MiniMakers: ArtBots

The ArtBots and the conductive dough weeks were ambitious. I’d never done either, I have lots of children, and I have a small amount of time. Recipe for making fun disasters.

I used basic instructions from Girl Scouts’ Get Making with Get Moving booklet which is (I think) aimed at 4th to 5th grade students. This would be a fun weekend project with my smalls or with a small group of kids. I ended up spreading it over two weeks, and wish I’d worked it over three weeks so that all of the MiniMakers could have finished a robot. They were tough to pull together.

The gist: use a tomato basket, hook on a motor and some pens (as legs to do the drawing), and go. I have not been using glue guns but I will. I think they are the kind of tool that require a specific lesson just on using them and safety with a small project to learn the basics, then have them available, but supervised. I don’t feel like I can supervise a glue gun safely. With ten kids, for sure, but more than that, we are bonkers.

(I realize the “too many smalls!” is a recurring theme, but after a few weeks of club and reflection during and after, it’s the obvious conclusion. One person cannot adequately run this operation, especially when we’re all learning new things, with so many kids. It isn’t fair to them because things get hectic quickly in all the excitement of MAKING STUFF!)

The ArtBots suggested drawing or sketching a concept, which I did.


(My own sketch as well as a student sketch. I attached my eyeballs to the wrong end of my pig. Cue cackling six year olds.)

The kids wanted to get to it, preferring to skip the step. I should have stopped them except I thought it would lead to a teachable moment, and it did. The ones who had a plan were better able to execute than those who didn’t, and a few created a plan during our second ArtBot session that kept them focused, even if they didn’t realize it.

Here is S’s drawing from the second week. She worked diligently the first, but couldn’t get what was in her head to translate. So the second week, she sat for about five minutes and sketched this out:


And she is hanging the last bits together. The eyes are facing her. It worked! She had to do some troubleshooting with the motor. The motors need something attached to keep them off-balance and therefore the robot off-balance so it forces the tomato basket/form to jump around. Her motor was attached to the inside top of the basket with a pipe cleaner. She eventually added a second to better anchor it, but still had trouble with it swinging loose and then getting stuck to her mounds of duct tape on the sides.

I had my own share of trouble shooting. I learned to solder (and then had to do it two more times and finally watched a video to VASTLY improve my technique) and strip wires and crimp things to my wires so that I could attach 9-volt battery leads to the motors. My weak soldering and their enthusiasm led to a few batteries being stripped of their wires. Duds and disappointment.

IMG_8780Crimping. I’m pretty good at it. I’d really like a better wire stripper. A side effect of learning new techniques is the badass bonus. It’s impossible not to feel accomplished when you can strip wires, add batteries, solder, make power.


We hacked the batteries, though, because I wasn’t going to solder in the middle of club. Duct tape did the trick!IMG_8963

You can check out a video of an artbot at work here.

MiniMakers: ArtBots