Arts and Crafts with a Science Twist?
June 29, 2008 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I need help coming up with ideas for ~30 min science-related arts and crafts activities for kids aged 3-17 in a pretty limited environment.

I am working at a summer camp for the children of migrant workers, and I was hired to do fun, science-y activities with them. Great! I know lots of science projects that we can do! I've run many, many workshops like that.

Unfortunately, the environment itself is far from ideal, and I have little to work with, making most of what I've done before infeasible. I have limited access to running water (need to fill up a pitcher in the bathroom and bring it outside to the picnic tables where we are). I have an extremely large amount of construction paper and plenty of other typical craft supplies.

So, if any of you have any resources or suggestions for arts and crafts with a science twist, I'd really appreciate your suggestions. Thanks!
posted by liesbyomission to Education (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
make paper airplanes to teach aerodynamics?
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:45 PM on June 29, 2008

Do you have electricity? Does someone at the camp have a hair dryer? Do you have a lightweight ball (like a small beach ball)? You can demonstrate Bernoulli's Principle. Turn on the hair dryer and point it up. Throw the beach ball in the path of the air, and marvel at how the ball doesn't fly away, but instead hovers in the airstream.

I've got more of these, but I'm really drunk. I'll post them as they come to me if I don't find something more interesting.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:47 PM on June 29, 2008

Sigur Ros's new album has glued me to my computer.

You've got a lot of construction paper, yes? Make a bet with the kids that they can't fold the paper in half more than 7 times (or 11 if you want to play it safe).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:50 PM on June 29, 2008

Paper chromatography: separate the component dyes of water-soluble magic markers. Some purple markers have a purple dye, some contain red + blue, and so on for other colors.

Experimental setup: You'll need a small container for water for each kid, preferably clear plastic so they can watch what's happening inside. Put about 1 cm of water in the bottom. Next, cut a strip of white construction paper as tall as the container and a little narrower, so it can stand up inside. Draw a pencil line 2 cm from the bottom of the paper.

Gather a whole bunch of water-soluble magic markers, preferably of different brands so that you'll see differences between them. Have the kids make smallish dots (~ 2 - 5 mm) of ink on the pencil line, with a little space between so they can see which dyes came from which markers.

Stand the paper in the cup of water. As the water moves up the paper it will dissolve the dyes, which will migrate along with the water. But some dyes are more soluble than others, so they will spend most of their time in the water (therefore traveling at nearly the same speed as the water). Other dyes are less soluble, and will spend less time in solution and more time hanging out on the paper, so they will travel slower.

The net result is that the component dyes will separate from each other. Some magic markers will give a pretty rainbow, others will show just a single component (although this doesn't prove that there's only one dye in there, simply that water can't resolve them). If you can get hold of some rubbing alcohol, that can be used as a solvent too and will give quite different results in many cases.

Here's an article about paper chromatography for schoolkids, with a slightly different setup.

Maybe too sciencey and not enough artsy-craftsy, but hopefully the pretty colors will help. (I found it utterly fascinating as a kid, but I ended up becoming a biochemist so I'm probably not a good standard to judge by.)
posted by Quietgal at 6:52 PM on June 29, 2008

Uno mas!

Challenge the kids to walk through a piece of construction paper. There's a pattern you can use to cut the paper so that it ends up in a loop that's about six feet in diameter. Here's the pattern, and here's the instructions for it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:53 PM on June 29, 2008

I always recommend DNA Extraction from onions.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:57 PM on June 29, 2008

What do you have besides picnic tables and construction paper? What's the rest of the space like?

When I was the environmental science leader at a summer camp, the best activities were games -- running games, hiding games, treasure hunts -- stuff like that. The trick was finding the science twist (the treasure hunt was about navigating by compass, the water balloon toss was supposedly about physics). Exploring the creek, catching bugs in the tall grass, and stargazing were also hits.
posted by salvia at 7:01 PM on June 29, 2008

Make or fly kites, blow bubbles (with a straw or with a big string), sun fade the construction paper, plant seeds in see-through plastic cups and talk about roots, build a solar oven, make a food web [pdf].
posted by salvia at 7:09 PM on June 29, 2008

Ian's shoelace site has lots of fun looking stuff that seems like it could appeal to a wide range of ages. 3-17 is a huge range.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:12 PM on June 29, 2008

There are many art techniques that rest on the fact that oily things and water things don't mix. You can probably find some in your art supply cabinet. Like:

Crayons are oily (waxy) and watercolors are, well, watery. Do line drawing with crayons, fill in the interstices with watercolor. Or better yet--fill in some of the crayon-picture interstices with water-based markers, and use wet paintbrushes to "brush out" the watery marker colors. That way you can really see that some things are water-soluble and others arent, and maybe make less mess?
posted by Sublimity at 7:13 PM on June 29, 2008

What supplies do you have other than construction paper?

Bird silhouettes: all you need are sticks, string, and construction paper: trace the shapes, cut them out, string them onto sticks for classic mobiles and an instant bird identification class.

Small box project 1: provide or have each child bring a small box - pencil/cigar/shoebox size. Decorate the boxes with your supply of construction paper, and make sure each child's name goes on the box functions as a treasure box. Go on a nature walk - collect rocks, moss, lichen, shells, feathers, etc., and use the findings to teach something about geology, animals, plants...or decide ahead of time what sorts of items everyone should collect, and teach that.

Small box project 2: create a habitat box. Again decorate the outside of the box, and again go on a nature walk. Talk about the types of habitats you see, and with twigs, grasses, mosses, etc. have each child re-create a habitat for an animal of his/her choice in the box.

Small box project 3: bug boxes. Catch bugs in the box, examine under a lens.

Geodesic forms - use toothpicks and gumdrops/marshmallows to build cubes, pyramids, etc.

Make fossils: use any sort of air drying clay (or make your own clay dough) - roll a golf ball sized piece, flatten, and press shells, feathers, leaves etc. into the clay to leave an impression.
posted by faineant at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2008

Do you have a protractor? This one is more geometry than science, but it still kinda blew my mind the first time I saw it.

Have the kids cut triangles out of the construction paper. Isosceles, right, equilateral, obtuse whatever, it doesn't matter.

Have them measure the three angles of the triangles, sum them up, and voila, they always add up to 180. Magic. headasplodes
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:19 PM on June 29, 2008

kites? maybe you could split the kids into groups and have a kite-flying competition.
paper airplanes could be a lot of fun. get a book [local library?] of different paper airplanes, and have each kid [pair of kids?] fold a different airplane. fly them to see which one performs best.
rainbow spinners?[pdf] i LOVED this as a kid. i kept the one i made for a really long time.
posted by asras at 7:22 PM on June 29, 2008

Do you have any kind of budget? I was an art teacher and I always did a project where you used special paper that would imprint images on it when exposed to sunlight. You could put leaves, flowers, etc. and leave it in the sun and after 20 minutes or so, you would have a really cool effect. Not very expensive, and you can order from Dick Blick or Sax art supplies. Not sure of the science connection but I'm sure there is one. Good Luck!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:35 PM on June 29, 2008

Making leaf identification books is sciencey and uses up lots of construction paper.
posted by iconomy at 7:49 PM on June 29, 2008

If you have a budget, you can get a pack of blueprint paper and some ammonia and do cyanotypes.

I've done this with 9th grade students where after a lecture/discussion about light and chemistry they cut out interesting shapes from normal paper and set them on a sheet of blueprint paper then went to lunch and I left the lights on. After lunch, they "developed" their pictures with ammonia vapor (basically, a little ammonia in a heavy jelly jar), and you move the paper back and forth over the top until it's done.

For those who have more resources (I'm assuming you won't, but someone else might), I started the discussion with a projector and a powerpoint-like presentation that had "Photography: Drawing with Light" on it, projected on my screen with a sheet of blueprint paper on it. I chose not to "use" the presentation, and as expected most of the kids didn't even see the paper on the screen (or forgot about it). I took it down and developed if for them to really push the "wowee factor".

For extra credit, I loaned out an old, beat up large format camera I found in a box and had a student (on after school time), cut blueprint paper into long strips suitable for the camera and shoot and develop the "film". You can find more info here on the process. The exposure time is very long, but the results are very satisfying.

My other favorite project is to build a speaker. The requires beer cups, a pack of cheap button magnets, hot glue (or tape), motor armature wire and some 6 inch pieces of PVC pipe, about 1.5" in diameter, and fine sandpaper. The procedure is easy - with a several feet of wire, wind a coil on the PVC and goop on some hot glue to it keeps its shape. Make sure there both ends of the wire can be reached with a minimum of 4" sticking out. Lightly sand the ends to get the insulation off the wires. Hot glue the coil to the outside bottom of the cup. Hot glue one magnet in the center of the coil.

In my lab, I brought in an mp3 player with "current" music running on continuous cycle and had it hooked up to an amp I yanked from a set of PC speakers that a student drove a pen through. I modified the board to go to alligator clips instead of a speaker. So it was mp3->board->clips->student speaker. It works (but it quiet). Add another magnet, what will happen and why?

Again, this comes with an introduction about what is sound (change in pressure). How does a speaker work? How does an electromagnet work? And so on.
posted by plinth at 8:11 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and definitely do the Diaper Dam.

It's also pretty easy to make your own glue.
posted by plinth at 8:13 PM on June 29, 2008

Have them watch the phases of the Moon. The next new moon is Thursday, July 3. As it gets fuller, they can see the Moon bigger and higher each afternoon in the west. A lot of kids don't know that the Moon can be up during the day!

It's great that you're doing this, by the way.
posted by lukemeister at 8:19 PM on June 29, 2008

create mobius strips. this might not occupy them for a long time, but is interesting, kind of cool. you could even call them bracelets and have them wear them on their wrists

this is a stretch for science, but you could make tangrams, the japanese puzzle. it could kind of be a shape lesson at the same time.

you could make water color paintings and then sprinkle a little table salt on while still wet. the salt absorbs (?) the water so you get interesting starry patterns in the watercolors and when it dried it has a subtle sparkle. for this its best to have big washes of color, not detailed drawings, so you could just paint some colors to cover the whole paper, or a rainbow, or the effect is pretty nice if you are painting a night sky. you could draw a landscape on the lower half of the paper in crayon, then a blue/sunset watercolor wash for the sky and sprinkle the salt. then you get both the crayon/water resist effect AND the salt effect.

hide and seek, twisted to give a lesson about animal camouflage and predator/prey. look at cool pictures of bugs and cheetahs blending into their surrounding, then explain it is a lion or a bear or something, and all the other kids have camouflage themselves, ie. hide. it would be best if you could get some leaves, straw or fabric scraps in various colors so the kids could actually try to change their appearance to blend with something.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:22 PM on June 29, 2008

You might check the experiments for kids section of The Guardian Science Course.
posted by lukemeister at 10:46 PM on June 29, 2008

Sunspot viewer via a pinhole projector using aluminum foil, a needle, and white paper.
posted by zippy at 10:49 PM on June 29, 2008

I taught middle school science for a little while and a favorite project was teaching the class about the biomechanics of the legs and feet and then having them design athletic shoes on a poster.
posted by mistsandrain at 5:11 AM on June 30, 2008

Giving a bit more detail...

Yes, I do have a budget and I can order things. :)

I am outside in a sandy area at a bunch of picnic tables. I am one of three sessions the kids rotate through: swimming, recreation (playground/soccer/etc), and arts and crafts/science. One of my big problems is that I sometimes have to deal with 60-70 kids at one time, and I have a lot of trouble getting them to listen. I'm not a professional by any means...just a college student who got hired to do science activities which sort of morphed into something else. I would like to give them a more personal experience, but that is pretty difficult when just managing 70 kids at once.

Thanks for the great replies so far! Today I'll be making mobius strip jewelry with them.
posted by liesbyomission at 9:13 AM on June 30, 2008

I run Computer Science/Engineering day-camp things for roughly 30 students. Although these are all very very computer science oriented, CS Unplugged has a lot of great activities. Be sure to click on the 'Get the full Notes' or grab the full PDF of the entire book. They have full explanations behind each activity, so you can give the science behind each one.

One I use a lot is the 'Programming Languages' one. In this one, students must 'program' their drawing robot to draw something (that the drawing robot doesn't know). So for example the drawing robot has to draw a house, and students must give instructions in the form of 'draw a square, draw a triangle on top of the square etc. The drawing robot unfortunately, doesn't know what a 'roof' or a 'chimney' is, so the students have to spell it out using shapes/lines/big/small and so on. Have some students take turns as the 'drawing robot' (or divide them up into smaller groups). The results are usually hilarious - the robot will do exactly what you tell it to, so it may draw a tiny triangle on top of the square, or make the door lie horizontally instead of vertically. This is actually a practical lesson for all programmers, in that you need to be careful what instructions you give, because the robot/computer will do -exactly what you say-.
posted by billy_the_punk at 1:07 PM on June 30, 2008

Somebody gave me this deck of cards, each one detailing a science-experiment sort of project that illustrates some simple principle, all with pretty normal household-type supplies. It's fairly inventive, I'm looking forward to going through some of them when my boy is a little older. Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but a fairly inexpensive way to inspire some thoughts on scientific principles you might harness for crafts?
posted by nanojath at 1:38 PM on June 30, 2008

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