A Spoonful of Spice

Recipes for low-sugar living + treats for special occasions

3D Model: Doughnut Mold

These doughnut molds were designed in tinkercad, but designing it in Beetlblocks is another option. 

How to Prepare Files for Print

Download/export the file as an STL. Once it's been sized in Makerbot, export as an X3G. Be aware the 3D prints shrink about 3%. For these doughnut molds, use food-safe silicon.  


Modeling Multivariable Systems: Design a Moisture-Sensitive Plant Watering System

Activity: Design an automatic watering system for a plant. The water must be triggered by a soil moisture sensor. Keep in mind that different plants will need different amounts of water to survive. Choose a plant to monitor and research how much water will optimize growth. 

Inspiration: The ITP blog on Arduino and analog sensors. 

Explanation construction: Identify how the structure of the root system and the shoot system of your plant contributes to the amount of water needed. (e.g., surface area to volume ratio; length of roots). Identify how the soil contributes to the amount of water needed to optimize growth.

Identify variables: What variables affect plant growth? How will you control these variables while testing the effects of water. 

Observe changes in the plant each day by measuring growth of height or width, counting number of leaves, observing coloration, etc. 

Predict which biome this plant would thrive in. Provide evidence for your argument citing types of soil, temperature, and rainfall that are optimal for your plant. Identify variables in your design that could be changed to improve plant growth. 

Next Steps: Design experiments to test for variation in other variables.

Data Visualization Extension: Graph and store live data from multiple sources using processing. Identify relationships between temperature, water, and soil nutrients.


Applied NGSS Learning Objectives and Outcomes

MS-ETS1-1: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Asking Questions and Defining Problems: Specifying relationships between variables and clarifying arguments and models.

MS-ETS1-2: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. 

Engaging in argument from evidence: Constructing a convincing argument that supports or refutes claims for either explanations or solutions about the natural and designed world.

MS-ETSI-3: Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristic of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. 

Analyzing and interpreting data: Extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis. 

Optimizing the design solution: identify characteristics of design that performed best in each test to inform redesign.

MS-ETS1-4 Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

Developing and using models: Develop a model to generate data to test ideas about designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs. 


Indoor Compost Bin Prototyping


  • Fast compost processing and worm tea production
  • Interface is like a food processor
  • Odor-Free: In most places, the odor of storing discarded food in a small space is undesirable. Solutions are either to store it in the freezer or outside. Another problem is that bugs may be attracted to food that has an odor. In order for food to decompose, it needs to be exposed to oxygen. The most common solution for this is a charcoal filter. 
  • One-side clear plastic: Why not use composting as an educational opportunity. 

Button Press Interface:

  • Grinder: There are kitchen composters that use a crank to shred items, but this seems difficult seeing as how even a food processor has trouble grinding sometimes. I suggest including a motor to grind up food. 
  • Dehydrator: Low heat (or freeze-dry) to suck out water. 
  • Accelerator: speed up the decomposition process with micro-organism spray
  • Aerator: Stir up compost to increase oxygen, and suck in oxygen. 
  • worms bin + worm tea catcher: the clear plastic will have mL measurement marks and a max-red zone to indicate draining. 

Bin Structure: Bins 1-2 and 3-4 will be stackable. This way you can clean bins 1-2 or replace blades without disturbing the worms. 

  • Top part will be the grinding area (like a food processor), which immediately feeds into the first bin compartment. 
  • First bin compartment will be the dehydrator. When compost reaches a specified moisture level, a retractable barrier will open to allow compost to filter down to the second bin.
  • Second bin compartment will be the accelerator and aerator. Temperature for the micro-organisms will be important in this bin. This may require odor-insulation. Aerator will also suck in air periodically to prevent odor escaping through permanent holes. 
  • Third bin compartment: worm bin. 
  • Fourth bin compartment is drainage of worm tea (with spout)



Making Buttons with Arduino

Fundamentals project: Make a button with Arduino

Learning Goal: Understand how to write code and physically design a circuit with switch that senses digital data (button-on/off) and responds with data (LED-on/off).

Materials: Arduino Uno + Breadboard + lasercut board (for ease of use, attach both to board). 

Teaching Tips: It is important for students to understand the concept of a circuit, as it appears in different forms. The breadboard can require some time to understand, or tinkering to ensure the wires line up properly.

What's next: Think about what kind of potential action-responses could start an interesting conversation.

Interactive design tips: "The thing you build, whether it's a device or a whole environment, is just the beginning of a conversation with the people who experience your work." The audience is an active participant constructing their own interpretation and meaning of your work rather than trying to perceive your meaning. 

Spatial Arrangement: Sequence can be suggested through juxtaposition, or use recognizable forms like handles to suggest touching, give hints if it is discovery oriented or problem-solving, and remove extraneous items. The artist is "suggests what their course of action could be, and how they might uncover their story, and their own emotional interpretation of the work."

Observe: What do people understand, misunderstand, manipulate, react? Describe the conversation people are having with your work.

See Making Interactive Art: Set the Stage, Then Shut Up and Listen: http://www.tigoe.net/blog/category/physicalcomputing/405/


Making Soft Circuits: Batman Wristband

Project: Design a wearable for a superhero. 

Materials: Felt, conductive thread, needle, LEDs 

Product: I designed a light-up wristband for batman. With a pinch or push on the band, Batman can now find his way in dark places or can momentarily blind perpetrators with LEDs to escape. 

Design Tips: One LED isn't going to be bright enough to startle anyone; I suggest using 4 LEDs. To power all 4 LEDs, you'll need to make a parallel circuit (i.e., separate + and - paths for each LED that merge back to a central + and - path). I also used a felting pen to connect the bat symbol to the wristband more seamlessly 

Process: It was helpful to sketch the circuit design first, then mark off lines on the felt before stitching. I also found that it was easier to insert the LEDs into the threaded circuit after sewing rather than sewing them on one by one. Finally, check to make sure that when the band is folded over, that no unwanted threads end up touching each other. The only touching threads should be on the end of the wristband next to the velcro. Alternatively, you could use conductive velcro to simplify. 

Execution tips: To ensure contact with the thread and the wires, wrap the thread 3 times around the wire or the + or - hole in the battery holder.  Secondly, for each side of the switch, sew a solid square, rather than a couple stitches, to ensure contact and make sure they line up appropriately when wrapping the wristband. Finally, make sure there is some ways to access the battery, so it can be replaced, without destroying the band, if needed. 


Interactive Christmas Cards: Paper Engineering Challenge

Activity and Learning Opportunities

Creating interactive, pop-up Christmas cards is a great holiday activity that helps kids visualize three-dimensional structure as well as work with building circuits in three dimensional space. The transformation from 2D to 3D paper design requires practice with geometry and mental transformations. Planning and construction requires a sensitivity to the physical qualities of the materials: type of paper; flexibility, thickness, conductivity of paper; affordances and constraints of conductive tape; weight and thickness of the battery. Furthermore, structure and functionality of the circuit needed to develop simultaneously. For example, in the securing the pull tab (also a switch), it was necessary to confine the direction and rotation possible of the paper so that it minimized sliding.

Design Process and Challenges

I began with a practice card, in which I constructed the 3D gifts and considered how the tree, lights, and battery would be positioned. There were several issues with this model: primarily, there was not enough pressure or contact with the battery and conductive tape. I also had difficulty finding an intuitive place for a switch. Given these challenges I switched to a model with presents and a tree with the tree having the interactivity. Initially, I had wanted to place lights on the tree as well as at the top of the tree in the pull tab. The lights on the tree proved challenging due to the pull tab which was made from conductive paper; in the next iteration I would only use conductive paper for the arms of the pull tab and then it may be possible to do this. There were also structural challenges of connecting the pull tab light and lights on the static tree to the same battery at the bottom. 

Secondly, the paper was conductive so a separate conductive tab had to be attached to the negatively charged tape since I had wrapped the positive side of the tape onto the front of the pull tab, giving it a positive charge. In retrospect, I would have cut off the negative-side tab and pasted on a separate conductive tab, so that the structure could remain symmetrical. But this was difficult to fix since the conductive tape did not come off the paper easily. 

Another challenge I experienced was getting the battery to consistently make full contact with the tape or conductive paper. It needs to be tight and with the shifting involved in folding and unfolding cards, this proved difficult. The solution here was to tape it (non-conductive tape) securely in a pouch which was possible due to the conductive paper that provided more surface are than the conductive tape. 

Opportunities for Improvement in Next Round

Finally, while the pull tab does make contact and turn on the light when pulled up, there is still a difficulty in producing a tight enough contact in this design. At times it will flicker when contact is made, but to produce a consistent light, you need to squeeze both sides  of the card. 

This is a great activity, which is fun, but actually quite challenging, with potential for learning and creativity. 

Activity: Make a Musical Instrument

Project: Make an instrument using the makey makey that can play scales; explain how the technology works; then, pair up and create a harmony. Visually explain how you designed the instruments to generate a harmony. Describe what worked for you and what you would like to improve?

Inspiration: Invention literacy is about learning the vocabulary and grammar of making things. Likely correlating with a fear of math and science, there is also a fear of understanding how things work. By learning the structure, function, and behavior or materials, people can begin combining materials to make meaning and communicate in the physical world. Silver asks, “What type of literacy gets someone to see the world as re-formable?” Literacies of all kinds build up a fluency that allow comprehension, interpretation, evaluation, and creation. Literacy empowers people to participate in unfamiliar activities, to accept and adapt to change, and to imagine. These are the moments of freedom that literacies enable. 

Materials: Makey Makey, alligator clips, conductive materials, scratch

Grade Level: MS, HS (adapt for 4the grade)

*This project is a great way to build musical literacy, practice coding, basic circuits, mathematics of rhythm, and the science of waves. 


  • MS-PS4-1: Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave. 
  • MS-PS4-2: Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed or transmitted through various materials. 
  • MS-PS4-3: Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.

Core ideas:  PS.A Wave properties; PS4.C Information Technologies and Instrumentation

Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns, Structure and Function, Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology of Society and the Natural World. 

Common Core

  • SL.8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, etc. 
  • 6.RP.A.1 Understand the concept of ratios




Activity: What Do Bears Eat?

Inspiration: Papert's positive reflection on playing with gears as a child, his developing understanding of gears, and use of this mental model as a sense-making tool in other contexts. Rotating gears against one another to see the effect, then mentally visualizing gear rotation and forming causal chains, understanding nonlinear systems, and using the model to contextualize abstract principles.  

Scratch Programming: Scratch is a fun construction tool that affords opportunities to create and play, as well as construct intellectual models. Secondly, it is hands on (gestural) that can bring abstract and sensory information together. 

Activity: Create a digital story or game, based on your experience, which communicates human influence on the environment.   

Learning goals

  • Demonstrate understanding of key elements in the structure of a story
  • Understand how personal actions/choices affect ecosystems
  • Contextualize the principle of evolutionary adaptation 

Imagine, Create, Play, Share, Reflect (Repeat)


In All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten, Mitchel Resnick, part of the MIT Media Lab, suggests a cyclical process that can be helpful in stimulating creativity. He chooses language that purposely evokes memories of childhood fun and play. Like play, it is a process that is inherently enjoyable and that can keep going and evolving with each step: (1) Imagining expands your idea of the possible, (2) Creating a model of your idea gives it a physical, sharable form, (3) Playing with it helps you push the boundaries of your model and how you can interact with it, (4) Sharing your model with others allows you to observe other playing with it, playing with it with them, and getting feedback or new ideas, and (5) Reflecting is a way to celebrate your creation, to consider your experience interacting with it, to consider the feedback from others. Finally, to repeat, you can imagine how it could be better or just allow it to inspire you to imagine something else.

One important takeaway for art and education is that there is always a next step in the cycle. There is never a dead end; you are never stuck or done. With this in mind, there is no reason to fear exploring even the impossible and personally investing in it. You can enter into this process at any stage: you don't always have to start with imagination. Finally, there is purpose and progress to play. 

A second takeaway is that the type of materials available to an artist affects creativity. Resnick praises materials such as blocks, crayons, dolls that do not over-constrain or over-determine their actions. Digital tools can broaden the possibilities even further by giving artists the tools to model and manipulate behavior, as well as form, to serve their purpose. Like other materials, artists of different ages and skill levels will want to interact with digital materials in different ways. As more products are created to inspire and open up possibilities for digital creations, it will be important for teachers to choose materials that are accessible for the age or skill level of their students but that also do not over-determine their interactions with it.