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!

Air Pressure Experiments (IV): The Big Can Crush

I have a series of air pressure experiments (Air Pressure I – The Small Can Crusher, Air Pressure II – Prank, Air Pressure III – AnticsBernoulli’s Principle), that I’ve done over the years that always amaze my students. I have fun doing these, too. I think when I enjoy a classroom demonstration, my students tend to enjoy it more and participate more, too. Our air pressure science experiments are hands on and applicable to real life. Plus, they’re impressive (or hilarious – check out Air Pressure Prank and Air Pressure Antics). These science activities gets students thinking about air pressure which is an ambiguous concept for students to grasp. We take air pressure for granted. We don’t think about it very often. We notice it in our bags of chips when we’re flying on an air plane. We notice it in the wind and weather. But overall, it’s not as obvious as it is with this Big Can Crush experiment.

What this video doesn’t show are the steps we took before doing this demonstration. We used a clean can, marked square inches, discussed various math concepts like square units and cubic units, and of course air pressure! We heated up some water in this can, removed it from the heat and screwed on the cap. What do you think will happen? Most of my students think it will explode!

Watch what happens:

Air pressure is a force acting on us and in us every moment. If it wasn’t for air pressure in our bodies we’d flatten and crumple like this can! Check our bundled download to try all of these experiments in your own classroom.

Hydroponics 101.4: Light Requirements

Hydroponics-101

I’ve been growing plants using hydroponics for a few years now, both at home and in the classroom. For the first several years of doing hydroponics and aquaponics systems, I used a bank of T-5 fluorescent bulbs and they worked okay. But in this last planting, which I have set up in my basement, I purchased a bank of LED lights. I am passionately green and I read that LEDs are much more energy efficient and last much longer than any other type of bulb. I also read that LEDs can be tailored to provide the exact wavelengths of light for plants and flowers. You see, plants love light from the blue and red ends of the spectrum. While fluorescents provide some of that light, much of a fluorescent’s light is white and that is a waste of energy because plants use very little white light.


We’re currently in a series exploring Hydroponics {read our previous entries 101.1, 101.2, 101.3}.


The bank of LEDs was about $275 dollars. This was comparable to the cost of a T-5 bank of fluorescent bulbs, but I was astounded at the small size of the LED bank!

T5-and-LED-Light

I was blown away by the light though! What the LED bank lacked in size, it more than made up for in intensity. The instructions stated that the light should be hung at least 24 inches above the plants. I was able to hang it at about 22 inches. I was stunned that the light covered an area of about 2×4 feet where the plants were located. This from a bank of lights that is five inches wide and 18 inches long! My fluorescent bank was 22 inches wide and 46 inches long.

I left the light on while I worked in the basement. After about 15 minutes I started to see everything in a green aura. The intensity and wavelength of the light was affecting my vision. I decided to turn off the light and construct an enclosure around my plants that had Mylar reflective material on the sides to reflect the light back on to the plants.

HydroponicsLED

My plants are now bathed in blue and red light and are growing wonderfully.

Oh, and my vision is back to normal.

Hydroponics 101.3: The Circulation Method

Hydroponics-101

Picking up where we left off in our Hydroponics series… The circulation method of hydroponics is ideal for you if you have a few more dollars to spend (as compared to the more limited Kratky Method) and you would like your students to make a hydroponic system in the classroom. It is a great way to integrate the engineering design process and STEM into your curriculum as well as offer authentic learning to your class. It also offers you a way of integrating principles of chemistry and physics into your curriculum.


 

We’re currently in a series exploring Hydroponics and Aquaponics.
{Read the previous entries here Hydroponics 101.1 and Hydroponics 101.2}


 

In the circulation method, you need to provide a nutrient trough for the plants to bathe their roots in. This can be done in many ways. Two methods that I have worked with are a floating bed system and a rail system. With both systems I had great success.

Circulation-Method1

With the floating bed system, have your students construct a sturdy box of 2×4 lumber about two feet wide and four feet long. Attach a piece of plywood on the bottom and drill a hole for a bulkhead attachment to allow water to drain from the bed to a reservoir below the bed. Next, place a rubber pond liner inside the box and cut a small hole in the liner to match up with the hole you drilled earlier. Screw down the bulkhead and tighten it so that water will not leak out of the box. Now cut 2 inch holes into a piece of ½ inch thick pink Styrofoam insulation board. I used a 2 inch circular hole saw in a drill bit and ran the drill BACKWARDS so that the Styrofoam was not shredded.

Circulation-Method2

Now you are ready to fill the reservoir with water. I use a large plastic container (about 25 gallons) with a small aquaponics pump on the bottom and a hose running up to my growing bed. I fill the reservoir with water, add my nutrient solution, turn on the pump and circulate the water. Monitor the water height in the bed so that when you add your plant cups their roots are touching the water. I also would recommend you add a PVC pipe below by attaching it to the bulkhead with a PVC fitting so that water flows back to the reservoir.

Next we’ll explore light requirements, planting and monitoring your system.

Friday Follies: Lego Love

Legos®. Those colorful, creative little bricks that kids love to tinker with. It takes grit and persistence to build a project out of these little guys. It’s all the stuff kids enjoy. Problem solving, trial and error, risk taking. They use their own special engineering design process, they make mistakes, have failures that set them back and then, success! Tada! You made a robot. Or a tractor. Or something that looks awesome even though I have no idea what it is. The important thing is that you know what it is. And what it does.

It’s Mrs. Brainiac back for some Friday Fun! Today, she will share some Lego® love. Note that Jerry Brainiac loves Legos®, Mrs. Brainiac’s relationship with Legos® is ambivalent.

The most fun thing about creating with Legos® is actually a secret. A secret that only adults know. The odds of a budding Lego engineer reading this blog are slim to none so I feel confident I can reveal that secret here. Ready? Kids don’t know that when they are having fun with Legos® it’s actually a learning experience. Yes, just like school. And kids like learning. And math. And science. Yes, kids like math and science if it masquerades as fun.

Kids don’t know that it takes grit and persistence to build a project out of Legos®. They don’t know they are using problem solving, trial and error, risk taking. They don’t know they are using an engineering design process.  They don’t even realize that they’re making mistakes, learning from them and that’s why they successfully complete a project. They think they are just “playing with Legos®.”

Bonus “fun” is making a robot out of Legos® and then programming it to function. Make it go frontward and backward or speed up or turn. When a kid has “fun” programming Legos®, it’s possible that when that kid grows up, he or she might get a “fun” job programming computers. And that’s the secret some adults don’t know. You can have fun at work if you do something you enjoy that challenges you and offers variety and keeps your brain exercising.

But Legos® aren’t always fun. Jerry Brainiac has thousands of Legos. These Legos are all over Mrs. Brainiac’s house. Mrs. Brainiac doesn’t wear shoes in the house. You see where this is going.

Sometimes Mrs. Brainiac helps Jerry Brainiac at school events. Hundreds of kids attend and they learn to make and program Lego® robots. Thousands of Legos® and hundreds of kids. Kids with colds during the winter. Billions of germs on the thousands of Legos®. Mrs. Brainiac didn’t have Legos® when she was a little girl and doesn’t understand the attraction. All she thinks about are the germs. But she helps the kids anyway. Sometimes the kids have to show Mrs. Brainiac how to put them together right. And that’s good because you retain more information when you teach it to others. So teaching Mrs. Brainiac how to build Legos® helps you retain information. You’re welcome, kids.

Now let’s program the Lego® robots. The program uses pictures instead of words so kids that don’t read well can still do great programming. Once a little boy fresh from China was visiting and he picked up programming right away even though he didn’t know any English at all. So if a child is struggling with reading or language barriers, gaining some success and confidence from programming Legos® can be a good thing.

Computer Programmer!

Computer Programmer!

If Mrs. Brainiac can find educational value in Legos® then EVERYONE should be able to. So, get the kids going and have some fun with Legos®.  Your brain will thank you. And when your child grows up to be an engineer, you may thank Mrs. Brainiac for sacrificing the soles of her feet to the Lego® brick gods.