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Hotchalk Global

news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Building Your Own Science Equipment

With the mid summer time coming into view most of us are up to our ears in home projects and if you are like me you may need a break from those painting, plastering, sanding, and cleaning tasks. I needed a break and like so many years before I will find some sort of science equipment to build. This year it is the bubble wall and the smoke ring launcher. There are so many possibilities beyond that.

The idea for the smoke ring launcher came from a mailing from Steve Spangler. It involves a 5 gallon (I used a larger one) trash can, a plastic sheet (I recycled my old shower curtain when I put on a new one…another summer task), and a bungee cord. With a round 7 inch hole cut in the bottom of the can and the plastic wrapped around the top end and secured with the bungee I am ready to go. I will stockpile a few smoke bombs from this 4th of July and with less than 15 minutes I have a science demonstration tool. I will use it to teach a bit about fluid dynamics and perhaps when the kids do an experiment about how the shape of the roof will protect or launch it in high winds. The trash can experiment can be found at the Steve Spangler site.

The wind experiments are at this site:

The Exploratorium has a bubble wall in which a bit of PVC pipe transforms bubble solution into an amazing wall of soap film. The idea is to use PVC pipe to construct a stand that will support two smaller pipes that can be lifted out of a soap solution on a simple vertical track made of string so that the soap film will stretch and form across the two pipes and between the two string tracks. This is like a giant stand that will function like the old drinking straws and string bubble blower at the “Bizarre” site:

I am thinking I will use some of the elbow fittings for the support feet of this contraption and 3 foot lengths of 2” PVC pipe for the frame. I will try to load up a photo of the frame when I finish it. If anyone has made on feel free to post. This is a work in progress.

Lastly I will be making some conductivity testers. These devices are a bit expensive from the supply houses but they are easy to make and can be used to test the conductivity of various solutions. This is some great science and some inexpensive technology for the students to use for inquiry.

Should anyone need more simple and less time consuming builds there are a few sites with instructions for everything from water prisms to toys that teach forces and motions.

The list of things to do with your summer time is endless. I think that we all could benefit from some time that allows us to have some fun and creative batteries. The benefit of these builds is that you have a readymade lesson for the school year. That always saves me a little stress. Want to encourage you to spread the wealth too. If you find a piece of equipment that is easy to build and it becomes useful in teaching science then schedule another build and invite some other teachers to your backyard or deck for a little lunch and a group build. In my city I have each colleague bring a dish for lunch and one person picks up all the materials. Each person pays for their own materials and then leaves with a science toy or gizmo built and some great discussed activities to use for the next year. One year one teacher brought a laptop and typed up the lessons as we brainstormed. She e-mailed the documents to us later that week and I began the year with the device, the lessons and worksheets to use with the device and a great appreciation for my organized friends in teaching.

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