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Bubble Bundle (Zometool) Review by Debra Brinkman

1040 Boston Ave
Longmont, CO 80501
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We received a Bubble Bundle, which consists of a basic starter kit, the Creator 1 plus a Bubble-ology lesson plan book, which is suggested for grades 5-9. My kids took a look at the set, and "interesting" was as excited as they got.  The 12 year old started playing with it, creating a helmet and some sort of arm shield. That was nothing like what I expected.

He had fun building it, but I didn't get the feeling he was learning much of anything from it.  Expensive tinker-toys, was my reaction, but I remained hopeful.

What are Zometools?

Little white balls, called nodes, have a whole lot of little holes where you can insert the colored sticks, known as struts.  Sounds pretty simple, right? It gets more complex. Each of the colors is different.  Blue struts have rectangular shaped ends, and they fit into the rectangular holes on the node.  Blue in the Zome world, represents 2s -- rectangles (4s), octagons (8s).

Yellow struts have triangular ends, which fit into the triangular holes on the node.  Yellow shapes usually involve 3s or 6s.

Red struts have pentagonal ends that fit into the 5-sided holes on the nodes. You've caught on by now, I'm sure. Reds involve pentagons and decagons (a term we actually hear in this house frequently now).

That's the basics.

Eventually, my 15-year-old science geek caught on to the fact that these were more complicated than they appeared. Once he pulled out the "Manual 2.3" that comes with the kit, he started getting really excited.  All of a sudden, he was talking about perspective cubes, 4th dimension cube shadows, and rhombic dodecahedrons. 

He lost me, but he has been able to explain what he is building in terms that my 12 and 14 year old grasp.  So far, I've refrained from telling him that his creations are pretty, but they are! This teaches math and science, but it is also quite artistic.

Anyone can download this manual for free.  In fact, you can download most of the instructional materials for free.  So if you already have all the parts needed for one of their kits, you don't have to purchase the kit just to get the instructions.  You can just go and learn some incredibly neat concept using the parts you have.  That impresses me.

My 15 year old put together a 4-D Perspective Cube Shadow. He put together Parallel Hypercube Shadow. He patiently tried to explain that to me. Essentially, if I at all grasp what he was saying, if you think about a 3D shape (a cube), the shadow of that shape can be drawn as a 2D image on a piece of paper. If you take a 4D shape, its shadow would be a 3D shape. Specifically, it would include squashed cubes.

It isn't just for the big kids. My 8 year old has been limited to only using blue struts.  They are the sturdiest of all the colors. By downloading the instructions for the Ice Crystals and Stars project kit, he has been able to do more than just make cubes. Not only can we build more intricate designs, but we read through the material and learned about crystals, snow, hexagons, 2-D, 3-D, and more.

The other part of the Bubble Kit is the Bubble-ology book. This Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) manual pretty thoroughly, as has my oldest son, and we are both quite impressed.  This does not explicitly use Zome Tool products, however many of the activities could be done using what we learned about Zometools and bubbles in the Manual 2.3.

One of my son's first comments when he started reading through the book, was that "this has you doing actual experiments, not just repeating some pre-planned activity."  He's right.  That was one of the first things I noticed about the book as well.  The second activity, for instance, has you testing three different brands of dish soap to see which one results in the largest bubbles.  I was totally impressed with the teacher's helps provided in the book, such as:
"You may also notice students who won't record the diameter of smaller bubbles.  Respond by saying that they are the scientists.  It's up to them to decide what is fair.  Whatever they decide to do, they'll need to make sure all three brands are treated in the same way.  Otherwise one brand of soap will be given an unfair advantage."

There are suggestions to make the activity a little easier (if your 5th graders aren't readily able to calculate averages, in this example) and suggestions to kick it up a notch (like expressing the results as the average volume of the bubble dome instead of the diameter).

There are even literature suggestions.  That makes my heart go pitter-patter.  I love when I can incorporate a good story!

All in all, I am incredibly impressed.

So a couple warnings, from our experience:

  • If you aren't careful, it is fairly easy to break the yellow and red struts.  Especially if you are a 6 year old little sister.  They say this is good for ages 6 to adult.  I say a 6 year old needs intensely close supervision. Your mileage may vary, of course, but my 6 year old isn't careful enough.
    • Zometool will replace broken parts.  I haven't tried yet, but we will need to.  And the 6 year old little sister is not allowed to touch this anymore.
    • If you have more than a couple of children, the Creator 1 set is going to be outgrown quickly.  I have my eye on this Geometry Bundle.

This stuff is fabulous, that is my bottom line.   And I know I can't communicate that adequately.  You have to use this to "get it," I think.  And with kits available for as little as $10, you really should try it.

I am certain my kids are getting more for Christmas.  These are amazing.

Product review by Debra Brinkman, Assistant to the Product Reviews Director, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, November, 2012