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Science & Engineering for Kids: Tensile Bubbles

by on July 2, 2014

Have you heard of STEM? It’s all the educational rage here in California and for good reason. STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math and often involves a project based curriculum for schools. It “stems” (pun totally intended)  from the idea that science, technology, engineering, and math are core subjects that build innovators.

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

STEM educational models are being touted here in the US because of the decline in the number of people going into the fields of science and technology in this country. I have been thinking a lot about STEM recently and as we worked on today’s project, this and other STEM activities that can get kids pumped about structures and geometry came to mind; it made this simple project more meaningful.

I am a big believer of hands-on education; I think kids and adults learn best with life experiences to back up a subject. In the case of today’s project you and your kids can learn about tensile structures by building 3-dimensional bubble wands and making inverted “tensile” bubbles. Kids don’t need to know all the science and theory behind what is going on, this simple demonstration will introduce them to it visually.

I also promised you three straw projects this week and tensile bubbles is project number 2. Ever since I saw this cubic bubble I’ve wanted to make a whole host of 3D shaped bubble wands to explore how the outer wand structure affects the shape of the inverted bubbles that form. It’s also kind of addicting to make them..…. My kids helped me make the wands but had much more fun making the bubbles. Depending on the age of your child parents/educators can make the wands themselves or enlist the help of kids.

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STEM Activities: Tensile Bubbles

Materials

Instructions

Pyramid (Tetrahedron) Bubble Wand

I recommend starting with a pyramid shape for your first geometric bubble wand.

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

  • Step One Cut your straws. First cut each straw in half, then cut in half again. You will get 4 straw sections from each straw.
  • Step Two Thread a pipe cleaner through one straw and bend the end of the pipe cleaner to secure it at the end.
  • Step Three Thread two more straws onto the pipe cleaner.
  • Step Four Bend the long end of the pipe cleaner back to meet the starting point and twist the two ends around each other.
  • Step Five Add two more straw sections onto the end of the pipe cleaner.*
  • Step Six Thread the pipe cleaner through one of the adjacent straw sections.
  • Step Seven Add one more straw section and bend it back to one of the straw joints to form a pyramid.
  • Step Eight Thread the pipe cleaner through an adjacent straw section to secure everything in place. If desired, add a straight section of straw onto the end of the pipe cleaner to form a handle.

*Add additional pipe cleaners as necessary and twist the ends together to secure.

Cubic Bubble Wand

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

  • Step One Cut your straws. First cut each straw in half, then cut in half again. You will get 4 straw sections from each straw.
  • Step Two Thread a pipe cleaner through one straw and bend the end of the pipe cleaner to secure it at the end.
  • Step Three Thread three more straws onto the pipe cleaner.
  • Step Four Bend the long end of the pipe cleaner back to meet the starting point and twist the two ends of the pipe cleaner around each other. You will now have a square shape.
  • Step Five Add three more straw sections onto the end of the long pipe cleaner.*
  • Step Six Thread the pipe cleaner through one of the adjacent straw sections.
  • Step Seven Add two more straw sections.
  • Step Eight Bend the shape to form two sides of a cube and thread the end of the pipe cleaner through one of the straw sections on the edge of the cube.
  • Step Nine Repeat Step Eight to form another side to the cube.
  • Step Ten Add one final straw section to complete the cube. Thread the pipe cleaner through an adjacent straw section to secure the final shape. If desired, add a straight section of straw onto the end of the pipe cleaner to form a handle.

* Add additional pipe cleaners as necessary and twist the ends together to secure.

You’re done! Now it’s time to make some tensile bubbles!

Make the Bubbles

To make your tensile bubbles have a tall container full of bubble solution. You can use homemade solution or store bought, we tried both and each worked well. Carefully dip your wand into the solution; some frothy bubbles will form on the top of the solution as the straws are submerged. You can scoop them away with a spoon. Now lift the wand out of the solution SLOWLY. You should see a multi-faceted bubble! If you don’t, dip the wand into the solution again until you get an inverted bubble shape.

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

Tips

  • For the best bubbles you will want to avoid too much froth on the surface of the solution. Scoop away the bubbly froth that forms with a spoon as necessary.
  • This project can also be done without straws by simply bending pipe cleaners into 3D shapes. This will help avoid the bubbles that form on the surface of the solution when the wand is submerged. I liked using the straws to help give rigidity to the shapes, however.
  • When making 3D shapes that have more than 4 sides try and make your wand as an extruded shape. We tried making a wand in the shape of a dodecahedron and it got complex quickly and was too large to dip into the bubble solution.
  • Make your own shapes! Explore what happens to your bubbles when you add more straw section onto your wand at the joints. Expand your wands with additional sections and check out the cool bubbles that form as a result.
  • Do this project outside or over a watertight surface. Plenty of bubble solution will drip off the wands.
  • Wind and even a slight breeze will blow these bubbles apart so do the project in a place with still air.

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

3D Bubble Wands

The great thing about this project is that you get two bubble activities in one. Once you and your kids are done making the tensile bubbles these wands can be used like a standard bubble wand, only you won’t get standard bubbles….These wands make fantastic bubbles with long trails and lots of connected spherical shapes. My kids arguably had more fun with this part of the project. See the wands in action below!

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

Looks Like

Tensile structures. Typically I pick one person or project to highlight but today I wanted to introduce you to the concept of tensile structures. Tensile structures are formed when a material or cable is stretched and held in tension between two or more anchors. Think suspension bridges or shade sails. They are often used to make roofs or tents. Tensile structures themselves are not always suitable for carrying large loads but they are perfect for covering large areas with a minimal amount of material and are extremely light. Our bubbles have similarities to tensile structures because they are formed as the soapy solution is stretched between the rigid edges of the wand. For more examples of what can be done with tensile structures be sure to check out the work of Felix Candela, Antonio Gaudi, Santiago Calatrava, and Frei Otto to name a few of the great designers and engineers who have used them in their projects.

Conclusion & More

STEM activities are fun! Making geometric bubbles is a great way to explore structures with kids and have a little summer fun in the process.

STEM Activities: Make geometric bubbles that illustrate tensile structures to kids

And don’t miss out on more STEM activities here on Babble Dabble Do! Your child’s inner Santiago Calatrava thanks you!
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Meri cherry July 2, 2014 at 8:05 am

I believe that’s how you say BAM!
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Ana Dziengel July 2, 2014 at 8:14 am

or RAM? Thanks Meri!!!!!!!!

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Jeanine July 2, 2014 at 11:21 am

Ditto!
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Ana Dziengel July 3, 2014 at 6:35 am

Thanks Jeanine!

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Diana Billipp July 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm

You have so many great art making projects, but this one begins with informing readers of STEM.

Haven’t you heard of STEM to STEAM? The “A” in the middle is for Art and Design – without which, you are not going very far. Pioneered at RISD by graduate students, this initiative is increasing awareness of the importance of art and design, creativity and visual intelligence. STEAM-based curriculum puts art-making in elementary through high school right in the center of the core curriculum – where it belongs in the 21st Century.
check it out:
http://stemtosteam.org/about/

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Ana Dziengel July 9, 2014 at 7:20 am

Hi Diana, Thanks so much for the link! I agree that art needs to be a part of all educational models and I look forward to reviewing the info you passed along.

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Katie Pinch July 14, 2014 at 8:20 am

I love all the great opportunities to learn with this activity and any activity that results in bubbles is always a winner with my kiddos!
Katie Pinch recently posted…Color Mixing Beach CraftMy Profile

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Ana Dziengel July 17, 2014 at 5:54 am

Thank you Katie!

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