Category Archives: Science

Paper Circuit Greeting Cards

Our school Maker Club has been working with electric circuits: Squishy Circuits, Makey Makey, Circuit Scribe, and Little Bits.  Since it seems important that a Maker Club actually make something, paper circuit greeting cards became a goal.

As usual, the project was harder than I anticipated.  For some reason, I thought that there would be lots of simple instructions on the web; I knew I hadn’t just dreamed up the idea.  But when it came down to it, most of the instructions looked a bit too complicated for our group of 24 second through fourth graders.  You can judge for yourself:

We don’t have a soldering iron, and I didn’t like the look of binder clips on a greeting card, so I pulled together what I’d learned from the above resources, and came up with a variation that would work for us.  First we made Mother’s Day cards.  Next I came up with a prototype for Father’s Day cards that they can make at home using the supplies we have provided in a baggie.

The main items you need to make this work are:

  • Copper Tape (available on Amazon.com) – about 6-8 inches for each card
  • LED Stickers (available at Maker Shed or Chibitronics) NOTE: You can also use LED’s with resistors instead of the stickers. – 1 for each card
  • Coin Cell 3V batteries (available on Amazon.com) – 1 for each card

Chibitronics has a good Starter Kit that is available at several online stores.  It includes a “Sketchbook” which you can also download for free here.  We introduced the students to what we were going to be doing by having them do the simple circuit on page 20.

The hardest thing for the young ones is keeping the copper tape in one piece around the corners.  Instead of cutting it for your corners, you need to fold it over itself to ensure conductivity continues.

Noticing their difficulty, and worried about time constraints for the Mother’s Day cards, I went ahead and applied the copper tape to the die-cut hearts ahead of time.  The students added the rest.  You can see some of the results below.

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Each student had 2 die-cut hearts – the bottom one with the circuit and a top one that they wrote on and I punched a hole in. To affix the battery to the bottom, they used glue dots (be careful that the dot is not too high or it will keep the battery from connecting with the tape).  To affix the top heart to the bottom we used foam mounting squares similar to these.

I didn’t want to leave fathers out, but we only have one more Maker Club meeting.  So, I made a new prototype and we will be giving the students these instructions along with the pieces for assembly.  The basic circuit construction is the same as the Mother’s Day card.  I plan to encourage the students to make their own design, but I know that many of the younger ones, in particular, will prefer having some guidelines.

If you are interested in the “Everything is Awesome” portion of the card, here is a free printable.

everythingisawesomeYou can find more “Make” ideas on this Pinterest Board.

 

Makey Makey Go

I really wish Kickstarter would offer gift cards.

I have a huge obsession with creativity – and browsing Kickstarter fuels that craving.  I am awed by the imagination of the inventors, and constantly berating myself for not coming up with any of these ideas.

So I do the next best thing.

I back them.

Because it takes imagination to recognize imagination, right? By throwing in my ten or twenty dollars I’m saying, “Well, I may not have dreamed up this awesome product, but at least I’m innovative enough to realize its cutting edge potential.”

Right?

Anyway, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that Makey Makey Go is going to “go” far.  Its predecessor, Makey Makey, was one of the 50 top-funded Kickstarter projects ever. I’ve mentioned Makey Makey on this blog several times, including recommending it as a great holiday gift. Jay Silver, the inventor of the original, is behind the new, portable version.  You absolutely must see his suggestions for the many uses of Makey Makey Go, including several taking-selfies-in-odd-situations solutions.

I, of course, went with the $39 Pledge because:

1. You get a Bonus Tin

and

B. You get two Makey Makey Go Sticks – which means I can wear them as earrings.

image from: Makey Makey Go Kickstarter
image from: Makey Makey Go Kickstarter

Totally worth it.

 

 

Hill Country Science Mill Raffle Winner

Congrats to Tom Kilgore (@Tom_Kilgore), winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill!  He and his family have an awesome experience in store for them!

Thanks to all who participated.  I hope that you will still find the time to take your family to this fabulous interactive museum.  It is well worth the trip!

Hill Country Science Mill

Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years.  It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.

Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated.  With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science.  While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider.  Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.

Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)
Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)

The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th  GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.

A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin.  She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.

Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill
Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill

One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s.  Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits.  You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)

When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students.  Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students.  This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.

Hill Country Science Mill Avatar
A guest creates an avatar (image courtesy of Hill Country Science Mill)

My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits – the Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work.  She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways.  This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.

Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)
Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)

Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room.  Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.

BioLab picture taken by one of my students
BioLab picture taken by one of my students

Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box.  It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand.  Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.

Augmented Reality Sandbox
Augmented Reality Sandbox (image courtesy of the Hill Country Science Mill)

The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything.  That’s a good problem!

Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.

You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below.  Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.

Congrats to Tom Kilgore, winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill!  He and his family headed for an awesome experience!

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Sphero Bridge Building

Every year, my 2nd grade GT students build bridges as part of a unit on Structures.  We have K’nex kits, and they enjoy learning about the different types of bridges as well as making their own versions.

This year I really wanted to have them do more than follow the instructions in a kit. When I saw the Sphero Bridge Building Challenge, I knew immediately what we were going to do.  I modified the lesson plans a bit, borrowing from some other bridge-building lessons I’ve seen, and created yesterday’s challenge.

I gave teams the task of building a bridge that would span a 14-inch gap between two table edges.  It would need to be strong enough to drive a Sphero across, and cost the least amount of “money” possible.

Of course, they didn’t have to spend real money.  I put a bunch of materials on one of my tables and gave them a chart listing the costs:

  • Popsicle Sticks – $100 ea.
  • Straws – $50 ea.
  • String – $20 per foot
  • Paper – $10 per sheet
  • Tape – $5 per 6 in. (the 1st 6 in. are free)

The students had to plan the materials they would use and then figure out the projected cost.  They had to sketch their bridges. Once I approved their plans, they could build.

I was so impressed with their planning!  They weighed the Sphero, used string to measure its circumference, did complicated calculations of the costs of materials, and measured straws and popsicle sticks with great care.  Great discussions ensued about the best designs for their bridges.  A lot of math was done – most of it correctly.

In the end, two groups succeeded in completing and testing their Sphero bridges.  Two did not.  Their reflections afterward were fun to read.  One student wrote, “We got our bridge done in time but we could have gotten it done earlyer if we had not been arguing.”   All of the students thought planning was essential to a successful project – except one, who stated, “planing wast of time.”  Another commented that the time it takes to complete building something can be delayed by things like, “how prodoctove your workers are.”  His teammate was more blunt, “Our bridge did not get finish because some people don’t work.”  They learned another reason for building delays can be when you don’t plan for enough materials and you have to wait for more to be delivered ( i.e. when there is a line of students waiting for Mrs. Eichholz to dole out more pieces of tape).

I will definitely add this to my lesson plans again next year.  It was one of those experiences where you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the utter chaos but completely awed by the creativity and engagement of your students.  At the end of the activity you feel the contradictory, but welcome, combination of being both drained and energized.

spherobridge2

Jane Goodall on Instinct

I found out about a 3-part series of animated videos called, “The Experimenters,” from Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart.”  I haven’t watched them all, but I really like the one for Jane Goodall. It’s short – about six and a half minutes – but it encapsulates all that is delightful about this primatology pioneer.  For example, her dreams of working in Africa began when she read Tarzan.  She does not discount the possibility that a Yeti may exist.  And she managed to go straight from having no degree to getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge.  What’s not to love?

Inspire a future scientist by showing him or her this video about a woman who has always followed her instinct, despite those who disapproved.

from "Jane Goodall on Instinct"
from “Jane Goodall on Instinct”

Maker Space Essentials – Squishy Circuits

The next adventure for our after-school Maker Club will be circuits. I’ve already mentioned Little Bits, a great product for creating all kinds of circuits using interchangeable magnetic parts.  Those will be at one of our stations.  Another station will include “Squishy Circuits.”

Squishy Circuits image courtesy of Lenore Edman
Squishy Circuits image courtesy of Lenore Edman

Squishy Circuits are made using conductive dough.  You can find the recipe for the dough, as well as for insulating dough here. A Squishy Circuits kit, which includes the recipes and “hardware” is available for $25 here. You can probably find the items somewhere else, but I felt like this was a pretty good price that saved me the time of hunting for individual parts.

If you scroll to the bottom of the Squishy Circuits purchasing page, you can see two videos that show this product in action. As you will learn, this is a great way to introduce electrical circuits to young students.

I did a practice run this weekend with my daughter and some family friends.  One of the things that is really fun to watch is the natural curiosity that arises once you show them an LED lighting up. Suddenly, “What if” questions begin to flow, and “I wonder what would happen” becomes the beginning of every other sentence.

I did learn a few things from this Squishy Circuits rehearsal:

  • If you don’t have food coloring in the house, egg dye can work in a pinch – but it’s going to make your dough smell like vinegar.
  • There is a reason the recipe calls for distilled or deionized water for the insulating dough.  We didn’t have either, so we used spring water.  Our sugar dough – though less conductive – still had some power.  This turned into a great lesson, though.  (“Why” became the next favorite sentence starter.)
  • The buzzer sounds are extremely irritating to adult ears, but highly giggle-provoking to youth.

I found a few other resources for those of you interested in using Squishy Circuits.

As you can see, there are lots of ways to use Squishy Circuits.  If you have any other suggestions, please fill free to add a comment to this post. And, if you want to see some other Maker Space  Essentials, check out my “Make” Pinterest Board.

Maker Space Essentials (6)