Electric Scribbles – Bay Area Discovery Museum

Electric Scribbles

Children explore the intersection of science and art by inventing a machine that can draw as it moves. This activity helps children develop divergent thinking skills.

Materials Required

  • Recycled materials (yogurt containers, berry baskets, and plastic cups or bowls work well)
  • 1.3 – 3.0 volt hobby motor
  • Piece of eraser or hot glue stick (for offset motor)
  • AA batteries
  • Masking tape
  • Markers
  • Butcher paper / large paper (for testing)
  • Broccoli band (optional)
  • Coated copper wire (optional)
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Popsicle sticks (optional)
  • Pipe cleaners (optional)
  • Sticky notes or painters tape (optional)


  1. Connect the motor to the battery, using the broccoli band or masking tape. Does the motor spin? If not, try switching the wires around. (Make sure the positive wire is attached to the positive side of the battery and the negative to the negative.)
  2. To make the machine spin as it shakes, counterbalance the motor with an offset (“Offset” means that the weight is not centered on the axle of the motor.) Try a few ways to offset the motor, like attaching a small piece of an eraser or a hot glue stick. Experiment by placing the weight off-center to see how it affects the machine’s path.
  3. Create a base with lightweight recycled materials and attach the offset motor. Make sure there is enough clearance so the offset motor can spin!
  4. Using tape or wire, connect the markers to the machine. Try it with the caps on first. Then take off the marker caps, place the machine on the large testing paper and turn on the motor.
  5. Keep experimenting! Up the challenge—try to make loopier lines or straighter lines. Test what happens if the weight of the offset motor changes. Try changing the length of the arm on the motor to see what changes.
  6. Decorate the machine and show it off to friends and family!

Additional Tips

Try these add-on activities:

  • Try “masking” the paper with painter's tape or sticky notes to create another design under your marker scribbles.
  • Add natural materials like sticks, leaves, or stones to the machine and test what happens.
  • Add colored pencils and crayons to the machine. Does it work differently with these artistic media?

Links to Creativity

This activity has plenty of instruction in order to initiate the construction of the scribbling machine. However, a very rich opportunity for creativity occurs once the instructions are over and children can play with how the materials work together. The number of different combinations provided by this activity gives children opportunities to explore and develop divergent solutions on how to create a scribbling machine of their liking.

Supporting research includes:

Bonawitz, E., Shafto, P., Gweon, H., Goodman, N. D., Spelke, E., & Schulz, L. (2011). The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition, 120(3), 322-330.


This activity was contributed by the Bay Area Discovery Museum. ©2016 Bay Area Discovery Museum. For more information and resources see BayAreaDiscoveryMuseum.org

Electric Scribbles

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