Science Friday

the eggbotWhile I certainly do my fair share of fiction-focused programs, I consider non-fiction programs to be (dare I say it?) just as much fun. And for today’s adventure in non-fiction, we’re talking science!

We’ve offered some interesting science programs in the past. Take, for example, the Chemistry of Magic, in which we demonstrated the real science behind seemingly magical reactions. Or this Rube Goldberg engineering program. Or even this humble preschool story time that featured the life stages of a butterfly. This week, to get a healthy dose of vitamin “S,” I dropped in on my friends at scienceSeeds.

scienceSeeds team

Team scienceSeeds: John, Michal, and Lindsay

ScienceSeeds is a local science enrichment center for grades K-8 . It was founded in 2008 by Michal Melamede. While raising her children, she noticed a lack of hands-on, age-appropriate, science and engineering opportunities. So Michal decided to establish a business that would encourage curiosity, exploration, discovery, and scientific thinking.

Visiting scienceSeeds is always fun. Especially when they let me play with their toys! Here are a few of their current favorites. Perhaps one or two will inspire a little science at your next program?


lamp 2I have to start with this one because I’m such a hot glue devotee. This is an LED lamp with hot glue stick shades! It was designed by John to demonstrate circuits, fiber optics and light behavior. He used a hot glue gun to hollow out the bottom of 5 hot glue sticks, and then rigged up a series of little LED bulbs on a simple circuit. Everything was attached to a foam core base, and then the base was wrapped with decorative duct tape. I love it.


butterflyThis is another project designed by scienceSeeds staff to teach hydraulics. Using two water-filled syringes and tubing, the butterfly lifts its wings up and down. The syringes are from a medical supply company, the tubing is from a science catalog, the base is wood, the wings are made from foam board, and the butterfly’s body is a clothespin. A little duct tape here and there and you’re ready to go. They also have versions with an owl, a bat, and a dump truck!


star boxOne final project from scienceSeeds’ workshop! This one demonstrates how simple machines and mechanisms work. Turn the crank and the movement of the wooden gears and rods causes the star to spin. The base is made from foam board, the sticks are bamboo skewers, and the gears are little wooden circles purchased from Michael’s craft store. A little hot glue and duct tape seals the deal.  And just look at this sweet double gear version!

bee boxMark my words…I’m GOING to find a way to work a foam board automataun into a story time project. It shall be done. Oh yes, it shall.


the eggbotThis is a recent acquisition at the workshop. It’s the EggBot, an art robot that can draw on round surfaces like eggs, light bulbs, ping pong balls, ornaments, etc. It hooks up to your computer and, with some lovely freeware, will take a design or image and put it right on your object! scienceSeeds is using it to teach CNC and automated design. Here are a couple test subjects…

lightbulbsAlas, an EggBot kit like the one above retails for $219, so it’s well out of my budget. The company that sells it is called Evil Mad Science LLC. Hah hah hah! Minions not included.


vacuumThis is a modification of a cardboard kit the staff tested. They found that a 1 liter bottle and plastic propeller worked much better than a cardboard tube and propeller. The foam board base holds a simple circuit that connects to a motor. As the motor spins the propeller, it creates a wind tunnel in the bottle that sucks up pieces of confetti. It’s the perfect way to teach engineering and air flow. It’s wildly popular with the kids too.


3-doodlerIt might be a little hard to see this in the photo, but this device lets you do 3-dimentional drawings! That thin green line you see isn’t drooping down from the tip of the doodler. It’s rising up from the piece of paper and standing on its own! You insert little plastic sticks of various colors into one end of the “pen.” The plastic emerges in liquid form out the other end, but quickly hardens. With some practice, you can “draw” amazing 3D creations like these:

popcafe everestrobotscienceSeeds likes to use the 3-Doodler for their 3D modeling workshops, sometimes in conjunction with their 3D printer. A 3-Doodler pen retails for about $100, and additional plastic sticks are approximately $10 for 25. I noticed that the pen makes a loud whirring noise while being operated (a little louder than an electric toothbrush). The staff also mentioned that after extended periods of use, you can smell burning plastic. The smell bothers some kids. But those things aside, it’s a cool little drawing tool.

I’ll leave you with a photo of scienceSeeds’ classroom space. Look at the cheerful red cabinets! The under-the-counter adjustable storage! The cool green chairs! Now imagine it packed full of kids creating, discovering, building, and innovating. Fantastic.

room shot

Miraculous Mechanism

miraculous mechanismIf you have a hankering to create an old-fashioned, coin-operated, yet somehow completely modern mechanism that dispenses a secret key, you’ve come to the right place! For this particular model, the coin goes in, hits a marble, which then rolls down the various tubes, dings two bells, and nudges a mini Altoid container out the bottom.

mechanism markedMost of the projects you see on this blog are from Tiger Tales, our weekly story time for 3-5 year-olds. But we do have another weekly story time for 6 – 8 year-olds called To Be Continued. Basically, I read from a chapter book over a series of weeks, and then we do a project (or activity, or field trip) when we finish the book. This project is from that program.

We read Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & A Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans. Ten year-old Stuart Horten, recently relocated to the town of Beeton, is steeling himself for a long, boring summer of nothing (topped off by a set of annoying triplets next door). But everything changes when he discovers a hidden message and a cache of old coins from his Great-Uncle Tony Horten. Great-Uncle Tony, a renowned magician, stage illusionist, and creator of fabulous contraptions, mysteriously disappeared in 1940, leaving behind a secret workshop. If Stuart can follow the clues and solve the puzzles, he’ll find the workshop!

You’ll need:

  • A box (or box top) that can stand up on its own and has some depth – my box was 16.5″ tall, 12″ wide, and 6″ deep.
  • A box cutter
  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Paper towel tubes
  • A selection of sparkle stems
  • A few sheets of tagboard (or other super stiff paper)
  • 1 coin
  • 1 mini Altoid tin (about 2.5″ long)
  • 1 marble
  • 2 jingle bells
  • A couple pieces of mirror board (optional)
  • 1 mechanism template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Markers for decorating (I used metallic markers, but regular work too)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Hot glue

During this project, I stressed – repeatedly – that testing and failing is part of designing and engineering. We tested, and tested, and then tested some more. There were a lot of escaped marbles rolling on the floor, but there were no lost tempers! Also, some kids opted to use just the marble for the mechanism (as opposed to putting the coin in juuuuust right).

The only prep I did for this project was to use a box cutter to cut the coin slot and the dispenser slot. I also helped with the very first step – setting up the initial platform for the marble. The platform had to hold the marble steady, but also allow it to roll free when it was nudged by a coin or finger. With that in place, I turned them loose with the supplies and circulated around the tables, assisting when needed, hot glue gun ready.

If you can get it, I highly recommend mirror board to add some flash and fullness to your mechanism. I buy mine online at Discount School Supply.

mirrorI found a little textured gold paper in the Bling Bin, so I added it to the top of my key box. And don’t forget to enclose the key from the template!

key boxThe template artwork was created by Princeton student artist Aliisa Lee. Originally, it was used for a Steampunk hat decorating activity that was part of a larger Journey to the Centre of the Earth event. I mostly used Aliisa’s gears for the mechanism template, but if you’d like to see more of her artwork in action, take a look at this dapper gent!

steampunk hatIn May 2015, I interviewed Lissa Evans about her fantastic books. If you’d like to hear it, click here! If you’d like to see the project we did for the sequel, Horten’s Incredible Illusions, click here and prepared to be astounded and amazed!