kit: No doubt your daughter knows how to use a digital camera. But does she know how it works? Could she MacGyver one up with nothing but some sand and some software? Probably not, but she could build one with the Bigshot kit, and learn how the image sensor measures the light to convert it to a digital image.

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Arduino Robot: Arduino is an open-source physical computing platform that allows users to write software that controls a physical board. The Arduino robot has two fully programmable Arduino boards — one for its motors, one for sensors and operations — that can communicate via USB with a computer. The tech-inclined family could blow a holiday budget (and the holiday vacation) on getting started with Arduino, then move up to the robot; kids who are already familiar with Arduino would be thrilled with this new way to use it.

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MaKey MaKey: Ready for something a little more complicated than SnapCircuits, but not quite Arduino robot material? The MaKey MaKey kit uses alligator clips to make anything into a computer key. Why would you want to re-create a keyboard out of alphabet soup letters, or make a banana piano? Because you can — exactly the message we want our daughters and our sons to hear.

10 awesome geek gifts for girls 12/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 7:25pm]

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