Category Archives: Science

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)

Science by the Dull Eyed Llamas

For today’s Phun Phriday post, I am sharing a Rube Goldbergian feat by Ariel Llama.  Set to the music of “Science” by the Dull Eyed Llamas, you will see an elaborate set-up designed to open a door. Here is part of the summary on YouTube:

“This Rube Goldberg machine took almost 1 year to build, and 2 weeks of intense troubleshooting and filming to finish. It’s amazing what one crazy musician can build in his living room.

I wanted to show my students that you can make a pretty fancy machine out of cardboard and popsicle sticks, straws and dowels, found objects, duct tape, and perseverance. Et voila!”

I think perseverance might be the understatement of the year!

from Science by the Dull Eyed Llamas
from Science by the Dull Eyed Llamas

White House Science Fair

On Monday, March 23, 2015, the White House hosted it’s fifth annual Science Fair.  You can see some of the participants in the video on this site.  I haven’t been able to watch the whole video, but I enjoyed the segment that starts about 57 minutes in (I just chose a random place to start) where some students describe their experiences with their FIRST Lego League robots to Bill Nye.

White House Science Fair 2015
White House Science Fair 2015

If you visit the site, you can learn all about this year’s exhibitors – which include the 6-year-old darling “Supergirls” FIRST Lego League Team below.  Talk about STEM Inspiration!

The Supergirls from Tulsa, OK
The Supergirls from Tulsa, OK

You can find more coverage of the event here. And if you want some STEM resources, check out this Pinterest Board.

#ScienceWoman

Joe Hanson from “It’s Okay to Be Smart” and Meredith Walker from “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls” recently teamed up to collect videos from anyone interested in making a tribute to a female science hero. You can view a compilation of some of the clips from the videos they received here.  The entire collection of videos is available in this playlist.  I have not viewed all of the videos, but the compilation one is a great way to give prospective young scientists a peek at some of the female role models that have inspired others to pursue a career in science.

While you are learning about some of the amazing women who have made significant scientific contributions you might also be interested in viewing the “Women in Science” series of art work by Rachel Ignotofsky.  These whimsical prints illustrate some of the admirable women from history who have made an impact in such fields as chemistry, engineering, and computer science.

Illustration of Rosalind Franklin by Rachel Ignofotsky
Illustration of Rosalind Franklin by Rachel Ignotofsky.  See more prints and purchase them here.

Because I have been collecting so many STEM resources in recent weeks, I have started a “STEM Inspiration” Pinterest Board.  Let me know in the comments section if you find any other links I should add to the board!

Makerspace Essentials – Little Bits

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials

Little Bits are modules that snap together magnetically to make circuits.  The colors help to distinguish between output and input modules, and there are endless combinations to be made with over 60 modules in their library.  You can see an introduction to the product here.

image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LittleBits2.jpg
image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LittleBits2.jpg

Little Bits offers a variety of kits, and gives discounts to educators.  If you are unable to purchase directly through Little Bits due to vendor approval complications, you can also often find their kits on Amazon.com.

If you browse through the lessons page on the site, you will get an idea of the unlimited creativity and learning that these pieces potentially provide.  Math, science, and storytelling are all included in this curriculum gallery.

When we first got our Little Bits set, I found these Task Cards that help to introduce some of the basic pieces.  They were great for me to learn how the modules worked.  However, most of my students preferred to figure it out on their own.  You might want to try these Challenge Cards instead.  If you like those, here are some more.  Of course, you need to make sure the challenges match the supplies you are providing as different kits offer different modules.

Organizing your Little Bits can be a challenge.  I’ve seen some librarians mention that they have a “Little Bits Bar” with plastic drawer organizers that sit on the table.  I was thrilled when Little Bits offered this Tackle Box on their site – perfect for separating hundreds of tiny pieces.  One maker space presenter at TCEA advised us not to get “hung up” on labeling all of the Little Bits containers.  As long as the students organize them by type so the next users can easily find them, that should suffice.

Ayah Bdeir, an engineer and founder of Little Bits, gave a TED Talk about her product in 2012.  She speaks about how her product helps students to make sense of the world.  “The nicest thing is how they start to understand the electronics around them from every day that they don’t learn at schools. For example, how a nightlight works, or why an elevator door stays open,or how an iPod responds to touch.”

If you are given the opportunity to purchase Little Bits for your classroom, library, and/or maker space, I definitely recommend them!

For more maker space resources, check out my Pinterest Board, “Make.”