Program 36: Wind

windydayI’ve been wanting to do a weather program for a while, and I finally got all of the perfect fun pieces together for a wind-themed G3 program!

My opening presentation was a lot of fun for this topic. We talked about mythology (all of the cultures that had a god representing wind, e.g., the Greek god Aeolus). We talked about world record wind speeds – the record originally belonged to Mt. Washington with a recorded wind speed of 231 miles per hour, but as of 1996 the record belongs to Barrow Island Australia with a recorded surface wind speed of 253 miles per hour! We even talked briefly about the daring kite fighting events in countries like Brazil, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan where kite strings are coated with powdered glass and people battle to take down other kites!

My group also had a lot of laughs over this hilarious video of people in Norway trying to cross a street as Storm Ivan hits. At one point, you can even see how the police have to start escorting elderly people across the street because they literally can’t walk across on their own! :)

Thanks to our “visit” with Bill Nye the Science Guy via his episode on Wind, we also got a very good explanation for not only how winds are created, but also how other weather phenomena occur…like hail storms. With Bill Nye’s parting wisdom, we were ready to launch into our two main experiments of the day:  Windbags and Anemometers.

Experiment #1:  Windbags


  • I purchased packs of “wind bags” from the Steve Spangler web site because that was simplest, but you can actually create your own windbags using the cartridges that come from diaper genies and the like; you should ideally have 1 bag per scientist

Our experiment was really very simple. Each windbag needs to be knotted closed at one end (I did this in advance so my scientists wouldn’t have to worry about that detail). For my first demonstration to the group, I pinched the open end mostly closed and asked them how much air they thought I could trap in the windbag with 3 large breaths by putting my mouth right up to the opening. After my 3 breaths, I fully closed the open end and dragged my hand down the length of the windbag until I had gathered my air at one end (I only gathered about 1-2 feet of air in the bag). My second attempt created a perfect launching pad for explaining the Bernoulli Principle to the group. Holding the open end of the windbag wide open, keeping my mouth back from the opening about 6 inches, and doing just one giant breath, I was able to trap significantly more air in the windbag! Why did this happen? When I blew into the windbag, it created an area of lower air pressure inside the bag than outside it. Bernoulli’s Principle suggests that the atmosphere wants to remain balanced, so air from the outside of the bag actually races into the bag alongside my breath to help stabilize the pressure and make it match the pressure outside the bag. My scientists had a blast testing this out time and again (and, of course, jousting with the full windbags when they were finished) :)

 Experiment #2:  Anemometers


  • Paper cups (I used dixie cups, but you can also create this using regular sized cups); you will need 5 cups per scientist
  • Pencils (1 per scientist)
  • Pushpins (1 per scientist)
  • Plastic straws (2 per scientist; you can use either bendy or straight straws, whatever you have on hand)
  • Scotch tape
  • Sticker dots or magic markers (you need to mark the base of one of the outer cups so you have a way to visually count revolutions – you can use markers, but I had some colored sticker dots handy and used them instead)
  • Single-hole paper punch or scissors

While this project was fairly easy to assemble, there are a few temperamental steps along the way where my scientists needed an extra hand. Before my program, I did a little preparation in advance. Each scientist will receive 5 paper cups. Four of those cups will need 2 holes about a half inch to an inch below the lip. You can use scissors to punch the holes, but I used my handy single-hole paper punch to pop them in. [I marked the cup lips lightly with pencil to help guide my use of the paper punch.] The fifth cup will need 4 holes evenly spaced around the cup, also a half inch to an inch below the lip. And in this fifth cup you may want to also punch a hole in the center of the bottom of the cup in advance (I forgot to do this and several of my scientists had trouble doing this on their own). I won’t go into detail about all of the steps here because there are two great sites that give detailed explanations:

  1. This post had some excellent step-by-step photos for creating a simple paper cup anemometer
  2. I liked this Southeast Regional Climate Center PDF for its descriptions on the various steps, and in particular, I liked the table at the end of the PDF that gives you a translation for “revolutions in seconds” to both “miles per hour” AND “kilometers per hour” for the actual wind speed you’re recording

There are lots of sites that give similar though differing instructions for how to create simple anemometers – the two above sites were my favorites.

One of the steps that gave my scientists some trouble was positioning the 4 outer cups on the straws. The tricky parts were 1) using the scotch tape to make sure the cups remained in a sideways position, and 2) making sure that all cups were pointed in the correct direction and were optimized for capturing wind.  You also need to make sure that in the final step, when the pushpin is pushed through the crossing straws into the pencil eraser, the pin is loose enough in the eraser that the cups can freely spin when they encounter wind.

Since going outside to test the anemometers with real wind wasn’t going to be an option for me, I brought in my hair dryer from home and let the kids take turns. On the plus side, the kids enjoyed seeing the anemometers successfully rotating and moving with the air. On the negative side, the blow dryer wind was too strong to allow for doing actual readings with our anemometers. It worked better the further back I stepped from the scientists, but it still wasn’t ideal for doing actual recordings. Perhaps a fan would generate a gentle enough wind for real-time tests of the anemometers…

This was the final program in this current session, but look for more fun from Gizmos, Gadgets and Goo when my scientists and I return to our experiments in November and December. In the meantime, check out the fun video of our “wind” activities below… :)

Categories: Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Program 35: SOUND!!!

soundFor the first program of our Fall 2014 season, I wanted to give our G3 scientists some activities that let them really go wild (after all, starting up school and homework after a lovely summer holiday can be pretty tough stuff!). And what is more fun than creating a lot of really obnoxiously loud noises? :)

SOUND is a very fun subject to study, especially since I have so many new faces in my G3 programs this season. I started us off with some brief descriptions of the nature of sound and how sound waves work:

  • When objects vibrate, the vibrations are projected into the air and create sound waves.
  • The sound waves are composed of tiny particles called atoms and the molecules that make up air.
  • Even though you cannot see sound waves with the naked eye, you can often feel sound vibrations. [If you're looking to explore this further, how about testing out your very own "sound gun" at home? Trust me, it's a blast! :) ]

And most of the scientists successfully answered all of my tricky true and false questions. From the series of questions, we learned a lot of cool facts about sound:

    • Outer space is the only truly silent place in our world…because there is no air to help distribute the sound waves.
    • Sound vibrations can be carried through more than just air – they can also move through water, woods, metals, and plastics. As an example, Ludwig van Beethoven (the famous composer who was deaf) would often hold a long wooden stick in his teeth, resting the other end on a piano wire. When he played the piano, the vibrations from the piano wire would travel through the stick, through his teeth, through his skull bone, and then directly to his inner ear where he could make sense of the sounds.

Venomous-Eyelash-Viper-snake-photos (7)

  • Snakes have no ears, but a bone inside a snake’s head picks up vibrations from the ground.
  • Female Barn Owl

    Female Barn Owl

    Did you know that owls are a bit lopsided? They have one ear slightly lower than the other so that they always have one ear a little closer to sounds on the ground where they look for their food/prey. [And as one of our G3 scientists pointed out, the higher ear is closer to sounds from above where predators might approach the owl...]

  • When you put a sea shell up to your ear, you are not actually hearing the ocean. The shell ispicking up vibrations from all of the sounds occurring around you, and those sounds are making the air inside the shell vibrate and carry sound to your ear.
  • If you ever hear someone’s stomach growling very loudly, you can say to them, “Your borborygmi is quite loud!” Borborygmi is the fancy scientific term used to describe the process that creates a growling stomach.

And I even found some cool examples of record-breaking sounds to share with our group:

  • Krakatoa


    The loudest natural sound in recorded history is still the volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa that occurred on August 27, 1883. The sound could be heard (and felt) 3,000 miles away!

  • The pistol shrimp, only 2 inches long, can eject a powerful jet of water traveling at over 60 mph from it’s one over-sized claw. The snapping sound itself reaches 218 decibels (your eardrum ruptures at 150 decibels). And at the moment the jet of water explodes from the claw, portions of the stream can reach temperatures as hot as the sun!

  • The loudest animal in the world, relative to size, is the water boatman.
  • The loudest mammal is the blue whale; the loudest land mammal is the howler monkey; the loudest amphibian is the croqui frog; the loudest bird is the oilbird. [Source: National Geographic]
  • Japan holds the world record for the most Theremin instruments playing in unison. What’s a Theremin? Check out the video below to find out…

But we never do just discussions in our G3 programs…we’re scientists after all! So I had a full series of small experiments for us to do, to help us explore sound in a variety of ways.

Experiment #1:   Humming Hangers

This experiment never fails to impress! There are many sites that describe how to perform this experiment. It is a very simple experiment, but one with a very cool pay-off. You simply tie a piece of string or yarn (about 1-2 feet long) to each end of a metal clothes hanger. STEP ONE:  Swing the hanger against a table or other solid object. What sound do you hear? STEP TWO: With the strings wrapped once around each of your index fingers, put your fingers in your ears and lean forward to swing the hanger against the solid object again. What sound do you hear now?  RESULT: The first sound should be a light dinging noise; the second sound should be almost like a loud gong. ANSWER: With the second attempt, you are giving sound a more direct, quicker path to your inner ear…for a much louder, and more accurate, representation of the sound created.

Experiment #2:  Visualizing Vibrations


  • Paper towel tubes
  • Balloons (any kind, any color)
  • Small mirrors, about 1 to 2″ square (I got packs of 25 small square mirrors at Michael’s Craft Store)
  • Scotch tape
  • Scissors

photo-1This experiment gave us a handy way to see sound vibrations just using our eyes, though we needed to play around with the procedure to get the best results. All you need is a recycled paper towel tube [some versions use a tin can with both ends removed], a balloon, and a small square mirror. You cut the balloon in half (you really only need enough of the top of the balloon to stretch across the opening of the paper towel tube – try to get as flat a surface as possible). Once the balloon is stretched across one end of the tube, you can hold it in place with pieces of scotch tape. [NOTE 1: most procedures suggest holding the balloon in place with a rubber band. We learned that paper towel tubes are not made as firmly as they used to be (probably due to recycling), so they were collapsing in on themselves when we wrapped rubber bands around the ends. The scotch tape worked much better.] You then tape a small square of mirror to the center of the balloon (by putting a small roll of tape on the center of the balloon end, and then just placing the mirror on top of the tape roll), making sure the mirror doesn’t touch the tube itself. You then ask a partner to point a flashlight directly at the mirror. The light reflects off the mirror onto the wall in front of you. When you speak into the tube or make a noise, the vibrations caused by your voice will cause the light waves to vibrate as well. Now you can actually SEE sound vibrations! [NOTE 2:  My scientists and I had the most difficulty with this experiment. There were varying degrees of success depending on how the flashlights were held, how firmly or loosely the mirror was attached to the stretched balloon, and how taught or loose the balloon surface was on the tube. This experiment definitely requires a little hands-on love from instructors and a decent amount of time to let kids work out the hiccups with their partners.]

*Experiment #3:  Sound Sandwiches

The last time I did SOUND with my G3 scientists, we created Super Easy Noise Makers. I wanted to try something a little different this time around, and I definitely found a project that was equally as noisy, satisfying, and pretty much guaranteed to succeed for all! I believe this project, hands down, was our scientists’ favorite of the day (though several kids were still in awe of the cool result from the Humming Hangers – I actually sent the kids home with the wire hangers in case they only had plastic ones at home).


  • Craft sticks, large and small (I used colorful ones just for some pizzazz)
  • Rubber bands of various sizes (I used size 84 with the large sticks though this was probably a tad too big, and I used a standard home office rubber band for the small sticks; basically, you want to make sure that the rubber band will wrap flat around the sticks but will not completely cover the sticks…you should see a margin of the stick surrounding the rubber band on all sides)
  • Drinking straws, cut up into 2″ pieces

You can click on the experiment title above to see a video demonstration of exactly how to assemble the sound sandwiches. They were fantastically fun! We made the large ones, the small ones, and even some triple and quadruple stacked sound sandwiches! Our scientists had a lot of fun imitating what they imagined old men laughing might sound like, and I’m pretty sure my large sound sandwich sounded like a dying animal (hahaha) :)

As always, my scientists went home with plates full of their projects and even a few extra supplies to help them recreate some sound sandwiches at home with younger siblings. I love how the G3 crew often leaves my program excited to share their knowledge with younger science lovers at home.

Next week be sure to check out the fun we’ll have playing with wind!…


Categories: Sound | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reminder: It’s time to register for G3 in the Fall!

Hi, fellow scientists!

Just a quick reminder that it’s time to register for our first Fall series of G3 programs :)

Track A is September 11 and 25

Track B is September 18 and October 2

We’ll have a lot of fun, so I hope I’ll see you there! You can register online on the Event calendar at

See you soon!…


Categories: Updates | Leave a comment

G3 & the Mecha Rams in the Record Journal!

There was a lovely article about our Robotics series of programs in the Saturday, July 26th edition of the Record Journal! You can click on the picture below to see a larger, more readable version of the article :)


Categories: In the News, Robotics, robots | Tags: | Leave a comment

Summer 2014: Summer of the Robots FINAL DAY

Photo Jul 24, 3 39 39 PMWe had a fantastic final day for our summer series exploring robotics with the Cheshire High School Mecha Rams.  The teen and adult mentors were amazing and taught our G3 scientists so much about how to think like an engineer, how to think like a programmer, and how to use some very interesting software to make the LEGO® Mindstorms robots come to life.

At the start of the day, our scientists broke into their teams from Day 2 (The Cyber Rams, The Mechanical Monkeys, The Iron Cheetahs, and The Metal Dragons) and began to really get hands-on with the computer programming and actually using the controllers to move the robots around the obstacle course that came with the Mindstorm kits. When everyone had a handle on how to maneuver the robot, we began a series of timed runs within each team to see how quickly each team member could complete the obstacle course.

Photo Jul 24, 3 37 07 PMThe obstacle course required more than just steering the robot around a track. Our scientists had to remove obstacles from the track, as well as align a sensor on the bottom of the robot with key markers on the track. Going too far astray from the track resulted in penalties (time substracted from the final time it took a driver to complete the course overall).

When all individual team members had completed a full, timed run of the course, our adult mentors calculated the average time it took each team to complete the course. [This was done by adding all team members' times together, and then dividing by the number of team members who completed the course.]  The results gave us an overall results lists for our teams in this final day of competition:

FOURTH PLACE TEAM:  The Metal Dragons

THIRD PLACE TEAM:  The Mechanical Monkeys


FIRST PLACE TEAM:  The Iron Cheetahs

Then, the top drivers were selected from each team to compete and see which single driver could take the high honors of the day for having the quickest run through the obstacle course. In the case of the Cyber Rams, two of the drivers were so close in time that they were able to send two members to the final individual competition. The final standings for “Best Driver of the Day” were:

FIFTH PLACE:  Steven from the Cyber Rams (1 minute, 23 seconds)

FOURTH PLACE:  Ethan from the Metal Dragons (1 minute, 6 seconds)

THIRD PLACE:  Isak from the Mechanical Monkeys (50 seconds)

SECOND PLACE:  Manny from the Iron Cheetahs (36 seconds)

FIRST PLACE:  Zachary from the Cyber Rams (33 seconds)

In a very dramatic turn of events, Zachary (who competed early), lodged a protest with our mentors due to a change in how we allowed drivers to fully remove debris from the course once an obstacle (a small rubber tire) was properly pushed off its mark. At the time that Zachary did his first run, we had suggested that the debris needed to remain on the course where it landed. So in proper competition format, Zachary was allowed to file a protest with the “judge,” and our adult mentors agreed that he had successfully supported his case and earned a second run at the course. Well done, Zachary!

A big “thank you!” to all of the Cheshire High School Mecha Rams – both the teens and their adult mentors – for making this summer very exciting for our G3 scientists. Hopefully we’ll get to continue working with the Mecha Rams for summers to come.  Enjoy the video below that shows all of the terrific work our G3 scientists and their mentors did on this final day of the robotics series :)

Categories: Robotics, robots | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer 2014: Robots, Day 2 or 3

imagesDay 2 of our 3-part summer series on robotics was a blast! Jeff Goodin started us off with a great introductory discussion about robotics, pointing out that robotics exist everywhere in our daily lives. There are sensors that automatically turn on water faucets or flush our toilets; there are sensors in cars that help us park our cars and avoid running into objects; and scientists can even create fully functioning hands and arms for people who may lose their limb in an accident! When Jeff asked our kids if they could think of any other things that might be robotic, one of our young scientists even recommended the creation of a robot squirrel to help get kites out of trees :)

Jeff was again joined by adult mentors Ray Kelchner, Rob Brucato, and Joe Grzybowski and current teen and alum members of the Mecha Rams:  Sean Kelchner, Christian Kenney, Michael Defranesco, and Bella Guo (alum). Jeff kept the introduction short, because there was no time to waste – the purpose of day 2 was to get our G3 scientists familiar with the LEGO® Mindstorms kits. But before we jumped into the days activities, there was one very important task that needed to be taken care of:  choosing official team names for the competition that will take place on Day 3!  Our 4 groups of young scientists became…

  1. The Cyber Rams
  2. The Mechanical Monkeys
  3. The Iron Cheetahs
  4. The Metal Dragons

Kids had the opportunity to again make some buttons – this time with their team name on them. There were also several stations set up with laptop computers and the LEGO® Mindstorm software. Most of the program time was an opportunity for our G3 crew to work with the teen and adult mentors to learn how to program the LEGO® robots and test the programs they created. We also had a station set up with iPads so that our kids could continue to practice coding with Angry Birds on After some failed attempts with unexpected results, most of our teams were able to successfully program a robot and watch it fully perform an expected series of actions.

Next week, the final day of our program series, our teams will be hard at work preparing for the day’s competition(s). I wonder which team will be the victor?… :)

Categories: Robotics, robots | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer 2014: Robots, Day 1 of 3

I like to refer to the summer of 2014 as “Return of the Robots!” We had such a great time with the Cheshire High School Mecha Rams (FIRST Robotics Team #999) that I couldn’t wait to invite them back for another program series this summer. Jeff Goodin was just as excited as me by the idea, and he and his teen mentors have worked hard to put together a great series of events and activities for our G3 scientists to introduce them to the amazing world of robotics.  Jeff was unable to join us for this first day, but he had adult mentors Ray Kelchner, Rob Brucato, and Joe Grzybowski do a bang-up job of filling in for him. They were joined by current teen and alum members of the Mecha Rams:  Sean Kelchner, Christian Kenney, Michael Defranesco, Dan Fisher, and Bella Guo (alum). The teens will attend the full program series to help mentor our young scientists through all of the activities.

One of the coolest moments of the day had to be be when our G3 crew was introduced to the Mecha Rams award-winning robot, “Tomorrow.” Last year, their robot didn’t survive the rigorous competition rounds; this year, we were lucky to see the actual competition robot in action. The goal this year was to design a robot that could launch a ball through a hoop. Points could be achieved by actually sending the ball through the hoop, but they could also be achieved by assisting other robots to do the same. Ray Kelchner described the robot competitions as something like a basketball game. Your team combines with other teams, and you have brief strategy discussions to see who will perform what function on the team. You might be on “offense” and work to launch a ball through a hoop. You might be on “defense” and work to protect your own goal. You also might be like a point guard, who “assists” other players by putting them in the perfect position to score points for the larger team. The robot Tomorrow actually turned out to be a great “assist” robot, feeding balls to other robots for scoring maneuvers.

After meeting Tomorrow and watching the Mecha Rams manipulate him both outside in the parking and indoors in our program room, it was time to divide the room into 3 large groups for the day’s activities. There were 3 stations set up in the room:

  1. STATION ONE:  BUTTON MAKING.  Students were allowed to design and produce their own wearable button. A big part of robotics competitions involves the fanfare and team spirit – many people show their support and spirit through the vast number of thematic buttons they wear to the competition venues.
  2. STATION TWO:  COMPUTER CODING.  Working on laptops or iPads, the G3 crew got some practice with coding…coding an Angry Birds game, that is, by visiting :)
  3. STATION THREE:  THINK LIKE A PROGRAMMER.  Working in groups of three or four, our G3 scientists programmed each other using a handy robot dictionary that was provided by the Mecha Rams. They wrote their own code with paper and pencil to guide a human “robot” through a maze with the goal of picking up a beach ball from the floor.


Our G3 crew had a lot of fun making their own buttons. The designs ranged from cool pictures to fun team names to just buttons showcasing their own names.


When we took a vote at the end of the day, this activity by far was the favorite among our G3 crew. They worked in pairs on either a laptop or iPad to practice their coding skills with the fun of Angry Birds thrown in. Of course that was a blast! Several kids even came up to me as the program day ended to make sure I was posting the web site on my blog post so they could visit it again on their own time and continue playing with code (and Angry Birds!) :)


This station was a lot of fun because it really showed our G3 crew how difficult it is to think like a programmer. The kids were first given a “robot dictionary” to help them in designing the instructions they would give their human partner (acting as a robot) to walk through a maze and pick up a beach ball at the end. All groups were given the opportunity to walk through the maze, testing their code, before they made a formal attempt to complete the course. When they were ready, the person giving the code turned their back to the maze (so they couldn’t see what their partner was doing on the course itself). Instructions were given one-by-one, and the partner in the course was forced to only perform actions as instructed by their partner. Many of our teams discovered just how difficult it was to get a person through the course to the end. In fact, when Rob Brucato turned the “announcer” around to see where their “robot” partner ended up, some of our kids even had a hard time spotting their “robot” partner in the room because they had gone so far off course!


Later this week, the G3 scientists will do their first hands-on work with the LEGO® Mindstorms kits and continue fine-tuning their coding and programming skills. We’ll also be putting our G3 scientists into their smaller competition teams, they’ll come up with formal team names, and even create their own team buttons!  All of this will lead up to the final program of our series on July 24th, when the G3 teams will actually compete in a final challenge using their robots. I can’t wait to see my G3 scientists dive into their hands-on work with the robots :)


Categories: robots | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Program 34: ArtBots!

Art + Robots = Crazy Fun!

The G3 scientists and I LOVED this most recent program that tested our skills on the gadget/gizmo end of the spectrum. With a few simple items from the dollar store plus a little tenacity (some of the connections can be a little finicky), we created with our own hands some nifty “robots” that created art!  I’ll stray a bit from my usual style of blog posts to include step-by-step instructions with pictures below (as I found that particularly handy in explaining the project to others). There are many sites that actually provide instructions for how to create versions of artbots, but I rarely found one with pictures (and personally I find visual references very helpful). So here goes! If you have any questions, feel free to post them to comments and I’ll see if I can give some needed advice :)


  • Electric toothbrush + some spares (I purchased the Luminant brand battery-operated brushes sold at Dollar Tree; I found it handy to have a few spares on hand)
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Box cutter (to cut the pool noodles down to size)
  • Electrical tape + scissors (though masking tape or duct tape probably work similarly)
  • A styrofoam pool noodle (I found these at Dollar Tree as well)
  • Rubber bands
  • Markers or pens (thin or thick – makes no difference!)
  • Spare batteries (just in case the one that came with the toothbrush is a dud)
  • Any other supplies you want to use for decorating

STEP ONE:  Test the toothbrush battery and motor


Step 1

This is a simple enough test. Following the instructions on the back of the toothbrush package, you simply need to insert the battery into the toothbrush and turn it on. I found that some of the toothbrushes were a bit temperamental even at this step. If the toothbrush didn’t work at first, I give the brush a gentle shake or smack with my hand. On the rare occasion that even that didn’t turn the brush on, I provided a new battery and that fixed the problem.

STEP TWO:  Removing the battery casing


Step 2B

Step 2A

Step 2A

This step takes a little muscle and the needle-nosed pliers. Pull the bottom off the toothbrush, remove the battery, and look inside. You’ll see a circle of plastic – that’s the top of the battery casing. You need to grasp one edge of the casing with the pliers and firmly yank to pull the battery casing outside of the toothbrush casing. On a rare occasion, the metal piece attached to the battery casing pulled off during this step. If that happened, I had a spare toothbrush on hand for my scientist to use.

STEP THREE: Removing the motor with spring

This step was a favorite for a lot of my scientists :) With luck, you may find that the motor and spring naturally fall out of the toothbrush casing when you pull out the battery casing. If that doesn’t happen, you need to shake it loose from the toothbrush. My scientists and I discovered that the best way to do this was to the throw the toothbrush down onto a carpeted floor. If you use this method, be aware that the spring may detach from the motor. It’s easy enough to hook the spring back onto the motor, but you may lose sight of the spring itself, especially if you have a dark-colored carpet like we have in our program room. In a few cases we needed to crack open some spare toothbrushes simply to pirate the spring piece for one of my scientists.

After steps two and three, you should have the following two pieces:


Battery Casing + Motor with Spring

Step 4

Step 4

STEP FOUR:  Put the battery back in the casing

You’ll notice in the picture above that the metal piece attached to the battery casing has a longer straight piece that sticks out above the smooth, curved edge of the casing – and a shorter end that sticks out from the end that has two little plastic “legs.” When you put the battery back into the casing, you want the positive end (with the bump) to stick out from the same end as the little plastic legs.

STEP FIVE:  Creating the base of our re-purposed motor


Step 5C

Step 5B

Step 5B

Step 5A

Step 5A

For this step, you use the bottom, colored piece from the toothbrush itself and place the battery with casing from the above step into the colored piece (this is the piece from the toothbrush that actually has the on/off switch on it). The battery should go into the colored piece with the positive end first (the end with the bump). As you’re pushing the battery into the colored piece, you also want to line up the metal square on the colored piece with the metal piece from the battery casing. The metal piece from the battery casing should overlap the metal square on the base piece (refer to the pictures on the right). When you have the metal pieces overlapping, and you’re sure that the battery is pushed fully into the base piece, you should securely tape these components together with the electrical tape. [It's okay to have the tape directly touch the metal pieces - you need to make sure this connection stays secure.]

STEP SIX:  Attaching the motor and spring to the battery and base


Step 6C

Step 6B

Step 6B

Step 6A

Step 6A

This is by far the trickiest step – not because it is difficult to put the pieces together but because the connections themselves need to be spot on or you won’t have a functioning motor. Looking at the motor and spring, you’ll see that on one side there are two small copper connectors on either side of the motor. The copper connector on the left is attached to the spring – the connector on the right is slightly curved but is not attached to anything. It is the right copper connector that you need to work with. You need to hook and/or align the metal piece still sticking up from the top of the battery/base component to that free copper connector on the right. I actually found it very handy to have the on/off switch of the base in the “on” position for this step so you can be sure when you have all pieces properly aligned. Once your connection is good and your motor is spinning – with the the base still turned “on” – firmly tape the motor and spring to the battery/base component with the spring in direct contact with the battery.  I also found that, on occasion, I needed to jury-rig the whole assembly once everything was taped together because despite repeated taping attempts the battery in the base kept slipping a little. This fix was simple enough – a double-wrapped rubber band placed around the whole assembly length-wise (you will have to wiggle it a little to make sure the on/off switch is still accessible, and you need to make sure the spinning portion of the motor is free on the other end). This fix consistently worked for several of my scientists and me.

STEP SEVEN:  Putting the final pieces together


Step 7B

Step 7A

Step 7A

Now we’re getting to the really fun stuff! I cut manageable pieces from the styrofoam pool noodles (about 4.5 inches in length) – you can do this with scissors, but I found it much easier to do with a box cutter. [NOTE: I did this step in advance of the program and then just let my scientists choose their favorite color.]  You take your fully taped motor assembly and push it into the hole inside the pool noodle piece, making sure that the on/off switch remains exposed for easy access. [NOTE:  You should once again test your device to make sure no connections have come loose by turning it "on" at this point.  If the motor is no longer turning on, simply pull it out of the styrofoam piece and retape where necessary.]  Place rubber bands around the outside of the pool noodle piece near both the top and bottom of the piece. Attach as many markers as you want by pushing them under the rubber bands, with the inked ends sticking out from the opposite end of the on/off switch. Now give the piece a good test by placing it onto a piece of scrap paper and turning it on.

FINAL STEP:  Decorate!

Now that you have a fully functioning device, truly transform it into an “artbot” by decorating your robot and giving it some real personality. I provided our scientists with pipe cleaners, googly eyes, feathers, and fun buttons. Some artbots can be made using plastic cups and the like, but the beauty of the styrofoam pool noodle pieces is that decorating is a snap! All you need to do is push materials directly into the styrofoam – no glue or tape required.


Let’s Decorate!

Now you can just have some fun :) I actually covered our usual program tables with paper so my scientists didn’t even have to worry about scrap paper. Once the artbots were assembled and decorated, my scientists had free reign of table surfaces to create their art. At some point, of course, the battery will likely wear out and you will need to pull the motor assembly out of the styrofoam, remove the tape, and replace the battery. But that’s a simple price to pay for such a fun gadget!


Categories: Gadgets | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Program 33: Tastes Like Butter (Got Milk Revisited)

Milk…yum!  Butter…even better!

The past couple of weeks my G3 crew and I revisited a really fun program that lets us play with some basic ingredients from the food store. And, as a bonus, I added a yummy component to the day’s activities – making our own butter!

EXPERIMENT #1:  Let’s Make Butter!


  • Heavy whipping cream (room temperature – out of the fridge for 6-8 hours)
  • Small jars with secure lids (I used recycled 4 oz. baby food jars, one for each scientist)
  • A little salt for flavoring
  • Bread, for snacking

I recently stumbled across a youtube video where a man was making his own butter with his own two hands in a very simple process. So simple, in fact, that I was amazed I had never heard of the process before. And interestingly, none of my G3 scientists had ever done this experiment either! So, I told my crew that our first challenge for the day was for each of us to make our own butter…so we could have a tasty after-school snack!

I passed out the jars, which had about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of heavy cream in the bottom. [This small amount of cream produces plenty of butter for each individual scientist, approximately 1-2 servings.] I instructed my scientists to add a pinch of salt for flavoring (most of us eat salted butter at the dinner table). We sealed the jars tight, and then it was just a question of some time and arm muscle. You need to shake the cream in the jar for about 10-15 minutes to instigate the physical change in the cream. Basically, when you agitate the cream for a long enough period of time, you are helping to separate the fat solids from the “butter milk.” [NOTE: Leaving the cream at room temperature for a while helps the physical transformation along at a quicker rate.] Our group actually did not get to the stage where the solid fat and butter milk truly separate – our results were more of a whipped butter quality. However, that did nothing to impact the taste! I passed out some bread so that every scientist could taste their own butter creations. All agreed that it was very yummy :)

The second part of our program was all about MILK.

Milk is a beverage that most of us drink every single day, but probably not one that we give much thought to. Some of us drink cow’s milk. Others of us (myself included) drink other varieties of milk, like almond milk or rice milk. Because I just can’t help myself when it comes to sharing ‘fun facts,’ here’s a highlight of some information I shared with the group at the start of our program:

  1. The habit of drinking milk actually became popular over 10,000 years ago when animals were first domesticated in Afghanistan and Iran. Domestic cows – where we get most of our milk – didn’t even arrive in North America until the 1600’s!
  2. Cows produce 90% of the world’s milk needs, and an average cow can produce the equivalent of about 90 glasses of milk a day (or 200,000 glasses during its lifetime).
  3. But Cows aren’t the only animals that produce the milk and dairy products that humans consume. You can add to that list goats, sheep, apes, yaks, water buffalo, reindeer, and horses!
  4. Why do our dentists say that milk is good for our teeth? Milk and dairy products actually reduce the amount of acidity in our mouths, curb plaque formation, and even reduce the risk of cavities.

As scientists, though, we want to know what exactly milk is…so we can figure out some fun ways to experiment with it. Think of milk as a solution of mostly water that also contains vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fat “droplets.” The proteins and fats actually float around freely in the solution. The gotmilk website actually has some very fun online games that show you just how difficult it is to create a substitute beverage for milk.

Our mission for the ‘got milk’ experiments was a simple one:  What happens when you add food color drops to milk, and then introduce a drop of regular dish washing soap?


EXPERIMENT #2:  Colorful Milk


  • Milk (I only used whole milk this time around, but when we did this experiment in the past I had our scientists test various kinds of milk – including skim, 1% and 2%)
  • Liquid food coloring (NOT the gel food coloring that is popular in stores today – I actually discovered the liquid food colors shelved with the spices at the food store)
  • Plastic or coated plates (the first time around we used coated paper plates, but over time even they get rather droopy, so this time we used plastic plates)
  • Q-tips
  • Liquid dish soap (any variety – I used Dawn brand soap)
  • Small Dixie or bathroom cups to put the soap in
  • Paper towels for any mess

We poured just enough milk into our plates to completely cover the bottom of the plate. Each scientist determined which colors to add to the milk solution. Only 1 or 2 drops of food coloring per color is necessary, but some of our scientists wanted to add more in specific patterns throughout their plates of milk. Once the drops of food coloring were in place, we dipped a standard q-tip into the Dawn soap, and then slowly lowered it into the center of the plate of milk (you don’t have to put the q-tip into the color drops themselves). What were the results?

The results were both instantaneous and VERY COOL. With just a single drop of dish soap, the colors instantly begin to swirl around the milk in crazy patterns. But why does this happen? Well, remember from our description of the milk solution that the fat droplets are actually floating around in the main solution of the milk. The dish soap molecules are designed to instantly want to attach themselves to fat molecules. [That's why dish soap does such a good job of cleaning up greasy pots and pans!] As the soap molecules race around the solution trying to attach to the floating fat droplets, the food coloring molecules are frantically pushed around the plate. Hence, the crazy swirling of colors that the G3 scientists witnessed!

What would happen if you tested this with other liquids/beverages? This is a simple experiment that can be done at home. Just be careful with the food coloring since it will stain just about any material. You can also read more about this experiment by looking at the “Color Changing Milk” experiment on Steve Spangler’s web site.


Categories: Physical Changes | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Program 32: Polymers…diapers and goo?!?

I love revisiting certain programs from the early days of G3…and this program on polymers was begging to be revisited. Not only are polymers just the coolest thing in the world, but it’s also been a while since we had fun with some mess and goo :)

Polymers can be found just about everywhere – in places you might not even have realized. They are in natural materials like wool and silk (among many others), and then also in many man-made synthetic materials like nylon and rubber. [A rubber duckie, for example, is made of synthetic polymers.] Even the double-helix strand of DNA is a form of a polymer known as a “biopolymer.”  But what exactly is a polymer?

The word polymer means “many parts.” The individual parts that actually combine to form a polymer chain are called monomers.  Sometimes a substance can actually help polymer chains link together and form a more solid substance. The youtube video below, uploaded by TTScienceClub, does a great job of graphically showing the basic formation of polymers and linked polymer chains:

Our G3 scientists had the opportunity to test out polymers with two fun experiments:  “Diaper Magic” and “Goo!”

Experiment #1:  Diaper Magic


  • Diapers (we used Seventh Generation size 3 diapers)
  • Dark colored construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Gallon-sized zip-top plastic bags
  • Clear plastic cups (I gave each scientist 2)
  • Plastic spoons for stirring

I love this experiment so much. For some reason, even just discussing diapers completely grosses out all of our G3 scientists – and they certainly don’t want to touch them. I think too many of our scientists are used to helping their parents change younger siblings out of dirty diapers, so it’s hard to imagine diapers from a scientist’s perspective :)

We’ve all seen diaper commercials on TV, where one brand after another claims to be the “most absorbent.”  But what makes a diaper so absorbent in the first place? Is it the cotton stuffing? Not really. It’s one of many uses of modern polymers. Tiny polymers no larger than a grain of sand are mixed into the cotton lining the inside of a diaper. Modern diapers actually contain a super absorbent polymers no larger than grains of sand – they are called polyacrylic acid and are designed to attract water molecules. Each polymer can absorb about 30 times it’s weight in water! All said, most modern diapers can absorb about a half cup of water.

Well, our G3 scientists got a chance to test this out!  Steve Spangler’s web site provides a great description of this experiment, along with the following how-to video:

Each scientist received their own diaper. We cut into the lining, pulled apart the cotton, and shook the polymer grains onto a piece of colored construction paper (to make it easier to see the white polymers). To make sure we got as many polymers as possible, we also pulled the cotton lining from the diapers, sealed it in gallon sized plastic bags, and shook it for a few minutes. [You'll be surprised at how many more polymers you can get by doing this additional step!] We poured the polymers into a clear plastic cup, and then added water 1/4 cup water. I also put water bottles on the tables so our scientists could add additional water in small increments to see how much water their polymers could actually absorb.  The result?  The polymers absorbed the water, and congealed to form a squishy, gel-like substance. If the gel-like substance is powdery and loose, it can still absorb water; if the substance is moist, you’ve already reached the capacity of the polymers you collected. Our scientists all pushed their polymers to the limit and ended up with a substance that was definitely more moist and liquid than it started out as.

I believe that if you leave the cup full of squishy polymers on a counter top for a few days (or longer) and allow the water to evaporate, the polymers should return to their original state…what do you think?

Experiment #2:  Goo!


  • 1/4 cup glue (we used white, but clear glue should work as well)
  • 1/4 cup water (we used tap water)
  • 1/4 cup liquid starch (you can find this in most supermarkets, but you can also order liquid starch online from sites like
  • Paper bowls (ideally lined so they can handle wet items)
  • Plastic spoons for stirring
  • Food coloring optional (we chose NOT to use food coloring)

Our second experiment involves every scientist’s favorite concoction:  GOO!  There are many different goo (or slime) experiments available online. We based our goo on a formula provided by Science Bob that is equal parts water, liquid starch, and glue. We specifically used 1/4 cup of each item in our mix. Though we didn’t do this the day of our program, food coloring can be added during the early stages to make goo of a specific color. First we stirred together the water and glue in a small bowl. You know the glue and water are combined well when it looks like you have a thick, milky liquid in your bowl. We then slowly added the liquid starch. The starch is the key goo ingredient; it is the substance that binds together (links) the polymer chains present in the glue and gives us our slimy goo. The more you stir the three ingredients together, they better they combine. Our G3 scientists loved the goo, especially since it is solid enough to pick up in your hands, stretch, and pound.

Below is a peek at our scientists in action. G3 is now on break until the first week of May, but I can’t wait until we meet again :)

Categories: Polymers | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.