Four Lessons I learned from Teaching Kids How to Build Their Own Space Helmet


It is the start of summer break and I thought I try something a little different this year. I decided to teach a summer camp! It helped that the subject of the class was something I am passionate about and, more importantly, revolved around one of my helmet designs, the Boxeeo Space Helmet. This helmet has a Minecraft inspired aesthetics and something I always wanted to try in a classroom setting. The project is simple enough where younger kids, in the 3rd or 4th grade, are able to complete the base helmet in about 1.5 hours. We can scale up the complexity for older kids with additional cardboard pieces and electronics kits to introduce basic electronics and Arduino programming. One of the nice things about the electronic kit we used is that it does not require soldering to make wiring connections. The Space Helmet goes right into the original premise of Crafteeo which was to create exciting projects for kids that makes learning technology fun and engaging.

I was invited by Burak Arnas, an enthusiastic science teacher from St. Vincent DePaul School in San Diego, CA, to teach a 3 hour class with Space Helmet integrated with the basic electronics kit, no Arduino. This class was part of a maker themed science camp that Burak put together for his students with wide variety of projects ranging from paper rockets launched from an air canon to kids making their own underwater ROV’s!

Proposed Curriculum

The goal for the three hour class was for the kids to go home with a finished Space Helmet with working RGB LED lights. The helmet build process required the students to wire the electronic components together so it provided a number of opportunities to reinforce some of the basic electronics concept taught at the beginning of class.

Even though the circuit is relatively simple to wire it was a challenge to all the students due to the little experience they had with wiring electronics. The proposed curriculum for this class was as follows:

  1. Basic Electronics (30 minutes)
  2. Mixing Colors with RGB LED (10 minutes)
  3. Wiring the Circuit (20 minutes)
  4. Build the Base Space Helmet (45 minutes)
  5. Integrate the Electronics (60 minutes)
  6. Finish Up (15 minutes)

During those three hours, I’ve learned a lot about teaching kids basic electronics and walking them through the Space Helmet build. I boiled them down to four learnings that I will used to help improve my next classes.

Lesson 1: Basic Training for Using Hot Glue Gun

As its name indicate hot glue is hot and can be a bit scary for kids. However it is a very useful tool for aspiring makers, inventors, crafters, artist. Heck some handymen carry hot glue guns in their tool bag. From my perspective it is no more dangerous than a knife and like a knife require a bit of training to use properly. The tool is relatively intuitive to use and most kids know how to squirt out the glue. The areas they needs training center on controlling the amount of glue coming out of the hot glue gun. One of the nice things about building the Space Helmet with hot glue is that it forces the kids to repeatly use the hot glue gun which translates to increased familiarity with the tool.

  1. Applying not too much glue: Kids (and a lot of adults) tend to apply too much hot glue onto the work surfaces. When they put two pieces together this causes the glue to squirt out which startles them.
  2. Holding the work piece together long enough: Kids tend to let go of their work piece much too quickly. They really need to count to 10 “Mississippi’s” to ensure the glue properly hardens before they let go.
  3. Use the dots instead of lines: Kids lack the hand strength and coordination required to squeeze out a line of hot glue. I advocate, instead, that they use a string of hot glue dots along the glue surface instead of a line. This prevents them from applying too much glue and requires much less hand strength and coordination to accomplish.

Lesson 2: Kids Found Wiring to be a Nice Challenge

As its name indicate hot glue is hot and can be a bit scary for kids. However it is a very useful tool for aspiring makers, inventors, crafters, artist. Heck some handymen carry hot glue guns in their tool bag. From my perspective it is no more dangerous than a knife and like a knife require a bit of training to use properly. The tool is relatively intuitive to use and most kids know how to squirt out the glue. The areas they needs training center on controlling the amount of glue coming out of the hot glue gun. One of the nice things about building the Space Helmet with hot glue is that it forces the kids to repeatly use the hot glue gun which translates to increased familiarity with the tool.

Lesson 3: RGB LED is a Mini Lesson On Its Own

With all the focus on building and basic electronics, Burak and I lost sight of the fact that RGB is a mini lesson on its own. When I asked the name the three primary colors, a lot of them named the primary colors from art class: Red, Yellow and Blue. For light sources like and LED, the primary colors are actually Red, Green and Blue or contracted to RGB. It is was an “Ah Ha” moment when I asked the students which two colors on an RGB LED makes yellow. No one answered correctly. For my next class I want to add a mini lesson on RGB LED and even let them see the teensy tiny RGB LED’s that populate their smartphone screens under a microscope. I think it will blow their minds!

Lesson 4: Space Helmets were a Big Hit

Could you teach basic electronics and wiring without the helmets? Absolutely. Can you use the 1.5 hours spent on building the helmets to teach more basic electronics? Yes you can. But it may not be as fun or engaging as building a helmet. From an instructors perspective, the helmet build with the electronics kit provided a number of opportunities were reinforced or highlighted all the theory we presented at the beginning of class. If nothing the helmet provided a great excuse to learn how to wire up LED’s.

One of things I was unsure of before the class was how the kids will react to a challenging project that require them to sweat little. There was always a chance that they can make a mistake whether it is the wiring or gluing the pieces together wrong. A few students were frustrated at that moment when they made a mistake but they calmed down and sought out helped either from Burak and I or their friends. After they completed their helmets, we saw a lot of happy faces and excited kids eager to show off their new creations to their parents. Some of the kids even showed their parents how to change the colors of the LED by rewiring LED’s in their helmets by themselves! When I saw this, it brought a big smile on my face!

I want to thank Burak Arnas from St. Vincent DePaul School for the opportunity to teach his wonderful students. Next week, I will document my lessons-learned from my second opportunity as a summer camp instructor. This time I will teach eighteen (18) 5th through 7th grade students for 5-days for 2 hours a day. Since I had more time, I implemented a number of changes and added an intro to Arduino programming. This was the first time I ever taught Arduino programming to a large group of kids.