Now In:  Science Programs for Young PeopleTypes of Science Projects and Resources


Types of Projects


Model Airplanes

Why Model Airplanes are a Good Activity: 

  • Most people are fascinated by watching anything fly and even more so if they build it.
  • So much about the efficiency of the design can be determined just by measuring the time aloft.
  • Many model airplanes can be built cheaply.
  • There is so much related material available; kits, articles, organizations, local clubs, etc.
                  FPG-9 is a good place to start. Foam Plate Glider 9" is the entire name.
Guillow's slip-together balsa planes are an easy next step. Adding more dihedral to the wing and changing the rubber motor can improve the flying experience dramatically.


                       AMA Cub or Delta Dart has been made available for bulk purchase by AMA.  Squirrel model plane is very popular as it is so quick to

  Denny Dart II designed by Neil Dennis has been popular also.

Minnow by Lloyd Shales would be a step up from the flat airfoil wing planes. 

Model Aviation Organizations


   Academy of Model Aeronautics
 National Free Flight Society  Model Aviation School Club by the AMA


About the Model Aviation Organizations:
AMA website: "World's largest model aviation association, representing a membership of more than 150,000 from
every walk of life, income level and age group."
NFFS website: "Mission of the National Free Flight Society - The National Free Flight Society (NFFS) is committed to
the preservation and promotion of free flight model aviation in all of is aspects and manifestations."

AMA website: "Model Aviation School Clubs, or MASC, is a new chartering program for school aeromodeling clubs!" 





Kites are an inexpensive activity that requires minimal prep activity and can be a lot of fun. The kites are
easy to decorate with markers and show off well in the air. A fairly large unobstructed area will be needed
especially away from power lines.

The kites I build are made from 3/16" wood dowels and a 13 gallon trash liner. I created the video,An Introduction to Kites to explain the construction and flying of simple kites.
Resource for kites: The Drachen foundation:


Mousetrap Cars


               Doc Fizzix Basic Kit
Bill Kuhl Design


Mousetrap cars can be built from kits like the Doc Fizzix Basic Car kit in left picture or you can design your
own as I did with the 3-wheel car built from bamboo skewers right picture. Mousetrap cars are good for learning
about principles of physics relating to force and motion.


Water Rockets



 Water rockets are exciting! Once you have the launcher and pump, building the rockets can be inexpensive.
Safe practices are important as there is high pressure in the plastic bottle and the rocket reaches a high
rate of speed in seconds.
Water Rocket Forum is a good place to ask questions and learn from experienced people.

Model Solar Cars


  PITSCO Sun Zoon Lite is inexpensive model solar car kit. Model solar car I designed with salvage and craft store parts.

 Building a model solar car is a good way to learn about photovoltaic solar cells, electricity, and efficiency
in car design. For your car to work well; the proper motor has to be selected, gearing needs to be correct,
and friction should be reduced as much as possible.


Simple Electric Motors


                       Simple electric motor is a fun project but must be done correct to operate.
Sanding the coating on the wire is critical to make this work.

Building a simple electric motor is a good way to learn about magnetism and electricity. The coil of
wire must be wound neatly, the gap between coil and magnet must be close but not touching, and the
insulating coating on the wire must be thoroughly scraped for the motor to run. Students seem
challenged to fix these issues but feel a real sense of accomplishment when they get it working.


Air Rockets


                                    Launcher built from boat fender, tubing, pvc pipe and scrap lumber.
Typical flight path of air powered rocket made from paper.


 Air powered only rockets, can be launched in a smaller area than needed for water rockets and the
launcher is easier to build. Rockets are constructed from bond paper. The altitude the rockets reach
is much less than what a water rocket is capable of.





About Materials
The materials used to create projects will relate to what will work best for project, what is affordable, and what is available. Tools required will be related to the materials, safety concerns, and budget. The basic materials that I have used for projects has been foam or wood with small components that can be found at a hardware store, although hardware stores can be expensive. I noticed mousetraps were over twice as expensive at a hardware store as I had found at a larger store. Sometimes recycled material could be used, but remember finding enough material could be an issue.

Salvage Materials
It is very tempting to try to create projects based on materials that could come from free sources, but be sure enough is available for the intended group and consider the labor of obtaining the parts.

Example - Model Solar Car



This model solar car was built using solar cell from outdoor light, gears and motor I found in
my workshop. Finding enough of these parts to make up a dozen kits would be difficult.  




Gears and small electric motor could be taken from this toy helicopter with dead battery but it would be
hard to find several of these for projects also.



Many of the materials I use for projects will be found in lumber supply or craft stores.
My construction article for the
Quicky Mousetrap car gave much detail as to where to find the supplies needed.
General Notes in Shopping for Materials

  • Plan ahead when you need to purchase materials for projects because there can be surprises when you get to the store.
  • When you need to purchase in larger quantities at a store, there is a good possibility there will not be enough
    of a particular item in stock.
  • When you order by mail order, if possible put your order in plenty ahead of time to allow for back orders or problems
    in shipping.
  • Make use of sale prices when you do not have an immediate need if there is a good chance items on sale will be
    needed in the future.

Dollar Stores



Typical “dollar store” is a good source for some of the items used in projects. Items can change quickly so expecting
to find the exact same item on another visit is not a good idea. The D-cell batteries I use for electric motor project are
much cheaper here than other sources.

Working With Foam
Foam is a material that works well in many projects and is economical. The foam might be recycled from food packaging,
found at a lumberyard that is used for insulation, or possibly you can purchase thin sheets of foam at a hobby shop. Foam
is cut with a saw, sharp knife, or with a thin wire that is hot from passing electricity through it.

Lumber Yard Foam - Polystyrene



Polystyrene foam is normaly sold in 4' x 8' sheets. If you cut it with a hand saw with course teeth, the edges
are very rough.


Polystyrene foam was used for the chassis of these mousetrap cars and proved to be plenty stiff. 
Making up this many kits is a lot of work, if your time is worth anything better to order from Doc Fizzix.




The thinner 1/4" polystrene foam comes in fan-fold form because it is 50 feet in length. I have been
using this for water rocket fins. 


 Cheap Lumber




It is wise to sort through the cheaper grade pine boards to avoid purchasing a board like the one in left picture.



Tools Required
Tools required will be related to the materials, safety concerns, and budget. There will be tools that can be supplied
for each student or that will have to be shared. I try to keep the need for sharing to a minimum. For the majority of the
projects I have done, the basic tools would be:


  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Push Pins
  • Low temperature Glue Guns
  • Pencils



  I have found that even the cheaper scissors seem to work fine for most projects, these were from dollar store
but I never pay more than $3 for scissors.

Push pin - The Alternative Drill


Students are given a push pin to start hole in blocks before screwing in a screw eye.


Rulers are used for measuring and drawing straight lines, the cheapest ones might be the plastic ones
found at dollar store.

Low Temperature Hot Melt Glue Gun


For projects that need to be completed in a hurry with little time to wait for glue to dry, I use the
low-temp hot melt glue guns. Super glue is an alternative glue that sets up quickly but many
people consider it dangerous to use and it gives off nasty fumes. White glue or carpenter glue
takes many hours to dry completely.

Although the glue guns I use are lower temperature, the glue melts at 260 degrees Fahrenheit as
opposed to 380 degrees Fahrenheit for the hotter glue guns. Even with the lower temperature glue
guns caution has to be used to not touch the tip or the glue. I start my classes that use the glue guns
with a safety lecture about this.

Additional Tips for Using Hot Glue Guns

  • Glue sticks should be kept out of heat and humidity.
  • Try to plug the glue guns in 10 minutes before use, trying to use before
    the temperature has stabilzed will be frustrating.
  • Quickly apply the hot glue and stick the parts together quickly or the glue
    will setup before parts are in place.

    Often it will be difficult to have electrical outlets next to each student,
    I run extension cords to "gluing stations" with a power strip at the station.