Two Colorado College Grads Put Creativity in Play With Momentix motionKit

Alana Aamodt (left) and Anna Gilbertson created Momentix motionKit as a way to reimagine STEM education.
Alana Aamodt (left) and Anna Gilbertson created Momentix motionKit as a way to reimagine STEM education. Cal Aamodt
click to enlarge Alana Aamodt (left) and Anna Gilbertson created Momentix motionKit as a way to reimagine STEM education. - CAL AAMODT
Alana Aamodt (left) and Anna Gilbertson created Momentix motionKit as a way to reimagine STEM education.
Cal Aamodt
When physicist Alana Aamodt first began thinking about a toy that could help kids learn science, she was canoeing. “When you put a canoe paddle into the water and pull on it, it’s like a lever. And your left hand is working as a fulcrum,” she explains. “It made me start thinking about how simple machines work in our daily lives.”

And how those simple machines could be used in different ways. Experimentation starts with “a question or thought or idea that’s powered by pure curiosity,” she continues. “And you lean into it with the openness to follow it in whatever way it takes you...following the excitement and joy.”

The importance of bringing more curiosity and creativity to science is a well-worn talking point for Aamodt and Anna Gilbertson. The two recent grads met at Colorado College and studied art in tandem with their physics majors. They noticed striking differences in the way classes were conducted within each discipline. Their art classes emphasized the process; even mistakes were lauded as something to learn from. And critiques, which involve group conversation, were an important part of understanding how to grow.

In physics classes, though, the philosophy often was: “Do all your homework and lock yourself in a room for ten hours and get it 100 percent right,” Aamodt recalls.

Aamodt and Gilbertson wanted to find a way for kids to join creativity and science, helping to reimagine STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and promote gender diversity within its disciplines.

The result was Momentix motionKit, a wooden toy set designed for all ages that allows for experimentation with common household items. With the toy pieces, you can make dominoes fall without using your hands or flip a spoonful of sugar into a mug. In the process, the Momentix motionKit emphasizes creative problem-solving and other skills.

The motionKit plays on the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine, a contraption that uses chain reactions to solve simple tasks in an indirect — often overly complicated — and fun-to-watch manner. “Most people think of Mousetrap, the game,” Aamodt says.

The toy includes 22 pieces, including a brightly colored small seesaw, staircase and wrecking ball, a number of wooden dominoes and marbles. There are also cards that can help generate challenges such as household items to use, like cookie sheets or old toilet paper tubes; ways to combine pieces, including using a lever plus dominoes; and goals to aim for, like watering a plant, popping a balloon or knocking something off a table.

The ingenuity needed to create chain-reaction contraptions gives “kids some sort of ownership over the design” and creates an emotional response, Aamodt explains: “Science needs to be exciting, and it needs to emphasize creativity.”
click to enlarge The toy sets include 22 pieces that can be constructed with household items to create chain reactions. - COURTESY OF MOMENTIX MOTIONKITS
The toy sets include 22 pieces that can be constructed with household items to create chain reactions.
Courtesy of Momentix motionKits
That sentiment is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which noted the importance of play for children in a 2018 study. Prioritizing creativity is also considered an important factor in promoting diversity within STEM fields. According to the U.S. Census, women occupy only 27 percent of STEM positions, despite making up nearly half the workforce. Many professionals cite role models, funding and greater awareness of opportunities as a way to bridge that gap. But creativity plays a role, as well.

Shalini Kesar, a computer science and cybersecurity professor at Southern Utah University, collaborated with Microsoft to conduct a survey in 2017 that found that 91 percent of surveyed girls (in fifth through twelfth grades) valued creativity, and that the desire to use that skill affected what profession they hoped to pursue. If STEM disciplines are perceived as more creative and engaging, more young women may seek out related careers, the study asserts.
click to enlarge All toys went through rigorous, kid-approved testing. - CAL AAMODT
All toys went through rigorous, kid-approved testing.
Cal Aamodt
Aamodt and Gilbertson would love to see that scenario play out. As female physics majors, they were in a definite minority; Aamodt remembers being one of three girls in her thirty-person high school AP physics class.

“More diversity in science means better science,” she adds. “People from diverse backgrounds look at the same problem differently.”

While creating Momentix motionKit, Aamodt and Gilbertson took the richness of multiple perspectives seriously. They tested many versions of the toy set with kids and educators not just in Colorado, but around the world.

After three years of testing various prototypes, they started a Kickstarter campaign in early 2020 to help fund 100 kits. When they exceeded their budget, they learned to create thousands of wooden pieces by hand during lockdown, using a maker’s space in Colorado Springs that had the equipment. They even had friends help them coat pieces in a finish of beeswax and mineral oil.

While the initial product received a lot of good feedback, Aamodt and Gilbertson also learned of things they could improve. With the next version, they emphasized their own play with the toy instead of concentrating on the technicalities. “Every single time we did that, we’d get so many ideas,” Aamodt says.

Aamodt and Gilbertson are now wrapping up a second Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the next phase of production; it ends October 12. They want to raise $50,000, which they plan to use to complete safety certifications and begin factory production. They’re hoping to get the product into customers’ hands by March 2022.

But while they plan the next steps, they continue to watch how kids experience the Momentix motionKit. Aamodt recalls watching a group work with their instruction book to create three components. When the final step instructed them to put the components together, their eyes lit up. “They really understood the Rube Goldberg concept,” Aamodt recalls. “The fact that they were able to build it was the cherry on top.”

To learn more about Momentix motionKits, visit, visit the toy's website, Instagram or TikTok. Find the Kickstarter campaign here.
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Claire Duncombe is a journalist, photographer, multimedia storyteller and musician. She is a recent graduate of CU Denver, and a proud Philadelphia native.
Contact: Claire Duncombe