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Bristlebots Lesson Plan

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Grade Range
Grades 2–5
Group Size
2 students
Active Time
30-45 minutes
Total Project Time
30-45 minutes
Area of Science
Key Concepts
Electrical circuits, engineering
Standards
NGSS
This lesson plan aligns to these NGSS standards:
  • K-2-ETS1-2
  • K-2-ETS1-3
  • 3-5-ETS1-1
  • 3-5-ETS1-2
  • 3-5-ETS1-3
  • 4-PS3-2
  • 4-PS3-4
Florida
This lesson plan aligns to these Florida standards:
  • SC.2.P.10.1
  • SC.3.P.10.1
  • SC.3.P.10.2
  • SC.4.P.10.1
  • SC.4.P.10.2
  • SC.4.P.12.1
  • SC.4.P.12.2
Texas
This lesson plan aligns to these Texas standards:
  • 112.13.b.6.C
  • 112.14.b.6.A
  • 112.15.b.6.A
  • 112.15.b.6.B
  • 112.15.b.6.C
  • 112.16.b.6.A
  • 112.16.b.6.B
bristlebots

Overview

Bristlebots are fun little robots that you build on the head of a toothbrush, that buzz around a tabletop like little bugs. You can use them to introduce basic concepts about circuits and engineering. They are easy to build and neither you nor your students need any previous experience with building robots.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Materials

  • For each student or small group of students building a robot, you will need these items from the Bristlebot Kit (also available as a Classroom Kit specially priced for teachers):
    • Vibration motor (1)
    • Coin cell battery (1)
    • Note: each kit contains enough parts for two bristlebots, as well as two Junkbots.
  • For each robot, you will also need (not included in the kit):
    • Small square of double-sided foam tape (1)
    • Toothbrush (1)
    • Optional: craft materials for decorating the robots (pipe cleaners, googly eyes etc.)
  • Scissors

Learning Objective

As a result of this activity, students will be able to:
  • Connect a simple circuit using a battery and a motor.
  • Build and make observations about a simple robot.

Group Size

1-2 students. These small robots are ideal for an intimate exploration as individuals or in pairs.

Prep Work

For young students, cut the heads off the toothbrushes and cut small squared of double-sided foam tape in advance.

Procedure

Follow along with the pictures in this slideshow to assemble your bristlebot: Stick foam tape to top of toothbrush. Peel backing off foam tape. Pull pieces of insulation off ends of battery wires. Battery with insulation pieces removed. Attach battery to foam tape. Battery attached to toothbrush. Peel paper backing off motor. Attach motor to toothbrush. Battery and motor attached to toothbrush. Twist together red wires. Twist together black wires. Your bristlebot should now vibrate. Short circuit open circuit robot falling over Bristlebot with googly eyes

Cleanup

Disconnect one pair of wires to turn the robots off and prevent the batteries from draining when they are not in use. For long-term storage, cover the exposed metal ends of the battery wires with tape. This will help prevent short circuits if you store the robots together in a box or a bag.

Troubleshooting

The robot stops moving suddenly.
  • Make sure the exposed metal parts of the red and black wires are not touching each other. This will create a short circuit, which will quickly drain the battery and prevent the motor from vibrating.
  • Make sure the wires stay tightly twisted together. The robot's vibrations can gradually cause the wires to come loose. This will create an open circuit and stop electricity from flowing, so the motor will not vibrate.
The robot falls over frequently.
  • Make sure the motor and battery are centered left-to-right on the toothbrush. They are heavy and can cause the robot to tip over if they are off balance.
  • Let the robot run continuously for 5–10 minutes. It will slow down as the battery begins to drain, and it will not fall over as much.
The robot does not go straight.
  • This is OK! Bristlebots tend to jitter around randomly and not go in a straight line. See the Teacher Tools section for some suggestions about how your students can investigate this further or turn it into an engineering design project.
The robots vibrate, but do not move, or move very slowly.
  • Make sure you use the robots on a smooth surface. They will not work well on rough surfaces like carpet.
  • The robots will begin to slow down after about 30 minutes of continuous use, and may stop moving completely after about 1 hour. Always disconnect one set of wires when the robots are not in use in order to save battery power.

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Grade Range
Grades 2–5
Group Size
2 students
Active Time
30-45 minutes
Total Project Time
30-45 minutes
Area of Science
Robotics
Key Concepts
Electrical circuits, engineering
Standards
NGSS
This lesson plan aligns to these NGSS standards:
  • K-2-ETS1-2
  • K-2-ETS1-3
  • 3-5-ETS1-1
  • 3-5-ETS1-2
  • 3-5-ETS1-3
  • 4-PS3-2
  • 4-PS3-4
Florida
This lesson plan aligns to these Florida standards:
  • SC.2.P.10.1
  • SC.3.P.10.1
  • SC.3.P.10.2
  • SC.4.P.10.1
  • SC.4.P.10.2
  • SC.4.P.12.1
  • SC.4.P.12.2
Texas
This lesson plan aligns to these Texas standards:
  • 112.13.b.6.C
  • 112.14.b.6.A
  • 112.15.b.6.A
  • 112.15.b.6.B
  • 112.15.b.6.C
  • 112.16.b.6.A
  • 112.16.b.6.B