Maker Monday: Electricity

This summer’s Maker Monday programs (for ages 8-18) have included a variety of opportunities to explore and create. During a recent Monday, a gaggle of kids and teens joined us at the library to learn about electricity and play with some new toys. After sharing the Makey Makey with preschoolers during a storytime the previous week, I wanted to include older kids in the fun. Along with the BrushBots we made, the Makey Makey offers a perfect tool for talking about electricity in a way that makes the learning process fun and relevant.

Makey Makey Set Up

Here’s how the program went:

Makey Makey

We began by talking about electricity. We shared how we use electricity and its sources. I introduced them to the tiny, but powerful, world of atoms, protons, electrons, and neutrons. Our discussion included the ideas of neutrality, balance and how energy moves. The conversation also included a static electricity experiment (rubbing balloons on our hair) and the significance of the closed circuit or loop.

Need some videos to refresh your knowledge about electricity? Check out the old School House Rocks electricity video or Bill Nye’s video. Here’s a helpful information sheet that might come in handy also.

At this point, the kids were ready to put their new knowledge to work. None of them had ever seen a Makey Makey before and they were all curious to see what it could do. I showed them this brief video to get them thinking. “How do they do that?” was my favorite comment!

We then spent about 30 minutes testing the conductivity of various items and using the tool to make music and play games as a group. I encouraged the group to throw out any ideas they might have about how the Makey Makey should work. I shared with them the recent study about preschoolers and their ability to figure out tech gadgets more easily than much older college students. The researchers found that the preschoolers didn’t have preconceived ideas of how they should work, making it easier to explore how the machine works. They openly explored what was possible. Engineers and makers often do the same thing I told the group.

As we began to try out the Makey Makey we focused on the basic set up, using just the four alligator clips that turn a banana, or purple play dough, for example, into an arrow key. All the while, I reinforced the idea of the loop or closed circuit. This was the idea I picked as a take home for the group. Here are some of things we tested with the Makey Makey.Testing Conductivity

I explained that we were going to explore the Makey Makey together and then after building BrushBots whoever wanted to play with the Makey Makey again would have time for that. We began with a set of four bananas and then started switching out individual items ending up with alligator clips connected to four different objects. The coolest part of the test was creating a closed circuit with people! We got everyone to stand in a circle, with one person holding the negative (ground) and another person holding one of the positive clips. In between the two was the rest of the group. We were able to play music when we touched hands. We got a few smiles, for sure…

The materials I used for this experiment:
a Makey Makey
computer with USB for accessing video and sites (we projected the websites on the meeting room’s large monitor)
4 bananas, pencils and paper (to test the conductivity of graphite), 4 colors of play dough, large marshmallows, plants/leaves, blocks of wood (smaller the better), aluminum foil, paper clips, each other
a variety of sites for testing the Makey Makey

After playing with the Makey Makey, most of the makers needed a break. The two hour program is long enough to really play with some of these tools and ideas, but a snack helps keep everyone exploring. It worked out perfectly.


We’ve had big crowds attend our Maker Monday programs and most weeks I don’t require registration. This week, I had to change that. I only budgeted for 24 brush bots so kids could take home the bot and keep exploring. I signed up 23 makers, leaving one for an example and back up if any parts broke. I explained how to make a bot and once again talked about electricity and the importance of the close circuit. The makers divided themselves into two groups and got to work at the tables where they found the bot parts. All of the parts are easy to find separately, especially if you’re making a smaller number of bots. For this program I bought two BrushBot party packs that came with stickers and were slightly cheaper than buying them another way.

Once the BrushBots were complete, it was time to race them! One of the regulars to the Maker Monday programs started designing and building the race course out of the cut paper towel tubes I brought along. Other racers quickly jumped in to help. The bots raced on the table between the cut tubes, not inside the tubes.

What we learned: Tape must be added only on the course if it doesn’t cross the track because the bots struggle over the tape. The tubes make a nice border, keeping the bots moving forward. Also, racers should have time to modify their bots during different heats. Our race was pretty informal, but the racers definitely fiddled with their designs to see if they could make it buzz down the track straighter, for example.

BrushBot race course

24 bots (2 BrushBot Party Packs)
wire strippers
decorating materials
paper towel tubes for side rails
blue tape for finish line

After building the bots, several makers wanted to go back to the Makey Makey which was perfect. Some makers ended up racing and modifying the course, others played with their bots and the rest played tetris with a pencil drawn game controller or piano with marshmallows.
Makey Makey testing
Other librarians are using Makey Makeys also! Check out posts by Liz at Getting Giggles and Amy at The Show Me Librarian.

Apps: Summer Favorites

As promised, here are some of my new favorite apps that tie in nicely with our summer reading program this year. I have another list of iOS favorites you might want to check out here. You should also check out Little eLit Pinterest app boards or Digital Storytime for more ideas. To find out how I evaluate apps and new media for use with kids, read more about my criteria.

Know of any apps that should go on this list? Let me know!

4-8 years

Story Apps
Alphabet of Insects
Red in Bed (and Google Play)
So Many Stars-Andy Warhol
Barefoot World Atlas
Jr. Astronaut-Breaking Through the Space Barrier
The Mud Monster
Finn’s Paper Hat

Toy Apps
Toca Town (also Google Play and Kindle)
Pettson’s Inventions
Plants by Tinybop
How it Works: Machines by Geek Kids
Laurie Berkner’s Sing and Send
MOMA Art Lab

FIFA World Cup (also Google Play It is soccer season after all! Kids, teens and adults can track stats, learn about players, and follow specific teams/countries.)
Minecraft Pocket Edition (also Google Play)
Monster Physics
Barefoot World Atlas
Tynker- Learn Programming With Visual Code Blocks
The Elements: A Visual Exploration
Jr. Astronaut- Breaking Through the Space Barrier

Maker Monday: Forces of Flight

During a recent Maker Monday program for ages 8-18 years, we explored the four Forces of Flight (thrust, drag, lift, weight) and made lots of machines that fly. It was a rowdy couple of hours with lots of budding engineers in one room along with balloons, paper airplanes, and hot glue. I was thankful to have two partners in crime again this week.

I’ll admit that I didn’t know a lot about the forces of flight before planning this program. I didn’t become an aeronautical engineer in the planning either. I did learn a lot though, and learned enough to inspire a large group of kids and teens to create flying machines, modify their designs to improve their flying, and have fun working in teams.

Here are some resources for learning about the forces of flight and Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion:
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s How Things Fly: Forces of Flight
Physics Classroom: Newton’s Laws of Motion
NASA LaRC Office of Education NASA Sci Files with Dr. D (another kid friendly video explaining the forces of flight from the Internet Archive, which I love)
There are also lots of good kids books about paper airplanes, motion, and rockets that discuss these concepts. I had several from our library’s collection on display in the program room.

To start things off, I showed the group this video. I did it for two reasons. First of all, the two hosts are women engineers. Not only is STEAM important for kids in general, but I think its especially valuable for girls to see women as scientists in STEAM-related programs so they know anything is possible. Secondly, the video explains the forces of flight well in a relatively short video. The kids started to get distracted part way through the video as they explained the four forces of flight, so I stopped the video and explained them in my own words. This helped reinforce the concepts and kept everyone on track. This isn’t school, so I didn’t want kids zoning out because they were getting overwhelmed. I also didn’t show the complete video because we weren’t doing the same experiment.

After the video we did our first flight test. It was a simple one. We asked the new engineers if they could predict who would be able to jump the highest. Most of the kids looked around the room and chose the tallest person, a teen. Given what we just learned about the forces of motion I asked them to look at the predicted winner again. The vote was still with him as we proceeded with the experiment.

We had kids come up to sheets of paper we hung on one of the room’s walls and we measured their heights. Then we had the kids come back up and jump as high as they could. We marked how high their head reached and compared measurements. The tallest person was not the highest flier! We talked again about the four forces and hypothesized about why a shorter person could fly the highest. Was it their thrust? Or the clothes on the tallest person creating drag?

The next experiment involved balloon rockets. This is where the program room got a little chaotic, but it was a great time to talk about Isaac Newton and his Laws of Motion. I’m pretty sure none of the kids present knew they would be learning about and understanding Newton’s Laws of Motion today, but the balloon rockets immediately demonstrated the Third Law: “ for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The idea was to create rockets out of balloons and fly them across the room on string courses. We gave each person a balloon (we had a variety of shapes) and asked them to blow up the balloon without tying off the end. We then hung two strings from one end of the room to the other to create our courses. One end of the string was secured on a chair and the other was free so we could string the balloon and an attached straw onto the string in preparation for flying. To see the third law in action, I asked kids which direction the balloon opening should point to make the balloon fly to the other end of the string. You should have seen the lightbulbs go off! The air from inside the balloon should blow towards me, holding the string at the starting point, making the balloon fly in the opposite direction to the other end of the string. So simple.

Once the rocket was ready for launch, the designer let go of the balloon and watched it soar across the room on the string. Kids made many attempts as we tested out shapes of balloons, how much air was in the balloon, size of the straw and type of string.

balloons (various sizes and shapes)
string (various types optional)
straws (various sizes optional)
chair(s) to secure string

To calm things down a bit, we had everyone sit in small groups on the floor (we removed the large tables from the room to accommodate the large numbers of kids). Then we moved on to paper airplanes! I found three paper airplane patterns the kids could copy and build if they didn’t have a design of their own. We used the new planes to see who’s airplane could get closest to the target we created with a wire hanger pulled slightly out of shape to form a diamond. Kids took turns launching their paper crafts across the room towards the target. None of the airplanes made it into the target, but a few came close. Several kids took multiple turns and fiddled with their design to see if it could fly higher, more accurately, or further.Making Paper Airplanes

paper airplane patterns (books or see link above for printable designs)
paper (various weights and colors optional)
markers, pencils, crayons for decorating
paper clips (for weighting the nose of some designs)

Finally it was time for my favorite event, the soda bottle rocket (see full details at this link)! These are incredibly cool and don’t be scared off by the preparation or the fact that you are shooting bottles full of water into the air. Even my dad laughed on the first test run I did at home!Soda Bottle Rocket

Of course you’ll want to launch these rockets outside. I took everyone out to a grassy area alongside the library for the demo. I had everyone stay back (to be extra cautious) behind a certain line during takeoff. I brought with me a plastic soda bottle filled approximately 1/3 with water. I plugged the opening with the prepared cork (repurposed bike tire valve inserted into a drilled hole in the wine cork) and laid it on the launch pad (made from scraps of wood so no one would have to hold the bottle as it is launched and get soaked in the process).

Much of the research I did on these rockets discussed specific PSI for launch, possible bottle explosion, etc. A little common sense goes along way here. The idea is that you pump air into the bottle via the bike tire valve inserted in the cork now attached to the bottle. Pretty simple. I never had any problems and I didn’t use a bike pump with a PSI indicator. It all worked well and was a perfect finale to the program. For the last 20-25 minutes kids took bottles I collected from the recycling bin at the dump and modified them with foam wings, tails and noses to see if the designs would change how the rockets flew. We launched over 25 rockets and it was a crowd pleaser every time.

Soda Bottle Rocket ValveMaterials:
empty and clean plastic soda bottles
wine cork (natural cork, not plastic)- make sure it fits into the bottle opening snuggly without falling in
bike tire valve off an old bike tire inter tube (I got a dozen for free from a local bike shop)
foam sheets or other materials to modify rockets (I had foam on hand from another program)
stand up bike pump
scraps of wood to make rocket launch pad (no design)
hot glue

I did bring a second pump, but we didn’t end up using it. The hold up with this part of the program was the hot gluing of the added design features on to the rockets. I had the easy part as the rocket launcher. My co-leaders had to glue! Some kids did find a use for the other bike pump however. They came up with the fart launcher game. Pumping the pump while holding the end sounds, well, like someone farting I guess.Kids bike pump


Family: Sound & Music

As part of the summer series of Family Storytimes, we explored sounds and music this week.  I was actually giddy as I set up! It wasn’t because we had a guest who regularly reads, plays guitar and sings, but that was great. It wasn’t because of the fun books he read, but those worked well. It wasn’t because of the cute tissue box guitars we were going to make, but they were a hit. It was because I was going to blow the minds of preschoolers with the Makey Makey!

For the first half of storytime, our guest played music, sang and read stories related to sound and music with families. Whenever he comes to storytime, he reads and I pick the books, plan the theme, and take care of the second half of storytime. I usually pick out the books for him because I plan the storytime themes before I know when he’ll be reading. (It also helps to have a plan if he’s sick or can’t make it for another reason at the last minute.) He’s an excellent addition to storytime and has been joining us every six weeks or so for years. We talk often about how storytime went and change what we need to.

Hilda Must be Dancing (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004) by Karma Wilson and Suzanne Watts
The Loud Book (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska
Squeak, Rumble Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: a Sonic Adventure (Candlewick, 2012) by Wynton Marsalis and Paul Rogers

Activity Stations
This week I created four activity stations. The only way I can do this is employing the talents of a summer teen volunteer who is quickly settling into the busy storytime routine.  I can have her run one station while I run another. The other two stations were either independent stations that have directions for caregivers or require only minimal help and I can assist from a nearby station.

Tissue Box Guitar
I explained to kids that, all over the world, people make instruments out of what ever they have around them and that was just what we were going to do! Marsalis’ book really demonstrates that sounds come from all kinds of “instruments.”


You’ll find examples of this craft all over the internet, but Instructables has step-by-step instructions if you need help. I had cupboards full of donated tissue boxes and paper towel tubes that were perfect for this craft, so start gathering! Before storytime, I went through the collection of rectangular boxes and made sure they had holes only in the bellies. (Some boxes have holes that run from the center around one side and obviously don’t work for this project.) I also made sure the plastic was removed from the hole.

Caregivers and kids selected a tissue box, drew the outline of the paper towel tube on one of the short ends of the tissue box, cut out the hole (slightly smaller than drawn to create a tight fit), glued the tube if necessary, attached rubber bands, decorated and then played the new instrument.

tissue boxes (one for each child)
varying sizes of rubber bands (each size makes a different sound)
paper towel tube
glue gun (used by the teen volunteer)
foam alphabet stickers
construction paper for decorating the belly of the guitar
crayons and markers

Basket of Musical Instruments
I have a small collection of individual, kid-friendly musical instruments that I placed in a basket for families to explore. Some musicians played together while others made their own music. I encouraged caregivers to ask questions of their young musician, observing what kind of sound each instrument made, how the sound could be changed, and if it was loud or soft.

Coloring sheets
I printed out several music-related coloring sheets and placed them at a table with markers and crayons. This helped ease the crowds at the other stations.

Makey Makey/Sago Mini Sound Box
I regularly use new media in storytime and programs for kids of all ages, but I was especially excited to introduce everyone to the Makey Makey at storytime. I first heard about the Makey Makey from Stephen Tafoya in a discussion on the Little eLit listserv and knew I had to get one. I bought one and played with it at home with my two kids before bringing it to storytime.

The basic idea is this. The Makey Makey is an invention kit that fools a computer into thinking its a keyboard, thus allowing you to turn almost anything into something that can create sound, type text, be used to play a game, or create an image.


Playing a SCRATCH piano with bananas and the Makey Makey

I love the Makey Makey for several reasons.

  • It gets kids (or teens or adults) creating while using digital technology in addition to consuming it.
  • It makes some ho-hum digital content more dynamic and gets kids and adults playing and talking together, encouraging joint media engagement.
  • Using it warrants basic scientific questions. What happens if you do this? How does this work? Why did it stop working?
  • It allows kids and parents to learn about the big concept of electricity in a kid-friendly, hands-on way.
  • It introduces parents to Arduino, an open source platform for manipulating electronics in cool ways that artists, designers, and hobbyists can work with to make great things.
  • It seems like magic, but isn’t! I believe that if kids realize they can make music with play dough or bananas, they can do anything!

I set up a laptop and the Makey Makey at a table with enough space for several kids and adults to experiment together. I also had four bananas and four containers of different colored play dough. On the laptop, I had the Makey Makey Piano-2 site ready to go. This provided a visual keyboard on the screen so kids could see and hear what happened when they touched the banana or blob of play dough.

I did a quick demo of how the tool worked and gave a brief explanation of electricity. For many kids and adults, this alone was mind bending. (I have to admit I learned a few things about electricity preparing for this storytime.) The best part, though, is that each time a child sat in the player’s chair, we talked about how electricity works and demonstrated how it works at the same time. Several three year olds got it and applied their new knowledge as they manipulated the new toy. It was amazing. Caregivers were b-l-o-w-n away. You just have to make that happen at storytime sometimes.

As each child took their turn controlling the Makey Makey, I asked them if they wanted to use play dough or bananas to make music. Once they chose, I showed them how the tool worked and hooked up the alligator clips (either by sticking each of the four clips into a different blob of play dough or clipping them to the end of four different bananas). I showed them how they had to hold the ground/Earth/negative clip in one hand and then, with the other hand, tap one of the four “keys” they created. I gave each child enough time to understand all of the pieces involved which was key (no pun intended). Every child was patient as they waited for their turn, which blew my mind.Makey Makey Set Up

At the table, I also had an iPad with Sago’s Mini Sound Box app loaded on it. I wanted to offer another way to make digital music and sound through touch and provide a second option for play while kids waited for the Makey Makey. The app, a nice choice for toddlers and preschoolers, gets kids making music and sound by tapping, shaking, and moving the iPad and the images on the screen. I really like the fact that this open-ended app employs multi-touch so kids or kids and adults can play together. I engaged the device’s Guide Access feature so I wouldn’t have to worry about kids leaving the app accidentally while I was using the Makey Makey. A few kids explored the app and a couple of parents asked about it, but most kids weren’t particularly interested.


Maker Monday: Wood Fired Pizza!

For the second summer, we are offering a series of maker programs for ages 8-18. While we don’t have a dedicated maker space, we do have a strong desire to convert library resources into a temporary maker space each week and amazing community experts willing to share their knowledge and craft. These programs are way to much fun to not do because of a lack of dedicated space. In fact, I’m slowly trying to make the whole library a maker space in varying degrees. Don’t tell my coworkers… Just kidding! They are maker fans, too!Starting-From-Scratch-cover

Our two hour pizza making session was inspired by the book Starting From Scratch (Owlkids Books, 2014) by Sarah Elton. The book covers everything from the science of cooking, our sense of taste, cooking tools, and how to read a recipe in a friendly format for kids 10 and up. I love to cook and introduce kids to good food, so when I received the book I immediately knew we needed to make food this summer. I just wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen so I stewed on it for awhile.  Then, a friend came to mind. He has a mobile wood fired oven and loves the library so I emailed him with my crazy idea- let’s make pizza at the library! He said yes, because he likes crazy ideas too, and really it wasn’t that nutty. There were nuts though.

My friend (and a couple of others) handled the oven while I focused on the science of making pizza and the how-to. The session began with a quick video showing a 7 year old doing cool tricks while tossing pizza dough. I then asked the crowd of almost 70 why could he do that? There were actually some really cool responses that had to do with the physics of tossing dough, but no one spoke up about the magic of gluten. So we spent a few minutes going over the ingredients in dough, the reactions that take place during pizza making, and what each ingredient does. The pizza dough was made beforehand, but we had all of the ingredients on hand to showhow it all works.

Have you listened to the Science Friday episode Food Failures: Knead to Know Science Behind Bread? It’s worth listening to!

After dough, we talked about toppings, what everyone likes on pizza, and the building blocks of taste. We even discussed super tasters and terroir as it relates to cheese (and chocolate, wine, coffee, etc.). Both ideas fascinated the crowd of mostly 8-14 year olds.

Then it was time to make pizza! We had a large group packed into a meeting room with two large tables. Since the room is carpeted, we laid out a big plastic tarp to avoid a long clean up. On the two tables we had a variety of ingredients (identical on each table). Each person washed their hands at the sink and were then handed a small ball of dough. They could roll out the dough with a rolling pin, use a crank my friend brought, or try the method I saw on the America’s Test Kitchen video A New Way to Work with Pizza Dough.Pizza Oven

Next came the toppings. I challenged everyone to try something new, even if it was only on half of the pizza. Most created pizzas beyond the expected pepperoni and cheese. We only had 4 peels, so a mom quickly came up with the idea of flouring a paper plate for each person and letting them top their pizza on the plate instead of waiting for the peel. Then they could go outside to wait for the peel and their pizza’s turn in the oven.

IMG_0203Once outside, pizza makers waited in line for their turn. Everyone was surprisingly patient. Fortunately the weather was excellent. It didn’t hurt that everyone could watch the dough rising as the fire did its magic inside the oven.  We also had sampling table so some pizzas could be cut into sharing bites.  Most people ate their pizzas outside on the grass or under the entryway’s overhang not far from the oven. All of the library visitors were curious about the oven and what we were up to!

Materials: (for 50-60 personal size pizzas)
mobile wood fired oven
any pizza dough recipe

flour for dusting peels and tables where dough is being rolled out (so dough doesn’t stick to surface)
1 Costco size jar of pesto (with brushes for putting on pizzas)
chopped walnuts (3 oz)
mozzarella (5 lb)
parmesan (3 lb)
fresh chopped spinach (1/2 bag)
sautéed, onions (cut into rings before cooking) (1)
sautéed, slided mushrooms (1 small box of crimini)
sautéed, sliced peppers (2)
slided ham, sliced (1 pkg)
well-drained pineapple chunks (2 cans)
tomato sauce
3 rolling pins
1 dough roller
1 dough docker (for removing air bubbles in dough, if handy and desired)
tongs, spoons, ladles, forks etc for serving
measuring cups and spoons for demonstration
bowls/containers for toppings and dough making demo
pizza cutters
tool for cutting balls of dough from mass (in Alaska, many of use an ulu)
paper plates
paper towels and/or napkins