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It’s Electric! (Boogie woogie woogie)…

Now that you are all *hopefully* having wonderful flashbacks to the lovely Electric Slide, let me tell you about my project for the maker faire!

Ursula Evil Laugh

Loki Devious Laugh

I do a lot of arts and crafts-type projects, especially at work, so I decided I wanted to try something new and different… and possibly involving electronics.  But I also didn’t want to break the bank, and as I’m sure at least some of you discovered, electronics are EXPENSIVE! So I went on a quest to find something electronic-y or electricity-centered.

Kronk and Yzma Power

Kronk and Yzma Dinner

Imagine my delight when I discovered electro-etching!  All I needed, in addition to common household items like salt and black nail polish, was some wiring and a 9-volt battery! Not expensive at all! So I set to gathering all of my supplies, and mentally preparing myself to etch into metal using a simple chemical reaction!

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As you can see, most of these items are fairly common, and not at all difficult to obtain.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any wiring sets, so I ended up buying some alligator clips and attaching them to 22 AWG wire to make little mini-cables.  They almost look like miniature jumper cables!  This process took me a long time, because I had issues stripping the wires, and I also kept yanking out the wires after threading them through the opening in the alligator clips, but I eventually got the hang of it, and made my own wire set!

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The basic idea of this project is to create a circuit connected to the metal and the salt and vinegar solution that allows the electricity to cause the solution to burn into the metal, thus etching the design drawn into the nail polish onto the knife (or whatever metallic object you choose).  It’s a little more complicated than that, but I wanted to give you an overview before I get too far into the project (I will include my full instructions at the end, as well as a link to the original source.)

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Overall, I was really proud of myself. I didn’t think it was working at first, but when I cleaned off the nail polish, I found that my design had actually been etched!

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The next day, I was still feeling pleased with myself, and also extremely nerdy, so I began a fandom knife with easy symbols from various fandoms that I felt I could recreate on the knife.

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 What did I learn?

I made a few discoveries while I was in the early stages of this project.  First of all, I realized I really needed to decide on a design before painting the blade with the nail polish, because otherwise it would dry and ruin everything.  As a very indecisive person, this was rather time-consuming for me, but I was happy with what I decided in the end.  I also found that mixing the solution while waiting for the nail polish to dry allowed the salt more time to dissolve into the vinegar.  If I had not had any of these supplies before starting, I estimated that it would cost $15-20 to purchase all of the materials, because most of the items can be found at any local dollar store.  The only reason it would be more is if you bought wires that were already attached to the alligator clips, or if you were buying materials for more than just one or two people.

The other big takeaway I got from this project was that it feels really good to accomplish something on your own.  Yes, I used a set of instructions for the basis of my project, but as I was working through it, I found myself tweaking things here and changing steps there, truly making it my own.  Martinez and Stager (2013) tells us that “the constructionist theory that making, complete with the process of making things better, leads to understanding” (p. 54).  The more I was able to adapt the steps to suit my needs and my thought process, the more I could make connections.

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Would this work in a library?

Overall, I think this could be a fun project to do with a small group.  I’m considering doing it with my teens, because I usually have around 7, so I think this could be easily replicated.  I do not think this would work well for a large group, because there are enough steps that will take different people different lengths of time, that it would get frustrating trying to all work in a group.  It could be a fun station within a makerspace though, if you had a few sets of guidelines to explain the setup, because there is a lot of freedom and creativity within the project; the design can be whatever you can imagine and draw.

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I also think this could fit well into a STEAM curriculum, because it involves both the art of designing a pattern or picture and the science of a chemical reaction by using the solution to etch into the metal.  One thing I will say is that if you can find somewhere to buy the wires pre-made, I would suggest considering that, or at least prepping them all beforehand, because that was pretty time-consuming for me.  But aside from that, as long as you have the time, and enough of a budget to cover supplies, I think this would be fairly easy to reproduce within a library setting.

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And now, I shall share my process!

Metal-etching steps:

Materials:

Connecting cables
9-volt battery
Stainless steel knife (or other unpainted metal)
White distilled vinegar
Iodized salt
Black nail polish
Nail polish remover
Toothpicks
Q-tips
Paper towels
Newspaper (or something to lay down on the surface you’re working on)

*In total this project took me 33 minutes the first time, and about 32 minutes the time after that. I have included the time each step took in brackets and italicized. I spent a lot of time on the design the first time around, and a little less the next time, but allowed more time for the knife to dry, so it stayed pretty equal timing-wise

  1. Once all of the supplies are collected, start by painting the part of the knife (or other metal) with your nail polish [2 minutes]
  2. As the nail polish dries, use a toothpick to carve in your design [10 minutes]
  3. Let the knife dry completely [5 minutes]
  4. While the knife is drying, mix up the solution of vinegar and salt. Use about a tablespoon of vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of salt, and allow to dissolve: when it is ready, dip the Q-tip into the solution [3 minutes]
  5. Connect the wires to the battery, the knife, and the Q-tip: the red wire should connect to the positive terminal on the battery and the handle of the knife, while the black wire should connect to the negative part of the battery and the part of the Q-tip with solution on it [1 minute]
  6. Swab the design slowly and evenly; the longer you swab, the deeper the etching will be (I went through multiple Q-tips per design; this will be at the user’s discretion). Don’t worry if there is hissing and sizzling or a little bubbling while you swab, this is part of the reaction and means it is working – there may even be a few little wisps of smoke! [10 minutes]
  7. Use the nail polish remover to clean off the nail polish and to see your design! [2 minutes]

Please let me know if you have any questions!!

Pikachu Electricity

References

Magpirate. (2015 March 11). Cheap & easy metal etching with household items [Blog post]. Craftster. Retrieved from http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=438435.0

Martinez, S.L. & Stager, G.  (2013).  Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom.  Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

This week, we were asked to consider the relationship between creation and the importance of beauty, passion, and endurance, and what, if any, responsibility we have when teaching to instill inspiration on top of skill building.  This struck me as a really thought-provoking question, because it is not something I have ever really contemplated before.  But the longer I thought about it, the more I felt that we do, as teachers, have that responsibility.  Furthermore, isn’t it every teacher’s dream to inspire their students?  Yes, I know, we are not teachers in the traditional sense, but we still teach, so should we not still inspire?

Batman Contemplating

While reading Invent to Learn, one idea really stuck out to me:

“Artists, musicians, filmmakers, authors, poets, and crafts people do not set out to produce or consume content.  They work tirelessly to draw, write, paint, film, compose, play, build, knit, sew, act or direct to create personally meaningful objects, sights, sounds, or memories” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 66).

I think this is a really important concept to remember.  Makers aren’t necessarily making to be noticed or to receive praise, they are making because they want to and because something has motivated them to create.  As teachers, we should encourage this type of making.  As teachers, we want to provide the starting point, and let the student go where they will.  We want to inspire someone to start, and then see where it takes them.  We do not need to give a complete, step-by-step set of instructions: give the students a little, and they will create a lot.

Of course, there will always be exceptions to this.  I know there will always be someone who cannot fathom what comes next when given the tiniest of nudges.  But the hope is that you can provide enough guidance or information to stimulate them into finding their own way, finding their angle, and learning the skill you are teaching without forcing one particular method on them.  Yes, as teachers, there has to be a focus to our projects.  There are things that need to be taught, but there are always many ways to do it.  It is our job to find the most engaging, or the most interest-inducing way to go about it.  Finding projects that will allow students to explore their interests while still capturing the essence of the lesson is the fastest way to both inspire and immerse students in the learning environment.  We want them to go forth and discover, and what better way to discover than through something they are passionate about?  “When a project burns inside of them, students often exceed our expectations” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 60).  It is our responsibility to fan the flames.

For me, the most important example of why we teach to inspire as well as build skills comes from the reading. At the end of chapter four, there is a section entitled “Making Memories.”  It’s just a few paragraphs, but I think it truly captures what I am trying to demonstrate about why we must not only help students build skills, but also inspire them.  The author discusses that moment when you’ve just rolled out of bed and have to run to the store for milk before you can even start your day, and you run into a former student who wants to reminisce, starting with “remember that time we…” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 67).  This shows the influence we can have as teachers in students’ lives.  Often, it is teachers (or librarians) who teach a student something that sticks with them, and inspires them later in life.  While we may not remember most of what we learned in school, there is usually some lesson or idea that has endured.  We read stories all the time where people are thanking their sixth grade teacher, or their elementary school librarian, for doing or saying something that both taught them a lesson and formed the basis for inspiration down the line.  “Great teachers know that their highest calling is to make memories” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 67).  By choosing projects and lessons that are memorable, we are laying the groundwork to leave students feeling inspired and excited to learn in the future.

Leslie Happy Dance

Reference

Martinez, S.L. & Stager, G.  (2013).  Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom.  Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you!

This week, as I was listening to Adam Savage’s Maker Faire talk, I found a lot of what he was saying really resonated with me.  Most poignantly, at the end when he was concluding his talk, he said:

“It doesn’t matter what you make and it doesn’t matter why.  The importance is that you’re making something.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the passion and the feeling behind his whole talk, and especially this sentiment, and I immediately knew this was what I wanted to address this week. Creating, while it is about the creation, is also about the experience, and the joy and happiness a creator gets from making something.  And no two experiences will ever be the same.  We all go about making things in different ways, whether we are re-creating something from pop culture or pulling a thought from our minds and making it real.  For example, when Adam was talking about people coming together on the Replica Prop Forum to discuss their various re-creations of the Iron Man costume, I realized that while all of these people are looking for the same end product, the way they all get there will be different.  Just because someone is making something from pop culture, it does not mean they are less creative or original: it means they’ve seen something they are so interested in, so passionate about, that they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it theirs.  So what if it isn’t their original work?  The fact is, that person is using the tools available to them, the skills they have, or possibly learning new skills, all in order to fabricate something from scratch that they can be proud of and call their own.  It’s a different type of creativity, but it is creativity nonetheless.

So while I do think that the experience varies when makers are creating something out of their imagination as opposed to something from pop culture, I think the experience honestly just varies whenever someone creates something.  No two people are alike, and no two creations will be alike, which means no two experiences will be the same.  Whatever you choose to make, you are starting with a picture in your head, or on paper, and you must plot out how to best accomplish the end product.  And therein lies the experience of planning and creating; it’s the same process whether it’s your own original work or something you want to re-create so you can have something special that you may have seen before, but you have made all on your own.  And no matter what you make, hopefully it makes you happy and you can just be proud that you made it.

Iron Man Explosion