In two weeks, Amy Loeffelholz and I will be leading a 3 day workshop for elementary STEM teachers in Yukon, Oklahoma, which we’ve named “STEMseeds PD Camp.” (It’s June 2-4, 2015.) One of the planned STEM projects we’re going to do is “Jitterbug Robots,” a lesson my wife (Shelly Fryer) learned to do and enjoyed last summer at the “Create, Make and Learn” STEM workshop in Burlington, Vermont. She also did this lesson with her 3rd and 4th graders in February. They created a short video showcasing their creations. The students learned a lot about electricity and circuits during this project. I want to modify the lesson slightly for STEMseeds Camp and encourage participants to add button battery powered LED lights to their Jitterbugs. Tonight I ordered the following supplies for this lesson from SparkFun Electronics and Amazon.com, which are included in the supply list for the lesson published by the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The LED lights and batteries are not on the original supply list, but I’m adding them:

  1. 3 volt DC motors
  2. Alligator clip leads
  3. 3 volt button batteries
  4. 10 mm LED lights

I could have saved money by ordering everything from Amazon if I’d ordered sooner, but the items I wanted wouldn’t ship even with expedited service till after our workshop. Here’s a breakdown of what I ordered and what I might order next time for less money, if I give myself more lead time.

For the 3 volt DC motor, I went with the $1.95 hobby motor from Sparkfun. This 3 pack of DC motors from Amico would cost almost half as much per motor, but with Amazon expedited shipping they wouldn’t arrive in time. Based on my research for this lesson, I think either of these motors will work fine for the Jitterbugs.

For the alligator clip test leads, I went with these 10 packs from Sparkfun for $2.95 each. This is a good price, I didn’t look exhaustively but couldn’t find better prices on Amazon tonight.

For the LED lights, I went with a 10 pack of assorted colors from Sparkfun for $7.95. I found alternatives on Amazon for MUCH cheaper, but again they would have shipped too late. Here are the links for 50 packs of 10 mm , 3 volt LEDs for $4 each plus shipping in green, red, blue and white. In April and May of 2010, my kids and I participated in a wonderful DIY workshop in Oklahoma City about creating LED light pens to “paint with light.” This is a fun project to do if you can work with folks after dark, and if I have a chance to do this again with kids or adults in the months ahead I’ll likely order these less expensive LEDs from Amazon.

For the button batteries, thankfully, I was able to order from Amazon for much less than Sparkfun offers them. These 3 volt batteries are $1.95 each from Sparkfun.

Amazon, however, sells 3 volt button batteries for just $7.21 for a 20 pack with free shipping (since we’re “Prime” customers), putting the price at around 36 cents each. That’s a HUGE savings!

My final order to Sparkfun tonight was about $80 with USPS Priority Mail shipping, so these items should arrive mid-week next week. My Amazon order for 40 button batteries was about $14.50.

This is an EXPENSIVE STEM lesson budget, based on all the STEM lessons I’ve taught in the past two years, but I think it is going to be well worth it. Again, with more lead time I could have reduced the cost for the DC motors substantially. The LED lights aren’t needed for the project, but I think they are cool and it will give me a chance to also share about LED light painting with workshop participants. Button battery LEDs are also fun to add to nametags!

The additional supplies we’ll still need to purchase for this lesson include:

  1. AA batteries (1 per participant if everyone builds their own Jitterbug Robot)
  2. Glue sticks
  3. “Pipe cleaners, glitter, feathers, googly eyes, felt, and other craft materials”
  4. Jumbo paper clips
  5. Recycled CDs

Check out this video of the Jitterbug Robots my wife’s students made earlier this semester. This is going to be a VERY fun and worthwhile project.

I just wish I’d figured out all the right supplies to order earlier this semester, so I could have done this project with my Makers Club students! I’m leaving over $700 in our Makers Club activity fund after this year… so we would have had plenty of money to order supplies. I didn’t have much planning time this year to order supplies or do much of anything except keep my daily lessons going… but after doing this lesson in a couple of weeks for STEMseeds PD Camp, I should be ready to do the lesson again with students when another opportunity presents itself!

As with many STEM lessons, there are multiple ways to create Jitterbug Robots. Here is a 6 minute tutorial video I found on YouTube with some slight variations on the Exploratorium suggested recipe:

If your plans and budget allow, we still have room for more teachers to join us for STEMseeds PD Camp in 2 weeks. Amy and I would love to help you create your own Jitterbug Robots! Learn more on camp.STEMseeds.org.

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