Out of This World

flying saucerMake a flying saucer and watch it whiz down a zip line! This project is the perfect blend of simplicity, creativity, and action. We even have a saucer flight video for you!

We read Space Case, written by Edward Marshall, and illustrated by James Marshall (Puffin Books; reprint edition, 1992). When a bright yellow saucer-shaped thing arrives from outer space, it doesn’t find the natives (a cow, a chicken, and a jack-o-lantern) to be very forthcoming in conversation. But then it encounters three trick-or-treaters, who mistake him for a new kid in the neighborhood. The quartet have a wonderful time trick-or-treating until Buddy McGee realizes that the thing isn’t wearing a costume. He invites it home, and even takes it to school the next day. But when the thing learns there will be no trick-or-treating that night, it prepares to depart. It promises, however, to return for Christmas!

You’ll need:

  • 2 sturdy paper plates
  • 1 strip of poster board (approximately 1.5″ x 22″)
  • A selection of dot stickers
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 3 rectangles of grey construction paper (approximately 2″ x 6″ each)
  • 1 jumbo pom-pom (mine was 1.75″)
  • 1 large wiggle eye
  • 1 clear plastic drinking cup (I used a 2.75″ tall hard plastic cocktail glass)
  • 1 jumbo paper clip (mine was 1.75″ long)
  • Flying saucer decorating materials (more on this below)
  • 6 squares of yellow and/or red cellophane (approximately 5″ x 5″)
  • A length of 24-gauge wire
  • Scissors, stapler and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished saucerFirst, decorate a strip of poster board with dot stickers “lights” (we used silver metallic poster board and yellow dot stickers, but any color combination will do). Circle the poster board strip around the bottom of a paper plate and staple (or tape) the circle closed. In the demonstration photo below, I used purple poster board so it would stand out against the white plate. For the actual project, the poster board was silver with white backing.

circled stripHot glue the poster board circle to the paper plate. Next, squirt a ring of hot glue around the top rim of the poster board circle, then press the second paper plate on top. Your saucer will now look like this:

two plate saucerCut 2 toilet paper tubes in half. Wrap 3 of the tube pieces with grey construction paper, then hot glue them to the bottom of the saucer in a triangular fashion. These are your saucer’s “rocket boosters.”

attached tp tubesSet the saucer aside for the moment. Hot glue a single wiggle eye onto a jumbo pom-pom. This is your “alien.” We prepped a bunch in advance of story tine.

aliensPlace the alien on the top of your saucer, then tape a clear plastic cup over top of it.

undecorated saucer Next, bend the halves of a paper clip apart until it forms a right angle,

bent paper clipThen tape the bottom part of the paper clip securely to the top of the cup. This is the “hook” that connects the saucer to the zip line.

attached hookIt’s time to decorate your saucer! We offered tin foil, embossed foil paper, sparkle stems, dot stickers, and some foil confetti stars I picked up in the party section of Michaels craft store. Try to keep the art materials nice and light so they don’t weight the saucer down too much. Also, don’t let kids attach anything to the paper clip hook. Otherwise, the saucer’s flight down the wire might be hampered.

When you’re finished decorating, stack 2 squares of cellophane on top of one another (we used red and yellow). Pinch the middle of the cellophane squares together, twist them tightly, and secure with tape. Repeat the above steps twice more. You now have 3 “flames” for your saucer’s rocket boosters.

flames  Tape a flame inside each booster. Done!

attached flamesReady to flying your saucer? You’ll just need some wire! I dug this spool of 24-gauge craft wire out of the supply closet. The smoother the wire, the better.

crafting wire

Katie and I stretched 25 feet of wire between the launch site and the landing pad. I handled the launches, Katie handled the landings. To help my grip on the wire, I wrapped my end of the wire around a wooden dowel. I slipped the saucer’s paper clip hook onto the wire, lifted my end of the wire to give the saucer a sliding start, and watched it fly!

Important: Katie and I tested the wire the day before the program. When we were finished, we lightly coiled it and set it on a table. Unfortunately, that was enough to cause the wire to kink. The next day, the first saucer on the wire got snagged on the kinks. We had to quickly unspool a fresh length of wire. After that, it was smooth sailing.

pink saucer

If you’re going to do this project with a crowd of kids, I suggest doing some prep ahead of time. Definitely prep the upper and lower halves of the saucers  (i.e. hot glue the poster board circle to one paper plate, and the 3 tube boosters to the other plate). While the kids were decorating the top half with markers, we used a number system (similar to the ones used in delis and bakeries – we also used it on this project) to call them to the hot glue stations to get the bottom half of their saucer’s attached. Then they wrapped the boosters with grey construction paper, attached the cup, and proceeded to decorating.

Also, in our version of this activity, the kids brought their alien-free saucers to the launching site. I loaded an alien in it, taped the cup down, and then sent the saucer zooming down the zip line. If you decide to do this, make sure the kids attach the cup with just 1 piece of tape. This will allow you to easily lift the cup and place the alien on the saucer. But don’t forget to tape the lid down tightly after that!

Katie also prepped the cellophane flames in advance so there would be plenty of time to fly the saucers. Kids could take as many flights as they wanted.

It was…wait for it…a total blast!

Robots at the Ready

robots at the readyA robot backpack? Yes indeed! Now you and your robot pal can embark on a series of terrific adventures. But the best thing about this story time? The author, Jared Aldwin Crooks, came to read the book to us! In addition to penning a children’s book, Jared studied astrophysics, has worked at NASA, and is currently obtaining Masters degrees in International Policy and Mechanical/ Aerospace Engineering here at Princeton University. There’s a short interview with him at the end of this post!

jared aldwin crooks We read The Several Strange Adventures of Max and Ding, written by Jared Aldwin Crooks and illustrated by Scott T. Baldwin (Crooks with Books, 2014). Maximilian Finch (Max for short) lives in a sleepy town where not much happens. During school breaks his classmates go to all sorts of exciting places, but not Max. But one Sunday, Max builds a robot named Ding. That week, Max and Ding hit the road – riding paper planes through jungles, climbing mountains, visiting the circus, digging to Atlantis, fishing for treasure, building a bridge to the moon, and discovering new planets. Thanks to his pal Ding, Max now has plenty to talk about!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box for robot body (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6” – a small tissue box works too)
  • 1 smaller box for robot head (mine was 2.5″ x 3.25″ x 4″)
  • 1 box cutter
  • 1 small craft stick
  • 2 strips of white poster board for backpack straps (approximately 1″ x 28″)
  • A 20″ piece of mesh tubing (string, ribbon, or yarn works too)
  • 2 rectangles of poster board for arms (approximately 1.5″ x 5.75″)
  • 2 rectangles of poster board for legs (approximately 1.5″ x 11″)
  • Robot decorating materials (we used metallic duct tape, prism tape, tin foil, beverage lids, washed Altoids tins, twisteez wire, sparkle stems, paper cups (in silver and gold), small plastic cups, embossed foil seals, craft ties, dot stickers, rectangular stickers, foil star stickers, colored masking tape, balloon stick cups, grey construction paper, embossed foil paper, and mylar).
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make a robot backpack, cut four, 1.5″ slits in a box. Then, use a small craft stick to enlarge the slits a little (this will make it easier to slide the backpack straps through the slits later).

backpack box slitsSlide the white poster board straps through the slits like so:

backpack strapsNow, holding the box firmly to your back, curl the straps over your shoulders, adjust them, and staple them. Put pieces of masking tape over the staples (thus avoiding staple scratches or clothing snags). Later, when your robot is finished, you’ll want to tie a piece of mesh tubing (or string, ribbon, or yarn) around both straps to keep them from sliding off your shoulders.

strap stepsWhen the backpack straps are finished, you’ll need to hot glue the head, arms, and legs on your robot’s body. You can do that now, or wait until you’ve decorated your robot a little. I offered OCuSoft lid scrub boxes as an option for the robot’s head. As you can see, when covered with tin foil, they look like fantastic smiling robot faces!

ocusoft box headAnother great recyclable discovery? balloon stick cups make great robot antennae holders. I definitely use balloon sticks for projects (see here, here, and here) but I don’t use the cups as much. But a doubled-up sparkle stem fit perfectly in the narrow end of the cup.

robot antennaeFor decorating, we offered metallic duct tape, prism tape, tin foil, beverage lids, washed Altoids tins, twisteez wire, sparkle stems, mesh tubing, paper cups (in silver and gold), small plastic cups, embossed foil seals, craft ties, dot stickers, rectangular stickers, foil star stickers, colored masking tape, balloon stick cups, grey construction paper, embossed foil paper, and mylar.

Here’s Jared, his robot, and our program area after our creative little endeavor concluded!

jared and robotHi Jared! Tell us a little about yourself!
Hey there! My name is Jared Aldwin Crooks. I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas before coming to Princeton to get my undergraduate degree in Astrophysics and my Masters degrees in International Policy and Mechanical/ Aerospace Engineering. I have always loved creating things, whether it is some kind of contraption, food, or just writing down all of the things that are in my head. My creative partner, Scott T. Baldwin, and I are always working on a new project or book!

My passion is making the world around me a better place and I believe this can be done through little improvements over time (kaizen). My wife and I started NouriBar, a social venture that makes all-natural fruit and nut bars and for every bar purchased we work with the local communities to feed a child in need a hot meal in school. I also love doing radio and voice work. During my time at NASA, I was one of the narrators for the ScienceCasts! I love to cook and watch great films (Kurosawa, Bergman, Hitchcock).

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
I was constantly reading as a kid. One of my all-time favorite books growing up was a picture book called Corduroy. The artwork seemed to jump out at you on each page and I loved the storyline! Other books that I really loved include any and all of the books from The Little Golden Books series, the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Why did you decide to write this book?
This book is loosely based on the daydreams that I had growing up. I had always wanted to share the things that had captured my imagination growing up; the stars, building things, wildlife, robotics etc. I also wanted write something to inspire kids to dream big and especially wanted to make sure that young kids of color could see another kid building and imagining things that are not typically represented in stories that are accessible to them. I linked up with my wonderful creative partner, Scott T. Baldwin right at the beginning and he shared the same vision that I had and he illustrated each page to show exactly what we had dreamed; so this is how the book came about!

What was an unexpected difficulty in writing this book?
One surprising difficulty I experienced while writing this book was trying to fit all of Max and Ding’s activities into 7 days! They have so many places to choose from and travel!

If Ding the robot appeared right now, where would you go?
Ding and I would most definitely travel to Cape Town, South Africa and have a swimming contest with a few great white sharks before hopping over to New Zealand and going to all of the Lord of the Rings filming locations!


Many thanks to Jared Aldwin Crooks for sharing his book and being our special guest!

Science Friday

the eggbotWhile I certainly do my fair share of fiction-focused programs, I consider non-fiction programs to be (dare I say it?) just as much fun. And for today’s adventure in non-fiction, we’re talking science!

We’ve offered some interesting science programs in the past. Take, for example, the Chemistry of Magic, in which we demonstrated the real science behind seemingly magical reactions. Or this Rube Goldberg engineering program. Or even this humble preschool story time that featured the life stages of a butterfly. This week, to get a healthy dose of vitamin “S,” I dropped in on my friends at scienceSeeds.

scienceSeeds team

Team scienceSeeds: John, Michal, and Lindsay

ScienceSeeds is a local science enrichment center for grades K-8 . It was founded in 2008 by Michal Melamede. While raising her children, she noticed a lack of hands-on, age-appropriate, science and engineering opportunities. So Michal decided to establish a business that would encourage curiosity, exploration, discovery, and scientific thinking.

Visiting scienceSeeds is always fun. Especially when they let me play with their toys! Here are a few of their current favorites. Perhaps one or two will inspire a little science at your next program?

JOHN’S FABULOUS CANDELABRA

lamp 2I have to start with this one because I’m such a hot glue devotee. This is an LED lamp with hot glue stick shades! It was designed by John to demonstrate circuits, fiber optics and light behavior. He used a hot glue gun to hollow out the bottom of 5 hot glue sticks, and then rigged up a series of little LED bulbs on a simple circuit. Everything was attached to a foam core base, and then the base was wrapped with decorative duct tape. I love it.

HYDRAULIC BUTTERFLY

butterflyThis is another project designed by scienceSeeds staff to teach hydraulics. Using two water-filled syringes and tubing, the butterfly lifts its wings up and down. The syringes are from a medical supply company, the tubing is from a science catalog, the base is wood, the wings are made from foam board, and the butterfly’s body is a clothespin. A little duct tape here and there and you’re ready to go. They also have versions with an owl, a bat, and a dump truck!

FOAM BOARD AUTOMATAUN

star boxOne final project from scienceSeeds’ workshop! This one demonstrates how simple machines and mechanisms work. Turn the crank and the movement of the wooden gears and rods causes the star to spin. The base is made from foam board, the sticks are bamboo skewers, and the gears are little wooden circles purchased from Michael’s craft store. A little hot glue and duct tape seals the deal.  And just look at this sweet double gear version!

bee boxMark my words…I’m GOING to find a way to work a foam board automataun into a story time project. It shall be done. Oh yes, it shall.

THE EGGBOT

the eggbotThis is a recent acquisition at the workshop. It’s the EggBot, an art robot that can draw on round surfaces like eggs, light bulbs, ping pong balls, ornaments, etc. It hooks up to your computer and, with some lovely freeware, will take a design or image and put it right on your object! scienceSeeds is using it to teach CNC and automated design. Here are a couple test subjects…

lightbulbsAlas, an EggBot kit like the one above retails for $219, so it’s well out of my budget. The company that sells it is called Evil Mad Science LLC. Hah hah hah! Minions not included.

CONFETTI VACUUM CLEANER

vacuumThis is a modification of a cardboard kit the staff tested. They found that a 1 liter bottle and plastic propeller worked much better than a cardboard tube and propeller. The foam board base holds a simple circuit that connects to a motor. As the motor spins the propeller, it creates a wind tunnel in the bottle that sucks up pieces of confetti. It’s the perfect way to teach engineering and air flow. It’s wildly popular with the kids too.

THE 3-DOODLER

3-doodlerIt might be a little hard to see this in the photo, but this device lets you do 3-dimentional drawings! That thin green line you see isn’t drooping down from the tip of the doodler. It’s rising up from the piece of paper and standing on its own! You insert little plastic sticks of various colors into one end of the “pen.” The plastic emerges in liquid form out the other end, but quickly hardens. With some practice, you can “draw” amazing 3D creations like these:

popcafe everestrobotscienceSeeds likes to use the 3-Doodler for their 3D modeling workshops, sometimes in conjunction with their 3D printer. A 3-Doodler pen retails for about $100, and additional plastic sticks are approximately $10 for 25. I noticed that the pen makes a loud whirring noise while being operated (a little louder than an electric toothbrush). The staff also mentioned that after extended periods of use, you can smell burning plastic. The smell bothers some kids. But those things aside, it’s a cool little drawing tool.

I’ll leave you with a photo of scienceSeeds’ classroom space. Look at the cheerful red cabinets! The under-the-counter adjustable storage! The cool green chairs! Now imagine it packed full of kids creating, discovering, building, and innovating. Fantastic.

room shot