February 14, 2017


Inspir › Projects ›

Happy Valentines Day!

We had lots of fun making light up valentines over the past week. The goal was to make a valentine that could be turned off and on. Lots of great, innovative switches!
View full article →

Go-Car Challenge: More things to do with motors!

* This is an article I sent out in our March Maker Club newsletter. Have you signed up for our newsletter yet? It comes out monthly with news, events and project ideas. You can sign up for our newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/GMbrX *

The Go-Car Challenge

We know with making how important it can be to make a tight budget go far. If you're going to invest in our Educator Packs of Doodlebots, what else can you do with those motors? We've already mentioned the Bubble Maker Challenge in a previous newsletter. Something else we've done with our motors is make Go-Cars.

I got the idea for Go-Cars from one of my favourite resources, Tinkering: Kids Learn By Making Stuff by Curt Gabrielson. (Awesome book and that's a library link. It's also worth checking out the Community Science Workshop.) Essentially, with Go-Cars, you are using the same motor the Doodlebots use to make a fan that pushes enough air to make the car go.

We built these in the winter session of my Inventors Workshop at GNAG.ca. Here's what we learned:

  • Super bouncy balls on bamboo skewers worked really well as wheels
  • Putting the bamboo skewers through straws was the key to making the wheels turn
  • It was important to keep the car as light as possible
  • Cups helped lift the motor high enough make bigger fan blades
  • Make sure the fan blades scoop the air
  • AA batteries weren't strong enough - we needed to use 9V's
The Go-Car was a difficult challenge. Not everyone was successful! But when we got it working, it was really exciting!
Go-Car Challenge
Watch our Go-Car Go
Keep Making!


Bubble Maker Challenge: What else can I do with a motor?

One of the first projects we start our makers off with is the Doodlebot. Also known as a scribble bot or an art bot, this is a fun project that uses the wobbly motion created from offsetting a motor to create fun doodles. But what else can you do with an Educators Pack of Doodlebots?


View full article →
October 15, 2015


Contest › Kits › Projects ›

Spooky October Sweepstakes

Win a Talking Stuffie kit in our Spooky October Sweepstakes! Leave a comment on our blog for a chance to win.

Our Talking Stuffie Kit

View full article →

Summer Camp: Cardboard Arcade Challenge

One of the things we did at camp this summer was a cardboard arcade challenge.

Early in the week, the 9-12 yr olds watched the Caine's Arcade video. This is a great video. Out of 4 camps worth of kids, only one of them had seen it before!

We spent the next couple of days working on various projects with motors and LEDs. I encouraged the kids to work on their plans for the games. Our camp was two 1/2 day sessions. One group was 9-12 years old, the other 6-8 years old. While I spent a 1/2 day making with one group, the others were out doing recreation activities with two awesome GNAG counselors. For the cardboard arcade challenge, the idea was for the older kids, the 9-12 year olds, to make the arcade games and host an arcade for the younger kids. 

Target Hitter. A cardboard arcade game with an automatic ball return and light up targets.

I was totally and completely blown away by the complexity of the games and how much care they took setting everything up.

I was primarily focused on making the games. And the games were impressive. We had water games, pinball games, ball throws, basketball games. Even spinning games of chance! The kids worked with rubber bands and angles and levers to get the movement they wanted. Some of them started introducing the tech we were working with earlier in the week.

A photo collage of a pinball game, a spinning game of chance, a different target game, a game where a ball has to get by a spinning fan, and a water game.

The games were awesome. But so was the prize table! The kids who were done their games first made prizes to give away to the little kids. They set up a structure and some rules about prizes, and even made tickets. (The second week I brought tickets in - mistake! It's more fun to make your tickets.)

The prize table

The younger kids made games too. We watched Caine's Arcade and they spent a shorter amount of time working on their games. Some games were simple - a cup, a spoon, and a ball. Some games got really complex. Motors were very popular!

A photo collage of the 6-8 yr old arcade games. Many involving getting a ball into a cup.

What I didn't expect was how long after camp the activity would stick with them. My first hint was this tweet: 

Which was followed by: 

And then I started hearing about Will's Arcade. Will was one of the older kids in the 6-8 year old camp. He's attended a few workshops with me before and exhibited his work at the GYA Science Hack we took part in. When Will's mom started emailing me a couple of weeks ago with pictures of Will's Arcade, I wasn't that surprised.

Will standing in front of his cardboard arcade.

But the cool thing was, he kept going! Will's has now been working on his arcade since camp, six weeks. He has it open on the weekend for customers. And he's made enough money to refill his prize wall - twice!

 The only problem is - it's getting colder. And soon Will's Mom and Dad are going to need to use their garage for their car.

Awesome job, Will! 

Another shot of Will's Cardboard Arcade, looking into the garage.

The 2015 Global Cardboard Challenge is October 10. You can find out more about the challenge, the Imagination Foundation, and what's going on in Ottawa that day at their website.


A Summer Project: Starting a YouTube Channel

The boys have been talking about starting a YouTube channel for ages. Both of them choose to spend most of their screen time on YouTube. They are usually doing research. Nanik likes fish videos (he loves The King of DIY, full of aquarium projects) and Hari splits his time between BookTubers, GMM and Cole and Marmalade. It's funny, this generation is growing up on video. I've always been better with words and reading. But both boys start their research on YouTube.

When school ends they always choose a couple of projects to work on during the summer. This summer one of the projects they chose was to work together on starting a YouTube channel for Maker Junior. I was more than happy to have them take this on. They obviously know more about this medium than I do. 

Through their involvement with Youth Ottawa, they discovered Youth Active Media. YAM runs multi-week programs during the school year. This summer they started one-week programs at various libraries and community centres around the city. Nanik took the program early in the summer. (You can see his video The Book Quest on YouTube.) Hari's just finished his week. (Hari's video is Searching for Sasquatch.) They spent several weeks researching camera equipment. Maker Junior provided the budget.

[Note on summer projects: I discovered, this summer, that if you ask your kids to do something, and you agree with what they're doing, you gotta provide a budget to go with it. ]

They worked hard to get the equipment ready for Maker Festival in Toronto. They wanted to interview people and ask them some questions they've been thinking about: "What is a maker?" and "Do makers have to use tech?" I am thrilled with the end result.

 Working on the video at the Maker Festival helped them meet new people and explore more of the event. Asking the questions started some great conversations! From my perspective, Mom's perspective, I thought this project helped them:

  • discover their strengths (So, um, Hari is a natural in front of the camera. Nanik loves research and equipment. Video editing software has been a challenge for both of them but Nanik is doing a great job of it so far!)
  • continue to build their research skills, with real world results 
  • gain confidence in their abilities to learn something new and apply it
  • reach out and meet a community of people

And they've only just begun! It's been a pretty fantastic beginning though. On their first day of filming, ever, they managed to get an interview with John Tory, Mayor of Toronto. What a scoop! And John Tory has my gratitude for gracefully sharing his tips for conducting a professional interview and providing thoughtful answers to their questions. And for signing their release form agreeing to appear in the video.

Making with Magnets: The 'gators

I was at an event this winter and the wonderful Phonesavanh Thongsouksanoumane from Agoralab gifted me with the Curt Gabrielson book Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff. This was a very timely gift, I was running out of renewals at the library! 

There's a section on magnets in the book and I thought it looked like fun. So I found a reasonably priced bag of magnets and took it in to my primary inventors workshop with a bunch of craft supplies. We had a lot fun! And so, I'd like to introduce, Attractigator and Repelligator.

I liked Repelligator the best. I like the way his jaws hovered open. But the kids were way more interested in Attractigator. They found it much more satisfying to have his jaws snap shut! 


June 03, 2015


Ideas › Kits › Projects ›

Quiz Cards: What happens next?

I love Quiz Cards. They are such a simple project. It's a simple circuit with an LED that lights up when you pick the right answer.

I first introduced them to a group of 9-12 year olds. They had a blast! They quickly figured out how to change the correct answer and had a great time making what they called "troll" questions. I was thrilled. By changing the circuit to change the answer, they were demonstrating a great working knowledge of circuits.

Then they wanted to add a red light. This consistently comes up in every group I work with. Now that they have the green light working, how can they add a red light for a wrong answer. No problem - I always have red LEDs on hand so the kids who finish first can give this a try. It's a bit tricky. And I don't hand out extra batteries to make it work. That's always the first request that comes up. (BTW I've tried conductive tape with this - I like conductive thread better. It's easier for the kids to change their answers.)


When I started introducing this project to the younger kids, ages 6-8, again I was surprised. Yes, it was harder to knot the conductive thread on the battery. (HINT: Practice tying knots first. I usually bring a ball of yarn and we practice tying knots before we start working.) But I almost never had to help with the circuit itself. They figured how to get it working themselves. For this age group, the circuit is a lot easier than writing the question. 

We started off the latest session of the GNAG Inventors Workshop for 9-12 yr olds making Quiz Cards. But a couple of weeks later, I put in two weeks for Game Design. I gave them a few weeks notice that it was coming and a few of them started working on designs. For the games, they could use batteries, red or green LEDs, and buzzers. A few of them started working on Operation-style games. And I also had a few really cool light up games.

This first one is called Help Me. The original idea was to have a person behind the board lighting up the different LEDs. Depending on which LED was lit, the player needed to come up with a cure for an ailment.

But we wanted to automate it. We didn't want to have someone hiding behind the board. So we came up with this. We made a circle of connections to the LEDs with paper fasteners. Then we cut out a circle of cardboard and made one slice of it conductive. (Yay, tin foil!) Then we connected the battery to the conductive "slice". Now when you spin the wheel, different LEDs light up.

This next game blew me away. This was one of the kids who started planning early. There are 12 green LEDs and 4 wire leads. One 3V battery. Not to mention imagination, dedication and focus. It all works exactly as expected.

 Yes - the tinfoil is part of the circuit too! Pretty impressive. 

All of this was inspired by one simple project. Want to get started? You can pick up a Quiz Card kit in our online store. They're also part of the Makers Workshop. Contact me directly if you need enough for a class - I have bulk pricing for educators.

February 03, 2015


Ideas › Projects ›

More things to do with the MaKey MaKey

As I mentioned, the MaKey MaKey is one of my favorite tools for working with kids to integrate the physical and virtual worlds. Here are some of my favourite things to do and some areas to explore:
  • Make controllers for their favourite games. For example, Minecraft. I usually provide cardboard, recyclables and tinfoil for an activity like this. I encourage big body movements - like footsteps. Here is a sample lesson plan on doing this: http://educade.org/lesson_plans/use-makey-makey-to-design-a-videogame-controller. Create a game in Scratch and design the controllers for it. I had some grade 6's last year who designed a two player game and made controllers. Here's a photo. In the photo, the player on the left is holding a controller, the white wire is earth. 
  • Create a physical game and add sounds to it. For example, an Operation Style game. We've used Scratch to assign sounds to keystrokes. Scratch has a big sound library or you can record your own sounds. This is an example of operation style game we made that looks like a monster: http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/24954105/#editor. We've also used soundplant to map sounds to keystrokes. You can use Audacity to capture sounds as well.
  • I love making musical instruments. This Guitar has inspired many middleschool students. I was fascinated by the Ma Ma Clarinet. We had a middleschool student who made a flute this year. I have student right now working on a drum set. The music teacher at the school mentioned the possibility of making instruments for people with accessibility problems. That is an area I would like to explore.
  • Another area I am interested in investigating is assistive technology. The MaKey MaKey gives us the ability to make a new interface to the computer. So what kind of interface would you use if you don't have full use of your fingers? Or can't use a mouse?

How to safely take things apart

If you've been following along for a while, you know that at Maker Junior we love to take things apart. Taking something apart is a fantastic way to learn how it works. Seeing a part in context provides great clues to understanding its function. If you're going to drop something off with electronics recycling, why not take the time to take it apart first? When we take things apart, we are always focused on safety. It is Safety First when we select what we're going to take apart, when we prepare the pieces to take apart, and when we get down to work. View full article →