Toys from Trash – 100’s of cheap and easy activities.

This is a wonderful science education site from India.   There are literally several hundred easy little toys to make from paper and other scraps.   He does not go deeply into the science of each however you, the trained professional, could easily have them modify different variables and you have an instant STEM, STEAM, or EDP activity.

Many of them also have short videos.   Don’t overlook the opportunity to teach cultural diversity as the language, etc are slightly different from here in rural USA.

With several hundred activities you could literally have one per day – as if you had THAT kind of time!

Appropriate ages?  Use your professional judgement.  Most are intended for upper elementary but with the proper presentation I have used some up to grades 9, 10 and even in college!   When working with the little ones though be aware of safety hazards.

Make a Fossilized Rainbow ….fast!

You’ve seen rainbows in the water before… for example, a drop of oil on water, or an oily smudge floating near the shore.   Simon Field has a quick and easy way to make such a rainbow permanent – using water, paper and a drop of fingernail polish.   He also has a great explanation for how this works.   Besides the obvious value in the science of light and astronomy this little activity can be used as another bridge between arts and the sciences.  I’d love to hear some comments about how you might use this.

Put Put Boat, the miniature Steam Engine

It’s called the pop-pop boat, the put-put boat or putt-putt boat because that’s the sound it makes, as it putters around the bathtub or pond.   That is also how you can search for images, plans and videos on the internet.  Put-put boats have been around for generations.

Basically, you build a small boat-shaped model.  This can be as complex or as simple as you wish.  Then, you put a tea light or votive candle in it with the engine.  The engine is simply a piece of soft copper 1/8″ tubing with a single loop or two in it.  Above is one made from a soft plastic bottle and here is a fancier one


Let some water run into the tubing, float your boat and light your candle, and wait for it to putt-putt about.

How’s it work?  Here are the principles..  Gases expand when heated but liquids do not.  Gases contract mightily when cooled but liquids do not.  Copper conducts heat.  Now, when the candle heats the copper loop (with some water in it already) the water turns to steam, the steam pushes out, the boat makes one “putt”.  (Newtons’s 3rd law of motion).  When the coil is out of steam, the aft part cools, water is sucked back up, where it is heated, and the process repeats.

These toys are cheap but more fun to build yourself.  The most important trick is safety around an open flame (fire extinguisher within arm’s reach?), followed by using copper tubing instead of other materials.

I have used these from 7th grade on up (way up!).  You can also have regattas or boat races!  The trick here is to have them go in a straight line – that can be a contest in itself.  I have even put a small wading pool in the classroom for a week’s worth of put-put boats and small sailboats races and experiments.   Do NOT use the inflatable kind!  Have a small pump to drain the water into the sink drain when you are finished and you are good to go.  Mop up your own mess and have chocolate for the janitorial staff to make up for the stress they quietly nourished while watching your pool for the week.

You can quickly find your own links but here are some of my favorites:  How-to, plus he sells boats and parts.     Very nice plans for cutting and building these boats using aluminum pop cans.   A little more complex though.   A complete site for putt-putt aficionados, complete with galleries, etc.  A pop-pop boat page.


Franklin’s Bells

Use static electricity to get a couple of aluminum pop cans ringing.   It gets its high-voltage from a sheet of aluminum foil taped in front of a TV set.

OK folks, this one is scary, but that’s part of the thrill.  The voltage is high but the current is so low it probably won’t hurt you, much like a really good spark from walking on a carpet.    It might also ruin the TV.  I know, I’ve done that before.   But hey, what else can you do with an old CRT television?  It won’t bring $5 at the garage sale.

You will need to set up two cans, one wired to ground and one wired to a sheet of aluminum foil which is taped over the TV screen.  An LCD TV will not work; it does not produce the high voltage needed.

Like most of these, getting it adjusted so it works right is the tricky part.  Once it works the pendulum will oscillate back and forth REALLY FAST and ring the bells.   The process of getting it adjusted will quite possibly cause a few harmless sparks to your own self, much to the great glee of the children nearby.   A little showmanship here can’t hurt.

Benjamin Franklin actually made a similar device that he used to let him know that there was enough lightning outside to begin his experiments.  He got very lucky though with his experiments.   When other scientists tried to duplicate his work a number of them got electrocuted by the lightning.   Your version will be much safer.

Look at the pictures.  Search the internet for images, videos and instructions for “Franklin’s Bell”  or “Franklin Bells”.   Look at this example of instructions, then build your own.    And yes, there even is a version using electric flyswatters for the voltage source.

My favorite image of this is at

Fun with electric motors – 2

Here is an even easier, quicker motor to build.  It is more for older kids though, and safety goggles are absolutely necessary!   This little sucker takes less than a minute to assemble and gets up to thousands of RPM’s in a hurry.  If it comes apart (and it easily can) at that speed it might send that woodscrew flying, hence the goggles.

The critical part is the little neodymium magnet.

You usually have to give it a spin to get it started.

Look at this link for instructions, then search the internet for some more pictures, videos, or  instructions.    Search for “world’s simplest electric motor”


They are so easy to build, you can almost do it from the picture alone.


Fun with electric motors – 1

There are lots of ways you can make a simple electric motor.   Lots of them do not work.   The best one I have found is called “Beakman Motor”, name after the character on Bill Nye.   One good example of how to build it is at

Search the internet for images and plans for the Beakman Motor and that will help you design your own.  Keep a couple of tricks in mind:

a) Use a regular battery holder, like you can buy at Radio Shack.  Using a board with nails (see the picture) often leads to failure and nothing dampens a science activity with kids like one that does not work.

b) Pay real attention to stripping the wire.  Wire is coated with either enamel or plastic, and it won’t conduct electricity until the coating is removed.  In many of these Beakmans, the end of the coil (called the “armature) have the coating removed on one side but not the other.  That is critical to making it work.

c) Use a larger battery.  Whether you pick a D, C, or even AAA they all have the same voltage; about 1.5 volts.   What you need is more current, which is not the same.   The D and C cells provide more current.  Be aware, these little motors do eat through batteries in a hurry.   Have fun!

My favorite picture from our game camera so far.   A baby raccoon meets the local feral cat.  Neither wants to tangle with the other, but neither one knows how to get out of it, either!  So they just circled each other and slowly backed away.

Maps of Ecosystems

Very nice maps of North America by region or by states, in a variety of different levels of detail, are available from

If you ask nicely you can sometimes get a large classroom copy mailed to you.


One example of how to use this is to post them side-by-side with a geology map of the same area, or a precipitation map and have the students looks for similarities and patterns in the distribution of vegetation types and the surface geology.  They can also look for patterns in the distribution of vegetation types and the amount of precipitation, or of any other weather characteristic you might be able to generate maps of.  Shown is Oklahoma but these are available for most states and regions.

Texas Science Educators conferences coming up!


The 2012 CAST (Texas Science Teachers Association) meeting is now in the history books.  I know one booth gave out 6,000 catalogs so there were at least that many teachers present.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this kind of event will be a life-changer for you.  Whatever level you teach or hope to teach there is something about being a part of a HUGE group of the best of the best to get a person excited and energized and full of new ideas!

The best part for us Northerners (Oklahomans, as seen by Texas) is that there are several such events coming up near us.  The future CAST meetings are:

Nov. 7-9, Houston (OK, so Houston is not so close – but think what kinds of field trips there will be with Galveston and NASA so close)

Nov 20-22, 2014, Dallas

Nov 12-14, Fort Worth

And… drumroll…. the BEST of the best of the best – the NSTA National Science Teachers national conference this spring in Dallas, April 11-14 .  If you can only make one day, do it!  It will be unimaginably big.

Free stuff! Great (free) Training!

Oh, and you will get to have the best students and good job security as a Chemistry or Physics teacher!  Here’s the offer for summer training at NSU at Talequah:

NSU Chemistry and Physics Academy

Northeastern State University (NSU) has been awarded a statewide grant from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to increase the number of certified Chemistry and Physics teachers in the state of Oklahoma. The NSU Chemistry and Physics Academy (NSU-CAPA) will provide research-based professional development for certified science teachers who want to become certified to teach Chemistry and Physics. The two-year program will focus on teacher knowledge, teacher practice, and student achievement in Chemistry and Physics.

The program will recruit 20 science teachers statewide and will include a one-week summer program on the Tahlequah campus of NSU. Housing will be provided as needed. The program will use the Blackboard system to help develop a statewide Community of Practice. Participants will conduct outreach activities at the Oklahoma Science Teacher Association annual meeting at the University of Central Oklahoma and at the Northeastern Oklahoma Mathematics and Science Teacher Association annual meeting at NSU. These meetings will provide opportunities for other science teachers to interact with program participants and will provide participants networking opportunities with experienced Chemistry and Physics teachers. Schools will be involved in determining the implementation of the program, including the date of the summer program, the specific content of the summer program and follow-up activities, and the implementation of program objectives.

The benefits to teacher participants include a Venier LabQuest 2 and the following probes: temperature probe, motion detector, pH probe (Additional probes and Lab Pro Software will be supplied the second year.), a modest stipend, room and board for eight participants, lunches, thirty-five hours of professional development during the summer, online follow-up activities and support during the academic year, and funds to take the OSAT in Chemistry and in Physics at the conclusion of the program. Please see additional details and benefits on the following pages.

To become a partner in this program, the appropriate school administrator needs to sign the Memorandum of Agreement that can be found in the enclosed pages. Please sign on the line that identifies your school. Additional details concerning the responsibilities of all partners and teacher participants are included as well. After signing the page, please FAX it to 918-458-9693. SignedMemorandum of Agreement sheets are due by Wednesday, November 28th. If you have questions, please call the Program Director, Dr. April Adams at 918-444-3819 or e-mail her More information, including a letter to the principal is attached.