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.


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.


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.


MiniMakers: Conductive Dough

MiniMaker Club: Parachutes

When I get ready for the MiniMaker club, I have to be sure I have all the materials in hand. I bring them over from our house to the school, loading in and out each time there’s a club. This isn’t a huge deal, except that I need a trolley and better bins. I thought one was enough. Why did I think that? It’s not.

There are 14 kids in the MiniMaker club. Most of them are about six, maybe turning seven. The rest are a little older. It makes for a lot of moving parts on a day to day basis and not a lot of photo opps. Also, any photos I take I try not to include faces because they aren’t my children. So if you see odd cropping, that’s why.

Parachutes. We made parachutes for J’s fifth birthday at Brooklyn Robot Foundry. It was the perfect one hour, small kid project. And it is one that can be complicated by adding weights to the parachute’s basket, changing the kind of parachute material you’re using, so on. These are really more like a cross between a hot air balloon and a parachute. They include a basket (dixie cup) that can hold ballast which could be an egg, some pom poms glued together to make a buddy (we call them dudes), or other items.

We’d hoped to toss them from an upper balconey into the school garden. Wouldn’t that have been awesome and very photographable? But we got one of the two storms to grace us this winter on that day, so we tossed them from the second floor to the first inside the school building. Still awesome.

One of the boys, who likes to speed through his projects and zip off to make things elsewhere (I’m into making movies), came late, created a parachute, and said, “I’m throwing it out. It doesn’t work.” I asked if he’d tried it. He hadn’t. Off he went. Three minutes later, he was back, cackling, “It worked! It worked!” Excellent, my MiniFriend, excellent! 

So, as before, if you’d like to look at the process I hacked together, see the attached file. I cribbed steps from a few places including a recycled materials video (link included).

  • Method 1 coffee filter + pipe cleaner + small cup + decor
  • Method 2 circle cut from plastic bag + yarn + small cup + decor

We had two options for the parachute itself: coffee filter or cut plastic bag (you should get two circles from a bag). The coffee filters I bought were the largest I could find without going to Peet’s coffee and asking for one of their foot-diameter filters, about 6 inches across, which is absurdly small. Too small.

As with the goo session, I erred on the side of letting them do more than their age, our ratio of kid to me, and our club time allows. The instructions suggest using a hole puncher to make holes in the chute. However, my hole puncher required careful sliding of the material into a narrow gap. Took forever and didn’t work for most of the kids so I started snipping slits instead. While the plastic bags make for better parachutes, finding plastic bags in a Berkeley home is challenging: stores no longer give them out; we use compostable bags for our dog’s poop; I couldn’t find my circulating cache of vegetable bags.

Kids could tie yarn to the parachute but guess what. They are six. Most of them can’t tie things easily. So we opted for pipe cleaners.

I gave them options for decorating and creating dudes or buddies to have plummet to a certain death in their parachutes.

One of the boys is a brilliant tinkerer/troubleshooter. He reworked his parachute several times, adding and removing items to see what the effect of weight changes on its flight. I love the way he works. He’s incredibly diligent and focused.

Boy holding coffee filter parachute with colorful gems for weight.

Next time I would cut the plastic bags ahead of time. I bought new hole punchers so I would probably do half and let the kids who can manage the hole punchers take that on. I would also cut the yarn ahead of time. I’d have an adult on hand who could tie knots. Every week I wish for one more adult.



MiniMaker Club: Parachutes