Cabin fever from the recent ice storm?

Oooh Nooo, another day of being stuck indoors for the younger kids (they can only be outside for so long) and you don’t anticipate another day of video games and LOUD tv shows…. so on Skye’s suggestion I’ve made of list of links to 100’s of great and fun science and arts activities. Most are short. Some will take you into the Christmas break. It’s too long for here so I’ve put it on my *new* Facebook page called sciencecabinet and crossposted it below.    Hundreds of Activities in science and in the arts for kids (and their parents) who are stuck inside… Links of links from India. Each project has nice pictures and an easy description. English is of course the national language of India but you will find some unusual words or usages – that’s part of the fun of it! From math to arts to science of all kinds. Start with the link “Toys from Trash” to get a feel for it. Short science activities from the Mother of All Hands-On Musems, the Exploratorium in San Fransisco (OKC’s Omniplex was inspired by the Exploratorium). Each activity has a description, an explanation, and usually a video to show how to do it. Toymaker site with good photos and more – of simple toys that have a sort of science angle to them. Broken into two age groups – elementary and middle school (which includes adults). Webmaster is a middle-school science teacher. More on the weird side, like “unwise microwave experiments”, but great for older husband-types. Kids will enjoy watching Dad play. List of links to more kids at-home science projects links. Some of these projects are more long-term, like making mosaics. They are all very good and are collected from around the world. Shows you the tricks on how to perform 60 classic, basic science demonstrations and do them so they actually work. He sells materials for some really cool demos, but he also has a series of bell-ringers on video. Search his site for experiments, or search youtube for “Steve Spangler Sick Science” for the bellringers. Very positive, upbeat guy who uses science as a tool to teach positive thinking. Most of these take much longer, and are more keyed to those interested in environmental science and/or using a microscope. Bill has a few projects, but those are very well explained. More out-of-doors activities than not. More projects, most of them long-term but there are some good ones here. Air cannons, marshmallow guns (automatic of course) and more!

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!