Introduction: Bots! a Design Lab Activity

Quick Connect Motors

Often when facilitating a bot / electronic activity in a classroom or a museum* it can seem like we use most of our time simply showing our groups how to connect the motor to the battery, and working on design with what time remains.

We developed a quick connect motor that leaves more room for our student to use design thinking, and spends less time using tape and other messy consumables just to get them started.

The first part of this instructable is dedicated to how we made our quick connecting motors and how to use them in your classroom or museum.

If you have come to this intractable by way of our blog at the New York Hall of science, you will have already looked over the instructions to make our quick connect motors, so feel free to skip ahead to the bot chassis on step 9

Bot Chassis

Next we'll talk about our bot chassis, how to make them, and what to make them out of.

Bot Materials

Because this instructable is aimed to serve educators and museum personnel, we spend some time in this instructable talking about materials you can include in your class to bring their bot building activity to a new level.

Coming soon: Facilitation tips

We are currently running this activity on our museum floor, trying new things and developing facilitation techniques. While it would be a bast to share what we're doing in our museum right now, we thought we would give a little time for us to think over the activity and plan out what works the best. That being said, stay tuned for an updated instructable sharing some additional tips and tricks for running this activity in your classroom.

Thank you and enjoy!

*(Because of the amount of questions we got from educators regarding the quick connect motor specifically we are going to use "student" and "educator" to refer to the activity participants and activity facilitator, but this activity does not have to be run in a school. It can work at a museum or a home setting as well)

Step 1: Part 1 Quick Connect Motors

The first part of this instructable is all about the Quick Connect Motors used to animate our bots. These are motors that we purchased and modified in order to easily attach and disconnect from the positive and negative sides of a AA battery by using magnets.
In this part we will:

  • Review Materials and tools needed
  • Go over how to modify the motor mount
  • Explain how to connect your motor to the motor mount
  • Let you know how to reinforce your motors to make them more resilient
  • Show you how to connect the magnets to your motors
  • Give you tips, tricks, adaptations, and adjustments for using these motors with different age groups

Step 2: Quick Connect Motors: Materials

Materials for Quick Connect Motors

  • Mini Electric Motor with mounts, which you can purchase here.
    • We chose these particular motors because they came ready made with a mount, which will save some building time for your students and lets them get straight into design
  • Ceramic ring magnets which you can purchase here. This is the material we strongly recommend for younger children.
    • Alternatively you may wish to go with stronger "rare earth" neodymium magnets which you can purchase here.
      • Remember, educators, museum personnel, and parents should exercise all reasonable caution when introducing children to activities with strong magnets and electricity. This activity includes both.
  • A vice grip or some clamps
  • Heat shrink. We experimented with several sizes from this set.
  • An electric drill with a 3/16th or equivalent drill bit
  • A hot glue gun
  • A lighter (or optionally a heat gun)
  • About 10-15 minutes per motor, depending on how streamlined your process is.

Once your materials arrive, follow the next few steps to make them ready for your students to use in their robots.

Step 3: Quick Connect Motors: Modifying the Motor Mounts

Once the motors have arrived, remove the white plastic mounts and prep them for modification. You'll need to drill three holes to improve these mounts and make them better for the students.

Have ready a vice grip or clamp, and an electric drill with a 3/16th inch (or equivalent) drill bit.

You will be drilling three holes in your mount

  • Two on either side of your mount
  • One in the center as indicated
  • See images attached to this step for reference.

The two holes on either side of the mount are for the positive and negative wires to come through. The hole in the center is for using craft wire, pipe cleaners or string to attach your motor to the body of your robot.

Alternatively, it should be possible for you to pull both wires through the middle hole, leaving the two on either side for your students to use while mounting the motor to their robot chassis. We have not tested this method so let us know if you attempt it and send us some pictures!

Step 4: Quick Connect Motors: Mounting Your Motors

Once you have the holes drilled mount your motor as indicated in the images for this step, and wrap the positive and negative lines through the outer two holes.

It is important that you wrap the wires to protect the relatively weak solder points at the back of the motor. If a student were to pull on the wire directly the solder point would break and the wire would come loose. In this configuration the force of that same pull is directed to the mount which absorbs the force and reduces the risk of a motor coming apart.

Less repair time = more awesome educator time. No worries, we're looking out!

Step 5: Quick Connect Motors: HOT GLUE!

Once you have your motor mounts prepped and loaded, we recommend using hot glue to give it that one last layer of security.

Step 6: Quick Connect Motors: Soldering the Magnets

Now you should have a resilient, mountable motor, with two wires coming out of the back. In this step we'll be adapting the wires using ring magnets, to make them easier for kids to prototype their ideas. See our images in sequence to follow along with these bullet point steps.

  • First use wire strippers to take off about an inch and a half of insulation from the two wires coming out of the back of your motor
  • Now apply a sheath of heat shrink to each wire. (No seriously, if you don't do this now you'll forget and super regret it later).
  • Once you have the heat shrink on, wrap the wire around the ring magnet and twist it to secure.
  • Apply a small point of solder to the wire below your magnet, to ensure it stays put.
  • Now slide the heat shrink up to cover the exposed wire to the base of the magnet. (So if you haven't slid that heat shrink on before this step you'll know what I meant by "super regret it later")
  • At this point you can start to line up the motors you are making by hanging them on a metal surface. Once you have them all done you can take a heat gun and run it slowly down the line until all of your heat shrink is tight around your wires. It's very satisfying.
    • If you don't have a heat gun you can do this last step one at a time with a lighter. Still satisfying.

Step 7: Quick Connect Motors: Tips, Tricks, Adaptations and Adjustments

If you have followed the steps so far you should have a motor ready to use with your class, just attach the magnets to the positive and negative terminals of a(n) AA battery and watch it go!

Some Tips and Tricks:

  • You may at this point be wondering what that middle hole is for. Your students can use this hole and a pipe cleaner, or craft wire, to attach their motor to a surface.
  • Some younger students who are making bots that move via vibration, may not have the skill or patience to put an eccentric wobble on their motors by themselves. In this instance you should probably put one on each motor for them. We recommend a piece of hot glue, or a wine cork.
  • For storage or during activities, you can hang these motors like chili peppers by hanging them on a metal surface.

Adaptations and Adjustments

Design Lab knows that not every class is the same, and that every activity can and should be adjusted by the educator for their particular group of students. For this we have some Adaptations and Adjustments. I have broken this into sections for "older" students (middle school through high school) and younger students

Older Students

please read thoroughly

  • For older students you may not need to wrap the wires and glue the motor into the mount. This could give them more freedom to use the motor in more complicated ways, or to use the large vertical hole in the motor mount before inserting the motor.
    • Warning: You may be tempted to do this because you don't have much time, or because your students are generally gentle with materials. Just remember that it takes a lot more time to constantly repair these motors than it does to make them sturdy from the start.
  • You might want to try using the stronger "rare earth" magnets I mentioned in the materials list for this activity. These magnets are extremely strong and small, making them hard to disconnect from the battery via vibrations, and therefore ideal for this activity.
    • Warning: All due caution should be observed when exposing students to strong magnets and electricity.
    • Warning: If these magnets are swallowed by your students there is a real possibility of injury and death. These magnets are very strong. Do not expose your students to them if there is a risk of ingestion.
  • Try introducing wire extensions! I have included a picture of this in the step images. This adaptation could allow students more freedom to innovate by daisy chaining batteries together, extending the length of their bot, or even looping in makeshift switches. (Maybe even adding in real switches.
    • Warning: If students connect the positive and negative terminals of a battery together using wire extensions the battery will heat up dangerously. Always use caution when introducing electricity into your classroom curriculum.

Younger Students

For children below 5 we suggest the following tips for using these motors

  • Structure the activity more around making the battery connection and experimenting with the spinning motor
    • Have soft materials like craft foam to attach to the motor rods available.
      • For students this age, having them attach craft foam to a motor they connected themselves is very rewarding.
  • Have the students mount their motors to surfaces using clay or sticky tack (but be careful not to get it clogged in the motors moving parts)

Step 8: Quick Connect Motors: Adaptions and Adjustments Cont.

We also had a lot of fun using this same magnet method to adapt more complex motors

Just remember to protect the wires by wrapping them in some way, and to use hot glue when necessary to keep your motor resilient to wear and tear. You'll appreciate that you did.

Get creative with it!

You can find these interesting motors in a lot of different places. We suggest finding discount or used toys and digging into those for parts. Older students may even like getting in on the action! (it's pretty cathartic, we promise)

Step 9: Part 2: Bot Chassis

Part 2: The bot needs a body!

The part in this process is for you to decide what your students are going to use for their bot chassis. In the next step I'll share a PDF we used with a laser cutter to cut out custom standardized pieces for this activity, but in this step I'd like to talk about options for you to use if you don't have a laser cutter on hand.

Recycled Materials

A classic variation of vibration bots uses recycled materials like foam, plastic cups and discarded food containers for the bot chassis. This is a viable option, and is open for you to use in a pinch, but we find that students tend to have more fun, and get more into the challenge of design, if their materials can withstand heavy prototyping and play.

When coming up with our take on this actvity, we wanted to put together something that would be low mess and reusable. One of the big creators of mess is sticky binding materials like tape and hot glue, and adding scissors to an activity takes the reusability of materials down a few pegs. Unfortunately with recycled materials the use of tape, scissors, and potentially hot glue is almost unavoidable.

In short, if you don't have a lot of time, recycled materials may seem like a good idea, but ultimately cleaning and gathering materials will take more of your time than having resilient and reusable parts would.

Hey, can I get your shop scraps?

Another option if you do not have access to a laser cutter is collecting wooden or acrylic shop scraps, and drilling holes or cutting notches in them for students to adapt, connect or modify them for their bots. While prototyping our final design we did this quit a bit, and it can be pretty fun, just know that if you choose to drill the acrylic it is prone to shatter.

Most shops that have large cutting machines will produce odd shaped / unique scraps that they have no need for, and would be happy to have you take them off their hands.

Get creative

Since I am writing this instructable for parents, teachers, and museum personnel I almost don't have to write anything more than just that. You may already know what resources are available for you to get random pieces and parts for your kiddos, you may have already stopped reading to drill holes in a set pf hard plastic toy tigers for your kids to use, and if so, fantastic!

Just know that anything and everything can be useful. We found quite a bit of use out of old / new wooden scrub brushes and a bucket of donated toys.

If it sparks your imagination, if you have 100 of it, or if one will miss it, then you might just be looking at a potential bot body.

Step 10: Bot Chassis Cont.


We have attached a PDF and an Adobe Illustrator file to this step for you to use in cutting the same pieces that we have been using for this activity.


Depending on your laser cutter we recommend using 1/4th or 1/8th inch think wood or acrylic for your pieces. We chose 1/4th inch thick acrylic. We went with this material and thickness because of availability and durability.

You can find 1/8th inch thick acrylic sheets here

You can find the same laser cutter wood we used for prototypes here

We chose the size and shape for our bot pieces after some prototyping, but you can use your own intuition to add triangles, squares, rectangles or whatever other shape you want to the mix. Do be aware that these motors will only "cary" so much weight, so keep your shapes small and see what the kids can do!

Try varying the materials you use for the body as well. The more exposure your students have to different materials the better. Perhaps on day one they are only using wood, whereas day 2 has different materials for different challenges.

We specifically chose the hole size in this small piece to fit two materials we have in abundance, and that we knew we wanted to use:

  • 10-24 bolts, nuts, and wing nuts.
  • Golf T's

These materials work well as legs, and made up a large part of our prototyping so we designed around them. Feel free to adapt your design to fit your particular materials.


We used chalkboard spray paint which you can find here, to coat our pieces. We'll talk more about this step later in our materials section, but do note that coating them with chalkboard paint is entirely optional.

Step 11: Part 3: Materials for Bot Building

In this last section we'll talk about what different materials you can use for kids to modify and build their bots.

Please take these as suggestions and not rules. You may have materials in mind that you want to use for your class that are more relevant to your subject or student skill level, and if so, go for it!

Last note before we continue:

Q: Can bot materials make bot bodies?

A: Yes of course

Q: Can bot bodies be used as bot materials?

A: Yup yup yup!

I just broke them down into these sections because it made the most sense. Some of my favorite bots I have seen made in this activity were constructed out of spare parts.

Step 12: Materials for Bot Building: Quick Connections

Quick Connections and Reusability

While prototyping this activity our goal was making quick connections so students focused more on their design, than getting their materials to work. We also wanted to eliminate the use of tape to make it easier to clean afterwords, but also so that we could use the same materials over and over again. With these goals in mind we settled on using

Step 13: Materials for Bot Building: Power Source


Your bots will need a power source, as all good bots do.

AA Batteries

Step 14: Materials for Bot Building: Bot Modifications

Bot Mods

Arguably the best part of making your bots will be modifying them for your specific challenge. For these modifications (or to make the bot in general) we recommend having plenty of cool materials available for your kids to work with. Here are some of our more highly recommended items

Alternative Bot Mods

In the images for this step you will find some pretty unique mods that we mocked up for this activity like wheels, feet, brushes, etc. We found some spare materials and unique bits and attached them to a 5/16th inch threaded inserts which we paired with 5/16th bolts. This allows kids to let their imaginations run wild, but can also be used to extend the activity and make it accessible for older school groups. Try pairing these more advanced mods with the more advanced motors and see what can happen!

Step 15: Materials for Bot Building: Paint (Optional)

A pretty common extension for the shudder bots activity is having your robots paint or scribble. It's so common I'm willing to bet a few of you haven't seen this activity without this extension.

We prototyped our bots to make scribble art as well, but with a small tweak: Chalk Paint

We went with chalk paint instead of markers or other liquid paints because of how easy it is to wash and how easy it is to make.

Making Simple Chalk Paint

You can order large sidewalk chalk here. Once it arrives simply gather up chalk of the same color, use a hammer, and smash the individual sticks of chalk into powder.

In a liquid safe container first add the chalk powder, then add in small amounts of water, stirring until the consistency is thick but not chunky.

This paint works best when it is applied fairly thick onto the brushes.

If the chalk / water mixture dries out more water can be added later.

Coating your Bots with Chalkboard Paint

To further decorate our bots we coated the hexagonal pieces in chalkboard paint, which you can find here, allowing kids to paint their bots using chalk paint and paint brushes.

You could potentially have bots "armed" with paint brushes battling each other. First bot to make a mark on their opponent wins. Team battles (Red V. Blue) works just as well.

Step 16: Materials for Building: Arena / Environmental Hazards (Optional)

We found that having the kids build their own arena, and add their own hazards worked very well.

To do this we used a special material "Moon Rocks" that we had already made for a separate activity.

Because this instructable is not dedicated to how to make this type of material I'll just lay out the process in bullet points

  • Wooden shop scraps glued together
  • Sanded down until they look like rocks
  • Acid dyed interesting colors

Other materials we used along side the moon rocks were:

  • Wooden blocks (Kappla works well)
  • Paper towel tubes (hey you can coat these in chalkboard spray paint as well)
  • Golf balls
  • Tennis balls

These materials can make the arena and challenges, but also aid a students imagination in determining their own challenges.

  • "I want to make a bot to push a tennis ball"
  • "I want to make a bot to knock down a block tower"
  • "I want to make a bot that carries a moon rock"