Curious DIY Kits: Make Innovation Happen

What’s a Potentiometer? All About our Knob Dimmer DIY Kit

A potentiometer is a type of resistor. The word itself derives from the phrase “voltage potential,” and “potential” is used to refer to “strength” (Academickids.com). Resistors control the flow of the electric current in a circuit. Think of a kink in a garden hose that stops the water from flowing. 

Where can we find resistors in our daily life?

Resistors are used in all sorts of common household appliances, like light dimmers (which we’ll be making in this kit!) and also used to adjust volume on items such as televisions and radios. 

Light dimmers are resistors that let you control the amount of energy flowing to your lights. Adding more resistance reduces the brightness. We can also set up a potentiometer as a knob turning left and right. 

Making our Knob Dimmer DIY Kit

The Knob Dimmer DIY Kit is a project in the Electronics and Circuitry series—a group of projects that encourage hands-on learning in accordance with NGSS Standards for Energy and Energy Transfer. Through these projects students can explore scientific ideas to design, test and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another (4-PS3-4).

Let’s take a look at how we make a circuit and our own DIY light dimmer using the kit. We’re going to be using a breadboard because they’re the perfect vehicles of electronic experimentation! For more on breadboards, head to our recent blog post here

First, we insert the jumper wires and the LED into our breadboard. Then, it’s time to insert the switch! Finally, to test our project, we send current to the potentiometer. 

 

Turn the knob in either direction to direct the flow of the current through either color LED on one side or the other. We can compare the circuits and remember when we decrease resistance, we allow more electricity to flow.

What have we made? What can we do with it?

Now you and your students have just made a circuit incorporating a potentiometer…and also a light dimmer miniature exposé! Next comes the best part—encourage your students to take the circuit back apart and start experimenting. Have you already put together our BreadBoard Basics DIY Kit? Try combining the cumulative materials of both into an even more advanced circuit.  

Did you or your student make an interesting new project with a multi-path circuit using our DIY Kit components? Upload a snap of your project on any social media and tag us for a chance to be featured on our page. Time to crank up the imagination and creativity!

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What’s a Photometer? All About Our Light Sensitivity DIY Kit!

“I love plants and have some in my bedroom window and now I can measure how much light they’re getting!”

—5th grade student, SAR Academy 

In our last blog post we talked all about what a breadboard is and how it can help us tinker and explore. In order to learn more about light and electronics, we’re also going to use a breadboard to experiment and make our own DIY photometer. 

A photometer is a tool that measures the strength of light. It converts light into electricity using a photoresistor (fishersci.com).

Once we make that…well then the options are endless what we can do with it! One way, pictured above, is to measure how much light our plants are receiving to make sure they’re staying healthy.  

We already know all about how beneficial experimentation and curiosity is to deeper learning, and with this DIY Kit, we dive deeper into circuitry. In order to make our own photometer, we will need the breadboard, LEDs, batteries, jumper wires, and a photoresistor.

What’s a photoresistor?

You’re walking down the street at dusk—the light is hazy and golden. As you round the corner, the sun begins to set…and as it gets darker…the street lights POP on. This is because there’s a tiny piece of electronic hardware in the lamppost called a photoresistor. It doesn’t have a positive or negative terminal, so electricity can flow through in either direction.

A photoresistor is a type of resistor. Resistors work similarly to a kink in a garden hose slowing or stopping the water. When we add a resistor to a circuit before an LED, we can dim the LEDs brightness. You might use a resistor to dim the lights in your home.

What makes photoresistors special is their ability to sense light. If it senses a lot of light, it reduces resistance and lets electricity flow. If it doesn’t sense light, it creates a large amount of resistance and prevents electricity from flowing.

How do we make the photometer?

First, we insert the photoresistor in the breadboard. Then, we insert the jumper wires. Now we can follow our created circuit! The DIY kit includes all the fun instructions to create your own tool. 

How is the photoresistor relevant to our daily lives?

Every day we interact with electronic devices in many ways—buttons, switches, remote controllers, voice commands, touch screens, night lights, etc. Photoresistors allow us to interact with electronics in a very cool way. 

The Light Sensitivity DIY kit is designed to demonstrate the way we can interact with electronics using light, which helps with visual learning. We can even see the level of light that our plants are receiving by the brightness of the LED, which makes this DIY kit extremely interactive and useful even after assembly. 

Therefore, students learn while they make the photometer and then they can observe their surroundings with their newly created tool!

How Does a Breadboard Encourage Experimentation? Why Is That Important for Learning? All About Our Breadboard Basics DIY Kit

Curiosity and the urge to solve problems are the emotional hallmarks of our species.

—Carl Sagan

A curious mind thrives on the art of play and experimentation. One of the ways that we can encourage experimentation is through engineering, which is the “practical application of scientific knowledge to solve everyday problems.” (Ed.gov

Engineering relies on the art of testing and prototyping, which is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process. (Wiki) A prototype is like a first-draft where students can test out what works and what doesn’t. 

What is a breadboard? How does it encourage exploration?

A breadboard allows the mind to harness the desire to explore, test, and prototype without the burden of soldering. Students can test out different circuit paths without having to make permanent wire-splices, which makes it that much easier to have fun with problem-solving and building! 

In the kit, we use the breadboard to make and test out experiments. The breadboard has pins that are connected using conductive metal. Each row is a team of pins that share electricity and we send electric current using jumper wires. 

A battery has two terminals (positive and negative) that fit into the breadboard pins. Then, we insert the LED terminals into the breadboard and use that to visually show us our “test results”. 

We use the conductive metal tip of brass fasteners and the jumper wires to create two closed circuits. This is called a multi-path circuit. In order for the LED to light, its circuit must make a complete circular path back to the battery. 

From here, students can begin to take on more and more complex projects involving breadboards, such as Curious DIY Kits: Light Sensitivity, Knob Dimmer and Wireless Electricity. 

How does exploration create an environment for learning?

In our last blog post, we talked all about how curiosity leads to deeper learning. When we experiment, we foster imagination. The first step to learning is to admit that we don’t know something. Then, the fun begins when we start to discover how and why something works. Like Anatole France said, “The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” With our Breadboard Basics DIY Kit, students are set up to tinker and explore….and hopefully discover!

How Curiosity Leads to Deeper Learning

It takes a curious mind and all the components of a Curious DIY Kit to get one big “WOW!” moment. Let’s take a further dive in all things DIY Kits! 

A curious mind loves to explore and play—what happens if we move this component over here? What does this do? What is causing this part to light up and not the other? If you’re hearing these questions asked while putting together a DIY Kit then you’re doing it right! DIY Kits allow the mind of a true tinkerer to explore and then feel proud of a completed project. What comes in the box? First, the idea. Then, the concepts. The materials, of course. Lastly, the instructions that guide the student through problem-solving steps to create and finish the project. 

According to a study by Dr. Matthias Gruber, “curiosity puts the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it” (Edutopia). Curious minds are stronger, more robust minds. There’s a voice in all of us that wants to know about the what and why of things—how do things work? Our job is amplifying that voice loud enough so that every student can feel the joy of making a discovery on their own. There’s no better feeling than the sense of accomplishment that comes after problem-solving. That’s why our DIY Kit is the perfect tool for learning—it piques interest and sets the stage for a deeper understanding. 

Let’s zoom in on the kit Abby is working on in the video above: Spectroscope!

Students first learn some fundamental physics regarding light and that a spectroscope is a scientific instrument used to observe and compare light spectrums produced by various light sources. A spectroscope has many scientific uses. For instance, on satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope, they’re used to determine the chemical compositions of stars. The student’s challenge is to make a DIY-style spectroscope and compare the light spectrums produced by various light sources so that they can observe the light in their own homes or classrooms. Discussion topics include “white light”, light spectrums, electromagnetic radiation and spectroscopes in technology. The instructional resources included in the kit explain how spectroscopes work and offer experiments to perform. Our goal is to help the student get curious about what light is and how it works. Then, they get to figure it out on their own by creating their very own tool. Curiosity helps foster learning in the most meaningful way and Curious DIY Kits is the best way to #GetCurious!

You Can’t Wear Fun

Make Some Fun with Us, Please! 

 

For over five years Curious-on-Hudson has taken things apart, built things up, explored, exploded and wandered…we know what’s fun. I guess you could say that is our biggest accomplishment and we’re not ashamed to say it: YAY! We know what fun looks like.  From STEAM Camps to workshops to Spring Break….to Tinkerers and Makers and more: Fun is not what we give you – it’s what you make happen here. 

Let’s repeat that:  We can’t make you wear fun because FUN is what YOU MAKE HAPPEN.  And we’d sure like it if you make it here.

It (fun) looks like the kids we serve. It looks like their faces when they DELIGHT in what they’ve done. Or what they’re working on. Or the fact that they just can’t stop doing it, even when it is time to go home. They cannot stop having the fun, the pure joy, the delight of finding themselves in what they are doing.

And that’s what we’re proud of. Not expensive equipment. Not trendy buzz words. Not things you’ll learn today and forget tomorrow. We build you up, from the inside out – not the other way around.

So, when camps say we promise you a “fun-filled” summer, we think, “we promise to help you make a fun-filled summer for yourself.” Because if we just try and stick it on you the way you’d wear a sticker, well…it just won’t stick.

We’re proud of who we are and we are proud of all that you do for us.  Thank you.

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