Science Toy Maker

This guy is a middle school teacher.  His site has about 40 carefully-selected science toys that can be easily made for cheap or even free.  Each one has instructions, images, and most have videos and animations.   Everything is explained which makes YOU look like the expert!

Class-opener demos for any age (almost) from the Exploratorium

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is literally the mother of the modern hands-on inquiry musems (we have five of them here in Oklahoma!).

They have oodles of resources for science teachers and here is one:  Over 100 quick demonstrations and activities.   Some require advance  preparation and some do not. They call them “Snacks”.

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.

Oklahoma’s Environmental Riches – More Links

We will be having a live conversation on KCNP – Chickasaw Community Radio, 89.5 FM on Wednesday, Jan 14.  You can also listen to it on the web where the show will be archived.   Full details are at their website at

In anticipation of the broadcast I will be posting some links here.   Don’t forget: there are plenty of Oklahoma maps to be found here on my blog too!  Everything Oklahoma that can be mapped – geology, climate, vegetation, just search this blog for “maps”.  Of course I would be very excited to hear about any others that I should add.   Just submit your comment and I’ll get right after it.

Winter Birdfeeding in Oklahoma, here is an article in Oklahoma Outdoors, 2012 by Rachel Bradley, that describes some of the birds in our area and how to attract them.  It also has links for Oklahoma birdwatchers.

Oklahoma’s rich biodiversity:   Wikipedia says ” Oklahoma contains 10 distinct ecological regions, more per square mile than in any other state by a wide margin”.  This delightful little article then goes to to describe each of these regions, with links to most of them.

Oklahoma’s Rich Biodiversity:  Talking points


Herps:    “Oklahoma is rich in reptiles and amphibians, ranking third of all fifty states in number of species”.


Approximately 80 species are identified in Oklahoma.

Birds: There are currently 417 species of birds recognized in Oklahoma.  Compare this to 639 in Texas with 5 times the landmass, and merely 113 in HawaiiThe Oklahoma checklist of birds is at   A major website for birders in Oklahoma is

Mammals:  Approximately 101 native species of mammals in the state.

A working checklist of the identified and probable mammals of Oklahoma,  from UCO at Chickasha can be found at

A more detailed list of mammals, with a paragraph or two about each one and a nice reference section is available at

The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History has a mammal list and an easy key which is posted at

The current favorite book is the classic hardcover  “Mammals of Oklahoma” by William Caire and Bryan P. Glass.

Fishes:  There are around 175 to 180 species of fishes in Oklahoma.  The differences in numbers usually reflects changes in how certain species are classified.

“Most anglers are aware that our state is home to one of the most diverse and productive fisheries in the nation.”  “A Field Guide to Fishes of Oklahoma”, pub. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife.

One list is the Wikipedia species list at

An older, foundational list and description is found at

A current and favorite book is “Fishes of Oklahoma” by Miller and Robison, 2004.  It is available in hardcover or paperback and is full of color and B&W drawings, descriptions and maps.


Butterflies:  A list of the butterflies of Oklahoma

Crawdads – 28 to 30 species of crayfish in Oklahoma.  A species list is at

A full 57-page document with a description of each one is at


Over 1000 square miles of water.

55,646 miles of shoreline: 2,000 miles more than the Atlantic and the Gulf coasts combined.

Water use information and facts are at


Oklahoma’s geology varies from the most ancient, precambrian rocks to the sand and gravel washed out from the end of the last ice age merely 10,000 years ago.  It include the  ancient, Pre-cambrian granite in the Wichita Mountains to the southwest, more modern  Cenozoic deposits in much of the state, with dry, salty Permian deposits in the northwest, extensive Cretaceous limestone deposits in the south and carboniferous mountains in the East.  Much of this can be seen crammed altogether in the Arbuckle Mountains near Davis and Ardmore.


Opening the Refridgerator Door – can it be science?

I got this idea from Robert Krampf, the “Happy Scientist” (more about Robert later).

So you open the freezer, get out some ice cream, and close the door.   That’s easy.  Then you open the door again to put the ice back, and it’s harder to open!

The science is easy.  When you open it the first time the cold air falls out, and warm, lighter air flows in.  When you close the door that thin warm air starts to contract.   The outside air is pushing the door closed, with more pressure.  It will stay that way until the pressures equalize.

You can try it again and again, but don’t forget to eat some ice cream each time.  Sort of like a drinking game but for the sedentary and mature.

Robert Krampf has lots of these on his website.  You can sign up for his free weekly take-home experiment, or for a small fee you can subscribe to the entire access, videos and all.


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