Friday, September 27, 2013

Musical fun with Brook Falls Farm

The Highlands Festival was full of wonderful music, with some really great bands gracing its two stages. But on Sunday, KLC hosted music for the kids and let them play along, thanks to our friend Deb of Morning Door and Brook Falls Farm.

Here's Deb making shakers with our first group.
We started by making musical shakers made from recycled materials. First we cut brown paper, collected from Amazon shipping boxes, to the proper size to wrap around a toilet paper rolls. Then we decorated the paper with markers and stickers. Next we wrapped the paper around the roll and used string, rubber bands or tape to seal the bottom. We added a few tablespoons of birdseed to the roll (rice or dried beans would work too) and sealed it on top. To finish of our shaker, we added feathers to the ends.

Then is was time to sing along with Deb and her musical friends. She brought lots of great instruments to try out as well -- lots of tambourines and drums!

We'll see Deb again really soon. On Saturday, October 5, she's hosting her own event: The Middleville Music Festival! Deb also offers great music lesson -- guitar, piano and voice -- for kids in and around Stillwater, NJ!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Making Myth Busters

As a self-respecting nerd, I have a fondness for Mythbusters. This Emmy-winning show -- featuring special effects experts/mad scientists Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman – seeks to bust or confirm urban legends and popular myths using a positively gleeful approach to the scientific method. Mayhem often ensues. Failure is an option. Their tagline is “Don’t try this at home.” You get the idea.

That’s why I was so thrilled when my students started watching the show and asked to replicate some of their wild experiments in class. Yup. That’s pure Maker gold right there, and totally educational too. Even better, my mad Google skills revealed that there are official lesson plans available online for free, offered by the fine folks of Discovery’s MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition traveling museum event. Sweet!

So I clicked on the “Educator” tab and looked at the experiments provided. First up, the “Airplane on a Conveyer Belt” episode – one of the most controversial and awesome myths explored on the show and perfect fodder for a discussion of Newton’s First and Third Laws of Motion. The idea is simple: If you put a moving airplane on a conveyor belt moving at the same speed in the opposite direction, will it be able to take off?

The experiment offered in the lesson plan: a balloon zipping down a string. It just about broke my nerd-girl heart.

Don’t get me wrong. I love balloon on a string. It’s super fun. But when presented for education, it is also boring, boring, boring! As in the “Airspeed” lesson plan, step-by-step instructions are given. Attach a piece of drinking straw to a balloon, tie a piece of fishing line to a chair, thread the line through the straw, blow up balloon and launch. That folks is a procedure, not an experiment.

You can ask all the leading questions you want, but the fact is, the kids know what’s going to happen. And though they may not know the exact jargon, they get why it works. Not a huge mystery here. Not really myth busting. Where are the planes? Where’s the conveyer belt? What went wrong between awesome, action-packed T.V. show and mundane, run-of-the-mill science class?

I did a different experiment with my students. I pulled out the LEGOs and the balloons. Students were tasked with making a freestanding vehicle that could be powered by the propulsion of the balloon. That’s some serious design work right there. You need to consider the mass of the vehicle, the wheel base, how to attach the balloon, how to achieve maximum thrust and more.  We took the time to prototype, test and optimize our cars using a design cycle and shared our ideas. (Those that need a nudge can take inspiration from 2013’s Maker Camp “Rocket-Propelled Toy Car” Week 1 project.)

Once students had their vehicles built we used wax paper as make-shift conveyer belts, pulling the paper in the direction opposite of the car, just as Adam and Jamie used paper and cloth in the Mythbusters episode. We experienced many of the same frustrations, trying to keep the moving car on the paper, accidentally stepping on and ripping the belt, etc. Just like in the episode! It was difficult, and frustrating and challenging. Just like real science and engineering!

In the end we only got a couple of good runs, but that’s ok. The whole class shared in the triumph together. We also busted the myth. Bonus! This of course led to great discussion about why it worked and plans to test the same concept with motorized cars instead.

So thank you Mythbusters. You guys rock! And my advice for teachers? Skip the boring procedural experiments and make some mayhem instead. You’ll be glad you did.

Maker Faire 2013 Round up

KLC had the privaledge of attending World Maker Faire 2013 in New York this year, with our own table and a fun marshmallow launcher for the kids to make! It was an exhausting, amazing weekend -- for me, my husband, Steve, and for my daughters, Caitie and Gwen. Maker Faire is a complete creative explosion. Even with four days to explore, I still wanted more time to check out all the wonderful projects!
That's me, ready to go early on Saturday morning.
Folks started lining up long before the gates opened at 10 am!

As a I mentioned previously, we attended Maker Faire Education Day on Thursday, then we were back out to Queens on Friday afternoon for our official set up and dinner.

Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of MAKE, hands out paella to all the
makers on Friday night. Thanks for the dinner Dale! It was great!

Gwen, ready to go and marshmallows loaded.
Our friend Linda stopped by both days to help us out, thankfully.
We made A LOT of marshmallow catapults with kids and adults!
So we all had fun and launched hundreds (thousands?) of marshmallows all over the Zone E. But what other booths were awesome? Well, glad you asked...

I have to start by giving a shout out to our friends at Let's Make Robots. These guys are doing great work helping everyone in the world learn to build and program their own bots. And they're fun to grab a beer with as well. Chris Robinson, of Rocket Brand Studios, talked himself horse both days, explaining some of the great projects created by LMR members. (BTW, we highly recommend Rocket Brand's robots and use the Tadpole in our robotics classes at KLC.)

I also want to give props to some young makers from KLC's neck of the woods. The guys with The 721st MCB, an Amateur Radio Club from Warren County NJ who brought their amazing E-APS Emergency Antenna Platform System to share with the world. This lightweight open source portable tool helps Amateur Radio Operators deploy HF and VHF/UHF antennas high in the field using standard parking lot light / flag poles. Great work!

Now, as some of you know, I love soft circuits, e-textiles and wearable electronics. So I was super exciting to see and meet Becky Stern on Friday night! She was even wearing her Firewalker shoes! I loved the work of bitwise, Blockuits, and Make Anything. All had prejects just right for young makers!

Other favorites included the fantastic fractals at Fractal Kit, the cool recycled boats made with the ScrapKins folks, the great bicycle powered blender by Frankenbike and Friends, the amazing arduino controlled RC toy car by RoboTech, (need to get that one for a KLC class) and the novel approach to working with DNA from Gemonikon

I could go on and on, but I won't. There was simply too much awesome to put it all in a blog post. But if you want to take a look for yourself, the hardworking editors at MAKE have been posting like mad.

KLC was awarded an Editor's Choice award! How cool!

Fiber Arts at the Highlands Festival at Waterloo

KLC was lucky enough to attend the Highlands Festival at Waterloo last weekend. In addition to bringing great crafts to the Festival, we met some amazing crafters. One of my favorites were the ladies from the Simpatico Fiber Collective. Rebecca and Julianne are handspinners, knitters, weavers and felters working in rural Hunterdon County. They sell beautiful, wearable fiber art and supplies for knitters and spinners.

Rebecca Dioda

 Julianne Targan

In addition to their lovely wearable art, they're happy to share their knowledge with those who would like to learn. Those are my kinds of people! So enjoy this short video of Rebecca explaining how her parlor spinning wheel works. (There's a good bit of simple machines science in there.)

I've tried my hand at spinning, and let me tell you, it's not as easy as Rebecca makes it look! She uses that amazing yarn to create all kinds of wonderful knitted creations, like the shawl below.

In this clip, Joanne explains the basics of needle felting. This is a really relaxing hobby I've recently discovered. She creates amazing projects with her felting, and she felts woven fabrics that she creates as well.

Birdseed mosaics

This is simple craft to let children explore patterns, make some lovely artwork and sustain the wild creatures -- like birds, chipmunks and squirrels -- in their yard as well. We're going to make lovely mosaics out of seeds!

This one is really easy. Just spread vegetable shortening, lard or peanut butter onto bread. Then use a variety of chopped nuts (be careful if there are allergies in your house),seeds (nyger, safflower, sunflower, both hulled and unhulled), grains (like millet, milo, cracked corn, rolled oats, lentils, etc.), dried vegetables, dried fruit, etc to create pretty patterns. Before you worry about feeding bread to birds, just read this post, showing that it isn't any worse for most of them than it is for us. You can use bread as a base safely, but if you prefer not to chance it, use a bit of found tree bark instead.

You can always go for the classic pine cone birdfeeder as well. For this you just spread your shortening on a dried pinecone and rolls it in seed. Then tie a piece of twine to the top and hang it near home. (Hint: For a more decorative option, try using small grapevine wreaths from the craft store!)

So what seeds should you choose? Good question! You can just select things you find pretty or grab a premade mix. But if you want to feed or attract specific birds, you'll need to do a bit more research. No matter what you choose, it's guaranteed that you'll find feathered friends to enjoy it!

Saturday, September 21, 2013


The end of summer is always a busy time. That's the only excuse I can give for not finishing up my last Science and Swim post. The last event focused on one of my favorite watery things -- bubbles!

First up, we made bubble prints. It's really easy. Just water down washable paint with water -- anywhere from 25 to 50% paint, depending on what you're using. Then add a few tablespoons of dish soap. Mix well and place in a dish or pie plate. Use a drinking straw to blow bubbles in the liquid, then quickly place a piece of paper over top, popping the bubbles against the paper. Lift and enjoy your bubble print!

Another fun thing to do is to make a bubble blower for bubble snakes. Just cut the end off a water bottle and use a rubber band to attach some scrap cloth over the end. Dip the cloth in bubble mix and blow through the neck of the bottle. Voila! Bubble snake!

For the big finish we just had to do the classic giant bubble. Grab a kiddie pool and a hula hoop. In the pool make a mixture of 10 cups of regular Dawn dish detergent (not the antimicrobial kind) and 5 gallons of distilled water. Mix is well, but try not make bubbles or foam. Place the hoop in the pool and have a kid stand in it. With a person on either side, quickly life the hoop, creating a giant bubble around the person in the pool! Awesome!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Maker Faire Education Day

On Thursday, September 19, I headed up to Queens and the New York Science Museum for Maker Faire's Educator Day. 11 schools, with students ranging from elementary to high school. They cycled through 6 areas of exhibits put together by Makers who are attending the 2013 Makers Faire.

Kaleidoscope was there with mini marshmallow catapults, a constant favorite. I expected the younger kids to get a kick out of the project, but even the "to cool for school" teens had fun as well. It was funny to see kids that you know would yawn at the idea of physics lab in class get so curious and passionate about launching a marshmallow into a box. They didn't just build the catapult -- they prototyped and tested and optimized. As a result we had some great discussions about angular momentum, thrust, forces and kinetic energy. We also ate a lot of marshmallows and told stupid jokes.

Several of the teachers jumped in too, and we chatted about how to include catapults into their curriculum. Luckily I was ready with a lesson plan.

That's the power of the Maker Movement. It's about fun and curiosity, not books and lab reports. It's a special kind of magic, and I loved being able to be part of it yesterday. (Even if it did mean getting a really awful picture of myself on Makezine!)


Making Education Work

A short piece I wrote for Makezine was publish a few days ago. It's all about the Maker Movement and Education.

"Well, imagine shop class and recess had a love child – that’s the maker movement, and many folks are betting that it can fix what’s broken in our schools."