In Search of the  Kit

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It’s easy to get making if you have unlimited funds to set up a great makerspace and outfit it with all the newest tools, but what if you had just a sawbuck to spend? What would you make and how?

That’s the question that James Cunningham recently asked us on behalf of an elementary school in Mamaronek, New York, where he works. Serving a low-income student body, James is planning a Maker Night for about 70 students. His budget? Ten bucks a head.

We immediately thought of Squishy Circuits, which saves money when utilized with homemade Play-Doh, can serve four to seven people with one kit, and is a great introduction to the wonders of LEDs and motors, but wanted to turn to the higher minds of the Maker world.

What project do you suggest James do with new, young Makers for $10 or less? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

38 thoughts on “In Search of the $10 Kit

  1. Our makerspace (www.barrelofmakers.org) has had success with the Simple Electronic Instrument from PAiA (http://www.paia.com/bckit1/) They sell the bits 3 for $1.00 and you need to supply batteries, wires, speakers, paper and pencils. We’ve used donated headphones as speakers and gotten alligator clips cheap at Harbor Freight. It comes out way less than $10 per person. It requires no soldering and kids get to draw and make weird noises!

  2. 555 Timers, buttons, LEDs, buzzers, potentiometers and stripboard. Make a cooker timer with a variable time (monostable). Should come in under $10 a head in quantities. Alternatively, ask for donations from local STEAM companies??

  3. If you want to go the woodworking route, a coping saw can be had for about five dollars if you shop around. Add some quarter inch poplar from the home store, and you’re well within ten dollars. Print out a simple pattern and make a basic jigsaw puzzle. The kids can keep the saws afterward and explore on their own.

  4. This is a tough one.
    I am in a similar position: I volunteer at a school nearby (grades 11-14) and there is little to no money for projects available.
    It is a regular school, though one could say many kids are underprivileged here in the district.

    I have ordered over 100 times at Aliexpress now, as it was the only way to get materials.

    -i’ve built telescopes with kids out of $0.60 reading-glasses, glass beads and cardboard. Also a CD-Spectroscope, the “Doppler”-cable-car, jello-lenses… It does not always need hitec.

    -Three bucks soldering irons, four bucks multimeter. Lets see when the first one explodes.

    -I ordered Arduino clones for $2.80, boxes full of motors, resistors, LEDs and so on. Locally, electronics cost 10-50 times as much, it’s insane.

    -There WAS an Ardublock kit for $12-15 at Aliexpress that came in a neat box with everything you need to get started. Ardublock enabled even younger students to work with the Arduino. Unfortunately the cheap kits are out of stock; You can self-source the stuff at Aliexpress for about the same (or less if you do not need all modules). For older students, breadboards and components will be even cheaper.
    A $3 arduino clone, $2 breadboard and for a few cents each some LDR, LED, switches, buzzer, resistors… Even servos cost less then $1.50.

    -Right now I am building simple robots with students in groups of two. Chassis, Arduino and ultrasonic distance sensor cost less then 15 bucks.
    With a self-build chassis and a IR/Line-Tracker module I can construct a small robot for under $5 (nano, tcrt5000, two fifty cent toy motors, laminate boards).

    -For stop-motion boxes, telescope mounts and bottle rocket launchers I have used cheap construction wood / roof battens and laminate scraps. The kids are having a blast with the stopmotion boxes, the older ones like to build them. It cost less then $10 and three or four kids can work on a project. Webcams are just as cheap.

    -Rockets. Kids love rockets. Plastic bottle, cork, ball needle, pump. Let the kids cut out fins and astronauts, and glue them to the rockets. Attach a $4 spycam to the bottle and pump :-)

    -I love to watch SpenglerScience and other youtube videos that utilize stuff you find around the house. There is so much to explore, but so little time…

    -You can build a lot of cool planes out of insulation foam. Gliders or RC.

    -I am currently working on the tiny planetarium again. You need plastic cable pipes, white fabric and then let the kids build a pinhole projector. This one is a pretty large task, I have difficulties finishing the project atm.

    Everybody expects good education, but it’s difficult with peanuts.
    Having little to no funds results in creative solutions :-)

  5. How about making a room heater that recirculates the warm air ? Put it in the window inside-next to the glass, demonstrating all sorts of laws and principles. Everyone could bring in used cans, just buy the material for half of the box, plus paint, and thermometers, and have money left over for graph paper to use to submit a grant proposal showing how much saved in heating costs.

  6. I just ordered a 7 dollar arduino kit from a overseas vendor. It’s a knockoff but that’s the whole reason for open source. It contains a uno board, a collection of components, full size bread board and jumper wires. Let me know if you want a link.

      1. Link is above. Hope you can put it to good use. Hundreds of projects in each kit and hundreds more if they can take them home. Thousands of projects online for free you can do with the components in the kit :)

      1. Thank you very much for the link!
        I have seen these sets before but not at that price.
        With the cheap Ardublock Kit gone, this is an amazing value.
        At least with the older kids this will be a great way to get started.
        Especially as it was on sale again today, so discount plus mobile rebate. Yesterday it was $8.60 on both.
        For people not wanting to use the app, just replace www with m to go to the mobile view of the item.

  7. Take the kids for a “collect your old electronics” trip through a neighborhood (preferably a rich neighborhood – make sure to let the home owners association and stuff know). Ask for old electronics people don’t need anymore (especially ink-jet printers, scanners, etc). Then bring the old junk, take them apart and collect all the gears, motors, etc.

  8. If you are looking for a take home project, we love the Pocket Flashlight project on Instructables. All you need is foam, coin cell battery,pipe cleaners and 1 or 2 LEDs. Depending on the age of the students, you can pre cut the foam or have the students cut the foam into various shapes (e.g. animal, bug, ocean creature). The LEDs make for the perfect eyes! (http://www.instructables.com/id/Pocket-Flashlight/?lang=de)

    Pair this activity with Squishy Circuits and a circuit ball or stick demo (http://www.beamazingtoys.com/product/energy-stick/) and you have a full Maker night!

  9. Here’s a few projects that come to mind.
    1. First, since we’re entering winter months and it’s pretty dry in most homes and schools, its time to have fun with static electricity! It’s easy to make static generators out of pvc pipe (see http://www.sparkbangbuzz.com/els/stat-gen-el.htm) and use them the charge Leyden jars (capacitors). I was able to make simple Leyden jars using Styrofoam cups with aluminium foil pressed in between (from top to bottom: cup-foil-cup-foil-cup. The top cup is just to make sure that the top foil “plate” of the capacitor is well pressed within the next cup.). You’ll also need wire to connect the bottom foil plate to ground (metal doorway, heater, etc. anything with exposed metal) and participants can form the edge of the upper foil piece into a collector as described in the article.
    2. You can make a simple static charge detector with a transistor, 9V battery, and an LED. The recipe is here: http://amasci.com/emotor/chargdet.html no circuit board needed. cheap and works very well.
    3. Then of course, there’s the simplest motor in the world: http://youtu.be/zOdboRYf1hM the magnets can be ordered relatively cheaply but they’re a choking/pinching hazard for young kids.

  10. ok, Kit discussion aside for a minute.

    James Cunningham – You sir are an amazing teacher. Taking your time to reach out an learn how to best serve your kids. You have my respect and thanks. We need more teachers like you.

    ok back to kits – What if you reverse the logic? Have the kids identify a project, source parts and build a business plan so it would sell for $10?

    “We want to build a robot thing” – Brush bots and solar rollers could be kitted cheap.
    “We want to build an LED thing” – flash lights, blinkers and pummers.
    “We want to build an optics thing” – Solar ovens/stils, sun dials and spectroscopes

    Then come back here, and offer to sell the kits. I’d buy 1 or 2 just for fun – I collect science doodads like that.

    1. Wow Jim I never thought of it that way. That is a great idea as well. I will run it by the others at my school to see what they think for sure.

  11. My team of mini-makers (grades k-5) is doing Art-Bots for the second year in a row, with parts on order from Ebay, it’s very inexpensive — maybe $4-5 per kid. The Solo cups are inexpensive, and you can use things like corks or craft sticks to make the motors wobble. AAA battery holders is about $5.50 for 10 on ebay (incl ship), d21mm motors are about $11 for 20 (incl ship), AAA batteries are inexpensive at Harbor Freight, 100 markers are $16 at Walmart (and you don’t even need three per bot if you have craft sticks. Here’s a blog post on the project written by the kids last year — it has a few pictures. http://cpsfcmaker.org/2014/01/13/building-an-artbot-arena/ (Feel free to comment if you have questions. The kids did the accounting, budgeting, and sourcing, so I can get you actual numbers if you want.)

    These little bots are great lessons in simple circuits, plus they get to be creative and make them their own (googly eyes, tape, etc). We laid out some newsprint and had them “battle it out” — lots of fun, and some cool are came out of it.

    At the same time, pick up a 1000-count box or two of craft sticks ($5/box walmart) and some rainbow loom rubber bands (also inexpensive, and there are many parents out there who are probably happy to get rid of old ones!) and have them make marshmallow catapults. That build was lots of fun, too.

  12. Ebay Schenzen sellers, the local dipsty dumpster, Harbor Freight, the local Pull-a-part, Goodwill and Salvation Army, and what you find by the road… are all your friends.

    A worthless discarded TV found at the dump is full of electronic parts, for example, that would cost you $300 in parts bags at Radio Shack. I would start even more basic than electronics, though.

    Most kids have never swung a hammer or drilled a hole, cut a board, or driven a screw with a power screw driver. Start there, with wood, before you attempt any other engineering project. These things are elementary to building say… a tree house. With nothing more than a hammer, nails, saw, Level, tape ruler, and trowel people have built millions of houses.

    With some handheld power screw drivers, with drill bits and a phillips bit, deck screws, a miter saw, a hand or table saw, Sand paper and stain, and a router to smooth edges… you can make just about any piece or type of furniture in the world.

    If I had to teach anything, the first thing I would teach is how to clean and fix stuff… any and all types of stuff… because to do so is to learn how to create wealth without money.

    For example, bring in a hopeless old rusty lawn mower, and say… when were done, this is going to look like new and purr like a kitten… and you can fix anything you find that anyone has thrown away… just as we are going to do with this lawnmower I found in a dumpster…

    But it could be anything. Rusty lawn furniture. A torn pair of pants. A broken bicycle. A broken chair. A wore out thing that needs repainting. A dead car. An old computer. A board game missing pieces. Empty flower pots that need filling…

    In the process you may learn how to derust metal with electrolysis (youtube it!), cut metal with an alluminum oxide cut off wheel, solder, sew, drill, clean, use wrenches and sockets, install drivers and reformat disks and go into bioses, and a thousand other things… and you can share all this with the kids and learn as you learn.

    Remember, most of these kids are going to be dumped out into the world after school with nothing… nothing! No real property, no land of their own, no house, no car. And zero practical skills because schools are a total joke. We truely live in a criminal soceity where all the old people own everything because they got there first. What they will have will be the clothes in their closet and maybe a cellphone and a boom box to their name. So teach them how to clean… and how to fix things… and how to put two boards together at a right angle in a structure that is structurally sound…

    Calculus is great for getting a spaceship on an asteroid, and arduino hacking is great for a kickstarter embedded project, but such niche science bullshit is useless when you’ve been thrown out of your house as soon as you turn 18 and need to build a survival shelter to go over your head…. or hang a picture on the wall of your college dorm room… or fix a failed slave clutch cylinder by the side of the road 100 miles from home all by yourself.

    1. I completely agree – make do and mend! Repairing things and renovating (upcycling) is a largely forgotten skill in the Western World. You could do much worse than follow this advice.

    1. This guy builds the kits himself here in Florida so you would be supporting a “made in the US” small business. Because he is a small business you might be able to contact him to give you his story to share with your students.

  13. A few other ideas:
    Working in teams helps you spread out your resources. You can do more with $40 per team than you can do for $10 a head.

    Hydraulic sumo bots. we made these at Google Maker camp this year. The kiddos made the base and arm together following directions and then created appendages as teams to meet a personal challenge. They then presented their work to the group.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ymu86dVLQI&list=UU8EyDTiG0MRSgg6XLePliVQ

    Fill a table filled with arts and craft supplies and household junk ($70 in the dollar store goes a long way) and a have teams create a toy, in a toys from trash a la Arvind Gupta challenge. http://www.ted.com/talks/arvind_gupta_turning_trash_into_toys_for_learning?language=en

    Paper circuits are great open ended fun. and cheep-ish.

    Makey-makey team challenges are fun you would have to spread their cost out but they work well provided you have access to computers. You could have a musical instrument challenge or a game controller challenge.

    If you would like to introduce robotics then the push button robot is a great option. They could be built in teams of three (with the cost spread out over 3 students.) Build it and then program it to compete in challenges. We made draw bots and created giant murals with them.
    http://www.makershed.com/products/push-button-programmable-robot-kit

    The instructions for this one are kind of sketchy so an adult at each build table would be helpful. Unless you have older kiddos.

  14. PSoC4 -CY8CKIT-049-42XX – £2.7 or $4.23

    USB-to-serial converter, about 36 GPIO pins that can be arranged in arbitrary way, allowing to route built-in peripherals to them, and these include ADC with 8-channel multiplexer, PWM, optical encoder reader, timers, additional UARTs, opamp with comparator, 1.71 to 5.5 V operation, LED, pushbutton, capacitative sensing and segment LCD drive, flash writable like EEPROM for persisting state and parameters, and more. Plus a rather friendly IDE where you configure your desired peripherals in a graphic editor and then program the board in C, using a rich library of functions to handle these peripherals. This all running ARM Cortex-M0 @24MHz, 4KB RAM and 32KB Flash (used as program ROM and non-volatile storage for e.g. config data.)

    http://uk.farnell.com/cypress-semiconductor/cy8ckit-049-42xx/prototype-board-cy8c42xx-family/dp/2407741

  15. “tin” whistles from plastic tubing. Check out http://www.ggwhistles.com/howto/index.html. They have a materials cost of about $0.75 each, and can be made with minimal tooling. (tho I add a drill of some sort to his list of tools, and cut the windway with a wood chisel, rather than knife or sanding) PEX works better than PVC (thinner walled), and you can make a bunch of them with one $5 piece, plus a $2 dowel.

  16. If the kids can solder and use hot glue guns, I have a simple line follower robot design that can be sourced for $10 or less in quantity. For a little more money, a similar design uses a solderless breadboard and if you pre-solder leads to the motors the kids don’t need to solder. I borrowed the concept from the University of Rostock, which coined the term ‘SpurtBot’ for ‘School projects using robot technology’. Build instructions can be found at http://www.instructables.com/tag/type-id/category-technology/keyword-spurtbot/

  17. Hi James,

    Wonderful discussion.
    I run a recycled arts program for kids ages 6-9 years old called ScrapKins. Our mission is to teach kids creativity through resourcefulness– all our projects are made with common household materials. We we’re just featured on Sesame Street! We have a “Ship Builder” Kit that transforms a milk carton into a floatable pirate ship that sells for $10, shipping included. http://www.scrapkins.com http://etsy.me/1zZ74xc
    Brian Yanish, founded ScrapKins

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