Using children’s books as inspiration is always a good place to start when you’re looking to breath new life into past STEAM projects or create new Design Thinking prompts. This past week in our weekly Homeschooler class, we did just that! Fall is definitely one of our favorite seasons around here, and with so many great fall-themed children’s books, it was easy to choose a few to incorporate into our weekly Homeschooler’s class. Read on to see how we used the modern children’s classics Creepy Pair of Underwear and Room on the Broom to tie literacy to some fun STEAM activities!
CREEPY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR
For our first activity, we read Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Peter Brown. This is definitely a crowd pleaser with it’s stunning black and white illustrations speckled with the fluorescent green franken-underwear throughout the pages. The story focuses on Jasper Rabbit and his new pair of spooky underwear that seem to have a mind of their own, moving around his room and showing up in unexpected places. This initially causes fear in Jasper, but by the story’s end, Jasper learns to appreciate his spooky underwear for the greenish glow they create in his room that help him get over his fear of the dark.
After we read the story, our homeschoolers, who ranged from ages 4 to 9, were given the challenge to create their own ghoulishly green moving Franken Noodle out of a piece of green pool noodle, a dollar store electric toothbrush, and a simple circuit made from a disk battery and LED light. The kids first pushed the toothbrushes into the pool noodle pieces and then used felt pieces and various metal hardware to animate their creation. We then used flat-head roofing nails to poke into the bottom of the pool noodle creating space between the pool noodle and a flat surface on which it would stand.This allowed us to add the LED light by gently pushing it up into the bottom hole of the noodle. The result was a ghoulishly green glow that reflected off the flat surface similar to the scary pair of underwear in the book! The kids had a blast watching their “franken noodles” dance around the table, plus they make an awesome bedside night light!
- Green pool noodle cut into 9-12 inch sections
- Dollar store electric toothbrush
- Disk battery and LED lights
- 1 inch roofing nails with large flat heads
- Felt pieces and hardware to decorate
Primarily, this activity can be tied to the Law of Conservation which states that the amount of energy in the universe is constant or energy is neither created nor destroyed, just transferred from one form to another. In our Franken Noodles, you can follow the energy that starts from the chemical potential energy stored in the toothbrush’s AA battery. This potential energy gets converted to electrical energy when the electric toothbrush is turned on creating a closed circuit. This initiates the small motor housed within the toothbrush to turn, thus converting the energy into mechanical, vibrational, and sound forms. This ultimately results in the the pool noodle dancing around the table…kinetic energy at it’s spookiest!
The kids can better visualize this if you carefully take one of the toothbrushes apart to reveal the small hobby motor hidden within. Have the kids find the conductive materials that connect the battery, switch, and motor. The motors in the toothbrush use an off-center bearing which generates a wobble in the motion when the axle is turned. The inertia of the unbalanced motor creates the different forms of kinetic energy, which when used as intended, helps to mechanically break up the food particles in-between your teeth. In our franken-noodle hack, we use this inertia to make our noodles dance!
ROOM ON THE BROOM
For our second activity, we started by reading Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. This book really has it all and the kids love the clever rhyming and memorable characters . It touches on themes of friendship, inclusion, sharing, teamwork, and design thinking, which makes for a perfect post-read engineering activity! At the stories end, the characters have to work together to magically create a new broom to replace the one that has broken. They end up using empathy for each character to design a great broom that takes everyones’ needs into consideration. The cat and dog get comfy seats up front with a headlight so they can read and see what’s ahead. The bird gets a tall illuminated perch right behind the witch’s hat to protect her from the wind, and the frog gets a working shower and tub connected to the cauldron to ensure his vulnerable amphibian skin stays moist. It’s empathy-driven design at it’s best, and perfect for the engineering activity that followed…design and make your own broom!
After looking at some of the brooms at our studio and observing how they were constructed, we ventured out to our lovely garden to collect things we wanted to use for our own personal brooms. We found some long bamboo poles that had been donated to make outside forts and also uncovered some old bamboo fencing that had been cast aside destined for the trash collection. We decided as a group that these would be perfect materials for the base structure of the brooms. We cut the larger bamboo sticks in the makerspace using the miter saw, and used garden shears to cut the bamboo fence into smaller 1 foot by 2 feet pieces. Using teamwork, students secured the bamboo sticks to the smaller bamboo fencing pieces using floral wire and floral tape. Students then got to be as creative as they wanted by adding found garden foliage and art pieces to make their brooms unique and specific to their needs.
We hope these fantastic Fall STEAM activities have inspired you to get out, get creative, and start making stuff! Please leave any questions or comments below, and be sure to follow our blog and other social media platforms to keep abreast of all the creativity spilling out of our labs!