Educational Articles/STEAM activities

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Toilet paper tubes Robots

Materials 

  • Bristlebot Robotics Kit, available from our company The kit contains enough parts to build two junkbots, as well as two smaller robots, called bristlebots. To build one junkbot, you will need these parts from the kit:
    • AA batteries (2)
    • AA battery holder
    • Large motor
  • You will also need the following supplies. These are just suggestions; you do not need to use all of them, and you can pick other materials not listed here:
    • Recycled construction materials, like plastic bottles, cardboard tubes, etcetera
    • Other construction materials, like popsicle sticks and straws
    • Various adhesives and attachment mechanisms, like clear tape, duct tape, rubber bands, zip ties, glue (a hot glue gun is helpful, but adult supervision is recommended)
    • Decorative items, like googly eyes, pipe cleaners, construction paper, glitter, crayons and markers, etcetera
    • Corks (these are pressed on to the motor shafts to make the motors vibrate)
    • Scissors (older students can use hobby knives, adult supervision recommended)
    • Small Phillips-head screwdriver


Instructions

Procedure

  1. Make sure your battery holder’s switch is in the OFF position.
  2. Use a small Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the screw, then slide off the battery holder’s cover.
  3. Insert two AA batteries into the holder. The flat ends of the batteries should be against the metal springs.
  4. Slide the cover back on until it clicks into place. You do not need to replace the screw.
  5. Twist together the red and black wires from the motor and battery holder.
  6. Wrap the exposed metal parts of the wires in tape to help prevent short circuits.
  7. Firmly press a cork onto the motor’s shaft.
  8. Turn the battery holder’s switch to ON. The cork should spin, causing the motor to vibe. Then turn the switch off again.
  9. Build a “body” for your robot out of recycled and craft materials. There is no right or wrong way to do this step—what you build is up to you!
  10. Do not forget to decorate your robot!
  11. Attach the battery pack and motor to your robot’s body. Pay attention to these tips:
    1. Make sure you do not glue or tape the battery pack shut, or make it difficult to access. Eventually you will need to slide it open to replace the batteries.
    2. Make sure the cork can rotate completely without getting stuck against the robot’s body.
    3. Make sure the wires will not get tangled in the cork when the robot moves.

  12. Turn your battery pack on, put your robot on the floor, and watch it go! Your robot might not work perfectly on the first try, and it might not work at all. This is okay; use your problem solving skills to fix it. See the Troubleshooting section if your robot does not work.
  13. If you are doing this activity with a friend, try racing your robots against each other or making them “sumo wrestle” by pushing each other out of a ring.
  14. Troubleshooting

    My cork does not spin when I turn my battery pack on.
    • Make sure you inserted your AA batteries properly. The flat ends of the batteries should be against the metal springs in the battery holder, and the “+” signs on the batteries should line up with the “+ signs inside the battery holder.
    • Make sure you do not have a short circuit. This can occur if the red and black wires bump into each other and you did not securely wrap the exposed metal parts with tape. Short circuits will prevent the motor from spinning and quickly drain the battery.
    • Make sure the cork can spin freely and is not jammed against the robot’s body, held in place with glue, etc
    The cork flies off the motor shaft when it spins.
    • Press the cork further onto the motor shaft using a new hole.
    • Optionally, a small dab of hot glue placed in the hole can help hold the cork in place.
    My robot stopped working suddenly.
    • Remove the tape from your wires and make sure the metal parts are still twisted together. The motor’s vibrations can cause the wires to come apart if they are not twisted tightly enough.
    • If you have access to a soldering iron, you can ask an adult to help you solder the wires together. That will help keep them connected.
    The cork spins, but my robot does not move at all, or moves very slowly.

    Several things can prevent your robot from moving or make it slow:

    • There is too much friction between your robot and the ground. Try putting your robot on a smoother surface or using a different material for its “feet.”
    • Your robot is too heavy. Try removing some materials from your robot or using lighter materials.
    • Your motor is not firmly attached to the robot’s body. This means the vibrations will not transfer from the motor to the robot’s body. Try using more glue or tape to securely attach the motor to the robot, but make sure the cork can still spin.
    • Your robot’s body is not stiff enough (for example, cardboard pieces held loosely together by tape). This can cause all the vibrations from the motor to be absorbed by the robot’s body, instead of transferring to the ground and causing the robot to move. Make sure all the different parts of your robot’s body are tightly taped or glued together.
    My robot does not go straight.
    • This is very common—since your robot is powered by vibrations, it is actually very difficult to make one that goes perfectly straight. So, do not consider this a problem—consider it an engineering challenge!

 

Cleanup

  1. Make sure you turn the battery pack off to avoid draining the battery.
  2. For long-term storage, remove the batteries from the battery pack.

 

 

The Pros and Cons of the Virtual Classroom

Although computers are a big part of online education, much of the actual work is completed in the same way as it is in a traditional school. Kids still read books, fill out worksheets, write papers, complete science experiments, and take quizzes and tests. Students submit work to teachers in a number of ways, depending on the assignment. Some of the assignments and assessments are printed, scanned, and uploaded via an online “drop box.” Other work is done completely online. Many schools ship textbooks and other materials to the students. Parents, called learning coaches, are required to work closely with their child, making sure the child is completing the work. As students become older, more responsibility rests on them.

The parent is a lot more involved at the elementary-school level, when students need more hand-holding. As the students get older, they have to be motivated to log onto the computer, do the assignments, and ask for help when they need it.

Is Online Education Right for Your Kids?

Research is also mixed on how well students perform academically in online charter schools. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis reviewed 51 online learning studies and found that, on average, students enrolled in an online class performed better than did students receiving face-to-face instruction for that same class. But 44 out of the 51 studies included in the report focused on students enrolled in higher education classes; only a handful focused on K-12 education. A 2011 report published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at eight cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania and found that students at these schools performed worse in reading and math than did their peers at traditional schools. Many research studies have looked at the effects of combining online learning with face-to-face instruction in single courses, often called blended instruction, and found that these students score as well as students in traditional classes.

Complicating matters is that many online schools are run by for-profit organizations that operate as public charter schools, which are funded by taxpayer dollars. According to an Education Week article published online, these private companies obtain a charter through the states to operate as public schools, meaning that public dollars are spent through private companies.

 
 

12 REASONS TO TEACH CODING IN SCHOOLS

Coding in school is getting a lot of interests around the world with studies indicating it is both socially and educationally critical to learn to code since kindergarten.

Increase academic motivation

Acquisition of math skills

Ability to problem solve

Development of autonomy

Team work, collaboration

Development of critical thinking

Improved self esteem and sense of competence

Development of creativity

Ability to find information

Increased resilience in the face of challenges

Improve Reasoning and planning skills

 

 

 

GAME BASED LEARNING

Game-Based Learning involves learning situations where children play or design games – whether digital, physical, or table-top games – in which they solve problems and gradually develop new knowledge and skills. Games have been found to improve students’ motivation and cognitive development, such as memory and reasoning.

KEY FEATURES OF GAME BASES LEARNING

  • Students working towards a goal, making decisions, and experiencing the consequences of those decisions. For example, the primary objective of the game ‘Monopoly’ is to own as much property and to have the most money by the end of the game, make financial-related decisions including managing money and deciding to sell/purchase property, and experience the consequences of paying rent when landing on other player’s properties, paying loans/taxes to the bank, losing your property if unable to make payments;
  • Different approaches such as playing games, modifying games, and designing games; and
  • Games being easy to learn and interesting to the learner (e.g. ‘Inversé’ is a game with only a few rules and colourful wooden pieces, yet can be highly interesting while supporting spatial thinking: volume, estimation, mental rotation).
 
  1. You don’t have to be an expert at playing games: Students may have better gaming skills. However, it’s important to remember that as parent, it’s not essential for you to master the game, but rather to play it for yourself (or with your child) so that you can understand how it might align with targeted learning goals. 
  2. Make connections to other subjects: While students learn many things through playing games (i.e. rules, strategies), they can also learn about a variety of subject areas through the social interactions involved (e.g. how shifting allies or enemies changes political and economic relationships, in the video game ‘Civilization’). 
  3. Facilitate a redesign project to encourage creativity and critical thinking by: 
    • Encouraging students to change specific game elements (e.g. game rules, number of players, the dimensions or shapes of the game board or pieces)
    • Imagining the game by changing the storyline (e.g. creating new characters, changing setting, and creating new challenges for players)
    • Changing the game structure (e.g. changing the game goal, making the game based on strategy instead of chance)
    • Making a new game by integrating two different existing games

Research demonstrates that Game-Based Learning enhances essential life skills that are foundational to a child’s development. In particular, Game-Based Learning provides students with an interactive learning experience where they have the opportunity to use and develop many different cognitive, social, and physical skills. Problem solving, critical thinking, strategy development, decision making, and teamwork are some of the many skills that games can provide.

Artificial intelligence

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of computers/machines to learn from data. Predicted to be one of the world’s most disruptive technologies, AI will transform our world, changing the way we live, work and do business. It will change our health, and our economic, legal, cultural and social environments. By 2025, AI is predicted to touch every industry and create over $50 trillion in economic impact.

Already in our world

AI may sound futuristic but it is already here. We interact with it daily–spam detection, banking and credit card fraud detection, Siri, online shopping , Netflix suggestions. But AI’s potential application is far greater. On the horizon are smart and connected vehicles, smart responsive prosthetics, smart homes, better, more precise diagnostics and the Internet of Things (IoT)–all are powered by AI. The use of AI is rapidly spreading into healthcare, energy, the environment, the digital economy, manufacturing, transportation, finance and more.

BALANCED MATH APPROACH

What is a Balanced Math Program?

The balanced math program aims to improve student attitudes toward math while they develop procedural fluency, conceptual understanding and problem-solving. Some components of the program which support higher-level thinking, problem solving and communication include:

Activities and Resources

Create independent activities to be used during guided mathematics time 

Independent mathematics provides an opportunity for students to learn on their own based on previously taught material and to stretch and deepen their thinking. Students can use group members to decode words or clarify the problem, but then work independently. This is an ideal time for students to integrate stands and spiral curriculum. An example task might be, “Raisins and sunflower seeds are sold together in packages of 250g. The ratio of the mass of sunflower seeds is 3 to 5. Determine the mass of raisins in a package. Show your work.” 

Create parallel tasks and inquiry-based learning related to the categories of Achievement across the primary grade

Please access parallel task PDF by clicking here.

Please access inquiry based learning PDF by clicking here.
 
 

ABRACADABRA!
Let’s do some magic today and turn milk into plastic 

Materials: 

  • Milk (1 cup)
  • White vinegar (4 teaspoons)
  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Optional: Thermos
  • Mug or other heat-resistant cup large enough to hold at least 1 cup of milk
  • Paper towels
  • Spoon
  • Optional: Cookie cutters, glitter, food coloring, markers
  • Stovetop oven and pan or microwave and microwaveable container

Instructions  

  1. Heat 1 cup of milk in a pan or stovetop until the milk is steaming. Alternatively, you can microwave the milk in a microwaveable container by warming it at 50% power for 5 minutes. It should be about the same temperature as you would want milk to be for making hot cocoa. Heat for more time if needed.
  2. If you cannot do the rest of the activity right away, store the hot milk in a thermos until it is needed.
  3. Add 4 teaspoons (tsp.) of white vinegar to a mug or other heat-resistant cup.
  4. Add the 1 cup of hot milk to the mug. You should see the milk form white clumps (curds).
     Why do you think the milk forms curds when it is added to the vinegar?What do you think they are made of?

  5. Mix the mug slowly with a spoon for a few seconds.
     What happens when the milk and vinegar are mixed together? Why do you think this is?
  6. Stack four layers of paper towels on a hard surface that is safe to get damp.
  7. Once the milk and vinegar mixture has cooled a bit, use a spoon to scoop out the curds. You can do this by tilting the spoon against the inside of the mug to let excess liquid drain out while retaining the curds in the spoon. Collect as many curds as you can in this way and put them on top of the paper towel stack.
  8. Fold the edges of the paper towel stack over the curds and press down on them to absorb excess liquid from the curds. Use extra paper towels if needed to soak up the rest of the extra liquid.
  9. Knead all of the curds together in a ball of dough. This is the casein plastic.
     How do the kneaded curds feel and look differently than the curds did originally?

  10. If you want to make the casein plastic into something, you can color, shape, or mold it now (within an hour of making the plastic dough) and leave it to dry on paper towels for at least 48 hours. Once it has dried, the casein plastic will be hard. Tip: To shape the plastic, the dough must be kneaded well. Molds and cookie cutters work well, or, with more patience, the dough can be sculpted. Food coloring, glitter, or other decorative bits can be added to the wet casein plastic dough, and dried casein plastic can be painted or colored with markers.

Cleanup

  1. To avoid clogging the sink discard any unused curds in the trash— do not pour them down the sink.

What Happened you might ask?

When you added the hot milk to the vinegar, small, white chunks should have become visible in the mixture. This is because adding an acid, such as vinegar, to the milk changes the pH of the milk and makes the casein molecules unfold and reorganize into a long chain, curdling the milk. The white chunks are curds. You should have been able to use a spoon to separate the curds from most of the liquid. Additional drying of the curds with the paper towels should have made the curds ready to knead in to a ball and use as casein plastic, which can be molded and decorated.

MAKING BATH BOMBS

  • Bath Bomb Science Kit, available from our partner Home Science Tools. Includes:

    • Spherical bath bomb molds (6 spheres)
    • Cornstarch (1 lb)
    • Baking soda (1 lb)
    • Epsom salt (1 lb)
    • Citric acid (8 ounces)
    • Food colors (red, blue, green, yellow)
    • Fragrance (1/2 oz. raspberry, 1/2 oz. vanilla)
    • Waterproof thermometer
  • You will also need to gather these items:
  • Large bowls (4)
  • Masking tape or painter’s tape
  • Pen or permanent marker
  • Metric measuring cup
  • Water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Medicine dropper
  • Measuring spoons
  • Forks and spoons for mixing
  • Stopwatch or timer
  • Optional: Helper to help you time the reaction times.
  • Optional, but recommended: Oven
    Note: If you live in a very humid environment, use the oven to dry the bath bombs after making them to get satisfying results. Note that you can use the plastic molds in the oven at 170°F.

Prep Work

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (or its lowest setting). Adult assistance is required for using the oven.
  2. Note that the recipe amounts given in this activity are for approximately filling three halves of the provided spherical bath bomb molds, using each recipe. If you want to make additional bath bombs, you can double or triple the recipes.

Procedure

  1. In one bowl, mix together:
    • 3 tablespoons (tbsp.) citric acid
    • 6 tbsp. baking soda
    • 4.5 tbsp. cornstarch
    • 1.5 tbsp. Epsom salt

  2. In a second bowl, mix together:
    • 2.25 teaspoons (tsp.) vegetable oil
    • 2.25 tsp. water
    • 5 drops of food coloring (green, yellow, red or blue)
    • 30 drops of fragrance (vanilla or raspberry)
    Be sure to rinse out and clean the medicine dropper and measuring spoons in between measuring the different ingredients.
  3. Using a clean medicine dropper, add a few drops of the wet mixture to the dry ingredients in the first bowl. What happens when you add a drop of the wet mixture? You should see it fizz — this is the bath bomb reaction taking place! Because you do not want the bath bombs to react yet, quickly press down on the fizzy spot with the back of a clean spoon. This should stop the fizziness. Mix in the damp spot with the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Repeat this process until you your bath bomb mixture has the right consistency. The perfect mixture should be damp enough so that it holds shape when you press together small pieces with your fingers.
  4. Note: Part of the challenge of making homemade bath bombs is adding the right amount of wet ingredients. If you live in a humid environment, you may not need to add all of the wet ingredients.
    • If the bath bomb mixture appears to continue to puff up even after you have thoroughly mixed in some wet ingredients, then the mixture may be too wet. If this happens, start over making the bath bombs from the beginning, but this time use less water in the recipe.
    • If the bath bombs are very crumbly, the bath bomb mixture may not have enough water in it. If the bath bombs are too dry, they will fall apart after they have dried. In that case, start over making the bath bombs from the beginning, but this time use more water in the recipe.
    If you find that the normal recipe works better using less or more water, adjust the second bath bomb recipe similarly.
  5. Use a clean medicine dropper to drop one drop of vegetable oil into as many halves of the spherical bath bomb molds as you are using. Then use a finger to spread the oil all around the mold’s surface.
  6. Fill one of the molds with the bath bomb mixture. Add a spoonful at a time and use the back of the spoon and/or the palm of your hand to press the mixture down into the mold continually as the mixture is added. If you are filling multiple molds, evenly divide up the mixture between them.
  7. In a third bowl, mix together:
    • 2 tbsp. citric acid
    • 4 tbsp. baking soda
    • 7.5 tbsp. cornstarch
    • 1.5 tbsp. Epsom salt
  8. In a fourth bowl, mix together:
    • 2.25 tsp. vegetable oil
    • 5.5 tsp. water
    • 5 drops of a different food coloring
    • 30 drops of fragrance (vanilla or raspberry)
    Be sure to rinse out and clean the medicine dropper and measuring spoons in between measuring the different ingredients.
  9. Use a clean medicine dropper to slowly mix the wet mixture with the dry ingredients in the third bowl, one drop at a time, as you did before, using the spoon to press down on fizzy spots and continually stirring the mixture. Again, make sure the bath bomb mixture is not too dry or too wet. Fill the molds as similar as possible to how you filled them for the first bath bomb recipe.
  10. Let the bath bombs dry. Turn off the oven (which was preheated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit), put the molds inside, and let them stay in the (turned off) oven for 45 minutes. Once the bath bombs have dried, carefully remove them from the molds.
  11. Reminder: If the bath bombs are very crumbly, the recipes may not have had enough water in them. To fix this, you can re-make the bath bombs but try using a little more water.
  12. Get ready to use the bath bombs in a bath! Fill a tub with hot water. Then place the bath bombs in the tub.

    What happens when the bath bombs are placed in the water? Is one of the bombs fizzier than the other one? Does one take longer to dissolve than the other one? Make sure to check with your fingers under water if the bath bomb has fully dissolved. Can you explain what happens?

Cleanup

  1. If you have extra bath bombs and want to save them for later, put them in a sealable plastic bag.

What Happened?

When a bath bomb comes in contact with water, the baking soda and citric acid react to make carbon dioxide bubbles. The cornstarch acts as a “filler” to control the reaction between the baking soda and citric acid. In this activity, the second recipe used more cornstarch, and less baking soda and less citric acid, compared to the first recipe. Consequently, you should have seen that a bath bomb made using the first recipe produced much more vigorous bubbles and impressive fizzing, and dissolved much faster, compared to a bath bomb made using the second recipe. (The exact size of the bath bombs also affects how long it takes them to dissolve, since larger bath bombs will take longer than smaller bath bombs to dissolve, but since the bath bombs should all have been the same size, this factor should not have affected the comparisons.)

How to make hand sanitiser at home 

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Pot to mix all ingredients
  • Spoon
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Water
  • Bleach (unscented)
  • Funnel
Recipe 1:
  • Isopropyl alcohol, with a concentration of 90% or higher
  • Aloe Vera gel
  • Clean bottle or tube to store the sanitizer, preferably with flip top.
  • Optional: essential oil with a pleasant scent
Recipe 2:
  • Isopropyl alcohol, with a concentration of 70% or higher
  • Glycerol or glycerin, 
  • Hydrogen peroxide, 3%
  • Distilled water, available online or water that has been boiled for at least 1 minute (at sea-level) to 3 minutes (high altitude) and cooled to room temperature
  • Clean spray bottle
  • Optional: essential oil with a pleasant scent
    The materials needed to make hand sanitizer at home

Prep Work

  1. Before you start, you need to disinfect all the tools you will use.
    1. Start by washing the tools in warm soapy water.
    2. Rinse with clean water.
    3. Make a disinfecting solution by mixing one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of room temperature (not hot!) water. Bleach is a good disinfectant; it kills most germs.
    4. Dunk the tools in your sanitizing solution. For an extra safety measure, you can dunk the ingredient bottles too.
    5. Let the tools air-dry on a clean and disinfected drying rack.
  2. Wash your hands well just before you start the activity and disinfect your workspace.

Procedure

Recipe 1: Make a gel.
  1. This recipe is quick and easy and requires very few ingredients.
  2. Mix three parts isopropyl alcohol to one part aloe gel in a clean pot with a clean measuring spoon. For example, you can mix 1 cup of isopropyl alcohol with 1/3 cup of aloe gel, or 3 cups of isopropyl alcohol with 1 cup of aloe gel.
    Think about:
    If you could have used isopropyl alcohol with a concentration of 100%, and your aloe gel didn’t contain any alcohol, what alcohol concentration would this mixture have had? (Hint: first calculate the total amount of solution, then calculate what fraction of the total is alcohol, and finish by converting this fraction to a percentage. Answer: 3/4 or 75%)
  3. If your isopropyl alcohol has a concentration 90% or higher, your solution will have a concentration of 68.5% or higher. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) states that hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration below 60% are less effective at killing germs.
    Think about:
    Is the alcohol concentration of your hand-sanitizer 60% or more?
  4. Optional: To give your sanitizer a more pleasing scent, you can add a few drops of essential oil.
  5. Pour the mixture into a clean bottle. Close the bottle well.
  6. Let your hand sanitizer sit for at least 3 days before using it.
    Think about:
    Can you think of a reason why you would need to let it sit?
  7. When you start using the sanitizer, make sure to close the bottle after each use and avoid touching the mouth of the bottle when applying the sanitizer.
    Think about:
    Why do you think you need to close the bottle after each use, and why should you avoid touching the mouth of the bottle of sanitizer with unsanitized hands?
Recipe 2: Make a spray.
  1. This recipe is easy to make but requires a few more ingredients.
  2. Pour 1 and 2/3 cups of isopropyl alcohol in a large clean pot. Remember to use clean utensils!
    2/3 cups of isopropyl alcohol being added to a clear solution
  3. Find the alcohol concentration on the bottle of isopropyl alcohol’s label.
    1. If the isopropyl alcohol solution is ≥ 90%, mix in 1/4 cup of distilled or boiled and cooled water.
    2. If the isopropyl alcohol solution is < 90%, add another 1/4 cup of alcohol.
    Think about:
    Can you think of a reason why the recipe calls for adding water when using a high concentration alcohol solution? Why do you think the water needs to be distilled or boiled and cooled?
  4. According to the CDC (Center for Decease Control), the concentration of alcohol in a hand sanitizer needs to be 60% or more.
    Think about:
    If you could have used isopropyl alcohol with a concentration of 100%, can you calculate what the concentration of the alcohol would be in the solution you just made? (Hint: first calculate the total amount of solution, then calculate what fraction of the total is alcohol, and finish by converting this fraction to a percentage. Answer: 20/23 or 87%)
  5. For an alcohol concentration of 90% or more, your current mixture has an alcohol concentration of 78% or more, well above the 60% required.
  6. Mix in 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide. This ingredient will inactivate bacterial spores.
    The label of hydrogen peroxide topical solution
  7. Use a clean spoon to pour a small amount of the current mixture on your hands. Rub it in.
    Think about:
    What does it feel like?
  8. Use a clean teaspoon to add 2 teaspoons of glycerol to the mixture. When you are done, take a little of the glycerol on your hand and rub it on. (If glycerol or glycerin is not available, moisturize your hands after every use of the sanitizer.)
    Think about:
    Does it feel different compared to the solution? What do you think is the purpose of glycerol in this recipe?

     

    A tablespoon of glycerin being added to a clear solution
  9. Optional: To give your sanitizer a more pleasing scent, you can add a few drops of essential oil.
  10. Pour the mixture into a clean spray bottle. Close the bottle well.
    A funnel helps transfer the solution to the bottle
  11. Let your hand sanitizer sit for at least 3 days before using it.
    Think about:
    Can you think of a reason why you would need to let it sit?
  12. When you start using the sanitizer, avoid touching the nozzle when applying the sanitizer. If you need to touch it, wash your hands first.
    Think about:
    Why should you avoid touching the spraying part of a bottle of hand sanitizer?
  13. To effectively sanitize your hands, spray it on, rub it around so every part of your hand gets disinfected, and let your hands air dry.
  14. To sanitize a surface with this spray: spray it on, let it sit a little and if needed, dry off. You can also use it to create disinfecting wipes.
    Think about:
    What surfaces do you think might collect germs?

What Happened?

If you followed the directions, the concentration of your sanitizer is well within the requirements for alcohol-based sanitizers: an alcohol concentration above 60% and a 10 to 40% concentration of purified water. The alcohol helps kill germs, but water is needed to make the solution effective. Water makes it better at killing germs.

The alcohol solution probably felt cold on your hands because it uses the warmth of your hands to evaporate. It dries out the skin in the process. Glycerol (also called glycerin) is mainly added to keep your hands from drying out too quickly.

It is advised to let homemade sanitizer sit for three days before starting to use it so any harmful germs that accidentally made it into the hand sanitizer will be dead by the time you use the sanitizer. You need to close the bottle after each use for two reasons: it prevents the alcohol in the sanitizer from evaporating so the spray’s potency will last longer, and it prevents airborne pathogens from entering the bottle. To keep the bottle clean and free of germs, you should not touch the mouth of the bottle or nozzle with unsanitized hands.

Frequently touched hard surfaces like doorknobs, elevator knobs, bathroom faucets, the remote control, phones and tables are often touched by a multiple of people. These are good surfaces to disinfect regularly.

 

 

 

 

Squishy Circuits 

  • Materials
    • 4xAA battery holder
    • Piezoelectric buzzer
    • Jumbo LEDs (25 total — 5 each in red, green, white, yellow, and blue)
    • White insulating dough (3.5 oz)
    • Red, blue, and green conductive dough (3.5 oz each)
  • AA batteries (4, not included in the kit).
  • Optional: in addition to the dough included in the kit, you can make your own conductive and insulating dough (for example, if you want other colors). See Electric Play Dough Recipes for materials and directions for making your own dough. You can also use store-bought Play-Doh® (replaces conductive dough) and modeling clay (replaces insulating dough).
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Conductive Play Dough

StepIngredientsProcedure
11 cup (C.) water
1 C. flour
¼ C. salt
3 tablespoons (tbsp.) cream of tartar or 9 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Optional: food coloring (a few drops)
  • Mix all the ingredients in a clean mixing bowl.
  • Note that you are only including 1 C. of flour for now.
2None in this step.
  • Transfer the mixture to a pot.
  • Stir the mixture from step 1 continuously over medium heat until a dough ball forms.
3½ C. flour
  • Turn off the stove. Carefully remove the pot from the heat and dump the play dough back into your mixing bowl.
  • Wait several minutes for the mixture to cool. Once it has cooled down, knead (mix the dough with your hands) in additional flour until desired consistency is formed.

Table 1. Directions for making conductive play dough.

This video is a step-by-step tutorial on making the conductive play dough. It should help answer any questions you have about how to judge the consistency of your play dough at each step.

 

Insulating Play Dough

StepIngredientsProcedure
11 C. flour
½ C. sugar
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Mix all the ingredients in a clean mixing bowl (especially if you used food coloring to make your conductive play dough).
  • Note that you are only including 1 C. of flour for now.
2½ C. deionized or distilled water
  • Slowly add small amounts of water as you continuously knead the dough.
  • Do not add the whole 1/2 C. of water at once or your play dough may become too sticky. You might not need to use the whole ½ C.
3½ C. flour
  • After a dough ball has formed, knead in additional flour to remove stickiness.

Table 2. Directions for making insulating play dough.

This video is a step-by-step tutorial on making the insulating play dough. It should help answer any questions you have about how to judge the consistency of your play dough at each step.

 

White powder is poured from a measuring cup into a metal mixing bowl

Liquid from a measuring cup is added to white powder in a pot

A wooden spoon is used to stir a green mixture in a pot

A green clay ball in a pot

Two hands knead green clay in a bowl

An LED circuit made from conductive play dough, LEDs and a battery pack

A lit LED connects the hands of two play dough figures that each have a lead of a battery pack inserted into their leg
You can use your own home made play dough to make circuits.
 

Procedure

  1. Remove the cover from the battery pack and insert four AA batteries. Make sure the “+” symbols on the batteries line up with the “+” symbols inside the battery pack. Replace the cover once you have inserted all four batteries. Safety Note: Do not let the metal terminals at the end of the battery pack wires touch each other directly. This will create a short circuit and can cause the wires to get very hot.
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  2. Prepare two lumps of conductive dough, each about the size of a golf ball. Push the metal rods from the battery pack into the two lumps.
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  3. Take a single light-emitting diode (LED) from the kit. Bend the LED’s metal legs apart slightly.
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  4. If you look closely, you can see that one of the LED’s legs is slightly longer than the other. Push the longer leg into the lump of dough connected to the battery pack’s red wire. Push the shorter leg into the lump connected to the black wire.
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  5. Turn your battery pack on (slide the power switch from OFF to ON).

  6.  
     

    Your LED should light up; congratulations, you just made your first squishy circuit!

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  7. If your LED does not light up, you probably just plugged it in backwards. Flip the LED around (switch the lumps of dough that the legs are plugged into) and try again. 
  8. While your LED is on, push the two lumps of dough together so they touch.
     

    The LED goes out because you created a short circuit. Electricity flows right through the conductive dough without going through the LED. You do not want this to happen, because then your LEDs will not light up!

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  9. You can prevent short circuits by using insulating dough as an insulating layer between the lumps of conductive dough. Since insulating dough (yellow in the picture below) does not conduct electricity, you can use it to help prevent short circuits in more complicated sculptures.
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  10. If you want to add multiple LEDs, just plug more LEDs in right next to your first one. If any individual LED does not light up, remember to try flipping it around.
    Think about:
    How many LEDs can you light up? If you put 10 or more LEDs in a row, how does the brightness of the one closest to the battery pack compare to the one farthest away?
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  11. Now that you know the basics of how to make a squishy circuit, try making your own sculpture! Here are some ideas to get you started.
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Cleanup

  1. Put all of your dough back in sealed plastic containers or plastic bags so it does not dry out.
  2. Make sure you turn the battery pack off. Remove the batteries if you will not be using your Squishy Circuits kit again anytime soon.
  3. Use a damp paper towel to wipe any dough residue from the LEDs’ legs and from the battery pack’s metal rods. This will help ensure that the metal does not corrode. Use a dry paper towel to completely dry the metal before you store everything back in your Squishy Circuits kit.

What Happened?

Were you able to make a sculpture with multiple LEDs in it? Did it light up when you turned on the battery pack?

As long as the LED was facing the proper direction (long leg connected to the conductive dough with the red wire, short leg connected to the dough with the black wire), it should have lit up. If you pushed the lumps of dough together, this created a short circuit and made the LED go out.

You can connect many LEDs to the battery pack (more than 10), but as the LEDs get farther and farther away from the battery pack’s wires, they become slightly dimmer. This is because the electricity has to travel through more dough to reach the LEDs, and even conductive dough has some resistance, meaning that it slightly resists the flow of electricity.

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Roadmap: How to Get Started on an Advanced Science Project

Introduction

An advanced science project is science research where you produce a novel scientific contribution. It can come in the form of either new data that helps address an open question in a particular scientific field, or a new technique that improves upon methods currently being used in a scientific field. Advanced science projects can also be done in the engineering field (see sidebar). Most advanced science projects are undertaken with the goal of competing at a top science competition or, if you have a mentor who is in academia, publishing the findings in a scientific journal. There are many good reasons to do an advanced science fair project, but before you start, you should understand the scope of the time and energy commitment you’re making. This roadmap will help you understand the steps needed to tackle an advanced science project. You can find out additional details by reading through the articles and personal blogs in the Advanced Science Project Guide.

Step 1: Decide On an Area of Interest.

An advanced science project isn’t something you can do in a weekend, or even in a month! It takes many hours of thought and work, so the topic needs to be something in which you’re interested and it needs to be fairly specific. The first step in coming up with a topic is to pick an area of science in which you’re interested. You can start with something general like “biology,” but from there you need to refine your interest to a sub-area, such as “the biology of aging,” or a question in which you’re intrinsically interested, like “How do people’s cells change as they age?”.

There are many ways to arrive at an area of interest. Perhaps you’ve already done a science fair project that you want to significantly expand and take to the next level. Or maybe you have an intrinsic interest on which you’d like to build. Do you have a hobby, like building model airplanes, astronomy, or setting up aquariums, from which you can draw inspiration? Maybe there’s a question that’s always stuck in your mind that you’d really like to get to the bottom of. Other people, especially mentors, as discussed in the next section, can also be a great source of ideas. For a glimpse into how six different award-winning students found their science project topics, check out the roundtable discussion about Finding an Idea for an Advanced Science Fair Project.

Step 2: Seek Out a Mentor.

This step may be reversed with Step 1, depending on your personal circumstances. If you already have a mentor from a previous experience (either from another science fair, a summer internship, or some other interaction), then that mentor would be a great resource as you decide on an area of interest.

If you don’t already have a mentor, it is highly recommended that you seek one out! Who makes a good advanced science fair project mentor? Generally speaking, a mentor can be any science professional who is: in the field of science you’re interested in researching, and who is willing to (and has the time to) speak with you, give you regular feedback about your ideas, and/or provide you with resources. The How To Find a Mentor guide has more details about the role of a mentor and how to find one, but the bottom line is that a mentor can be instrumental in helping you navigate the intellectual side of your science project and even offer physical resources, like lab space and equipment.

Step 3: Narrow Your Idea Down to a Testable Question and Hypothesis.

Once you have selected your general area of interest and you have your mentor lined up, it’s time to narrow your topic down to a testable question and to formulate your hypothesis. Ultimately, the goal for the national high-school-level top competitions is to make a novel scientific contribution. In order for your contribution to be novel you need to know what has already been tried in the field and what the outstanding questions still are. You can do this by speaking to experts in the field (like your mentor) and by reading the scientific literature. To have the best possible science project, you will need to do both!

You should first get an overview of the scientific papers already published in your area of interest. Reading review articles, which are papers that sum up and examine the results of many previous publications in the field, is a good place to start. The How to Read a Scientific Article guide explains what a review article is in more detail, and how to effectively read both review and primary research articles. Consult the Resources for Finding and Accessing Scientific Papers guide for an overview of how to get your hands on scientific papers.

Once you’ve gotten a better overview of the field, you’ll want to delve into the primary literature, papers that originally reported the experimental methods and data. It is especially important to read the papers that are seminal in the field. A seminal paper is the first article to present an influential or important experiment or theory in the field. Experts in the field, like your mentor, are the best people to inform you about which are the seminal papers in a specific area of science. Ask for recommendations. In addition, because of their ground-breaking content, seminal papers are cited frequently by subsequent publications. So, as you’re reading the scientific literature, if you see an article that is cited frequently, it is likely to be seminal and you should read it, too.

Advanced Engineering Projects

A well-done engineering project differs slightly from a science project. Visit the Engineering Design Project Guide for more details. But in summary, with regard to advanced engineering projects, students will find that some areas of engineering have extensive academic literature, some areas will be documented in trade journals (industry news magazines that, unlike peer-reviewed academic journals, do not require articles to be critiqued by others in the field prior to publication), some areas will rely on patents, and other areas may have little or no documentation at all. Any combination is also possible. This means that deciding on an area of interest (or perhaps a product need), seeking out a mentor, and writing up a detailed project plan are still critical, but the type and quantity of background research will vary significantly, depending on the subject matter of the engineering project. Students should leave plenty of time for building a prototype, testing, and redesigning. This is a time-consuming and oft repeated cycle that is critical for a successful advanced engineering project.

The majority of students, as you can see by reading the Finding an Idea for an Advanced Science Fair Project roundtable, find that the question on which they want to concentrate becomes obvious as they read the literature. Once you settle on the question you want to research, you should refine the question by delving into the fine points of previously published experiments, as well as talk your ideas over with an expert in the field (like your mentor). The expert serves as a double-check to make sure you aren’t working on a problem that’s already been resolved, and that the experiments you’re suggesting are logical and feasible. As you refine your question and think about the experiments you’ll need to do, keep limitations in mind—such as equipment, cost, and time—and actively brainstorm ways to circumvent those limitations. For example, if you need a piece of equipment that is only available at a particular university, contact researchers there, explain your situation, and see if there is a way you can use their equipment or collaborate with them in some way.

Step 4: Write a Project Outline.

After you’ve settled on the question to research, it is time to write a project outline. The project outline is a way to focus your ideas, questions, experimental priorities, and “to-do list” all in one place so that you can evaluate and improve it. This is a step that all scientists and engineers take. For academics, it often happens in the form of grant writing, and for engineers, particularly at companies, it is part of creating a design specification.

Once you’ve written your project outline, show it to your mentor or any other person (parents, teachers, etc.) who can give you feedback. The most specific feedback will come from someone who is doing active work in the field. He or she may be able to offer insights into the likely outcomes, help strengthen your experimental procedures, or offer other crucial advice. Parents, teachers, and other proofreaders can help you with overall structure, logic, and clarity. Remember that your first draft isn’t likely to be your final plan! Take feedback into account and adjust as necessary. This will be an iterative process.

Your project outline should include these five sections, further explained: Introduction, Methods, Predicted Results, Relevance, and Bibliography.

Introduction

The introduction describes what is already known about your research topic and the questions that are currently unanswered in the field. Your summation of these things should be based on the science papers you’ve been reading. The exact number of science papers you need to read in order to write a good introduction varies depending on the area of research, but by the time you’re done investigating all the in’s and out’s of your science project, including the methods, the number will definitely be in the double digits.

The introduction should also describe the species or system you’ll use to address your research question. Include why that species or system is the most appropriate basis for your inquiries. At the end of the introduction, briefly state what your specific question is, how you’re going to address it, and what your hypothesis is. In this case, your hypothesis is the experimental result(s) you expect to find based on your background research. Remember to cite your references as you write, and list them in your bibliography.

Methods

The methods section of the project outline will eventually become your experimental to-do list. This section should describe, in detail, the experiments you’re proposing or the observations you’re planning to make. You should be fairly detailed in your descriptions, including information like:

  • When and where the research will take place.
  • What the controls are for each experiment.
  • How long each experiment will take.
  • What materials and equipment you’ll need.

It is also critical to think about and write down how you’re going to evaluate and analyze your data. It is important to think about this ahead of time, in case you need to gain some skills, like a more advanced knowledge of statistics, have a certain number of repeats, or gather your data in a particular manner. 

Once you’ve written the methods section, make sure to go back and determine whether all the methods are feasible and whether the experiments will adequately answer your research question. Revise, as necessary, taking care to ensure that your science project fits within your limitations of cost, equipment, available materials, and the rules of the competition(s) you want to enter. Many top science competitions have a Scientific Review Committee to which you may need to submit special paperwork, depending on the nature of your experiments; consult our Scientific Review Committee guide and each competition’s website for more details.

Predicted Results

Writing the predicted results section is an opportunity to think more thoroughly about what the data you intend to collect can and cannot tell you. Think through and record all of the possible results to your experiments. Also, make sample figures or tables showing the possible outcomes, and how you would interpret the data. Are there any conditions under which the experiment(s) fail to give you conclusive data? If so, you may need to think of additional experiments.

Relevance

Scientists and engineers, both corporate and academic, are often asked to explain the relevance of their work. Use this section to elaborate on how your science project will advance the knowledge base in the scientific field you chose. Explain what greater impact (if any) your project might provide for other areas of science, humanity, and the environment. Explore any practical applications that might arise from your research.

Bibliography

Throughout the project outline, you should cite all relevant sources and record the references in your bibliography. Documentation citing from where different ideas came and on what they were built is always important in scientific research. For more information on how to format references, take a look at our guides on MLA style and APA style citations. Check with the competition(s) you’ll be entering prior to writing to starting your bibliography to see which format you should be using.

Step 5: Run Your Experiment.

Once your project outline is finalized, it is now essentially a “recipe” of what to do. Gather equipment and materials and proceed as you’ve planned in the methods section of your outline. Keep very good records of exactly what you do so that you, or someone else, could repeat your experiments again.

As you collect the data, analyze it and see if is reasonable and provides an answer for your original question. Remember, this isn’t necessarily the same as confirming your hypothesis—it could be that your original predictions are false! It is important to analyze your data as you go, to ensure that your experiments appear to be functioning properly. Based on your data, you may find that you need to modify your experimental plan. You may need to tweak the procedure for an existing experiment, or even design a new one. If you do make changes, make sure to modify your project outline, too, and think through all the outline sections again, given your new findings. Steps 4 and 5 may iterate as your science project evolves.

Step 6: Present Your Findings.

Once you’ve completed all your experimenting and data analysis, you’ll be ready to present your findings. The rules of the competition(s) you’re entering will dictate whether your findings are presented orally, written up as a paper, displayed in poster format, or some combination of the three. Consult the information packages of the competition(s) for exact details. The article on Judging Tips for Top Science Competitions is a good source of additional advice on communicating your research in various formats, and our Display Boards guide has specific tips for creating a high-quality visual display.

Regardless of the method of presentation, it is important to put your data in the formats used by other scientists within your field. The competition judges will be science professionals with an expectation about how data in a particular field is communicated. In general, you should emulate the types of graphs, figures, and data tables you see in top journals within the area of science in which you’re working. Your mentor will also be a good source of constructive criticism on this subject.

Once you’ve put together your data, make sure you’ve practiced your presentation skills and proofread all your written communications. Parents, teachers, and mentors are all great resources for helping you improve your writing and speaking skills. You don’t want poor data communication to obscure your good research!

Step 7: Go to Your Competitions(s) and Enjoy!

After all your hard work spent planning, executing, and presenting your research, it is time to start competing! Keep in mind that you can only gain entry to some of the top competitions by being a finalist in other qualifying science fairs, so make sure you understand the rules and that you plan accordingly.

And remember, as Amber Hess relates in her interview about When Competition Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Want, winning isn’t everything!

Additional Information

If, after reading through this roadmap and the accompanying articles in the Advanced Science Project Guide, you have additional questions about conducting an advanced science project or participating in a top science competition, feel free to post them on the Ask an Expert Forum. When possible, questions posted on the “Intel ISEF Preparation” board will be answered by students who’ve had firsthand experience at ISEF. It is also a good place to connect with other students who are in the process of conducting novel research.

 

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