Makers Series 2 Session 4 – Simple Motors

For our last session of Winter Makers we built simple, electro-magnetic motors. Since we explored batteries and how they work in our last series with the Lemon Battery Project, it seemed like a great next step for the kids to take.


Our motors were a essentially built from these instructions from Make Magazine (I love those guys!) but with a few small changes. Rather than masking tape, we used electrical tape. I’ve been trying to instill some basic generalities when dealing with electrical things, even if they don’t matter for a particular project. For example, when we made Brush Bots, you don’t really have to connect black to black and red to red, but we did so that they got into the habit. We’ve used electrical tape for our projects in the past, so we went with that this time. Also we used D batteries instead of AA, easier for little hands to wrap the wire around bigger batteries. And finally, instead of trying to bend paperclips, we used large safety pins, when taped to the battery openable side down, the small loops at the top make a great base for the wire to rest in.


per child you will need:

1 magnet

1 battery (D cell)

8 inch piece of electrical tape

Copper wire


2 safety pins

Wrap the wire several times around the battery. It helps to have some three foot lengths pre-cut for the kids. Carefully slip the coil off the battery and wrap the tails around it to hold it together. The tails should extend out about an inch and should be directly across from one another so that they balance well. Sand one tail lightly all the way around, then sand the other tail just on the top side, this creates the on/off that makes the coil spin.

Tape the safety pins to either side of the battery, openable ends down, using the electrical tape. Suspend the coil on the pins by threading the tails through the holes in the safety pins.

Finally, place the magnet on the center of the battery, just under the coil, and give the coil a spin. Test different spots on the battery for the magnet, and different angles for the coil, to see what works best. If it’s all balanced correctly, it should spin for a good while before slowing down.

A word of caution, once assembled, these things can get hot so it’s worth it to tape the battery to the table to help avoid burned finger tips. It’s hard to get the coil of wire perfectly balanced so it doesn’t spin indefinitely, but it will go for a ways and you can see it trying to keep going once it looses steam, which is pretty cool in itself. It’s a great opportunity to explain why the motor works and the force of magnetic fields.


How it went: This was an Ok project. I’ll do it again, but it would be better with maybe a slightly more experienced group. These guys didn’t quite have the hand eye coordination to pull off wrapping the wire, removing it and securing it without help. I had them work in pairs to get this accomplished, but some needed several steps done for them.


Makers Series 2 Session 3

Since Friday is Valentine’s Day, and since I know from experience that kids often panic/worry or just plain forget about a card for mom and dad, I thought we’d take the opportunity to make very special light up cards using Bare Conductive’s conductive paint! We ordered the paint and coin cell batteries from Amazon (they were cheaper on Sparkfun but sold out) and I picked up the remaining supplies locally.

ImageWhat you need:

Template (and instructions) which can be found here

Coin cell batteries (2 per student)

LED lights (1 per yellow robot card, 2 per blue card)

Conductive paint

Paintbrushes (these need to be thin!)




Plastic lids

How it Went:

The instructions linked above were detailed and well written, so I won’t repeat them here but I will add a few things. First, cover the tables. The paint got smeared on the tables and it was a pain to wipe up, so next time I’ll cover the tables with butcher paper before we get started.

Second, this requires some pretty good fine motor skills. My kids ranged from 2-6th grade. Some of the 2nd graders were able to paint the lines without making a huge mess, some of the 2-4th graders were not. You’ll want to help those who are having a hard time and make sure they keep washing their hands and the paint brush as they work if they are prone to being messy.

Third, the blue robot is way harder than the yellow. It doesn’t look that much harder but it was a much bigger challange, even for the older kids. The trick is making sure that both lights are pointing the same direction, which is hard if you have to trim the ends of the LED’s. The yellow on is a better first timer projects and next time I’ll make double copies of the yellow so that each kid can still do two cards, just not the harder blue card.

Finally, I’ll order more red LED’s in the future. This time around I was working from a mixed batch from previous projects. The reds light up much brighter and the kids all wanted only red, but we didn’t have enough to give everyone red for all three lights. The green, in particular, was disappointing brightness-wise.

Repeat or Don’t Repeat

This is definitely a project to repeat, but with the caveat of doing it with a smaller, older group than I had today. I think this would be a better project for a 6:1 kid to adult ratio instead of the 12:1 I had today.

Makers Series 2 Session 1

photo 1-1

Our winter Maker Series kicked off this week with the introduction of a new toy here at the library – a pair of Makey Makeys! I’ve been wanting to add these to the library for a while since they are so much fun and are just the sort of thing I know my Makers will love. This year we are putting together 12 Maker Kits, introducing¬† a new one each month, for kids and adults to check out, so as a bonus, now that we’ve introduced the Makeys in MakerWednesday, they’ll be available to check out soon as one of our kits!

I brought up two of the library’s laptops plus my own laptop (and my own Makey Makey) and split the kids into three teams of four to explore how they work. I also put a bowl on the table full of fruit and veggies and pulled out paper, pencils, playdough and some art supplies like pipe cleaners and scissors and, after a short introduction, let the kids have at it. For programs to try out we used the list at the bottom of the How To page for Makey Makey, tetris, was the clear favorite!

How it went:

The Makey’s themselves were great and the kids loved them, one of the computers, however, had a hard time interfacing with the Makey and we ended up absorbing one team between the other two. Next time I’ll do a trial run with each computer to make sure things are working well.