How to Light Up Your Classroom with Bright LEDs

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

In this step-by-step tutorial, we show you how we used SMD LEDs and copper tape to create a parallel circuit. The result is a glowing spring card to share with a friend! This project is easy. A perfect beginner activity for introducing LEDs as a STEM or science concept in your classroom. Students will be deLIGHTED {pun intended!} to see their project glow. Get the full download here that includes the printable card and copper tape diagram and information on where we purchased our inexpensive supplies!

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 1:
You will notice that the SMD LEDs come in a black strip of 25 small compartments. The tiny lights  can be removed by peeling the strip of clear plastic off of the back of the black strip. As you do this, the small lights will fall out of their containers. Make sure to catch them and place them in a container that you can label and seal so you don’t lose them. I separate by color.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 2:
Print out the card templates on cardstock or heavy paper. Choose two-sided print so that the two pages prints to one sheet of paper. You can also design your own card by drawing or using a computer program to create your desired design.
Step 3:
Fold card in half so that the flowers (or your design) are on the outside. The card will open at the bottom and you should be able to see the inside of the card. This includes the circuit template and personal message lines.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 4:
Open the template back up. Punch holes in the center of each of the flowers. You can use a long hole punch, a paper piercing tool, a sharp pen or pencil, or any other tool you have around.
Our paper punch wasn’t long enough to reach, so we used a tiny screwdriver. We placed our card on a stack of scrap paper to protect the table. Next, we carefully scored around the circle with the edge, pushing firmly but not through the paper. Then we gently pressed around the edge, once again following the edge of the circle and the center circle popped out leaving a
small hole.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 5:
Once you have created a hole in each of the flowers, fold the card back up. Mark you hole location using a marker. The marker will leave a dot on your card template that will show you where to place your LED.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 6:
Locate the dark gray lines on the diagram. You will be placing copper tape strips on the lines. If you are designing your own, simply look where you have marked your LED placements. We had three flowers, and used three LEDs. This is where you will need to map out how you run your copper tape.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 7:
Begin placing the copper tape on the negative (-) side of the diagram, peel off the backing so that the sticky side adheres to the paper.  For your personal design, begin placing the copper tape on one side of the LED dots, keeping one long piece of tape that will run to the battery. The negative side will go under the battery and make contact with the negative terminal on  the battery.
TIP: When making a turn with your copper tape, first fold the tape in the opposite direction of the way you want to go. Then fold it back into the direction and smooth when you are complete.

 

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 8:
Use the side of a pen or marker to smooth the copper tape to the paper.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 9:
Locate the positive side of each circuit and place the copper tape. Place the battery positive (+) side up in the circle. If designing your own, you will once again locate your LED marks and run the copper tape parallel to the first copper tape you placed.
TIP: Place the positive (+) tape VERY close, but not touching the negative (-) side of tape. The strips of copper tape must be very close so that the tiny LED can connect to both sides, but if the tape touches it will short circuit!

 

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 10:
When you get to the battery, stick the copper tape to the positive (+) side of the battery which should be facing up. See photo for close up details.
Step 11:
Using scotch tape, adhere your battery to the cardstock so that it doesn’t move around.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 12:
Time to get out your SMD LEDs! Take a closer look at your LED bulb. You’ll notice a clear side, and if you turn it over, a flat side with a green “T”. This is important for knowing which side is the positive (+) and the negative (-). Energy can only flow through an LED one way, so you must put it on the copper tape the correct way so that it lights up. The top of the “T” attaches to the positive (+) side of the copper tape. When you place your LED, look at the “T” before sticking to the tape!

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 13:
To place, we use a small piece of scotch tape to “grab” onto the top of the LED (the clear part). Then lift the tape and LED up and look at the “T” on the bottom. Use the tape to adhere the LED onto the mark that you made in Step 5. If you have the LED on the correct way, it should light up!
Step 14:
If the bulb doesn’t light up, remove the LED, rotate it 180 degrees. You may have had the positive and negative connections placed wrong. Test again. If it still doesn’t work, review our troubleshooting guide.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 15:
Place the other two LEDs following the same process.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 16:
Build a switch! To turn off your card, simply slide a small piece of paper under the battery to disrupt the current between the negative terminal of the battery and the copper tape!

Check out the full tutorial with the download here!

 

Here’s the same card, but with two switches! Check out the tutorial for this advanced LED project here.

Introducing LEDs and Bright Fun to Your Students!


LEDs, or their long name, “Light Emitting Diodes” offer a great deal of cheap, impressive fun in a classroom or Maker Space. We’ve used LEDs with students as young as third grade with great success. Students can explore and create incredible projects once they understand the basics of LEDs. Using SMD LEDs offers many learning opportunities for exploring circuits, trial and error and persistence. Plus, they’re inexpensive…a bonus when you get big results without blowing your classroom budget.

When first exploring LEDs, I was intimidated. My first order from Sparkfun arrived and I couldn’t get the LEDs to work. As it turns out, I didn’t have the LEDs removed from the packaging correctly {true story!}. The first time I placed the LED onto the copper tape it lit up like magic. I was hooked. I wanted to light up everything in sight. It was like a new toy. What else could I make glow?

Completed 3D Washington Monument. It glows red like the real one {Safety first. I think so planes don’t hit it!}.

We’ve been using these powerful little lights mostly to enhance paper projects. We enjoy using them because of their low power consumption and long life span. They have great luminosity and can brighten a dark room. LEDs are great for teaching polarity because the energy can only flow one way through the light. They’re powerful and impressive. And kids love them.

Even Leprechaun’s are rumored to love LEDs!

After my own trials {ahem, having fun}, I was ready to bring them to the Maker Space. I started the students off with some holiday cards that had a template to follow. We created one where Rudolph’s nose glows and the other a Christmas Tree. Then we got crazy. We created a light-up, pop-up 3D glowing Valentine’s Day card. We built a 3D Washington Monument that lights up like the real deal! We made a simple St. Patrick’s Day card for younger students. And we keep exploring…most recently we created a Spring Card that has two switches. So.Much.Fun.

 

Experimenting with LEDs. How many can you light up at once and for how long?

The kids enjoy it as much as I do! I have had middle school students have great success. Once they grasp the basic understanding of parallel circuits, how to make switches and comprehend what a short circuit is, they incorporate them into their own projects.

We’re now experimenting to determine how long 14 LED lights will stay lit off of a coin cell battery. They were still glowing after an hour. With this new information, we hope to incorporate these LEDs into light up constellations that can be made into an interactive bulletin board where a student can press a button and see the constellation light up! We’ll keep you posted!

Taking Creativity Risks in the Classroom {and at home}

HydroponicsLED

Wow! I took a risk and upgraded my basement hydroponics yesterday with an LED plant light. It was $280 for a light that covers a 2×4 foot area. Today I will add a Mylar reflecting foil to the sides so it maximizes the light hitting the plants. It was quite a shock because the light is mostly blue and red-very difficult on the eyes. In fact, after working around the light for 5 minutes everything seemed to have a green.

My basement is now illuminated with an eerie purplish glow. It kind of reminds me of the story “A Wrinkle in Time” when It was trying to hypnotize Meg and Charles Wallace with a throbbing light. I wonder what my neighbors are thinking.

Some of the things I do are really “out of the box” and it is difficult for some of my neighbors because we live in a condo. Residents in a condo are not exactly amenable to strange ideas, like when I grew hydroponic broccoli on my back porch last summer. Change and new ideas are hard to adjust to for some people. But to me that is the excitement of living. To try new things, to experiment, to continuously learn. Isn’t that what we want in our classrooms? Doesn’t curiosity drive learning?

We also need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We have to view failure not as the end, but a brief pause in learning. Somehow our children get the idea that failure is bad, maybe it’s that we put too much emphasis on grades.

We need to grow curiosity, take risks, encourage children to try new things, to experiment. I believe if you, as a classroom teacher, cultivate these traits, your children will begin to emulate you.

I will keep you updated on my hydroponic garden and I will turn off the LED light before I work on my plants!

Friday Follies: We’re taking on 3D Projects!

FoamRocket

Collaborating to make foam rockets!

I love collaborating with my dad on our projects because he encourages my own risk taking and creativity. Case in point, we’ve been crazy for our LED projects. First we created two different Christmas holiday cards (1, 2). Then we thought, “What if we make a Valentine’s card?” So we upped our LED game and created a pop-up and light-up valentine. I love the challenge of creating a pattern and wiring it to form something completely unique.

Because the pop-up valentine card wasn’t quite enough, I decided to push the boundaries.

Again.

So I decided to attempt 3D paper projects that light up with LEDs!

We’re in the prototype phase of our first 3D project and I can’t wait to show it to you. It will be debuted at the Wisconsin Parents Association Conference in May. We will be attending this show and giving away 250 of these light up 3D marvels. I cannot wait! {If you check back, I’m pretty sure we’ll be posting the finished project once it’s ready!}

Our family is full of collaborators. It’s one of the things that really makes our family unique. And fun. And crazy. Really crazy. We tend to be all in. Maybe a bit obsessive.

But when we get together, ideas are exchanged and we are off! Late last year we hosted a fundraiser for a little boy who was an orphan in China, he was *finally* paired with a family {one of my three sisters hosted him for one month in 2014}. His family was selected and he was on the fast track home. We wanted to help out, so we decided to throw together a fundraiser. In three weeks. We skyped. We texted. We emailed. We phone conferenced. We. Went. To. Work.

SantaPJPartyChalkboard

Perfect excuse for some chalkboard advertising!

Actually, we obsessed.

But three weeks after the initial meeting – we threw a huge party and raised almost $2,000 for Daniel to come home to his new family.

What I loved about our project is that we had the initial idea and quick work gave us a donated location from Jessica. We had exceptional organization from Sue and Amanda. We didn’t miss a single detail because Kendra watched to make sure we didn’t drop the ball. I offered up my design skills for advertising. We all chipped in to create additional products for sale {the men included! Shout out to the men in our lives who put up with us and even encourage our wild ideas.}.

SantaPJPartyFun

Photo booth at the Pajama Party with Santa! The answer is YES. {I already know your question.} I told you already. WE GO ALL OUT. So that meant wearing *matching* elf pajamas. In public. For the children, of course.

Little Daniel made it home about two weeks ago to a home with big sisters, a mom and dad, and dogs! He loves dogs! We plan to visit the whole family later this summer {on a full family trip}.

JoleneAndDaniel

Daniel and me just doing a little selfie!

Although we build our products with the classic classroom or homeschool lesson in mind, we really develop products because we love to explore and learn more. We do hands on learning in all facets of life. We believe your family would enjoy doing the same.