Maker Math - Kaleidoscope Activity


Perhaps some of you have heard about the "Maker" movement.  It's related to the whole DIY ("Do It Yourself") mindset and embraces the notion that to really know something, to truly understand it, you must DO stuff, CREATE things, and, generally, be a "maker".  This movement, begun around 2005, has spawned various Maker Faires all across the world.  These events serve as learning spaces where people can do stuff ranging from learning how to pick a lock to creating your own 3-D printer.  There is also a PBS-sponsored Makers project which focuses on women and their contributions to the world.  Recently, this movement has spread into education and many schools and districts are hosting their own Maker-type events where students can learn via hands-on building and doing.

STEM-related fields lend themselves very nicely to maker projects as they often already incorporate building, creating, and making as part of the learning process.

Today's blog describes one such project: making kaleidoscopes from Pringles cans.  

Here is the materials list:

  • 1 regular size Pringles can and 2 lids per Maker
  • Collection of small "stuff" to go in between the lids
  • Electrical tape
  • Mirrored mylar cardstock
  • Scissors or box cutter
  • Ruler, protractor
  • Nail & hammer

Here are some of the mathematics concepts that students can learn about when they complete this project:

  • Circles: properties, formulas, parts of, and characteristics of
  • Symmetry:  types of, examples of, requirements, and characteristics
  • Measurement:  angles, lengths, widths, and cross sections
  • Polygons:  properties, formulas, parts of, and characteristics of

The project itself is fairly simple, and if you've done the preparation in advance, it can be completed in one block-length class period.  Basically, students use mirrors, Mira's, or similar devices to explore the relationship between the angle (of the 2 mirrors) and the resulting reflection.  Students decide on angle measures that result in pleasing (to them) reflections, then use that information to decide on a polygon.  The polygon chosen will determine how many mirrors students need to create and what angles those mirrors need to intersect inside the kaleidoscope in order to achieve the desired reflections.

Students will perform various calculations to determine the dimensions of their mirrors.  I use a Sketchpad sketch like this one to help them in this process:

kaleidoscope diagram.jpg

Next, students create their kaleidoscope.  There are three main components to the assembly process:  (1) cutting the mirrored mylar mirrors to the appropriate dimensions, (2) punching a hole in the bottom (metal part) of the Pringles can for a viewfinder, and (3) putting the "stuff" in between the two lids (stacked on top of each other so the one on the bottom will still fit over the end of the Pringles can) and taping them together with the electrical tape. 

kaleidoscope 1.jpg
kaleidoscope 2.jpg

I did this activity last week with some pre-service teachers and here are some of the "action shots" from that maker session:

kaleidoscope 5.jpg
kaleidoscope 4.jpg
kaleidoscope 3.jpg

As always, I'd love to hear from you - email if you'd like the activity sheet I use when I do this project.  If you build a kaleidoscope, tweet me your pictures! 


Article on the Maker Movement

Maker Faire site

Makers Women

Maker Education Initiative

Rimwe's Math Board on Pinterest


The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

© Rimwe Educational Resources LLC 2019