MiniMakers: Conductive Dough

I really love our local electronics store. It’s third generation, with the granddaughter working there, too. She is awesome. She’s answered questions, given me tips, and not laughed once (in front of me) as I’ve asked all the questions I can think of. And then I come back, buy a few more components and ask more questions.

One interesting by-product of the ArtBots was that when parents stopped in to pick up their children, they seemed genuinely okay whether the kid had a robot or not. Some of them worked, some didn’t, and that was okay.

I followed the ArtBots up with Conductive Dough. One complicated electronic project deserves another! Also, I couldn’t help myself. ArtBots sounded awesome and they were. Conductive dough sounded awesome, and is.

I made the dough the night before, creating a small test batch, and then larger batches for the MiniMaker group. IMG_9128

(Because the dough can mold, I didn’t want to make it too far in advance.) The red dough is non-conductive (sugar-based) and the uncolored is conductive. Conductive is a bit like salt dough, except that it’s cooked down with heat, has oil and cream of tartar added.

IMG_9132

If it works correctly, you create an electrical circuit through the dough, enough to light an LED.

But not all LEDs light the same. Some, like the blue and yellow, take more power. At home, they didn’t light up. When the MiniMakers used these colors, we got wildly different results.

IMG_9138

So the conductive dough, which had been pliable and firm the night before (the green above is more teal in person, and is what we used in our session, was wet and sticky. I’d already poured in about an extra cup of flour as I kneaded it into shape, but the kids held up sticky hands, wondering what to do next. I wish I had a photo of a dozen teal hands wiggling in the air. We made a lot of trips to the bathroom to clean up between kneading sessions (I brought extra flour). Then another teacher helped me un-dough those bathrooms (sorry!).

You can’t see the boys’ expressions in the photo below, but they are delighted with the results of their volcano dough. Big lights!

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I would definitely do this one again, but I would rework the dough a half hour before the session started so the MiniMakers wouldn’t have to. It’s not a huge deal, but kneading is its own lesson and while some of them did fine, others really struggled or got side tracked. I would also have specific tests I’d have them do before they got to the free-flow part of the session. Additionally, we left a lot of flour on the floor of the science room (sorry!). I think this would work better over a couple of sessions (or a two hour session – I have an hour), and send them home with packets to keep working and tinkering with their parents.

Sources

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MiniMakers: Conductive Dough

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