Introduction: Clay Sculpture With LED Eyes

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Build a person or animal out of clay, and then install glowing LED eyes! This is a fun and easy project that you can complete in around an hour. The maker will learn a bit about circuitry and electronics.

Optional step: everybody can make practice circuits on a breadboard, this is helpful if you want to focus on teaching electronics.

Optional feature: If the makers can solder circuits on their own, let them go wild and add more than 2 LEDs, but if the instructor is soldering for everyone, I suggest you stick to the plan as takes a lot of extra time per kit if you start to add things in.

Step 1: Materials and Tool

  1. Sculpting clay
  2. LEDs x2 any color
  3. Resistor - I used a 100 Ohm, anything between 40-220 Ohm was fine
  4. 1 or 2 pieces of wire, each about 3 inches long
  5. 3v lithium battery with wiring (or a 9v, or even two double As, but then you need a battery holder)

Step 2: The Circuit

Solder together the components in the order shown in the picture. Remember to clean and tin the tip of your soldering iron. The LEDs can solder directly together to save time, and this will make them spaced correctly for eyeballs on a 4" to 10" clay figure.

For the inexperienced kids, I put the components in the soldering rack for them, and then I used the soldering gun while they pressed the solder into the wires. Each set takes about 5 minutes, and you have time to remind the kids about basic safety instructions.

We did not use heat shrink tubing to cover the soldered joints because we were focusing on learning and speed. So these toys won't stand up to a lot of abuse. If you want to make yours more durable, cover each joint with heat shrink tubing using a heat gun.

Step 3: The Sculpture

I recommend making a rough sculpture first, then pressing in the LED circuit (which will mess up the details on the sculpture), and then do the detail sculpture work afterwards. Depending on how soft your clay is, you might want to use some type of skeleton (popsicle sticks, straws, etc) to make things easier. If it's a play dough style consistency, you should not worry about it.

After they look good, set them to dry! One student dried his for 30 minutes and then added more details. Worked great!

I leave the negative battery wire connected (soldered) and the positive is just a bare unconnected wire. While this looks a little messy, the point is to remind the student on the circuit works. No "magical switch" here!

Step 4: Learning Agenda

If you want to teach some basic electronics while making this project with your kids, here are a few learning points:

  1. What is electricity?
  2. What is a battery?
  3. How does electricity turn on an LED?
  4. How does a resistor work, and why do we need one to protect the LED?

Here are a few explanations to use in your lesson: