Tag Archives: wind tube

Building a Wind Tube

Wind Tube

For our new Family Inventors’ Lab class, we have built a fun tool,which encourages the kids to tinker – see my last post for how kids play with a wind tube. This post is about the tinkering process we’re on to build and refine our wind tube.

We started with the directions from Exploratorium. We ordered from Amazon:

  • a fan (You could possibly use a smaller fan, and smaller hoops if you were making one just for home use and wanted to save some money.)
  • 4 embroidery/quilting hoops (turns out we only needed two) and
  • an acetate sheet(the directions called for .0075 ml thickness, we used .01)

We cut the acetate sheet, and assembled the tube with the hoops. Definitely a two person job. You can clamp the plastic between the inner and outer layer of the hoop, just like you would fabric. We then used clear packing tape to tape the seam. (We also taped over the metal clamps on the hoops, and we taped over the edges of the acetate sheet on one end, just so kids wouldn’t scrape themselves owhile playing.)

Then we needed spacers to lift the tube up off the fan. Exploratorium recommends wooden spacers that you cut a notch in. We didn’t have the wood or the tools handy at the moment, so we built spacers with Duplos and set the tube on those. You can see the Duplo spacers in the videos in this post. For our family, that worked fine. There were a few times our son knocked the tube off on accident, and the Duplo towers got broken apart, but they were easy to rebuild. However, for public use, we wanted something else, because we thought that if the Duplo towers got broken up, it might be hard for someone to figure out how to rebuild them. I wandered through a local Ben Franklin craft store, and found some giant clothespins (like these), which worked great. Easy to assemble and disassemble the wind tube. For our home use, this was great.

But, I wanted to test this with a large group of kids. So, I planned to take it to my class, with 1.5 – 2.5 year olds. I knew I needed to cover up the fan openings before taking this to a group, just in case someone tried to put rocks or beans or coins or something into the fan. (Or fingers, of course, though that wouldn’t be possible with this fan design, it might be with other fans!) I bought 1.5 yards of black tulle with pretty sparkles (like this), and we wrapped it over the fan, tying it off below with a twisted pipe cleaner. [The tulle does work great as safety proofing and looks fine, but it does diffuse the air flow from the fan a little, so some of the heavier things that would fly without the mesh on (a twirled pipe cleaner and the large plastic lid) don’t fly well with the mesh on. (We had to add wings to the pipe cleaner to fly it.) And the tops didn’t spin as well. I might remove the mesh if I had only older kids who could be trusted if told not to try dropping small heavy things in… ]

In class, it quickly became clear that we would need to tie down the tube to the fan. I had one toddler that every time she put something in, she would jerk her hand back quickly and knock the tube over. I had another one who would bang on the tube anytime something got stuck in an air current. So, I had to hold the tube continuously so it didn’t fall on anyone’s head. (Note: it doesn’t really hurt if it does, but it is mighty startling.)

Exploratorium recommended drilling holes in the spacers, disassembling the fan, and fastening the spacers on with zip ties. We decided it would be much easier to just thread pipe cleaners through the springs on the clothes pins, and loop those down through the fan and back up again (no dis-assembly required) and twist together to tighten. It was easy to do, worked great to tie them down, and will be easy to undo later if desired. An advantage to the clothes pins is that it’s easy to clamp the tube onto the fan, an easy to un-clamp it for transport.

ClipMeshTieYesterday, we took the wind tube to the Healthy Kids Healthy Families fair, and for four hours straight, we were surrounded by a non-stop flow of kids playing and experimenting with it. The under-one-year olds loved watching things fly up and out of the tube. The two-year-olds loved shoving things into the tube and watching them fly. The three-year-olds started to make observations on which items flew best. The four-and-ups would experiment with building things, tying things together, trying to put things in from the top, and so on. Some of the parents got caught into the experimenting too, folding paper helicopters and such to test what would fly. The kids played really well together – part of the point of this game is to put something in and LET GO, so there weren’t many issues with having to share something that someone was holding on tight to. They all played happily side by side. They don’t really need to take turns, as it works fine to have four or five things flying at the same time.

Here’s some of the items we launched. We look forward to more play and experimentation to see what other items we can find or build that will fly well in our wind tube.


Note: you can apparently build a very simple wind tube with a fan and some poster board: check out this post at babbledabbledo.

For lots of ideas for STEM enrichment activities with kids, check out my blog www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

The Wind Tube

We’ve built a great new science exploration tool, which we’ll definitely be using in our new Family Inventors’ Lab class and we MIGHT premiere it at this weekend’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families Fair if beta testing continues to go well.

The Exploratorium shared a project idea for building a Wind Tube.It’s basically a clear tube mounted over a fan. Kids can place items into the tube and see what happens. Heavy items just sit there. Lightweight items shoot out the top of the tube. Other items may float, spin, or rattle back and forth. The video at the the top of this post shows some of our initial experiments. (If you want to learn how to make a wind tube, check out my next post.)

Dave Stroud says this about how kids (and adults!) play with a wind tube.

The Wind Tubes intrinsically encourage a particular type of play that helps guests experience the way science works. The intent is for guests to internalize a science based mindset – do something, measure the outcome, make changes, do something, measure the outcome, compare the outcomes, make changes, do something, measure the outcome, compare the outcomes – repeat this process until you run out of time. The user experiences the phenomena by exploring it, rather than being shown an outcome and having it explained. (Source)

I have definitely seen this in action. My four year old has played with the tube a lot in the past 24 hours. (And my 17 year old had a great time with it too…)  And rather than wanting to fly the same thing over and over, it’s definitely been (for him and for me) an exercise in looking around the room and deciding what to try next! As he experiments, I hear him talking differently than he has talked about most things in the past: “I wonder what this will do?” “What can I try next?” “What do you think will happen this time?” “That didn’t work, I wonder if I could combine it with this?” It’s definitely “tinkering” in action!

As Stroud says, this activity results in:

• Making guests [child] less reliant on “authority” to answer questions
• A higher level of engagement and deeper investigation
• Guests defining their own success and making their own meaning (user defined outcomes)
• Generating a particular category of questions such as: How can I get it to…? What if I…? Instead of: Why does it…? What makes it…?

Here are some of the experiments my family has developed just in a few hours of play:

The frisbie. (really a plastic lid)  It gets caught in the air currents and will float forever. We’ve learned that if you put your arm over the fan to block some of the air flow, the frisbie will sink down the tube.

Cardboard boat. This cardboard snack tray will float easily on its own. The small plastic monster will not – it’s too heavy and not aerodynamic. But, put the monster in the boat and it floats!

Parachutes. This plastic pterodactyl won’t fly even though it has wings. But, if you build it a parachute out of a plastic bag and a pipe cleaner, it soars.

Pipe cleaner spinner. My personal favorite is this twirled-up pipe cleaner that spins and spins as it floats in the air.

Tops. And speaking of spinning, watch these plastic tops. They don’t float, but they definitely respond to the wind!

As he plays, he’s learning hands-on about aerodynamics, wind currents, how lightweight things fly better than heavy things, but even heavy things can fly if they have a parachute or an “air ship” that can catch the wind currents. Having the ability to play hands-on with this will allow him to internalize the learning much more than when he covers all this stuff in high school physics class someday!

Learn more:

If you want to read more about “transactivity” and what makes this such a cool learning activity, check out Stroud’s post: http://www.exhibitfiles.org/vertical_wind_tubes. This is a great “case study” post, which shares observations on how people play with the tubes.

Here are links to some other people’s experiments with and thoughts about Wind Tubes

Info from the Exploratorium: directions on how to make a wind tube include ideas for what materials you can “fly” in it. They have a collection of photos and thoughts about their process of designing the wind tubes. and there’s a debrief from facilitators, sharing their observations of how visitors played with the tubes.

Here’s a slightly different design, and observations from using it.

Design challenge: soaring satellites (for older kids) http://legacy.mos.org/designchallenges/media/ed_guides/Satellites_EdGuide.pdf