Butterfly in the Sky: Science Summer Learning with our Fab Lab Houston

Our Fab Lab Houston team brings Science Summer Learning projects to our summer camp programs across the city. Check out how kids combined art and science for the Butterfly in the Sky project.

Our new East Aldine campus is home to our Fab Lab Houston. While the classes are just now starting up, our team has been busy bringing programs to our communities.

In June, we kicked off a science summer learning series with BakerRipley’s summer camp program. Over the next 11 weeks our team visited four summer camp locations bringing fun STEM activities to their elementary and middle school campers.

Fab Lab Houston’s first visit was during the weekly theme “Let It Grow,” where summer campers learned about how things grow. They had cocoons in the classroom growing into butterflies, seedlings sprouting, and a newfound knowledge of the essential things needed for all things to grow. We were excited to bring in an activity that continued to expand their knowledge.

BakerRipley_FabLabHouston_FlashExample copy.jpgThe activity was a familiar one, with a modern twist; stained glass butterflies made by melting crayons between two layers of wax paper. Typically for this activity, the children cut the shape of the butterfly out of black construction paper to be the frame. With the Fab Lab we were able to use a vinyl cutter to make the black frame, allowing for more detail in the butterfly, and less mess as no glue was involved.

This is how the kids created the butterflies:

To start, each child sat at a computer with a half image of a butterfly in Microsoft Paint. During the introduction, we talked about how butterflies are symmetrical. The children were then instructed to use the marker tool to make lines on their butterflies, with a picture of a monarch butterfly used as an example. The children then used the ‘select’ and copy tools to move their image over to Microsoft Publisher.

In Publisher they pasted their half butterfly image twice and then shown how to rotate the image vertically. They were then able to move the images around to match them up perfectly and make a symmetrical butterfly.

Once we had the image saved as a PDF, we imported it to the Cricut Design Space software to prepare for printing on black vinyl. Our butterflies were on the small side, about 4” x 5”. Once the butterflies were cut out on the cutter, we pulled out the parts not needed, leaving just the outline and drawn-in lines to be covered with the transfer tape.

BakerRipley_FabLabHouston_CrayonShavings.jpgAfter getting the butterfly outlines done, they worked on the ‘stained glass’ part of the project. Each child was given a piece of wax paper and a hand-held pencil sharpener. Then they chose 3-5 different colors of crayons from a box (the paper wrappings were removed to save time and avoid a mess!). During the testing process, we learned that Crayola brand crayons are best for this activity – other brands don’t melt evenly and tend to look powdery once they cool.

Students didn’t need a lot of crayon shavings for this activity (maybe a total of a tablespoon’s worth). They spread the shavings into a thin layer in the middle of the wax paper. Once they had enough, we took their wax paper with the shavings to a separate area for melting.

Placing the wax paper with shavings on our work surface, we covered it with another piece of wax paper. A regular household iron on medium setting worked best for the melting process. We covered the work surface with a towel to insulate it from the heat and more importantly, to protect it from any melted crayon that might sneak out around the edges. Another thin kitchen towel was used on top to keep the wax paper coating from getting on the iron.

We pressed the iron down on top of the towel to start melting the crayons. We realized if they aren’t spreading out well as they melt, we needed to press down on the iron harder, pressing towards the edge of the wax paper as we went.

It didn’t take long for the crayons to cool to finish up the project.

Some tips to remember when finishing the project up:
– The area of the melted crayon will most likely be larger than the vinyl cut out, so let the children choose the area for their butterfly to be placed.
– Some children needed help peeling the vinyl backing off and placing the butterfly on their wax paper.
– Be careful when removing the transfer tape to not tear the wax paper. Once the transfer is complete, give the students scissors to cut around the outline of the butterfly.

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    Notes for recreating this project
  • This project was done with 4 – 7 year olds.
  • We found that while all ages had fun with this project, the 6-7 year olds were best at creating the project somewhat independently.
  • One of the keys is to have the children use the large side of the pencil sharpener for the crayons.
  • Have something small on hand to dislodge the broken crayon tips from the sharpener as you will be doing that a lot.

Be on the lookout for more exciting projects from our new Fab Lab Houston team soon!

Post originally appeared on our Fab Lab Houston blog.