Thursday, 23 April 2015

Rubber Band Helicopters

Summer vacation is fast approaching. There are only seven weeks of school left, and you can bet that my kids are already counting down! With such a long break over Summer I'm always on the look out for activities to keep the kids busy. We're lucky to live in an area with so many fun places to take the kids, but as much fun as it is to be out and about all the time, it's just not all that practical. I need days at home getting work done and on those days it doesn't take long before the kids start with the dreaded "I'm bored". It's like the at-home version of "Are we there yet?". For those days, I like to have an arsenal of fun and relatively easy activities ready for the kids. Activities that they can work on on their own - or with minimal help from me.

Ava has been taking part in an after-school engineering club recently and is really into tinkering at the moment. She jumps at the chance to get creative with popsicle sticks and rubber bands so this rubber band helicopter project inspired by Camp Galileo science curriculum was right up her alley. Lola is always keen to copy her big sister so she was just as excited as Ava.

The girls had a lot of fun making and flying (or attempting to fly!) their helicopters. It's a relatively easy project and Ava was able to do most of it on her own. I like that this project melds creativity and science together. The girls were intrigued by how the helicopters work and were keen to try out a few different techniques to see what would happen.

Here's a look at how to make rubber band helicopters...

What you'll need (for each helicopter):
1 x popsicle stick
1 x 6" hook nose propeller (available here)
1 x large paper clip
1 x rubber band
Card stock
Pencils, markers, crayons or whatever you'd like to decorate your helicopter with

First up you'll need to draw the body of your helicopter on the card stock. A size of 1.5" by 7" is recommended. Ava decided to copy the shape of the helicopter in the instructions from Galileo. She then colored it and added details including a window and doors. Lola decided she wanted to make a butterfly rather than a helicopter. I drew and cut out a butterfly shape for Lola and she added bright colored spots.

Once Ava's helicopter was colored she carefully cut it out.

We then moved on to the propeller. To start with you'll need to insert the popsicle stick into the end of the propeller. Easy!

Take the paper clip and pull the inside loop out so that the paperclip almost forms a right angle. Place the end of the popsicle stick against the outer loop of the paper clip and wrap a piece of tape around to hold it in place. The popsicle stick should be sitting between the two parts of the paper clip.

To attach the propeller to the helicopter (or butterfly) lay your cut out shape face down and securely tape the popsicle stick down. Make sure that it is positioned with enough clearance so that the propeller blade will not hit the card as it spins.

Take the rubber band and hook it through the loop on the propeller. Stretch the rubber band and loop the other end through the free end of the paper clip. You may need to adjust the paper clip by bending it further out to ensure that the rubber band is held a little taut. If there's too much slack in the rubber band the helicopter will most likely not fly.

Now your helicopter is ready to prepare for its first flight.. 

Holding the popsicle stick in one hand, use the other to spin the propeller in a clockwise fashion. This will twist the rubber band. You'll need to make sure that the rubber band is very twisted before it will be able to fly. The rubber band will look like it is double knotted the whole way down. 

Time to launch your helicopter!

This part takes a little practice. Hold the popsicle stick in one hand and the propeller in the other. When you're ready to launch, let go of the propeller which will start to spin. Wait a few seconds and then let go of the popsicle stick. It took Ava and Lola a few goes to work this out. Ava kept throwing her helicopter down to begin with and Lola kept waiting too long to let go of the bottom. They finally got there though and their helicopter and butterfly flew - even if it was only for the briefest time!

It was pretty windy when the girls took their helicopter and butterfly for a test fly so they found themselves ducking for cover quite a few times. Sometimes they didn't duck in time - like in the picture below!

This is such a fun activity and there are so many possibilities for modifications. Ava is intrigued to find out how a helicopter with two propellers would fly. Would it fly twice as high? Maybe it would crash twice as fast. And what about other shapes? The girls are keen to make bird shaped and people shaped helicopters. Would these shapes work? Well, there's only one way to find out! I love that this simple project has left the girls thinking about other possibilities and using their imaginations to explore how things work. 

You can find downloadable instructions for rubber band helicopters plus other fun projects including spoon catapults and illuminated cards on the Galileo webpage.

Little Hiccups readers can save $30 when you sign up for Camp Galileo, Galileo Summer Quest or Summer Camps @ The Tech. Simply enter the promotional code 2015GALILEOCAMPSF. Limited to one use per family. Not valid in combination with additional offers or for previous purchases. Offer valid through 5/31.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Cal Day 2015

This Saturday was Cal Day, UC Berkeley's annual open day.

We spent a good part of the day enjoying the sunshine, watching dance performances and a pep rally, pretending to drive police vehicles, trying our hand at playing instruments, meeting animals, and getting creative with a little tinkering. As always, it was super busy and there was so much going on that it was impossible to see the whole campus, so we stuck to the things that the girls had enjoyed in previous years.

The pep rally is always my favorite part of the day. Nothing says college (or high school) in America more to me than a big pep rally. Cheerleaders, marching band, guys waving big flags... We have nothing like it in Australia so it's such a foreign concept to me. Ava used to do cheerleading (until the coach left and a replacement wasn't found) so she loves watching the cheer squad. Mathilde was bopping along to the music and I had to keep stopping her from trying to move forward into the performance space!

Cal mascot Oski Bear wasn't a part of the pep rally this time so we missed out on having a photo taken with him. This cardboard cut out of him that we found had to do. Ava doesn't looked too impressed!

Ava and Lola did a little cheering of their own with some big jumps off this golden bear statue.

The kids enjoyed having a go at playing (or pretending to play) instruments from the marching band. Mathilde loved playing the drums and was keen to run off with the drum sticks. Lola kept swinging the drum sticks so hard I was afraid she'd hit someone with one! I've got enthusiatic drummers on my hands! Not sure the girls will be keen to take up the tuba though. Those things are massive!

The cotton candy provided free by the Graduate Assmebly was a huge hit with the kids again this year. Well, maybe not Mathilde. She's a little too young to eat it but I gave her mine to hold for photos. She thought it was fantastic at first until she touched it and her hands got sticky. After that she couldn't get rid of it fast enough! As usual, Ava and Lola made cotton candy facial hair for themselves. Ava's mustache was pretty gross looking this time around!

The kids were excited to check out the UC Berkeley Police vehicles. Ava and Lola took it in turns being the police officer behind the wheel, radioing for back up while the other played the bad guy in the back. When it was Mathilde's turn to "drive" she was more concerned about putting the CB radio into the cup holder! I guess it fit, so why not? The girls' favorite vehicle had to be the little open sided car - not really sure what you'd call it. Mathilde enjoyed sitting in the very back. She looked so cute with her little face poking over the edge.

At Cal Day there are always plenty of booths with a spinning wheel and prizes. Ava and Lola are always keen to take part - no matter what the prize is. This year they won headphones, tote bags, candy, fridge magnets and stress balls at various spinning wheels around the campus but their absolute favorite was the spinning wheel that would predict their future careers. In the past they've spun up such jobs as tattoo artist and stunt double. This year Ava spun up tornado chaser and Lola got wedding cake decorator. Lola was amazed at how accurate her spin was. Her dream job is to be a cupcake maker!

With the girls' future careers sorted we moved on to the lawn outside the Valley Life Sciences Building where there was all sorts of fun set up for kids. Mathilde was napping by now so Ava and Lola did a little drawing with radishes and markers, made circuits with playdough, built towers, met some slithery friends and checked out animal pelts and skulls.

Our last stop for the day was the courtyard inside the Valley Life Sciences Building where a range of aquatic creatures were on display. The girls made a beeline for the small touch pool where they could meet starfish, sea urchins and crabs up close. Mathilde woke up while we were here and was keen to hold the creatures. In fact, I had to stop her from trying to do a runner with a purple sea urchin in her hand! (Unfortunately my camera battery died while the kids were checking out the creatures in the touch pool so I had to use my phone for most of these shots, hence the shoddy quality.)

We had a great time at Cal Day. It's such a fun event for families and a great insight into life at the university. Maybe next year we'll venture a little further and visit parts of the university that we haven't seen before, although I have a feeling that the girls will be wanting to see and do all of the same things again!