Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Super Simple Sailboat

Our most recent Science and Swim at Belvidere Pool was the most well attended yet! Perhaps the article in the Warren Reporter helped. This week we made sailboats with easy-to-find materials and lots of awesome duct tape then set them afloat in the pool. I swear the toddler pool looked like it had spawned an armada!

To set the mood, let's start with your morning earworm: "Come Sail Away" by Styx.

Now that we're all humming along together, we can get building! First you need to assemble materials: A tray to act as the hull (we used small cardboard ones donated by Nature's Harvest), a bamboo skewer to act as the mast (a small dowel or pencil will also work), lots of colorful duct tape, a small amount of modeling clay, scissors, wax paper for the sail and an old foam egg carton for the rudder.

You start by covering your hull with duct tap, top, bottom and sides. If you want, you can also build up the sides a bit with tape, to prevent water from coming onboard.

Now you need to attach the mast. Make a small ball with the clay and place to towards the bow of the boat. Then stick the skewer into the clay. Mold the clay around the skewer to hold it in place. Cover this well with duct tape. If you have the time and ability, punching a hole in the hull and pushing the mast through a bit, then adding a bit of glue and covering with duct tape will add more stability to your design.

Next we need to attach the sail. I chose wax paper because it's relatively waterproof and inexpensive. That means you can try lots of different sail shapes, if you like. You don't have to stick with the standard rectangle. Try a circle or triangle or a octagon, if you like! Attaching the sail is very simple: just cut two slits in the paper with scissors and slide it onto the mast. If you plan to change shapes often, using a bit of tape to build up spots on the mast to hold the sail in place will suffice. For more longevity, use a bit of scotch tape to hold your sail onto the mast. In either case, be sure to create a "cup" in the sail to catch the wind.

Over the course of our build at Science and Swim, we experimented with lots of ways to make our sails sturdier, as it was pretty windy. One mom had a great idea: putting a strip of duct tape on the top and bottom of the wax paper to add stability. We also experimented with creating tie lines with tape and using materials like old plastic bags and ziplocks for sails. You can even build a sail out completely of duct tape. This is where prototyping is important! Keep modifying that design until you get it to do what you want!

It's also fun to add a rudder, so that you can steer your boat. (This also illustrates an important idea about fluid mechanics, by the way.) To make the rudder, just cut a piece of foam from your egg carton, cover it with duct tape and cut out a small wedge. Then make a slit in the back of your boat and fix the rudder in place. By changing the angle of the rudder, you can change the direction of the boat. It's a lot of fun to experiment with different rudder shapes too!

Then it's time to take the boat to the water and give it some wind! If you have rough waters, you will need to replace your sails, as the wax paper will eventually break down and start to fall apart.

One creative young man, used leftover egg carton pieces to make fun characters for his boat. You can too!

Have fun and enjoy sailing the high seas... or your backyard pool!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Blinky Birthday Card

I know lots of kids love making special cards for parents on their birthday. Actually, I know a lot of adults do to! But what do you do when you have a hacker husband and you want something that really says, "Wow!" Well, in my case, you add some LEDs.

The finished card, with an embossed and decorated envelope.
For this you'll need cardstock in red and black, a printer, a paper cutter, an X-acto knife or something similar, a glue stick, 2 LEDs (I used ones that blink), an old mousepad, a tack, a coin battery and some duct tape.

Making the card is easy. I created a graphic (in GIMP) using the Android robot and added a present to his belly. In my case, I cut it from red cardstock using my digital cutter (a Sillhouette, which I love), but you can print the graphic and use an X-acto to do the same thing. I sized it to fit a standard 4.25" x 5.5" card, which I made from textured black cardstock. I just used a glue stick to paste the robot to the card.

Click for the full-size image, and right-click to save it. 
The card before LEDs.
To add LEDs you'll need two blinking LEDs and a coin battery. I pulled both from a "Learn to Solder Skill Badge" from MakerShed that I had laying around, but you can buy the same thing at RadioShack.

To place the LEDs in the eyes, I opened the card and laid in flat on an old mousepad. Then I used the LED itself to determine where I wanted the holes for the leads. Using a tack, I punched the holes and inserted the LEDs.

On the inside of the card, I traced my coin battery in between the leads. Then I bent the positive leads (the long ones) against the paper and cut them so that the met inside the circle I'd drawn. I trimmed the negative leads a little as well, though I left them long to account for the thickness of the battery. I placed the positive side of the coin battery (marked +) on top of the positive leads and then bent the negative leads over the battery. I little red duct tape, pressed well for good contact between the battery and the leads, sealed everything in. I didn't bother with a switch (though that'd be super cool).

All that was left was to add a cheesy birthday greeting to the inside. :)

Quick, easy and impressive. To "turn off" the battery, you just need to loosen the tape a bit and let the negative leads lose contact with the battery. This isn't a card I'd mail, by the way. It'd get damaged and the blinking envelope might put more suspicious postal workers on high alert.

If you like the music in the clip, it's called "Stardazed" by a band called "Virtualizer" and is available for free on Last.fm.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Making Memory

One of my girls' favorite games is Memory, where you place cards face down and try to create matches by turning only two over in a turn. Since it was Toys & Games week at Maker Camp, I decided to put our own twist on this classic!

I created a simple blank template in Word, into which I placed black and white summer themed images. Then I printed the sheets on cardstock and let kids color in the images as they liked. (Since my printer automatically does double-sided prints, it was easy to add a fun logo on the back.) Then they just cut along the lines, and voilà, time to play!

Of course, I couldn't stop there! So I made a science themed Memory game too! You can put clip art into the blank and make whatever theme you want to! It's a fun way for kids to personalize the game with whatever they're into -- dinosaurs, wild animals, flowers... For older kids, you can fill all 12 squares with different items and print two copies, making a more challenging games.

Once I had those made, I decided to do something my girls would really love. So I popped in some of our favorite digital family pictures into the squares, printed onto cardstock and laminated the pages before cutting. They loved it! This is a great way to make personalized gift, by the way. You can expand it as much as you like!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Super quick pool toy

Heading the pool, but don't have the money to spend on fancy pool toys? Here's one you can make yourself really easily! We're making a dive toy that you can chase to the bottom of the pool. Total cost: under $1 and under 5 minutes of your time

All you need is some duct tape and a rock. Be thoughtful with your choice of tapes and consider the color of the bottom of the pool. You want to pick something that you'll be able to see. (This presumes you have duct tape hanging around that house. If you don't, I weep for you. Now go get some!)

First we need to make a loop using the tape. Rip off a piece about 12 inches long. Fold one side lengthwise to the center and press well.

Fold the other side up to create a non-stick strip. Use a 1-2 inch piece of tape to join the ends together, forming a loop.

Now pick a clean rock (nothing TOO big) and cover it with tape. Be sure to press down any strange folds or lumps and generally try to smooth the tape over the rock.

Now, put the loop on top of the rock and us coordinating tape to attach it. Don't skimp or you'll end up with a loop and no rock when you retrieve your toy from the water.

And there you go! Hours of diving fun! The rock will drop to the bottom and you need to dive in and grab the loop to retrieve it. Just be careful, of course, not to throw this AT anyone.

Here's one that my daughter made actually underwater at the Belvidere Pool.

Another super simple idea is to take an old plastic Easter egg, put a few small rocks into it and decorate it with duct tape. This is also really fun to dive for.

Mr. Roboto

What kid doesn't want a robot to pretend and play with? Not my daughter, that's for sure. She wanted a new toy; I wanted a way to procrastinate on work. And so Mr. Roboto was born. Then I took him on the road last week to all my outdoor events and he was much beloved.

You'll need scissors, tape, glue, markers, a hole punch, tweezers or needle nose pliers, a brad, two paperclips, two drinking straws and the robot PDF. (The original template came from PaperBotz, a most excellent site. I edited it in GIMP.)

Just print out the PDF onto cardstock (or print on paper and glue onto a manilla folder or cereal box). Be sure to click "fit to page" so that you get the largest image possible without losing any of it. Color your robot in. If you haven't had the chance to try out Sharpie's new metallic markers, now's the time! Or for a low-fume, kid-friendly version, Crayola makes great metallic crayons.

Cut out the robot and punch holes on the black and gray dots. If you don't have holepunch, just place the cardstock on a mouse pad and use a ball point pen to punch a hole. Carefully fold on all the solid black lines. (It can help to use a ballpoint pen over the lines to score them and make it easier to fold.)

Use transparent tape, double-sided tape or glue to assemble the two pieces of the robot. Leave the front of the body open and the back of the head open for now.

Before completing the head, put a brad through the gray dot. Then seal it up. (You may want to gently bend the arms so that it doesn't fall back into the head.) Insert the bottom of the brad, now attached to the head, into the hole on top of the body and and spread the arms of the brad to attach them. This can be harder to do than you might imagine. Use tweezers to pull the arms of the brad into the body.

Then take two drinking straws, the bendy kind, and cut them in half. On the half left with the bend, remove another inch, to shorten what will be the arms. On the top of the straws make two slits downwards. Insert the two pieces with the bends into the arm holes, spread the cut straw and tape into place. Repeat with the legs, then seal up body. Now add whatever bling you like. I'm a big fan of googly eyes, personally.

To make feet, take a paper clip and unfold it into an "L" shape. Push one end into the leftover inch of straw from the arms and the other into the the leg. Repeat for the other leg. Voila! Robot!

Obviously, for a quicker version you can just tape the head onto the body and slide the straws into the hole without securing. It's just as much fun, but won't last as long. Or, if you want to be super cool, Bend the leads on a blinky LED at 90 degrees, attach the leads to a coin battery and secure with tape. Punch a hole in the top of Mr. Roboto's head, insert the LED through the hole and tape the battery to the inside of the head. No he'll light up!

Have fun!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The 2-liter bottle boat

Maker Camp officially kicked off on Monday, July 8 and the first project on tap was a boat built from a two-liter bottle with a paddle made of plastic lids. It completely captured Gwen's attention, and we had a lot of fun with the build!

The concept is simple: Use empty soda bottles to create the buoyant body of the boat, then add paddles powered by energy stored in the tension of twisted rubber bands to make the boat move. Throw in the use of colorful duct tape, and you pretty much have a perfect project for a summer day!

We started by attaching two bamboo skewers to the sides of our washed bottle. Later we switched to stronger dowels, because the skewers tended to bend too much under the stress of the rubber bands.

Then you measure between the dowels and create your two paddles. They need to have a length that is 1 inch wider than the distance measured and a width that is 1 inch shorter, creating a rectangle. We cut ours from the top of an old Rubbermaid-style container. Once cut, you create a slit in the middle of each and join them into a cross shape (+). We found it helped to secure the paddles in place with duct tape.

Next you attach two 1-liter bottles to either side of the larger bottle. We positioned ours just below the dowels with the backs just about even with the 2-liter. Placing them any further back interfered with the movement of our paddles. As we continued to trouble shoot the project, we found that when attaching the dowels and small bottles, it was important to pay close attention the shape of the larger bottle. If you apply tape across an inward curve, it will pull everything out of whack and the paddles will jam.

The last step is to attach the rubber bands so that they hold the paddles in place between the two dowels. We found we needed to trim our paddles a bit more, to be sure they had enough clearance to move. Gwen wanted to trim them a lot and we talked about why that may not be the best idea, since the amount of surface area directly affects the force created, thanks to the resistance of the water against that big flat surface. We also found that the length and width of the rubber bands mattered, though not nearly as much as we expected. In the end we opted for "medium" thickness bands that were just barely tight across the dowels before twisting.

To use the boat you twist the paddles, transferring the kinetic energy from your hands to the paddle to the bands and creating tension across the rubber bands. Of course you've now stored potential energy in the bands until you release then and the paddle rotates and propels your boat! Super simple and lots of fun. It was a big hit at the pool, where everyone wanted to know what Gwen had built and see it work.

One of the most fun things was discovering that the direction in which you turn the paddles matters when you release! Turn them one way, the boat moves forward. Turn the other, and back it goes. Spending some time observing both and discussing why it happens was great.

Of course the first hing Big Sister Caitie wanted to do was sink the boat and see if it works as a sub. I guess we'll try that at the pool tomorrow! We also want to experiment with the shape of the bottles to see how they affect the movement of the boat. Would a one gallon milk jug work as well? I guess we'll have to find out!