Homemade device to record your iPad with your iPhone using popsicle sticks and rubber bands

So at Iridescent, we like to live what we preach. We don’t just ask kids to make things from scratch, we do it too. Recently I decided that I needed a device to record myself playing games on my iPad (for a separate project to be talked about later). I had done this once before using my iPhone stacked up on a bunch of books and it worked reasonably well. So I decided I wanted the device to hold my iPhone in a position where it could record my iPad. But I also wanted to record myself consistently over the course of a year, so that each time I set it up, it recorded the same way, which meant I needed something better than the stacks-of-books method. It also had to be minimally intrusive in preventing me from using the iPad.

As I thought about this, I realized I had a well-defined design challenge that I needed to solve. Which meant to make things more fun, I decided to use the rule in we use in all of our design challenges: use only low-cost materials.

Additionally, I was always impressed with a Leonardo Da Vinci segment that Bobby Zacharias used in our Be an Inventor program in spring 2012. In the first weeks of that program, students had to design some kind of invention using only the tools and technology available to Leonardo. This meant no glue or machine screws could be used to make connections–things had to be lashed together or connected by pin joints. I always thought that sounded fun, so I decided to put the same constraint on my device.

So, where did that leave me? With a handful of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a bunch of ideas in my head.

The final result! Now, how did I get here…

The basic connections

The basis of all my connections involved interlacing popsicle sticks and then lashing them together with rubber bands. This would basically hold the sticks together by tension and friction, as the rubber band lashings pressed the sticks against each other.

I used a similar process for the corners, using two crossed rubber bands to hold the sticks at the desired angles.

The iPhone holder

I roughly measured the size of the iPhone holder and lashed a rough rectangle about that size. The nice thing about using a this method instead of glue is that it was easy to tweak and adjust the positioning of the sticks until it was just right.

I then found ways to make a slightly raised edge on all of the sides to hold the iPhone in place. I added some support sticks on the bottom, making sure not to obscure the iPhone’s camera.

The base 

The base was by far the most difficult section to design–the final design shown below was my third effort. I needed something that provided a lot of support for the vertical arm so that it would not bend or tilt forward when it had weight, but was also relatively flat on the bottom, so that it could rest cleanly on a surface. I always intended to put weight on the structure to hold it down, and so this also needed to provide a surface to hold that weight.

An earlier design of the base. It was easier to weigh down this base,
but it was much less stable than my final design.

The final design that worked had a cross-brace and several connections that held the vertical support firmly to the base, but was also connected by a flattened square piece that rested against the table.

I made sure that the base had some thickness to it, so that the cross-brace and other supporting pieces would not be resting directly against the table.

Stability concerns

I was quite worried about stability, as interacting with the iPad could cause vibrations in the table, which would shake the device and lead to a poor-quality video. To compensate, I added several cross-braces to the structure.
A few cross-braces to the vertical arm quite effectively eliminated the up-and-down vibrations.

I added in these cross-braces to the iPhone holder, which eliminated the side-to-side vibrations of the holder itself.

Unfortunately, it does still wobble a bit from side to side. This appears to be caused by the main vertical arm twisting from side to side. It’s not a major problem, and in fact my testing of the device found that it worked fine despite this twisting, so I let it be. You can tell from my banging of the table, that any sort of tapping on the iPad itself did not cause noticeable shaking.

It was quite interesting dealing with these stability issues; I found myself learning directly why cross-braces were so important to design and how forces were carried through the structure. Of course I’d read textbooks about these issues in different physics and engineering classes that I’ve taken, but I don’t think I really developed an intuition for these forces until I gained this tactile experience by building something.


That’s it! The whole building process probably took about 3-4 hours, spread out over a week. There was a lot of thinking in between building sessions, about how to keep the base rugged yet flat, or where the instability was originating in the design. But now I have it, a device to record my Apple device with my Apple device.

Partnering with Libraries

Happy National Library Week! We love libraries and working with them, and thought we’d take the chance to celebrate some by talking about some of our partnerships with libraries.

We’ve been working with the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) for some years now, and in the past year we’ve also started working more regularly with both the Chicago Public Library and Orlando Public Library to share the Curiosity Machine with local communities. In Chicago we began with a summer-long pilot program last year, and just last week we finished up the first round of Curious Sessions run by teen volunteers from Afterschool Matters!

After School Matters Volunteer hosting a Curiosity Course

This is all very exciting—and if you caught some of the articles from this week about the enduring popularity of libraries (or regularly frequent your own local library), this diversity of library programming likely won’t be a surprise.

In particular, we’ve been continually impressed by the LAPL’s investment in presenting STEM content to their patrons, so when they invited us to share the Curiosity Machine as part of their “Full STEAM ahead grant” we happily accepted. We were asked to run a couple of Curiosity Courses as well as offer a Professional Development session for their librarians, and this February, we had the pleasure of hosting 40 librarians from all over Los Angeles in our studio.

Our goals were to introduce the librarians to the Curiosity Machine, the learning philosophy behind it, and how to use it at their local branches. We started with a brief presentation about Iridescent and the Curiosity Machine and how our learning philosophy guides our work and then moved into hands-on design challenges, so that librarians would get to experience these challenges and the Engineering Design Processes for themselves.

But we were also experimenting…
We talk the talk of curiosity, creativity, persistence, and imagination when sharing the Curiosity Machine with partners, but we also make sure to apply that to our own work…so for this PD session we tested out two ways of facilitating use of the Curiosity Machine. For the first Design Challenge, we asked the group to jump in and start building. We didn’t expose them to the Engineering Design Process, Fixed versus Growth Mindsets, and Divergent versus Convergent questions (the cornerstone of our learning philosophy)—we just explained the challenge and asked them to leap into it.

Our session facilitator, Ben, invited the librarians to ask questions they thought they might ask a child during the building process. By and large, the questions they provided were very convergent—or conceptual.

Additionally, the group kept requesting descriptions of the scientific concepts being addressed in the task—expressing frustration and self-doubt about ability to teach concepts without being an expert in the subject area.

We took this comment seriously—both as a point of evaluation of the information we provide on the Curiosity Machine and to those we train to use it, and as a key point in that day’s session. At this point in the session we explained that while concepts are important, facilitators of the Curiosity Machine did not need an extensive science or engineering background. And then we demonstrated how, by introducing the Engineering Design Process (multiple iterations, curiosity, creativity and persistence), fixed versus growth mindsets, and the difference between divergent and convergent questions. As the librarians understood that the aim of building was in large part to encourage children to develop a growth mindset, they really embraced the challenge of developing divergent questions to ask during the process, as well as the Engineering Design Process.

We then ran a second Design Challenge, and guided the librarians through an “asking good questions” worksheet, directly addressing the need to develop divergent questions and facilitate a growth mindset.

As previously noted, with this in mind, and coupled with an understanding of the Engineering Design Process, the librarians embraced the challenge. In a post-survey, most librarians had very positive things to say and indicated interest in presenting a CM activity at their site (we also provided every librarian with a Curiosity Machine starter-kit and log-in info, to make this as easy as possible).

It was a successful event, and it was great to see participants so invested and to see them come around to the challenges with the additional information about mindsets, divergent questions, and the aims of the Engineering Design Process. It was a pleasure—and it taught us a few lessons about how to present the Curiosity Machine to future partners and families. We’re considering the best way to present information on the new version of the Curiosity Machine site—and how much information to provide to inspire confidence in users. Science is intimidating, and including more complete descriptions of the concepts being addressed might help partners overcome trepidations about using the Curiosity Machine. People love our programs when we run them, but in encouraging people to present the material and use the platform on their own, we need to address their requests for more support (in the form of concept and content information), and figure out the best ways to provide that. This session was valuable in bringing that to the forefront of our thoughts about further PD sessions and Curiosity Machine use and showing us ways to improve what we’re sharing and how we share it.

…on a final note, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that one of the suggestions the LA librarians provided and requested was a reading list. Of course. It is a great idea, and in the meantime, there are suggestions for further reading (at various reading levels) in both of our Making Machines Books.