Top Ten STEAM Related Gift Ideas for 2016

Top Ten STEAM Related Gift Ideas for 2016

By popular demand, I’m compiling my list of top ten gift ideas to share with Hubbard Woods families.  Most of these items are tools your students have been introduced to in the IDEA Lab or will be fantastic extensions of the learning that has taken place at school.  Without further adew:


  1. Rigamajig Jr.  Rigamajig is literally my absolute favorite tool for inspiring imagination and creative play.  I recommend it to every single educator, especially those who are building a makerspace.  These kits are quite expensive, however. Rigamajig Jr. is the perfect solution for home use.  This kit, with nearly 200 pieces of high-quality wood and dense plastic, is compact enough to be taken to grandma’s house for vacation, and expansive enough that several kids can play together in your basement.  The finger tightened nut and bolts are just like the ones we have in the IDEA Lab, but this kit has a few unique pieces that we don’t have.  It is sure to make all ages happy!screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-41-am
  2. Osmo: Pizza Kitchen; Coding; Monster  OSMO’s tagline is ‘Play beyond the screen.’  OSMO was on the list last year as too, but this year they’ve developed several more amazing applications and add-ons that make this tool even more exciting.  

The three new additions are Pizza Shop, Coding, and Monster.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-47-amIn the Pizza Shop, kids learn to cook up math and use their money skills.  The app lets kids run their own pizza shop: they cook pizzas to order and calculate change using toppings and money tiles. They can invest their ‘earnings’ and upgrade their shop as they bake their way toward becoming the ‘big cheese!’

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-54-amThe Coding set allows students to the program, by ‘snapping’ together code blocks.  It’s expansive enough to allow kids to work with one or two partners to solve various coding challenges.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-01-amOSMO Monster is the last addition.  In this app, you get to meet MO.  He is a fun, fuzzy character that loves magic, dancing and creating. Kids can interact with MO using the OSMO creative set. Additional activities are constantly being developed, which makes OSMO a learning tool that keeps growing with your children.  It is suitable for all ages and some of the apps, like Masterpiece and Newton will ignite creativity in your oldest student and even parents!


3. Sphero Sprk+ With Sphero Sprk+ students can expand on the basic coding learned with apps like OSMO Coding while developing advanced problem-solving skills.  They can: program a painting, navigate a maze, mimic the solar system, swim across the water or have a dance party.  The only limit to what can be done with Sprk+ is your imagination.  These robots stand up to abuse.  They are waterproof, shatter ‘resistant’ and a boatload of fun for ALL ages.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-16-am

4. Sphero BB8: is a Sphero with an attitude.  If you love STAR WARS, and who doesn’t, then this ‘…is the droid you are looking for!’  BB8 does everything a Sphero can do and more.  There are a ton of cool features like the ‘Force Band’ which allows you to control your droid by moving your arm and the ‘force.’  This droid has a personality.  It is fun to program but you can also put it in ‘patrol mode’ and let it explore all on its own.  There are tons more geeky features, but I’ll let you discover them on your own.  With the newest Star Wars movie coming out there will be new features added for sure!  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-23-am

5.  Parrot Cargo Drone:  The Parrot Cargo Drone is part of the Parrot drone family.  This nimble little quadcopter is easily programmed and flown using the basic app.  If you want to pump up your skills a bit, you can program it in a variety of other apps like Tickle or Tynker where you can develop highly advanced programs.  


6.  You can even program multiple drones at the same time with these advanced coding apps.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-51-amMakedo: Building Kit  If you’ve been to either of the Cardboard Challenges, you’ve seen Makedo in action.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-06-am

This year I’m super excited about the Space Pod they have released.  I just ordered one for the IDEA Lab.  This model of a space capsule has tons of dials buttons and colorful details that will fire any kid’s imagination.  Buy your favorite kid one of the basic kits, throw in the holiday cardboard boxes and you can count on endless creativity.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-16-am

One special item that they have also just released is their new cardboard cutter.  While the ‘saw’ they have is okay for ‘hacking’ away at large pieces of cardboard, their new tool allows for intricate cutting without having to hand over a razor knife to young kids.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-22-am7.  Bloxels: Bloxels was on my list last year too.  This year they’ve made it even easier for KIDS to create their own video games.  It literally is as easy to build, by arranging the colored blocks, scan, in the app, and play.  For those who love finessing every detail of a character or background, this kit is perfect.  

Kids can also share and remix games with creators from all over the world using the free app and the ‘infinity wall!’screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-26-am

8.  Dot and Dash:  These two characters were on the list last year too.  While they haven’t come out with any ‘new’ applications, the ones that are out there are still worthy of note.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-31-am

You can add the launcher and xylophone and you’ve got your own catapulting musical band!  These two are perfect for a family with multiple kids.  The youngest can program through drawing and simple block programming.  The older students can use advanced block coding and even the applications Tynker and Tickle to synchronize and control of multiple robots (like Sphero, BB8 or a Cargo Drone) at the same time!screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-36-am

9.  Hot Wheels:  This one is a bit retro, but a must have on any kid’s wish list.  I’ve been amazed at the creativity both boys and girls exhibit with Hot Wheels here in the IDEA Lab.  Give them a big box of track, loops and cars and your kids will be creating and remixing their fantastic creations throughout the cold, snowy winter!screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-41-am10.  Legos:  You can never have enough Legos.  I hear over and over again how much parents love our Lego wall and organizers.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-47-am

Do you want to help your kid be more creative with the Legos you already have?  The best thing to do is help organize them.  Research shows that breaking apart ‘sets’ and organizing by color and type helps develop creativity in kids.  Here are the sorters we use in the IDEA Lab.  I wish I had these when my kids were growing up.  Also, if you want to build your very own Lego wall at home, you can buy these Lego-like tiles and stick them to any surface or THESE.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-51-am

Imagine an old dining room table covered in these, or a whole wall in your playroom!  

I hope this list proves beneficial to those who are looking for some great gift ideas for their loved ones.  Happy Holidays!

Passion for learning, teaching leads District 36’s Todd Burleson to national honor

By Kathy Routliffe • Contact Reporter Pioneer Press

SEPTEMBER 12, 2016, 4:43 PM


Pioneer Press

Here is a link to the actual Tribune Article  After a certain amount of time, it will probably be available only for subscribers, so I’ve re-posted the text and images here for my readers.

The third grade students sitting around Todd Burleson in Hubbard Woods School’s resource center one day last week were enthralled. Burleson, the center’s director, was regaling them with the tale of why one foot was in a bright blue cast. Limited mobility notwithstanding, he was animated and eminently watchable, and the youngsters responded in kind.

Burleson’s storytelling, and the way his students reacted, probably wouldn’t surprise Hubbard Woods principal Beth Carmody.

“When it comes to kids, he has so many childlike qualities of curiosity and passion, that he learns along with them,” she said. “And I think because his vision is always about learning, he passes that on to them.”

Many people use the word “passion” to help describe Burleson, who has been named 2016 School Librarian of the Year by the School Library Journal and Scholastic.

That passion – to teach students and teachers, to work with colleagues and parents to transform Hubbard Woods’ library into the IDEA (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Art) lab that he happily calls a “libratory” – helped judges make their choice for outstanding achievement and innovation.


In announcing his win, judges cited many of Burleson’s accomplishments, not just turning the library into what they called “an integrated, technology-driven space where students can exercise their creativity,” although they described that as “the highlight of his seven-year tenure as a library media specialist.”

The space opened last October after a summer during which Burleson and a dedicated team of PTO parent volunteers put sweat equity into its creation as part of the school’s centennial celebrations. Burleson stumped for the project when PTO members asked what they could do to mark the anniversary; last week, he grinned broadly and said, “When they asked me if I had any ideas, I pulled out my dream folder and said, ‘Boy, do I!'”

One project volunteer, parent Sarah Graham, said that Burleson was a great partner to work with because he wants to hear what others are thinking.

“He encourages not just the kids, but the parents, too, to take risks,” she said. “And when he comes to do anything, he come to it 110 percent … when we were painting walls, moving furniture, doing what we had to do, he was there every step of the way.

Judges for this year’s competition also lauded Burleson’s work with parents, school and district teachers, and library colleagues around the world via district seminars, national conference presentations and commentaries on his blog,

District Superintendent Trisha Kocanda was equally enthusiastic. Burleson skillfully blends high- and low-tech education techniques to make sure that the IDEA lab can enhance what students learn in their classrooms, she said.

“It’s pretty remarkable to see the engagement level of our students, and the way he can introduce them to new ideas, concepts and tools,” she said, adding that the method dovetails perfectly with the district’s mission of progressive education.

The district will honor Burleson later this month at a Hubbard Woods School town hall meeting, Kocanda said.

Burleson, 47, said he always wanted to be a teacher. The former third and fourth grade teacher actually student taught at Hubbard Woods. He later taught in North Carolina and at Evanston’s Baker Demonstration School before District 36 hired him 20 years ago.

He knew he’d been nominated for the award by a PTO member, but forgot about it until magazine officials told him he’d won the award in July. He said he couldn’t let anyone know until late last month.

Not everyone has access to the kind of financial support, parent volunteer strength, and mission friendliness that he is blessed with in District 36, he said, but all educators can use their creativity and ingenuity to do many of the things he’s been able to do for their students and colleagues.


He said that now he wants to use his newfound notoriety as a platform.

“One of my own missions is to promote the importance of progressive education and the value of libraries and librarians,” he said. “My goal this year is to help share ideas, and this is allowing me to collaborate on a global level.”

Twitter: @pioneer_kathy

Image courtesy of htps://

School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year: What I’ve Learned, So Far.



Dear readers,

I remember it like it happened yesterday.  It was June 30th, and I had slept in a bit enjoying one of the first official summer days.  The windows were open and I could smell the fresh-cut grass and hear the zip, zip, zip of the sprinklers across the street.  After pouring a cup of coffee and turning on NPR, I was in full ‘summer mode.’  I opened up my laptop, scanned the messages to see if anything urgent had happened, and noticed something a tiny bit off.


School Library Journal.  

Executive Editor Kathy Ishizuka.

Wait.  What?

Oh my goodness.  

I suddenly remembered that a group of parents in our PTO nominated me for the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award.  The nominations were due in May.  I had been working pretty hard all summer on professional development and all the typical summer projects teachers do to get ready for the school year.  Whoever thinks teachers spend eight weeks of summer lounging around has never met a real teacher!  We’re lucky if we get a week on a beach somewhere, or on a trail, or wherever it is that gives you peace.  Most of our summer is spent planning for the next year.  I digress.

I immediately responded to the email.  Then I waited.  I drank two more cups of coffee very quickly.  I needed my brain to catch up with my imagination.  

I was about to speak with the Executive Editor of The School Library Journal!

Fairly soon afterward, my phone rang and it was a New York number!

“Hello Todd, this is Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal.  I’m so excited to speak with you.  You have been named The School Library Journal’s 2016 School Librarian of the Year!”

I don’t remember ANYTHING else that she said other than, “…this news in under embargo until the official release sometime in late August.”

A little later in the day I got another email from her:


Holy Cow!  I had totally and honestly forgotten about the nomination.  I presumed that like most things I had about as much chance being chosen as I did winning the lottery.  Well, I was wrong.  I wasn’t completely truthful about not remembering anything from the conversation.  I do remember a little bit about the conversation.  I remember sharing with Kathy that  I was first, happy to be the first male Librarian of the Year!  Woot! Woot! But what I truly remember was discussing the fact that I thought I had no chance because of WHERE I work.  I work in Winnetka.  Folks, I’m not going to lie.  It is an amazing place.  It has a history of over one hundred years of progressive education.  It is on the north shore of Lake Michigan and is a northern suburb of Chicago.  It’s a pretty affluent community.  

One word about affluence:  Just because a community CAN put money into their educational systems doesn’t mean that the WAY it is inserted is necessarily conducive to the most effective learning.  Also, just because my library is well-funded doesn’t mean that I don’t have students who have amazingly diverse and profound needs: social, emotional, academic, even financial.  It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  Sometimes folks write progressive education off as in, ‘…it can only happen in wealthy communities…’  Let me direct you to a post I wrote recently in which I highlighted a book by my very own professor George Wood, then of Ohio University. In his book, Schools that Work: America’s Most Innovative Educational Programs, George traveled the country highlighting public schools, that work!

School can develop young people ready and able to participate in a democratic society–citizens who are insightful, creative, compassionate, and wise. Pie in the sky? No, this phenomenon is exactly what is happening right now in innovative, exciting American public schools in all types of settings–wealthy and poor neighborhoods, inner-city and rural areas. In Schools That Work, parent and educator George Wood takes us into schools around the nation and shows us firsthand the critical changes that make the difference between schools that work and schools that don’t, including innovations in curriculum, physical layout of classrooms, scheduling of the school day, and the educational approach of heroic teachers and parents.

There are millions of dollars out there now that were not out there when George wrote this book in the 1990’s.  Here is a list of grants (free money) that teachers can apply for.  Someone is going to get this money, it should be YOU! And here is a list of ways to get FREE money for technology and learning tools for your classroom. If you have the desire and the will to stick with some of these applications, you CAN and WILL be able to get your projects funded.  Look at folks like 2015 SLJ School Librarian of the Year Kristina Holzweiss, Diana Rendina and Colleen Graves!  Each of them has applied for and received multiple loans through various Donor organizations and the links above will share their tips with you. YOU CAN DO IT!  It might seem hard, but it is just getting in a groove and pouring your passion and love for learning with your students onto the page or the ‘screen!’

Sorry for that brief diversion, but I think it is really important to put that out there so we can move past it.  Kathy went on to tell me that the location of my school was a big part of the conversation with the panel of esteemed judges.  I don’t remember her words exactly, but she said something like this: ‘…in the end, we looked at what you’ve done to share what you do with the world.  Your blog is read on every continent with readers in over 120 countries.  You present at conferences local and international.  You put it out there for all to benefit from and in the end that is what made us choose you.’  Apologies Kathy for paraphrasing, I truly was in shock during most of the conversation!

The weeks and now months that followed that initial phone call have been filled with tremendous trepidation, excitement, joy, humility and in the end, PRIDE.  Not just for me, but for my parents (especially my Mom for reading those thousands of books with me), my grandmother (who was a lifelong public librarian would have been so incredibly proud) my college professors, both undergrad at Ohio University, but also at NLU for my Masters and My Library Information Sciences Program.  For the amazing Superintendent Trisha Kocanda; Tech Director Maureen Miller; then Principal Daniel Ryan; our new Principal Beth Carmody; to the Principal who hired me, Maureen Cheever. The list continues to the phenomenal president of the PTO Jen Hayes and her RELENTLESSLY SUPPORTIVE parent team.  One parent, Sarah Graham took this project on and held on to it like a relentless pit bull (in a good way Sarah!)  I am proud of the teachers in our building who put up with my craziness.  I’m proud of the phenomenal colleagues that I share my space with Amy Trogdon, Kristin Osborn, and Dexter Codell; they make everything we dream about actually happen!  We have a mind-blowing custodial staff Clive Lascelles, Dennis Myers and our head Maintenance Director Adam Rappaport.  Most important of all is my wife and kids who put up with the insane amount of time spent away from home; the did it because they knew that it was filling my heart with pride and joy. None of this could have happened if it were not for the OVERWHELMING spirit of positivity.  “Yes and…” became the mantra of this team.  We researched, went on field trips, brainstormed, planned, dreamed and sweat together over the many months of manual and mental labor that went into creating and effectively orchestrating our first year in the IDEA Lab.  

So, I know this post has gone long.  I want to wrap it up to say something I said in an interview with my hometown newspaper, The Kenosha News: ‘This award is just as much a challenge for me to work even harder than I did last year.  But work harder to share and help spread the ideas and understanding of how and why the learning that happens in Winnetka, and in our STEAM spaces specifically is so important to children.


So many doors are opening for me due to this immense honor.  Some I can’t write about just yet.  Some I’m not even sure where they may lead.  What I can tell you is that after twenty-four years (that’s amazing isn’t it?) of teaching, I have never been more excited to get out of bed and into the ‘Libratory’ than I am right now.  That tells me things are pretty darn fine.



The Hubbard Woods Community Celebrates Our Collaboration!

This morningidea_hq_transparent I opened my email to see our PTO’s newsletter and found myself overwhelmed with emotions: pride, joy and sadness.  It could be me remembering this day fifteen years ago.  I stood, cradling my four-day old son in my arms watching in horror with the nation.  Or it could be that I’m missing my only daughter who we left at the University of Minnesota recently.  Regardless, my emotions spilled out uncontrollably.
It’s been an amazing few months.  When I got the ‘phone call’ from School Library Journal’s Executive Editor Kathy Ishizuka telling me I was the new School Librarian of the Year I was speechless.  For nearly two months, I had to keep the secret.  I didn’t even tell my own kids until the night before the announcement was made official!

I’m immensely honored and excited to see the news being shared with the community who helped make it happen!  The tireless work of this community made the IDEA Lab a reality!  This year I’m excited to see how the students, parents and faculty help continue to evolve this unique space! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!


How Did I Get Here?

1988.590.02-1024x819Hubbard Woods School c. 1940. WHS Photo 1988.590.02.

It’s been an amazing week for me!  The 2016 School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year announcement has filled me with both pride and joy. I thought I would take some time and reflect on how I got here.

When I was an education student at Ohio University back in 1988-1992, I was fortunate enough to have a professor George Wood and his protege Jean Ann Hunt as professors.  Professor Wood, at the time, was researching a book that would go on to be titled Schools That Work: America’s Most Innovative Public Education Programs.

When one day in class Professor Wood asked if anyone wanted to join him on a field trip to Chicago to do some interviews for the book, I was the first one with my hand in the air. Turned out that I had the chance to visit two schools on that trip.  One was an elementary school in an area of inner city Chicago called Cabrini Green and the other was Hubbard Woods Elementary School.

Both schools blew me away, but our host and principal of Hubbard Woods, Dick Streedain.  I had never met a person like Dick before.  The two of us spent the better part of an afternoon discussing everything from educational philosophy, Carl Jung, and the Chicago Bulls.  I had formed a bond with this man that was unlike any I had ever experienced.  By the end of the weekend, Dick had asked me to come and do my student teaching at Hubbard Woods.  Not only was I flattered, but I was also flummoxed.  After all, The Ohio University was nearly 500 miles and several states away.  Dick assured me we would find a way to make it happen and a little over a year later, I started student teaching at Hubbard Woods Elementary School.

For three months I lived with a Hubbard Woods Family, the Meyer’s.  They had a third-floor apartment that became my new ‘home.’  Each morning I’d eat breakfast with their children and pack my lunch.  One of their daughter’s Emily was actually in my 2nd/3rd-grade class and we walked to school together each day.  I truly felt like the teacher on The Little House on the Prairie!

In the time between my first visit and my student teaching, Jean Ann Hunt had taken a couple of year’s leave to come and teach at Hubbard Woods School.  You probably have figured out by now that she was my student teaching cooperating teacher.  Next door to our classroom was another educator I admired, Daniel Ryan. In fact, the whole school embraced me.  My student teaching experience was exhausting, invigorating and life-changing.

At the conclusion of my student teaching, I was offered at job at one of the elementary schools in the small district.   While incredibly humbled and honored, I did not feel ready. My time at Ohio University gave me the chance to work with learners of all ages in the Appalachian communities in the area.  I treasured that diversity but craved more.  So, I accepted a position as a 5th-grade teacher at Vanstory Hills Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Those two years tested me.  After coming from a university where textbooks in methods classes were not used, and a school district like Winnetka where teachers create the curriculum and resources, being handed a stack of textbooks was about as foreign to me as having to teach in all Spanish.

My time at Ohio University gave me the chance to work with learners of all ages in the Appalachian communities in the area.  I treasured that diversity but craved more.  So, I accepted a position as a 5th-grade teacher at Vanstory Hills Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  The diversity of this school was unlike any I had ever been exposed to.  Everything from the school culture to the community was foreign to me. Those two years tested me.  After coming from a university where textbooks in methods classes were not used, and a school district like Winnetka where teachers create the curriculum and resources, being handed a stack of textbooks was about as foreign to me as having to teach in all Spanish.

Nonetheless, I learned so much.  At the conclusion of my second year, I got a call from Dick Streedain and he let me know that a position at one of the other elementary schools had again come open; I jumped at the chance.

I taught for two years at Greeley School in fourth grade.  I decided to continue my education at National Louis University.  In an amazing twist of fate, Daniel Ryan (the same next door teaching neighbor) had become the director of the Baker Demonstration School! The Demonstration School was amazing!  I had a mixed age class of 4th and 5th graders.  I built the curriculum with my peers and was encouraged to explore, push and challenge both my students and myself!  After completing my master’s degree, I once again got a call from Winnetka.  This time, it was from the principal Maureen Cheever.

Over the course of a few interviews, I had been offered a chance to teach once again at Hubbard Woods!


The Past and Present Principals of Hubbard Woods Elementary School

Daniel Ryan,  Bill Meuer, Beth Carmody, Maureen Miller, Dick Streedain

At Hubbard Woods School, I taught one year as a third-grade teacher and spent the next fourteen years teaching fourth grade.  When the librarian/Resource Center Director announced his retirement, I decided that I would interview for it.  After being hired, I once again attended National Louis University to earn my Library Media Specialist credentials.

I had the phenomenal opportunity to work with some of the leading professionals in the field.

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Like anything, it took the support and patience of parent and school leaders to help make changes like this happen.  I give a lot of the credit to Maureen Cheever who hired me; first as a classroom teacher and then later as the new Resource Center Director.  She believed in the ‘vision’ back when it was in a manilla folder marked “DREAMS!”

Along with Maureen’s initial support, I have to give tremendous credit to the then principal Daniel Ryan who fully backed the transformation and to the Tech Director Maureen Miller and Superintendent Trisha Kocanda who answered every question I posed to them with a ‘Yes, and…”

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And none of the work could have been done if it were not for the OVERWHELMING support and encouragement of our Parent Teacher Organization who backed the initial project and set this monumental program in motion.  The experience of working with President Jen Hayes and Vice President Brooke Helmstetter and IDEA Lab Chair Sarah Graham could not have been more collaborative and supportive! Our custodians jumped in and went far and above to make the vision a reality.  And now, our new principal Beth Carmody is on fire for the new ideas and programs we have cued up for this year!

Seven years of trial and error, tons of collaboration and sweat equity our school and I are honored to be named the School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year!


So, what’s next?  Well, first of all, I can’t wait to get back into space.  Summer rains caused a lot of trouble and had the school closed right up until the last minute.  Leg surgery popped up on the radar in the final weeks of summer as well.

I hope that this year I can use the platform to encourage and promote progressive learning, a love of reading and STEAM education for ALL students!  I hope you’ll join me on the journey!



Harmonograph Explorations

Several months ago, I saw an image on Facebook that got my mind reeling.  The photo was of what looked like a giant string art project created on a grassy area.  Amy Hartman posted the image on the STEAM Art Educator’s page.  String art example

I wrote a detailed blog post about the projects we’ve done for years and how the image above inspired me to collaborate with fourth-grade classroom teachers and our math facilitator at the end of the school year.

I didn’t, however, have time to write about another tangent I began to explore with my students.  The whole idea of lines and the beauty that arises out of their mathematical principles got me looking into the idea of pendulums being used to create art.

After looking online at various designs, my colleague Josh Burker’s simple design seemed to be the perfect way to introduce the concept to my students.  I had some scrap lumber on hand from our wagon project earlier in the year, so I laid out a design similar to Josh’s only a little bit bigger.

IMG_1196The harmonograph design had a few changes from its original.  I added the wheels to make it easier to move around and I replaced the strings with a chain to make it easier to change the length.  The last enhancement was the addition of a sheet of steel.  This allowed me to use magnets to hold the paper in place.

IMG_1204The tape dispensers act as weights.  By moving the weights around, the pendulum swings at different frequencies and creates unique designs.

IMG_1198The students  helped me create a pen holder that solved the problem of ‘wobble’ as the surface moved under it.

IMG_1197A completed drawing.


Detail of the above completed drawing.

We learned an awful lot about creating art with a harmonograph.  We found that ‘gel’ pens were the most effective type of drawing instrument.  We also learned that glossy paper, particularly the ‘old’ photo paper that we once used to print photos on inkjet printers, seemed to work exceptionally well; the surface creates less friction and allows the pen to glide more smoothly over its surface.


The longer the pen is allowed to swing, the more intricate the designs.



This was the result of several evolutions.

Because I’m always seeking to make connections, I started exploring how we could link technology to this exploration.  I was not disappointed.  There were several phenomenal iOS apps that allow the user to experience using a harmonograph without having to change paper or pens.  My favorites are:


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Harmonograph ToyScreen Shot 2016-07-20 at 12.32.17 PM

There are even a few online examples that are fun to explore:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 12.34.22 PM

The virtual harmonograph on the Chrome Store is elegant and simple to use.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 12.42.03 PM

Of course, because I am a total library geek, I dug in and found some FASCINATING articles about some of the first designs that were created in the 1880’s.  There is a mindblowing collection of writings and designs on the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by John Andrew.  He explored the connection of sound frequencies and how they are represented.

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My next exploration is going to be creating my very own version of a two pendulum harmonograph.  The image on the left is from one of the most comprehensive resources for those who want to understand the beauty and mathematical principles behind harmonograph creations, Walking Randomly.



If you are curious about making your own harmonograph, here are some instructions from 1920 that will show you exactly how to make your own!