About Shaunna Smith

Dr. Shaunna Smith, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology OFFICE: ED 3006 PHONE: 512-245-4377 EMAIL: shaunna_smith@txstate.edu

Balloon-Powered Vehicles

Balloons are super fun to play with. Almost every kid has blown up a balloon, let it go, and giggled as it chaotically flies to the ground. Though this is a common experience for kids, rarely have they discussed it in terms of the science behind it (when the air rushes to escape the balloon it causes thrust and propulsion similar to a rocket). When you attach the balloon to something that can attempt to control it’s path and that is when you can begin to see the true power and energy of the simple air that they put into the balloon (watch this video that compares balloons and rockets for more info).

Using the simple power of the balloon, you can easily construct a moving vehicle using simple machine wheel and axles. For background on this, please read our previous post about ways to introduce the idea of simple machines and how you can “upcycle” everyday materials you already have access to. Combining the power of the balloon and the movement of the wheel and axles, you can turn almost anything into a moving vehicle (i.e. small boxes, plastic soda bottles, berry cartons, etc.). We like to begin with building a very basic balloon-powered car to ensure that everyone successfully creates functioning wheel and axle combinations. Then we like to open up the challenge to allow them to choose any recyclable materials they want and build an open-ended balloon-powered car of their choice. The open-ended challenge provides a great opportunity to discuss design considerations and makes for very unique classroom drag races. Both activities are outlined below.

MAKE THE BASIC BALLOON-POWERED CAR

Gather Materials:

  • Balloons
  • Cardboard (you will need 3″x6″ for each base and reserve scraps for the wheels)
  • Tape (strong tape like Duct Tape works best)
  • Rulers
  • Pencils
  • Scissors (Xacto knives or box cutters optional)
  • Plastic drinking straws
  • Bamboo skewer sticks
  • Plastic soda bottle caps
  • Optional decorative elements (markers, paint, feathers, etc.)
  • Place tape on the floor to create a racetrack. Consider using a yard stick alongside to show distance for the students to compare.

Make It: (based on this Sick Science video tutorial)

  1. Create a cardboard base that is 3″x6″.
  2. Measure and cut two 3″ pieces of straw.
  3. Tape the 3″ straw pieces to the bottom of the 3″x6″ cardboard base. These will hold your axles.
  4. Cut off the end of one balloon.
  5. Place the balloon over the end of a (new) straw and tape it to create an airtight connection.
  6. Tape the straw to the top of the cardboard base. Be sure that you do not tape the balloon because it needs to expand and contract.
  7. Measure and cut two 4″ pieces of bamboo skewer. (Be careful as you cut them with scissors.) These are your axles.
  8. Place the 4″ bamboo skewer pieces inside the 3″ straw pieces on the bottom of the cardboard base.
  9. Use a plastic soda cap to trace and cut 4 circles onto scrap cardboard. These will be your wheels.
  10. Use the leftover bamboo skewer stick to carefully poke one hole in the center of each of your 4 cardboard wheels.
  11. Attach the cardboard wheels to the axles.
  12. “Fuel up” your racer by inflating your balloon. Carefully pinch the straw to hold the air until you are ready for your car to go.
  13. Place your balloon-powered car on the ground and let it go.
  14. Discuss:
    1. Is anyone’s car faster than the others? Why?
    2. How do the wheel and axles function to move the car?
    3. How far does it go? What could make it go farther?
    4. What type of path does it travel? What could make it go straighter?
    5. What happens if you change the size of the wheels?
    6. What happens if you change the chassis (cardboard base) by using a different material (i.e. a soda bottle) or change the angle of the chassis?
    7. What happens if you change the length of the exhaust (straw connected to balloon)? How does that impact the car’s thrust?

MAKE THE OPEN-ENDED BALLOON-POWERED CAR

Gather Materials:

  • Balloons
  • Tape, glue
  • Rulers
  • Pencils
  • Scissors (Xacto knives or box cutters optional)
  • Bamboo skewer sticks, toothpicks, and/or round wooden dowel craft sticks
  • Plastic drinking straws
  • Miscellaneous recyclable materials (plastic soda bottles and caps, yogurt cups, small boxes, empty toilet paper tubes, etc)
  • Optional decorative elements (markers, paint, feathers, etc.)

Make It:

  1. Encourage students to base their design on what they learned from the basic balloon-powered car above. Ask them to consider:
    1. How does weight play a role in speed? distance? path?
    2. How could you add more power? (more balloons, etc.)
    3. How could you design the car for increased speed? (drag racing)
    4. How could you design the car for increased distance? (“fuel” economy)
    5. How could you design the car for increased strength? (demolition derby)
  2. Allow students to design their own balloon-powered car using any materials available (recyclable options plus bamboo skewers, etc.). Encourage students to choose varied materials for their bases in order to have variety. You want students to strive for creating the fastest car but you can also have a variety of “rewards” for different features and abilities.

Activities:

  • Create race tracks and compare:
    • speed,
    • performance, and
    • durability.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

MAKE Simple Machines with Upcycled Materials

Simple machines are an important science concept for students to explore because they can be observed in mechanisms all around us and can seem quite magical as they are used to make our routine tasks so much easier. Whether individually exploring the basic simple machines (wheel and axle, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, inclined plane, linkages, etc.) to understand their practical uses or combining them to create an outlandish Rube Goldberg machine, simple machines are super fun to experiment with.

We like to begin by discussing simple machines and doing some hands-on explorations of existing examples (i.e. window blinds, door stoppers and ramps, door knob, etc). You can add challenge by doing a scavenger hunt type inquiry activity where you give students 5-10 minutes to locate and identify as many simple machines as they can in the room. Having them create quick drawings of the mechanisms using arrows to illustrate force and movement also helps them to understand and communicate the basic science principles that allow the simple machine to function.

Once a working knowledge of simple machines is established you can move on to the magic of building mechanisms. We like to make ours out of recyclable materials, such as cardboard. It’s a great way to show students how they can transform and “upcycle” materials that were going to be thrown away. We collect useful recyclable materials all year for these types of projects and you’d be surprised how quickly you can amass an invaluable collection of unique objects that are just waiting for a new “life”.

Gather Materials:

Cardboard is our number one favorite material so we save almost all of our shipping boxes and pantry boxes (cereal boxes, cracker boxes, tissue boxes, etc.). We also like collecting empty toilet paper tubes, empty paper towel tubes, plastic soda bottles, plastic caps, plastic apple sauce and yogurt cups, plastic berry containers, egg cartons, and coffee canisters. It is super important that all of the plastic materials are rinsed and air dried otherwise they grow mold or attract ants (and that really isn’t the goal of this science experiment). 🙂

We also purchase inexpensive new items like popsicle sticks, toothpicks, straws (plain, bendable, smoothie, etc.), and bamboo skewers (cost about $1 per package). Though these items are technically new, they are important tools for adding increased functionality to our upcycled materials because they easily become axles and structural supports.

Try some of our Simple Machine activities:

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

Cardboard Automata Simple Machines

Simple machines are super awesome and easy to make with everyday materials. Read our previous post about ways to introduce the idea of simple machines and how you can “upcycle” everyday materials you already have access to. One of our favorite simple machines to make is the automata sculpture, which uses cams and cranks to move a sculptural element. This activity allows the students to experience the components of the simple machine while also personalizing their creation to tell their own story. Having a few examples of different automata components is helpful, but there are also great videos that show the inner workings of these unique sculptures (consider watching this video montage of an automata museum display or this CBS special on automata with connections to the popular book and movie, Hugo).

Gather Materials:

  • Cardboard boxes and scraps
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Hot glue
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Markers
  • Small found objects for added weight if needed

Make It:

The Tinkering Studio has a great set of instructions for facilitating cardboard automata with children, including best practices considerations and ways of tying the sculpture to storytelling. We recommend letting the students experiment by building a generic automata with a simple cam follower and crank mechanism that will allow them to switch out different cams (circles, ovals, etc.). This allows them to really get hands-on experience with the different movement possibilities, which can further spark their design and let them experiment with how they can animate a scene or character to tell a story. These creations can be a great writing prompt to spark their storytelling imaginations or they can be a culminating activity to visualize an existing story they have written or previously read.

Design Experiments to Consider:

  • Try adding multiple cams for additional animated characters.
  • Try adding different components to create sounds related to the story.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

  • The Kids’ Book of Simple Machines: Cool Projects and Activities that Make Science Fun by Kelly Doudna
  • Gear Up! Marvelous Machine Projects by Keith Good
  • Looking Closely at Cardboard Automata (1st grade at Mount Vernon Private School)

 

Modular Origami Paper Puzzles

Paper is such a great medium. You can find it almost anywhere. With a couple of quick folds you can transform it from a fragile flat piece into a strong 3D object. Most people are familiar with origami, the art of folding paper – if not, learn more here with a Scholastic Origami Math lesson. But fewer people are familiar with modular origami, which is a technique that involves creating folded pieces that can be connected together to create larger 3D models. For example, you can fold a piece of paper like this to create one module:

and combine 6 modules to create a cube

or combine 12 modules to create an octahedron

or 30 modules to create an icosahedron.

Grab some thin paper and follow this Math Craft tutorial to create your own.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

Popsicle Stick Mathematical Sculptures

IMAG4270You know what we love to build things with? Everyday objects, like popsicle sticks! Inexpensive, light-weight, and versatile, these are an easy way to construct a variety of things with tape or glue and can easily be decorated with marker, paper, or string. From bridges to buildings, creatures to words, you can really build almost anything with them. We like to get geeky and these materials and build mathematical sculptures. These are not only a great hands-on mathematical learning tool for exploring abstract concepts (physically scaffolding from 2D shapes to 3D forms), but can also become decorative sculptural lighting elements. Though you can make almost any angled shape or form with popsicle sticks, we recommend starting with building a cube first then working on building up to an icosahedron, which has 20 faces (each face is an equilateral triangle), 30 edges, and 12 vertices (5 edges meet at each vertex).

Gather Materials:

  • (at least) 60 popsicle sticks
  • hot glue gun
  • hot glue sticks
  • tape
  • optional decorations, paper, transparency film, markers, buttons, string, etc.
  • battery operated tea light

Make It:

  • Follow this great tutorial to build an icosahedron.

Design Experiment Considerations:

  • Cover each face with different material and experiment with shadow play.
  • Hypothesize how much strong it would take to wrap the entire sculpture.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources:

AET Makerspace at NAEA 2016

We had an amazing time presenting an interactive makerspace at NAEA! Participants got a chance to discover 8 engaging makerspace activity stations that explored new media, engineering, and computer science. They got to learn to create with arduinos, 3D printers, sewable circuits, free design software, etc. Here is the list of all 8 presenters’ resources. We hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as we did and that it provided inspiration to take back to your own art classrooms! Thanks to the ArtEdTech (AET) group for sponsoring the session!

soft_circuit sewncircuits3  snapcircuits

3D Digitization: Creating Virtual Copies of 3D Objects

Though academic institutions and museums are using costly 3D scanning equipment for their photogrammetry and 3D digitization efforts (see previous post), there are several free 3D scanning apps that allow users to capture photos taken 360 degrees around and object and easily generate virtual copies and 3D models on their own.

Autodesk 123d Catch
Autodesk 123d Catch is a free app for smartphones and tablets that allows you to create 3D scans of virtually any object. With built in guidance, it helps you set up proper lighting and provides advice for how to ensure 360 degree capture of the object. Once the object has been captured, you can upload to the Autodesk 123d cloud to share or download the free mesh-editing software to your computer for further editing and refinement of your 3D virtual model. The resulting file can be embedded into a website for virtual exploration or can be sent directly to a 3D printer.

Classroom integration example of Autodesk 123d Catch. Create a 3D scan capture of a 3D object found during an outdoor inquiry. *Bonus extension: upload the 3D model with an observation to iNaturalist and become a citizen scientist who shares with the global community.

Autodesk Recap
Similarly, Autodesk Recap allows you to capture 3D scans of an object, but has the added ability to leverage video as well. This “point cloud software” allows users to easily plan, measure, and visualize with advanced measurement as they can capture 3D objects and geographic sites, such as architectural layouts. Simply download the free software to a PC or Mac computer and upload digital photos or digital video files.

Classroom integration example of Autodesk Recap. Attach a digital camera (SLR, Smartphone, or GoPro) to a remote controlled helicopter drone to create a scan capture of your school campus and convert the capture into augmented reality.

*Note: this post is part of a roundtable with Dr. Jason Trumble and Claudia Grant presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference. Click here to view the full paper.

3D Digitization: Exploring Virtual 3D Models

Huge paradigm shifts in museum culture are underway as a variety of institutions are engaging in 3D digitization to democratize their collections through the digitization of priceless artifacts and bringing access to the masses (Milroy & Rozefelds, 2015). Scientists in the fields of anthropology and paleontology have been using photogrammetry techniques to capture and record measurements of physical objects, but technological advancements now enable high quality digital scanning with specialized hardware, such as the Makerbot Digitizer (costs approximately $800) and the NextEngine 3D scanner (costs approximately $3,000).

Once the files are converted to virtual 3D models, they are made available on a variety of websites where you can access the files to download (as .stl formatted files) or explore within interactive 3D viewers.  This allows you to not only have access to the digital file (to print a physical copy of on your own) but it allows you to virtually interact with the 3d model on your own computer screen. Imagine being able to explore priceless artifacts that are typically hidden behind glass enclosures at a museum on the other side of the world or explore fossilized remains of ancient creatures found during a research excavation.

Smithsonian X 3D
Smithsonian X 3D is a 3D model database allows anyone with an Internet connection access to Smithsonian’s most renowned artifacts. You can explore a variety of virtual models by rotating the items, isolating different components of them, measuring them with built-in tools and creating specific views that can be shared over social media or embedded on a website or blog post just like a video. Additionally you can explore “tours” of select artifact collections and archaeological sites that are complete with 3D models, expert-written text, and additional resources.

Classroom integration example of Smithsonian X 3D. Take your students on a virtual tour of Cerro Ballena, Chile to learn more about whales ancestors by exploring Balaenopteridae fossils.

Morphosource
Duke University’s Morphosource is an image-sharing resource designed to allow users to upload, search, and browse high quality 3d models. is an online database of 3D models. Using the Creative Commons model, Morphosource encourages citizen scientist and the democratization of access to artifacts. As such, a variety of academic institutions and natural history musems are using Morphosource to facilitate collaboration, consolidate repository holdings, and provide access to the public.

Classroom integration example of Morphosource. Explore patterns in human evolution by comparing and contrasting virtual models of skeletal remains.

Digimorph
The University of Texas at Austin’s Digimorph is a lab that creates and shares 2D and 3D visualizations of the internal and external structure of living and extinct vertebrates, and a growing number of ‘invertebrates.’ Users can search a variety of specimens and explore virtual models and animations that detail the morphology of specimens in unique multimodal ways. With partnerships from a variety of academic institutions and paleontologists, Digimorph provides informative research publications with each specimen to deepen the potential learning.

Classroom integration example of Digimorph. Explore x-ray CT scans of various horned lizards and attempt to hypothesize reconstructions of what their ancestors may have looked like.

NASA 3D Models
Among the variety of data sets related to space exploration, NASA 3D Models contains a variety of 3D digitiazations of spacecraft, topographical maps, and plantary objects. Additionally, they have compiled several visualizations that allow users to explore landforms.

Classroom integration example of NASA 3D Models. Explore the impact that volcanic lava flows has on the near and far side of the moon’s surface.

References
Milroy, A. A., & Rozefelds, A. C. (2015). Democratizing the collection: Paradigm shifts in and through museum culture. Australasian Journal Of Popular Culture, 4(2/3), 115-130.

*Note: this post is part of a roundtable with Dr. Jason Trumble and Claudia Grant presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference. Click here to view the full paper.

MAKE things three-dimensional (3D)

The term “3D” gets spoken of a lot lately, especially “3D printing.” Though the term seems commonplace, sometimes we forget why 3D things are so cool and interesting. By turning something from flat 2D (two-dimensions) into a fully functioning 3D experience, we are not only engaging more senses (tactile touch) we are creating objects that have prescence from 360 degrees of viewing.

In order to expand this conceptual understanding of 3D printing, we challenge you to flip the term and consider what it truly means to “print in 3D.” Printing in 3D can be done with or without technology, as many mixed media artists will attest to the fact the amplifying their use of tactile textures is a favorite way to add the third dimension to their artworks.

To do this, we begin with hot glue…one of our favorite tools! Not only can hot glue be used to attach objects together or fix broken things, it is an amazing starting point for understanding 3D printing. After all a 3D printer is essentially a hot glue gun on wheels that is controlled by a computer.

Printing in 3D with Hot Glue Molds

Using a flexible silicone mold (i.e. Small ice cube trays and/or chocolate candy molds bought at grocery store for about $2 each, various shapes: hearts, stars, shells, mustaches, leaves, etc.) you can fill in with hot glue and small craft findings (sequins, glitter, etc.) to create your own 3D objects. Experiment with adding small amounts of paint or food coloring to change the color and texture of the hot glue. These objects can be displayed on shelves or turned into pendants and key chains by attaching yarn or cords. See more details in this tutorial (coming soon).

Drawing in 3D with Hot Glue

Using parchment paper (baking paper bought for a couple of dollars at grocery store) you can create 3D doodles and unique 3D objects. Experiment with drawing directly onto the parchment paper and see what happens when hot glue is added. Does the drawing transfer? Experiment with adding craft findings to the hot glue as you draw. Does the hot glue drawing have the strength to stand up on its own as a sculptural object? What can you do with these 3D hot glue creations? Use the dried creation as a printmaking stamp (cover with paint and press down on thick paper to make a print) or embossing tool (place paper over the creation and rub with crayon to create colorful textures). Attach yarn or string and turn it into a sun catcher for your window or wear it as a necklace, ring, or bracelet. See more details in this tutorial (coming soon).

Computer Modeling in 3D with Free Software

Using Autodesk 123D Design (free download for Mac, iPad, and Windows) or TinkerCAD (free web-based app used directly in Internet browser) you can create your own unique 3D models. The completed 3D models can be exported as “.STL” files and sent to a 3D printer and printed into a physical object. Don’t have a 3D printer of your own? Upload your file to www.shapeways.com and have them print it for you (costs vary based on the size of your model, which material you want it printed in, and how soon you want them to mail it to your home). Don’t want to wait for snail mail…search for a 3D printing service near your home on www.3Dhubs.com (enter in your zip code and a list of local 3D printing services are provided, rates vary). View our resources page for more related information.

Want more 3D activities? Check out our project page for more ideas.

Converting flat 2D files to 3D printable files

Ever wonder if there was a way to 3D print a flat clipart image? Well, there is. Thanks to the extra credit effort of one of our graduate students, you too can convert a vector based clip art file (.svg) into a 3D printable file (.stl). Follow these simple steps using free software (Gimp, Inkscape, and Tinkercad)*:

Step 1: Find or create a clean clip art style one color logo.

Step 2: Open image in GIMP or Microsoft Paint, which are both free, raster-based image editing software programs.

Step 3: Go to the “file” menu. choose “export.”  Make sure the file name ends in .png and select PNG file format from drop down menu. Select “save.”

Step 4: Open file in Inkscape, which is a free, open-source vector image software program.

Step 5: In Inkscape select the portion of the image desired.  Go to “path” menu. select “trace bitmap.”

Step 6: Next “check” the box at “remove background.”  Select “Ok.”

Step 7: Go to the “File” menu.  Select “Save as.”  Go to the “Save as type” drop down menu and select “Plain SVG.”  Select “Save.”

Step 8: In TInkercad or Autodesk 123D Design go to the file menu and select “import”.  select your SVG file and select “Open.”

Step 9: From there, you can further manipulate your 3D object.

Here is our famous Texas State University bobcat logo redesigned as a 3D printable pendant: https://tinkercad.com/things/eiqhQJvHbbR texas_state_university_bobcat_v2-3d-model

*If you don’t have the free software outlined in this tutorial, you can follow this link to accomplish the same effect using Photoshop and Illustrator: http://www.print3dforum.com/showthread.php/170-2D-to-3D-STL-Files