Today the kids made their own marker bots. They started with a single cell AA-battery, a broccoli band and a 3V motor. Once they figured out how to get the motor running, they grabbed a “marker bot body” and began to create. To see a more in-depth explanation, check out my previous “how-to” post on these cute scribbling machines. Otherwise, check out their drawing machines:
When I was initially asked if I wanted to be a part of Space Camp, I was hesitant to say yes. I think space and stars are pretty amazing, but I do not feel confident teaching others about them. I have a lot of varied interests, but space is not one of them.
Then, the director asked me if I was interested in the art and craft class. Oh my – yes!!!
While they were completely open to new ideas, they had already thought about some sort of LED constellation art project. I thought that was perfect and right up my alley. I’ve been playing a lot with LEDs and I’ve always been interested in art. This was in November and I quickly began prototyping. I was hoping that we could hard wire the LEDs, but I expected that it might be too difficult for inexperienced students.
Although my family and I like to look at the stars, I don’t have a strong background in space. I needed to read more about constellations and how to identify them. After choosing some books from the library, I realized that I needed something with accurate, but simple illustrations of the constellations. Thankfully, I stumbled upon these two activity books:
Wiring the LEDs
I probably should have started with getting the paint ‘just right,’ but instead I grabbed some black and glitter paint and did the quickest job I could…so that I could figure out how to light up the stars.
My first attempt was with copper tape and SMD LEDs. Fail.
My second attempt was with copper tape and Chibitronic LED stickers. Not bad, but I thought it might be too much of a dexterity issue to get them onto canvas. Fail.
My third attempt had me stripping copper wire and twisting LEDs. Success!!! But…way too difficult for young kids. Not to mention all of those exposed wires.
Finally, I stumbled across these micro LED lights and knew that this would make it easy for the kids to light up their constellations. After another quick ‘night’ paint job, I made the prototype from which I based my lessons.
For my class, I was lucky enough to have two sessions that lasted an hour and a half. This left plenty of time for discussion and work time. On the first day, we talked about a variety of constellations, but I asked them over and over again, “what do you notice?” I wanted them to see that the night sky was made up of many different colors. There were heavy concentrations of stars in certain areas, but depending on the time, or location that the picture was taken, the stars might have been a light sprinkling. I wasn’t teaching about the constellations (thank goodness), merely reinforcing the other lessons they were getting from the head of the Planetarium (the guy with the PhD in Astronomy). Thankfully, I found the series, ‘Crash Course for Kids,’ and showed my students the videos on groups of stars and the one on how to locate constellations. Since we were painting and doing other art activities on the first day of camp, I wanted to draw their attention to the colors and patterns. To truly observe.
The students finished their canvases that first day and by our second session, they were dry and ready to light up. On that second day, I turned my focus to discussing circuits, LEDs and coin cell batteries. I even brought my homemade circuit blocks.
The output device only works when it’s a closed circuit. This is a rather annoying, but effective, buzzer.
LED Constellation Art Project – Materials Needed
- 8 x 10 art canvas (from Hobby Lobby)
- Paintbrushes & Palette
- Toothbrush for flicking on glitter
- Paint (see picture below)
- Newspapers or butcher paper to cover table
- LED light string
- Hot glue gun and glue
- Exacto knife
- Pencil for tracing constellation
- Tracing Paper
- Carbon paper
- Paper to test carbon paper
- Micro LED string of lights
- Hand out small bits of carbon paper and let the kids figure out how it works.
- Choose a constellation from one of the activity books or draw your own.
- Trace or draw your constellation onto the tracing paper. Set aside.
- Note – If drawing, be sure your constellation fits in the middle of the canvas. BE MINDFUL of the wooden frame. The lights have to poke through from the back.
4. Place the carbon paper (dark side down) in the middle of the canvas. Set your traced constellation on top and retrace the constellation with your pencil. Remove the carbon paper and see that your constellation is on your canvas.
5. Circle the stars so that students know to paint around them. Have students write their name on the back of the canvas. Include the name of the constellation, direction and months that you can find it in the sky. Example: Cygnus, December – February, facing North
6. Play around with the paints – mix orange and blue and see how you can get darker blue. Add gray to black, what happens? You can mix glitter paint into the black to get very subtle sparkles.
8. Take your canvas outside and bring along the toothbrush, the glitter paint and some red paint. Love the red stars.
9. The stiff bristles on an old toothbrush are used to make a nice splatter effect of stars.
10. Set aside and let dry for 24 hours.
Adding the LEDs to our LED Constellation Art Project
Since I really wanted to make this an art & tech project, I built the second day’s lessons around circuits and batteries. We started with a discussion on what they knew about LEDs and coin cell batteries, passed out some single LEDs and watched these two videos from Adafruit’s Circuit Playground: B is for Battery and D is for Diode.
Then, we unwrapped the micro LED set of lights and everyone put in the batteries to make sure the lights worked. Surprisingly, they all did.
The coordinators felt that it was safer if the adults used the exacto knives to cut into the canvases, so the kids each had their stars marked by a little “x.” Then, off they went to the pre-heated hot glue guns to secure the lights to their canvas.
An instant project that will help students remember the layout of their favorite constellation. Coin cell batteries do not have a long shelf life (8 hours, I think), but thankfully, these lights come with an on/off switch.
SFC Space Camp
This week, I’m excited to be teaching and facilitating for Santa Fe College’s ‘Space Camp.’ I’m leading the art and craft component and we will be doing art and tech while being immersed in constellations and circuits. Here’s what we’re making:
Detailed instructions to follow…
In anticipation of teaching next week, I have been creating more hands-on activities to go along with my lesson on circuits and batteries. Circuit blocks, circuit cards, sewn circuit components…
Last summer, I made these wooden blocks during the free, online course from The Exploratorium Museum. The course, ‘Tinkering Fundamentals‘, showcased circuits and how to use these blocks as part of a constructionist approach to learning. For me, they were somewhat frustrating to make, so the thought of making more was not that appealing. Thankfully, I recently stumbled across these paper-based circuit cards.
I had everything on hand – copper tape, binder clips, extra battery holders and some Chibitronic LED stickers (which made the whole process a heck of a lot easier). Add in an old cereal box and I was able to quickly make these cards, all while waiting for the soldering iron to heat up.
It was really nice to make something with copper tape, especially something that works consistently. For the last few days, I have been messing around with copper tape and Lectrify components, but nothing was working. I even tried conductive paint, but that didn’t work either. I’ve come to realize that soldering the components might be the key.
Unfortunately, that’s disappointing for a teacher who isn’t allowed to have soldering irons in a classroom. And, perhaps, isn’t quite ready for her young students to have access to such tools.
The Chibitronic stickers eliminate the need for soldering tiny SMD LEDs, but at a $1 per sticker, they aren’t exactly affordable for a multi-student classroom, whereas the Lectrify components are reusable and nicely priced at $5 per set.
But, this is just the beginning of my research with the Lectrify components. I’m excited to continue researching new ways to use them. They were designed to work with Legos and my boys are already thinking of ways to test them. Up next for me? I want to try hard-wiring the components. Or, try using them in sewn circuit blocks.
But, in the meantime, I’m going to make a few more circuit cards. I need more battery holders and my ten-year-old suggested making cards of single strips of copper tape. He thinks it might be easier to create circuits. I think he might have a point.
I am happy to announce my newest camp, Making in Action! This is a joint venture with another local, family-owned business, WizzBangz. Gwen Thompson and I have been teaching S.T.E.A.M. classes for the last few years (three for me, and four for Gwen) and we are excited to team up to offer this creative camp.
The final project will be a stop-motion animation movie which will be written by the students. During camp, students will learn a variety of “maker” techniques, such as sewing, painting, using the resources at hand (that means a lot of cardboard) and in doing so, will learn about the engineering design process and the importance of trying, prototyping and making changes to their story and their designs.
Through each step, Gwen and I will act as facilitators to each group of students. We will guide them through the design process and help them to edit and make changes to their story. In addition, we will be helping them to create their own characters and mini-sets. By creating their own characters, students will be utilizing problem-solving skills, as well as learning the value of multiple iterations and working collaboratively.
We will be using a variety of materials and resources with a special emphasis on empowering our students with a maker mindset. We hope you will join us at The Einstein School for this fabulous camp. To register, go to Making in Action 2016.