It’s time for another STEM post! This one is super fun, it’s using the Makey Makey kit! Because our library system is amazing we got to take the kit out from there, it was a good way to give it a test and see if we want to buy it (we do).Jared played around with the Makey Makey a bit with the kids and is here to share one of the projects they made with it.
The Makey Makey kit started as a product on Kickstarter that was developed by two MIT students. The kit contains a circuit board and a bunch of alligator clips that allow you connect every day objects to your computer. The circuit board has several sets of holes which you can attach the alligator clips to. Each set of holes corresponds to a command that you can send to a computer which is connected to the circuit board using a USB cable.
The other side of the alligator clip can be attached to virtually anything that conducts electricity. This is where the creativity allowed by the Makey Makey really shines. Almost anything can be used to control your computer, Jello, bananas, pots and pans, cups of water…you’ve got a lot of options!
In order for the Makey Makey to send a signal to the computer the circuit also needs to be closed. To do this you can connect an alligator clip to the Earth portion of the circuit board and then hold the other side of the clip. When you are holding the metal part of the clip and touch one of your objects connected to the circuit board it completes the electrical circuit and sends the signal to the computer.
CONTROLLING YOUR COMPUTER WITH THE MAKEY MAKEY
Now that you have the Makey Makey connected to your controls you need something interesting for it to control on your computer. The circuit board contains signals for the arrow keys (left, right, up, down) as well as the click and space bar. On their own these controls don’t let you do much. Thankfully MIT has another project called Scratch which allows you to create simple programs (without needing any programming knowledge) and use your Makey Makey to control them. Even better, there are a ton of projects already in Scratch that have been designed for the Makey Makey. You can jump right into one of those without doing any program building.
We connected our circuit board to some craft sticks covered in foil to create a mini drum set using this Scratch project (https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2728243/). A quick search of Scratch shows many projects set up to work with the Makey Makey including mini Mario and Pac-Man games, piano and drum simulators and a ton of other creative projects.
Timing Hot Wheels Cars
One of the cool projects we saw on Scratch was one designed to measure the speed of a car on a Hot Wheels track. It was a slightly more complicated project because it required building a couple of switches that are triggered when a hot wheels car passes them.
We created two switches using LEGO and foil. The switches were designed so that when the car hit the LEGO bar it was pushed into another piece of foil that was connected to the Earth cable. When the two pieces of foil touched it completed the circuit which sent the command to the computer. We used one switch to start the timer and the other switch to stop the timer. This gave us a time for how long it took the car to make it around the track.
The Makey Makey is definitely an interesting tool for science and technology discovery. It allows for a lot of creativity and you can find all sorts of interesting project examples online. For older kids the ability to create their own computer programs for the Makey Makey adds a whole other level of learning and creativity.
Have you used the Makey Makey before? What do you like to use it for?
I’m continuing the STEM theme from the last few weeks with 21 of the best STEM books for kids.
There are a number of the typical picture books on this list and then some great non-fiction books as well.
I’m also hoping to share some of our favorite (non-book) STEM related resources soon too, so keep an eye out for that! (And if you have any favorite STEM resources, book or non-book, I would love for you to leave me a comment at the bottom of the post so we can check them out.)
Iggy has one passion: building. His parents are proud of his fabulous creations, though they’re sometimes surprised by his materials—who could forget the tower he built of dirty diapers? When his second-grade teacher declares her dislike of architecture, Iggy faces a challenge. He loves building too much to give it up! With Andrea Beaty’s irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts’s puckish illustrations, this book will charm creative kids everywhere, and amuse their sometimes bewildered parents.
Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she’s a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions her one unfinished goal—to fly—Rosie sets to work building a contraption to make her aunt’s dream come true. But when her contraption doesn’t fly but rather hovers for a moment and then crashes, Rosie deems the invention a failure. On the contrary, Aunt Rose insists that Rosie’s contraption was a raging success: you can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.
Like her classmates, builder Iggy and inventor Rosie, scientist Ada, a character of color, has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. What would you do with a problem like this? Not afraid of failure, Ada embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!
Inspired by real-life makers such as Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, Ada Twist, Scientist champions girl power and women scientists, and brings welcome diversity to picture books about girls in science. Touching on themes of never giving up and problem solving, Ada comes to learn that her questions might not always lead to answers, but rather to more questions. She may never find the source of the stink, but with a supportive family and the space to figure it out, she’ll be able to feed her curiosity in the ways a young scientist should.
I love Ashley Spires and this is (one of) my favorite picture books of hers.
A little girl and her canine assistant set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after much hard work, the end result is not what the girl had in mind. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long walk, and as they walk, it slowly becomes clear what the girl needs to do to succeed. A charming story that will give kids the most magnificent thing: perspective!
Haha, who knew a science project could go so terribly wrong?!
Some kids are too smart for their own good…and maybe for everybody else’s good. When an overly ambitious little girl builds a humongous robot for her science fair, she fully expects to win first place. What she doesn’t expect is the chaos that follows.
Peter Reynolds is awesome, and he partnered up with his brother Paul for this book!
It’s time for this year’s Going Places contest! Finally. Time to build a go-cart, race it—and win. Each kid grabs an identical kit, and scrambles to build. Everyone but Maya. She sure doesn’t seem to be in a hurry…and that sure doesn’t look like anybody else’s go-cart! But who said it had to be a go-cart? And who said there’s only one way to cross the finish line?
This book is so good for showing kids the steps and revisions involved in building and creating.
Clink! Clankety-bang! Thump-whirr! That’s the sound of Papa at work. Although he is an inventor, he has never made anything that works perfectly, and that’s because he hasn’t yet found a truly fantastic idea. But when he takes his family fishing on Lake Michigan, his daughter Virena asks, “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a fish?”―and Papa is off to his workshop. With a lot of persistence and a little bit of help, Papa―who is based on the real-life inventor Lodner Phillips―creates a submarine that can take his family for a trip to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
By the time she’s two years old, Violet Van Winkle can fix nearly any appliance in the house. And by eight she’s building elaborate flying machines from scratch—mind-boggling contraptions such as the Tubbubbler, the Bicycopter, and the Wing-a-ma-jig. The kids at school tease her, but they have no idea what she’s capable of. Maybe she could earn their respect by winning the blue ribbon in the upcoming Air Show. Or maybe something even better will happen—something involving her best-ever invention, a Boy Scout troop in peril, and even the mayor himself!
Young Frank is an architect. He lives with his grandfather, Old Frank, who is also an architect and his spotted dog, Eddie. Using anything he can get his hands on; macaroni, pillows, toilet paper, shoes, Young Frank likes to build buildings that twist, chairs with zig zag legs and even entire cities. But Old Frank disapproves, saying architects only build buildings.
My kids loved this one! It’s equal amounts of funny and creative building.
Anyone can dive for treasure in the ocean, but Steve dives for it in his neighborhood dumpster! As he delves into the trash each weekend, Steve encourages his young neighbors (aka the Diving Team) to see the potential in what other people throw away. With a little bit of imagination, trash can be transformed into treasure — and as the Diving Team soon discovers, it might even help a friend in need.
“If I built a car, it’d be totally new! Here are a few of the things that I’d do. . . .” Jack has designed the ultimate fantasy car. Inspired by zeppelins and trains, Cadillacs and old planes, with brilliant colors and lots of shiny chrome, this far-out vision is ready to cruise! there’s a fireplace, a pool, and even a snack bar! After a tour of the ritzy interior, robert the robot starts up the motor . . . and Jack and his dad set off on the wildest test drive ever!
In If I Built a Car, imaginative Jack dreamed up a whimsical fantasy ride that could do just about anything. Now he’s back and ready to build the house of his dreams, complete with a racetrack, flying room, and gigantic slide. Jack’s limitless creativity and infectious enthusiasm will inspire budding young inventors to imagine their own fantastical designs.
This is the story of one brilliant idea and the child who helps to bring it into the world. As the child’s confidence grows, so does the idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens. This is a story for anyone, at any age, who’s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It’s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.
In this quirky, artsy retelling of “The Three Little Pigs,” the pigs and their homes are nods to three famous architects―Frank Gehry, Phillip Johnson, and Frank Lloyd Wright―and their signature homes. Each house is filled with clever details, including furnishings by the architects and their contemporaries. Of course, not all the houses are going to protect the pigs from the wolf’s huffing and puffing. Which one will? The wolf, and readers, are in for a clever surprise ending.
This is one of our family favorites, Molly Lou Melon is such a fun character and she’s so inventive!
Molly Lou Melon’s grandma taught her to be happy with herself no matter what, but that’s not all she learned. Molly Lou heard all about how her grandma didn’t have fancy store-bought toys when she was little. She made dolls out of twigs and flowers and created her own fun in her backyard.
So Molly Lou does just that, proving that the best thing to play with is a huge imagination!
If Rube’s inventions are any indication, “normal” means something very different in the Goldberg household. For Rube, up is down, in is out, and the simplest path to accomplishing an everyday task—like brushing his teeth or getting dressed—is a humorously complicated one. Follow Rube as he sets out on a typical school day, overcomplicating each and every step from the time he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed at night.
This book features fourteen inventions, each depicting an interactive sequence whose purpose is to help Rube accomplish mundane daily tasks: a simple way to get ready for school, to make breakfast, to do his homework, and so much more.
So You Want to Be an Inventor? features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication-who knew?). Whether you’re a dreamer or a loner, a copycat or a daredevil, this book might just inspire readers to invent something that could change the world!
This is one of Ephraim’s absolute favorite books, he can’t read and yet he has spent hours pouring over this book.
Explainer-in-Chief David Macaulay updates the worldwide bestseller The New Way Things Work to capture the latest developments in the technology that most impacts our lives. Famously packed with information on the inner workings of everything from windmills to Wi-Fi, this extraordinary and humorous book both guides readers through the fundamental principles of machines, and shows how the developments of the past are building the world of tomorrow. This sweepingly revised edition embraces all of the latest developments, from touchscreens to 3D printer. Each scientific principle is brilliantly explained–with the help of a charming, if rather slow-witted, woolly mammoth.
What can I say, David Macaulay is one of our favorites!
This new book—inspired by three classic, award-winning books—reveals the how and why behind some of the most fascinating and enduring structures humankind has ever created. Macaulay has revised texts based on new research, created gorgeous new drawings, in some cases wholly re-imagined scenes from the books—bringing Castle and Cathedral to life in full-color for the very first time. The resulting illustrations add to the reader’s understanding of these buildings, capturing intriguing new perspectives and a depth of detail in structure and atmosphere.
Get ready to explore the city in a whole new way. This innovative book for younger readers is packed with city facts, loads of flaps to lift, and unfolding pages to see inside buildings and under the streets.
Children can learn about skyscrapers, subway systems and stinky sewers. Discover where people live and peek behind closed doors to see what’s going on in houses and apartments, or why not find out about what goes on underneath the streets you walk on every day?
Learning about buildings and how they are constructed has never been so much fun. This gem of a book introduces young readers to basic construction concepts through the eyes of five friends keen on building a doghouse for their pet pooch, Max. To find out more about the task, Yulee, Martin, Nick, Sally and Pedro head to the library, where they learn about foundations, beams, frames and other building fundamentals. Fun facts, bright illustrations and comic-book-style discussions among the characters add to the mix. An activity at the end of the book invites readers to make their own mini doghouse out of marshmallows, paper, glue and craft sticks.
My kids are Lego obsessed, this book is a fun one with lots of great ideas!
Divided into six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, kingdoms, adventure, and useful makes—each section contains basic templates of key models to inspire you to create your own. Hints and tips from Master Builders can help you turn your classic car into a race car or add a bridge to your castle. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t got all the bricks you need: this book also shows how to simplify details, making this a user-friendly guide for any building ability.
Do you have any great STEM books you would add to this list?
Jared is back today with a super fun and simple science experiment to try with your kids!
This one was so interesting, how can something be solid when it movement but liquid at rest? I don’t even really understand it, but it was really neat to play with! (Maybe that’s why he’s the one doing the experiments with the kids 😉 )
I first heard about non-Newtonian fluids on an old episode of MythBusters. Anyone remember that show? I used to love it, they always built the coolest contraptions and tested really interesting things. In the episode in question they mixed a bunch of cornstarch into a large tub of water and came up with a “liquid” that you could run across. Ever since then I wanted to try making it myself.
Non-Newtonian fluids are fluids that don’t follow Newton’s law of viscosity. I’ll let you read about that yourself 🙂 The cornstarch and water mixture is probably the easiest non-Newtonian fluid to make and it’s non-toxic and safe for kids to play with. This mixture is commonly referred to as “oobleck”. A name which comes from “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” by Dr. Seuss.
Dish or bowl (we used a pie plate)
Spoon or craft stick
The amount of corn starch and water, and the size of the dish will depend on how much oobleck you want to make. The ratio of cornstarch to water is 2:1, so approximately 2 cups of corn starch for 1 cup of water. You may want to experiment a bit with your mixture until you get the right consistency.
Pour water into bowl/dish
Stir the cornstarch into the water with the spoon/craft stick
As you stir and the cornstarch begins to mix with the water the mixture should become hard to stir. You should begin to notice that the slower you stir, the easier it will be. If you try to stir quickly it will become more difficult.
Once the mixture is combined have your kids stick their hands in the bowl and play with it. Try things like tapping on the mixture and then slowly putting their hand in and see if they notice the difference. When tapping on or slapping the top of the mixture it should feel hard. When they put their hand in slowly it should be soft and gooey. You can also try rolling the mix in your hands to create a ball. As long as you keep rolling it the mix will stay together and feel hard. Once you stop it will start to separate and drip from your hands.
This stuff is a lot of fun to play with!
Most fluids don’t change consistency no matter what you do with them. Their viscosity (how sticky or smooth they are) stay the same whether you pour them, stir them or push them. Non-Newtonian fluids act differently. Yogurt, for example, is generally fairly think and if you try to pour it will come out quite slowly. If you shake a tub of yogurt first it will become less “sticky” and will pour out more quickly. This is an example of a common non-Newtonian fluid.
Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid that acts in the opposite way. When cornstarch and water are mixed the starch grains are suspended in the liquid. If you apply pressure to the liquid the cornstarch compresses together and traps the water molecules in between making it behave more like a solid. As soon as the pressure is removed it returns back to its liquid state.
Give this experiment a try with your kids and tell me how it goes!
Today’s experiment is super simple and fun for the kids to do!
What happens when you fill a plastic bag full of water and then poke holes in it? Not what you might expect actually! This is a super easy experiment that even young kids can do, is incredibly easy to set up and uses only materials you probably have around the house.
Before starting this experiment have everyone make a guess about what they think will happen when you poke a pencil into a bag full of water. Small experiments like this are a great way for kids to learn about developing a hypothesis (though you don’t have to use that word, especially with younger kids). Having them think about what might happen before experiments begin gets their minds working and helps them develop their logic skills.
Have I mentioned that this is a super simple experiment to do? All you need for this is 3 things:
resealable plastic sandwich bags
Yup, that’s it, three really easy to find things.
You may want to try this experiment outside or over a sink just in case things don’t go according to plan.
Fill a resealable plastic bag about 1/2 to 3/4 full of water.
Hold the top of the bag with one hand, and with the other hand push a pencil into the bag. The pencil should poke through both sides of the bag. Make sure not to push the pencil all the way through.
Continue adding as many pencils to the bag as you want.
If you want to up the stakes ask for a volunteer who would be willing to stand under the bag as you poke pencils into it! You may also find it interesting to experiment with different types of plastic bags and different pencils (rounded and ones with straight edges for example).
Plastic bags like the one you probably used are made of a polymer. This polymer (called low-density polyethylene) is a long chain of molecules. An easier way to think of it would be to imagine each of these chains as a strand of cooked spaghetti. The bag is made up of a whole bunch of theses strands right next to each other. As you push a pencil in it pushes the strands apart and the pencil goes between them. The strands are flexible so instead of breaking they are pushed aside and create a temporary seal against the pencil. This causes the water to stay in the bag.
Of course, if you poke a hole in the bag without pushing the pencil into the hole it won’t seal and you will have a leak.
Once they got the hang of it our kids were able to add a lot of pencils into the bag without having it leak. We tried with mostly straight sided pencils and they worked well, though the rounded pencils probably sealed a little better.
Jared is back for the third week in a row with another STEM post, today is a fun one, he’s got a super simple science experiment using just a few ingredients, all of which you probably have in your home right now.
Personally, I love these kinds of experiments but am not good with the follow through so I am thankful to have a spouse who is! Both Raeca and Ephraim often say they want to be scientists when they grow up so it is fun to watch them explore different areas of science.
Do you have some easy experiments you like to do in your home?
I think everyone knows the old standby baking soda and vinegar volcano experiment. You know, the one where you spend 6 hours making a paper mâché volcano and about 2 minutes doing the actual science experiment? It’s fun but it requires a lot of time, most of which is spend on arts and crafts rather than science (not that there’s anything wrong with arts and crafts but science is fun too! 🙂 )
If you want to skip right to the science of what happens when baking soda and vinegar combine this is a great experiment which you can probably do with just some things you already have in the kitchen, no gooey paper mâché required. As a bonus you get to create mini explosions so it’s easy to get the kids excited.
One of the great things about this little experiment is that it can be done with things most people already have in the house. Here’s what you’ll need.
Resealable plastic sandwich bags (cheap thin ones will work great)
Tissue paper or toilet paper
Food coloring (optional)
I’d recommend doing this experiment outside. It can get a little messy with the vinegar and baking soda mixture going everywhere so being outside will help with clean up. It can also be done inside, must making sure you have some space and do it in area that will be easy to clean up (as in, not on the rug!).
#1 Pour vinegar into the plastic bag. We used about 1/3 of a cup but you can experiment with different amounts based on how large your bags are.
#2 Add a drop of food coloring to the plastic bag. This is completely optional, it just gives the mixture a cool color.
#3 Pour baking soda on to a small piece of tissue or toilet paper. You can experiment with different amounts of baking soda. We used 2-3 tablespoons.
#4 Fold up the tissue paper with the baking soda to make a small packet.
#5 Put the baking soda packet into the bag and then close the bag as quickly as possible.
#6 The reaction between the baking soda and vinegar should happen immediately, you can shake the bag ab it to make it go faster.
#7 Watch the bag inflate as it fills up with carbon dioxide formed by the reaction between the vinegar and baking soda. The bag will eventually pop once the pressure inside the bag is too high. If the bag doesn’t pop try experimenting with the amounts of vinegar to baking soda.
Vinegar contains hydrogen ions and baking soda contains sodium and bicarbonate ions. When mixed together these ions react together to create carbonic acid and sodium acetate. The carbonic acid immediately begins to decompose into water and carbon dioxide gas. The carbon dioxide gas fills the bag until the pressure becomes too much for the bag to hold. Once this happens the bag will pop!
Remember last week when I said Jared (my husband) was going to be sharing some STEM posts on here for the next while because he’s kind of taking over that area of our homeschool this year? Well, he’s back!
While I usually spend 1-2 hours with the kids doing some intentional learning during the day (reading, working in our relaxed notebooks, etc) the rest of the day is pretty much free play for them. They love it and I try to keep our days open so they have this opportunity.
During their free play time they will often do some pretend play, a lot of swinging on their Ikea swings in our basement and the majority of the time is playing Lego. To say they often play Lego for five hours a day would not be lying. You could say we get our moneys worth out of it!
Okay, I’m going to stop taking over his post now. 🙂
LEGO® is great toy for learning and early skill development. It’s also one of our most used toys in the house. Our kids will spend hours building, re-building, breaking, and modifying their LEGO creations. As much as it can be annoying to try and avoid stepping on it all over the house I love the learning that happens when kids play with LEGO.
LEGO Challenge Cards are a great way to sneak some STEM learning into your kids day. They will develop their problem solving skills, creativity and engineering skills as they work on various different challenges.
These cards can be used in a number of different ways depending on the number of kids using them and their ages. You can let your kids pick a card they want to do or have them draw a card randomly from the stack. You can also have a group of kids work on the same card and then compare their creations when they are done and discuss how they tackled the task in a variety of different ways.
Our kids had a lot of fun going through the stack of cards and picking challenges that they thought would be fun. It’s awesome to see them think about a card and watch their creativity come out in their creations.
These cards are free for you to download, print and use with your kids or class. I hope they enjoy them as much as our kids do!