Tag Archives: creativity

Marker Bots :: How We Did It

In case the “how to” guide from The Exploratorium (PDF or Instructables)  isn’t detailed enough, I thought I would share how I facilitated our scribble bot experience. Don’t mistake this as the only way to present this activity…just our way.

Scribble Bots - Take 2.

Scribble Bots – Take 2.

1.Gather your materials.
You want to encourage as much self-discovery and creativity as possible, so gather as many craft/office supply items as you have around the house. It doesn’t matter if you can’t figure out how they might be used, your children will surprise you.

Supplies needed:
– markers
– single AA batteries
1.5-3 V battery with wires attached*
hot glue stick, cut into various lengths**
– masking tape (or painters tape)
– thick rubber bands (that hold together broccoli)
alligator clips (in case your wires break) or for extra reach
– recycled containers, plastic cups, strawberry baskets, etc.
– twist ties, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, paper clips, clothespins, mini-cocktail umbrellas, etc.
– newspaper (or big paper, old cardboard boxes) to scribble on

* There might be other places to buy these from, but many of the electronic places (Radio Shack) sell them without the attached wires. You have to solder them on yourselves. If you aren’t up for that, order a bunch of these from Kelvin since they are so cheap, but the shipping is expensive. Plus, the wires pop off pretty easily and you might want some backups.

**We made our counterweight with a hot glue stick, but other suggestions includes balsa wood and playdough. All of these things can be stuck to the motor pretty easily by hand.

marker_bot_suppliesAt this point, you may want to make a few examples (see how to below) for the kids to understand the concept of a scribble bot. Be sure and make all sorts of different examples since the kids will often try and mimic your creations before moving onto their own designs.

Some supplies - paper cups, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, etc.

Some supplies – paper cups, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, etc.

2. Prepare your environment.
In this case, our environment was the dining room table. While the kids were playing after lunch, I cleaned off the table, laid down newspapers and butcher roll paper and brought out all of the markers, odd bits and clean recycled containers I could find. I’m not sure if this means we have a crafty household or are leaning toward pack-ratishness, but I had all of these materials on hand.

I put the smaller supplies into baskets (or bowls) that were easy for us to access. Each had a space to test their creations. There were two rolls of masking tape between the four of us. You need at least one roll for every two students.

Prepared table, a short video of other kids' bots and a brief stop to make sure everyone figured out how to run the motor (they did) and they were off.


3. Place a battery, motor and thick rubber band in front of each chair. Call the kids.

The first thing that you want the kids to discover is how to make the motor work with the battery. See if they can figure it out. Be patient. Very patient. Ask questions until they get it.

If they are getting frustrated, show them how to hold the wires on either side of the battery to make a compete circuit. Add the rubberband around the battery to hold the wires in place. You now have an easy way to turn your motor on and off.

Save the bands that are wrapped around fresh broccoli

Save the bands that are wrapped around fresh broccoli

The wires on the battery are a bit flimsy and can easily break off from the kids pulling too much or from the vibration of the motor. One option was to purchase small heat-shrink tubes (for electronics) that can be found at hardware stores and use a hair dryer or lighter to shrink them onto your wires. I used a lighter and didn’t get as close to the motor as I should so they still popped off, but a hair dryer (or heat gun) should do quite nicely. Or, get yourself some alligator clips/leads and use those when the wires snap off.

4. Show them the examples or watch a video. Or don’t.
There’s a lot of debate about whether to show examples or just hand them a motor and some markers and just suggest that they make a bot that scribbles. You decide.

My kids and I watched a video from my course and they started out copying the design of some of the kids from the Exploratorium, but then moved on and modified or made their own creations as they gained confidence. You can see what we made here and here. You can always do a web search to find more examples.

5. Add your counterweight.
The hot glue stick is meant to be the counterweight to propel the motor and thus create a scribbling bot. The kids will need to experiment with many different sizes of weights, angles of markers, etc.

Let the child decide which way to add the glue stick to the motor. Push the hot glue stick onto the motor (while it’s off). An adult’s muscle may be needed for this part.

marker_bot_motor

If the wires break off, use wired alligator clips to connect to the battery.

6. Design the bot.
Let them go and design away. Resist the urge to help them or fix it for them. If you see that something is obviously not going to work – that’s okay. Let them do it anyway. As long as they aren’t harming themselves (or the furniture), it will be a fabulous lesson in testing and re-testing…not to mention a good dose of growth mindset with regards to trial and error. Feel free to step in if you see tears on the horizon. You don’t want them to be frustrated, but you do want it to be their experience.

7. Listen.
Listen as your child describes their bot. Ask them about their design and their thought process. “Why did you decide to add the tape there? Your marker color choices are very interesting…how did you decide on those colors?”

8. Reflect. Later.
A few days later…or the following week, casually bring up the activity and discuss ways that you might do things differently. Are there any other things in your house that you could turn into a scribble bot? How else might you use a motor and battery? How is your fan powered? Your alarm clock powered? etc. What other everyday items use batteries?

Want to try again? Do you think we could work with watercolors or oil pastels? Do you think we could make a special type of pattern? The possibilities are endless.

Daddy's scribble bot made a pretty design.

Daddy’s scribble bot made a pretty design.

The end of our second time making scribble bots - this time we experimented with crazy designs...that didn't always work.

The end of our second time making scribble bots – this time we experimented with crazy designs…that didn’t always work.

Update: For those teachers that want to incorporate more free-form activities, but aren’t sure they can justify the time, check out this middle school science teacher’s post. He has some ideas on how to encourage scientific inquiry – with a purpose.

Good luck and happy creating! If you make a bot, post a link in the comments for everyone to see…

 

Tinkering, Creativity & New Ideas

I’m a bit behind in my Tinkering class. First, we were at the beach. The waves, boogie boarding and sand castles took up all of my attention. And, rightly so!

Second, the circuit board components took me a lot longer to craft. As in — many, many days of testing, stripping wires, running out to the hardware store, sanding blocks of wood, stripping more wires, being patient as the youngest child was too rough with the delicate wires, running back to the hardware store for another hot glue gun since ours chose that moment to break…and on and on and on. It was quite a process that I had to go through to end up with a small offering of circuitry. And, the silly part is that there’s so much more we want to add to our collection. We definitely aren’t finished with parts yet, but in the meantime, we’ve (mostly) figured out how everything works.

There's a large part of me that wants to scream at how long it took to complete these! But, the process and the experience was well worth it.

There’s a large part of me that wants to scream at how long it took to complete these!

There was also no “one-way” set of instructions for each component…and that was done on purpose by the course designers…I think. The short “how to” video from the course made everything look so easy, and while it wasn’t hard, it was time consuming. It was tinkering.

It’s not easy to create an online class that encompasses the very type of learning that they are discussing – constructivist. An impressive, yet frustrating feat. The value of having a hands-on facilitator nearby is fairly obvious.

But, rather than dwell on how long the process took, I would rather think about how much I’ve grown – not as a competent wire stripper or soldering iron expert. Most definitely not…I still need to practice and once the soldering iron did come out, the husband suddenly became very interested in “my” tinkering work!

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My goal with this course was to become more comfortable with electricity – to allow my children and my summer camp students a chance to learn about circuits and batteries and bulbs with a hands-on approach. As a Montessori-trained educator and project-based homeschool user, I am quite used to being a facilitator rather than a director. There is a lot of time devoted to tinkering and exploring in my camps (and definitely at home).

Even so, I am still impressed with how much more I am able to look at things in a new way. As we were making room in the garage for the soldering iron set-up, I found the ceiling fan that my husband replaced last month. Rather than look at it and push it back into the corner, I gleefully grabbed it and wondered what sort of wires I could harvest from it. The boys were so excited that they could dismantle it, they grabbed their tool boxes and got to work.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

I think a key part of tinkering is that it has the potential to lead to creativity. I like the idea that you are looking at something differently. That’s being creative – thinking about using something in a new way. It doesn’t have to be a brand new idea…just new to you.

 

Tinkering, Making and Being Inspired

Tinkering with alligator clips, a battery pack and a 3 V motor.

Tinkering with alligator clips, a battery pack and a 3 V motor.

As we continue with our second week of Tinkering Class, the boys and I dived head first into circuits. We watched the explanatory videos and then my kids ran and pulled out all of the components and started to try and make things work.

The 9-year-old decides to see how many items he can successfully connect at once.

The 9-year-old decides to see how many items he can successfully connect at once.

I love having this time with them and watching them get excited about learning. It was so much fun! The “old” me would have wanted to build every component just the way it was in the introductory video before bringing it out to them. Instead, we tested it out together and realized we needed a few more pieces to make it as easy-going as in the videos.  We’ll be building more parts as a team, thus deepening the learning and exploring.

Apparently, we had a “maker” kind of day going on. Once the boys realized we needed a few more parts before we could continue with the circuit boards, they decided to finally get down to making a tin-can telephone. This is something my oldest had read about and wanted to try, but hadn’t quite found the concentration to put it into action.

Six years-old and hammering...with sandals on. Eek!

Six years-old and hammering…with sandals on. Eek!

The 9-year-old has cut his toe on a saw (while wearing sandals). You'll notice he is wearing his sneakers.

The 9-year-old has cut his toe on a saw (while wearing sandals). You’ll notice he is wearing his sneakers.

They found a web site on how to construct a tin-can telephone and other than some assistance with reaching the tools (oh, the garage) and some knot tying…this was a project that they completed all on their own.

They even experimented (and became frustrated) as they figured out how to make it work the best. Tight string and in the same room?  Yes. Around a corner or with closed doors? Not so much.

IMG_0891

A great day for learning, doing and exploring. We don’t always have those sorts of days, so it’s nice to be able to look back on them and remember!

 

 

 

The Brick Chronicles :: Not Just Dinosaurs, Sauropods

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Sauropod, made by C, age 6.

Sauropod, made by C, age 6.

IMG_0877My youngest son is really into fossils and dinosaurs at the moment. At six, one would have thought he was past the “dinosaur” stage, but he likes to come into things in his own sweet time. Even though he’s been watching Dinosaur Train* for the last year or so, it’s only recently that he has become quite intrigued by these prehistoric animals. I think we have checked out nearly every juvenile book on dinosaurs from our local library. Since he’s so fascinated, his older brother has taken up an interest as well. They do that often, my children. They each have their own distinct interests, but they are also very willing to delve deeply into the passion of the other. It makes play time fun to watch.

A sauropod fossil, made by R, age 9.

A sauropod fossil, made by R, age 9.

* I have to admit that at first I thought this was a silly show designed to sell toys, but then I actually sat down and watched it with my kids and I have been quite impressed. From the catchy rock-a-billy opening to the unique “cast,” my kids have picked up a ton of accurate information about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. My favorite is the idea that a “time tunnel” is approaching – a fabulous way to help kids (and adults) to understand that not all of these dinosaurs lived during the same era.

 

 

The Brick Chronicles: A Handcrafted House

The Brick Chronicles features unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

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An ever-changing, ever-evolving house, made by Ronan, age 9

Entire house, as seen from the rear

Entire house, as seen from the rear

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A bedroom with built-in shelving to hold multiple outfits!

Living Room

Living Room

My personal favorite, the bathroom, complete with toilet and toilet paper!

What have you created today?