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August 30, 2015

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Summer Reading: STEM Fun with Ooblek of Dr. Seuss, MaKey MaKey, and Scratch

Hour of CodeThis year’s Collaborative Summer Reading theme is STEM-related. STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) is making its way into library programs via makerspaces, Hour of Code, Teen Tech Week, and digital creation programs. Unfortunately, some librarians are still unsure how to integrate tech into their library’s activities. By using kitchen science and food-related activities, programming becomes much more relevant to kids’ everyday life. And besides, who doesn’t like to play with their food?

You don’t have to be a tech wizard or Bill Nye to make science fun for teens. Non-tech options for programming mirror classic science fair project options: baking soda and vinegar explosions, red cabbage pH testing, and non-Newtonian fluids (more commonly known as goop, gak, or the Oobleck of Dr. Suess).  A basic chemistry experiment that is fun for kids of any age is to make ice cream in coffee cans or zip-top plastic bags. There are several recipes for DIY ice cream, but the basic process is to mix milk, sugar, vanilla, and any other flavors or food coloring in a small bag/can, add ice and rock or kosher salt to a larger bag/can, set the smaller container in the larger, seal tightly, and shake or roll for 5-15 minutes.

Many people have made homemade play dough, but how many of them have made conductive play dough? Regular store-bought play dough does conduct electricity, and will work fine for most basic circuitry experiments, but modifying traditional play dough recipes with the addition of salt, cream of tartar, a little vegetable oil, and cooking over heat gives a dough that is easy to work with and will conduct electricity much better. Squishy Circuits is a project developed by AnnMarie Thomas, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, designed to provide fun, creative ways for students to experiment with circuits and electricity.

Makey MakeyAnother great use for conductive play dough is to incorporate it into MaKey MaKey projects. Billed as “the invention kit for everyone,” MaKey MaKey is a printed circuit board that looks like an old-school Nintendo controller. It is usually sold as a kit that includes the board, a USB cord, alligator clips, and jumper wires. The MaKey MaKey is used by connecting the USB cord to a computer, and then attaching conductive material to the inputs on the board via alligator clips. Like the original Nintendo, MaKey MaKey has inputs for all arrow keys (up, down, left, right), and instead of having an “A” or “B” button, it has inputs for the space bar and mouse click. Once the conductive materials are attached to the board’s inputs, you will connect to the board via the “earth” and then complete the circuit. If you haven’t played with a MaKey MaKey before, they are FUN! Makey Makey pianoAt our workshop, we used clementines and bananas to play an online piano. This is one of the most common demonstrations of the MaKey MaKey, usually done entirely with bananas, (we used what we had on hand) that is based on a Scratch program written by students at MIT.

Scratch is a free online programming language developed by MIT that allows you to create games or other programs with drag-and-drop commands. For our Hour of Code event, we made a jumbo-size Nintendo controller with play dough, a pipe cleaner, and our MaKey MaKey, and played Mario and PacMan via online simulators. At another of our workshops, we had a contest to see who could come up with the most out-of-the-box, yet conductive material to use. We have also had each person hold an alligator clip and they became the “keys” in the piano. The possibilities for experimenting and prototyping are endless!

The views expressed are my own and in no way reflect the views, opinions, or policies of my employer.

Resource List:

Ashley Kazyaka, Library Development Consultant Support, Colorado Department of Education

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