Friday, November 14, 2014

ATLAS: Brushbots

At this month's ATLAS (At The Library After School) we made Brushbots. In case you aren't familiar with them, Brushbots are robots made out of a toothbrush head. They are created by attaching a motor and battery to the toothbrush head and connecting the two to create a circuit. 

A Brushbot looks like this:

And moves kind of like this:

I got this idea from Anne Clark's blog Sotomorrow. Like Anne, I purchased a kit from The Party Pack came with all required materials to create 12 Brushbots. This worked perfectly with my typical registration of 12 3rd-6th graders for my ATLAS (At The Library After School) programs. I did factor the possibility of getting a few duds into my registration, but thankfully we didn't receive any.

We started out the program by putting together our Brushbots, all except for the final step of tying the wires. At this point I also passed out a handout I found on how a Brushbot works. This took about 10-15 minutes. After that I set out Legos for the kids to build individual Brushbot courses. I also set out toilet paper tubes and scissors in case tunnels or ramps were in order. 

Once the Lego building seemed to have progressed a bit I showed the kids how to wind the wires to start their Brushbot. This is where they needed the most help. The battery wires are relatively fragile, and some were too long. Because of this, even though I had prestripped all the battery wires I ended up cutting and restripping many wires during the program. Despite this, we did eventually get all the Brushbots to work!

To close out the hour long program I had the kids do one final race with all the Brushbots. We used rows of books as bumpers (working with what is readily available!). This seemed to be a highlight of the program.

Here are some tips and tricks:
  • With this size group, get a volunteer to help if possible. Although it didn't get too crazy, things would have gone a little more smoothly if I had remembered Anne's advice of trying for a 5 kids to 1 adult ratio!
  • Make sure you trim the battery wires short enough beforehand. I had left a little length because I wanted to leave room for wire breakage, but this meant the battery and motor wires didn't meet closely enough.
  • The "stickers" the kit includes to decorate the Brushbots apparently needed to be cut out. I didn't have the chance to do this during the program, so we skipped the decorating step. Definitely something to keep in mind if you purchase the same kit.

Overall I was glad with how this program turned out. If you have also done Brushbots at your library I would love to hear about your experience. I'm also always open to any other creative STEM program suggestions!

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