On Which I Pat Myself on the Back

Warning:  Some of you are going to find this really dumb.  You’ve probably been doing this with your STEM-fueled 5th graders for years and are wondering why a 35 year old secondary math teacher is so excited about.  Four words: This. Isn’t, About. You.

So in April, I went with two great #MTBoS friends, Julie Wright and Danielle Reycer to the Exploratorium in San Francisco after NCTM.  To be honest, I was awed by the place, but my motion sickness unexpectedly overcame me, and I spent most of my time at the exhibits that didn’t require visual attention.  But in the back, there was a “maker-space” (or whatever you edu-folks call it) where they were making Scribbling Machines.  I took a look at it and thought “I want to do that this summer.  Maria will get a kick out of it.”

Step one:  get a 1.5 – 3.0 volt motor.  [Crap. Something with wires and electricity.  I can’t do wires and electricity.  Cuz I’m math, not science.

Tip:  Don’t purchase a new one.  Re-purpose one from a child’s toy.  [Sweet!  Look out, loud spinning, jump contraption from Hell’s fifth circle, I’m taking your motor!]

What I thought was the motor was not, but when I attached the battery, it became magnetic, which was neat.  I loosened about 8 more tiny screws and finally extracted the actual motor.  Now the game was on.  I was like a mad scientist, tongue to the side, laser focused on getting this scribble machine to function.  No, darling spouse, I won’t tell you what I’m doing, but you can see when I’m done.  Now go away.  

Here are a couple of videos of the Scribble Machine in action after a lot of adjusting and reconfiguring.  Yes, I know, I listen to great music:  Listen to the Music Radio on Google Play Music.

Here are the instructions if you are interested in making your own Scribble Machine.  Now if I could just get it to spiral…

You might be thinking, Ok, Beagle.  What’s the point?  You made a thing and now you want us to be excited for you?  Well, no.  Yes, I’m excited I repurposed a motor from Lucifer’s Leaping  Musical Spin Toy of Satan.  But confession:  I was one of those women who was convinced that robot, electrical, and computerized toys were designed with boys in mind.  These Lego robots weren’t exactly screaming my name:


But this girl looks genuinely excited, right?


Until I saw something I wanted to make, I was convinced I couldn’t.  My daughter is growing up in a country where for the first time a woman is running for president and a woman will adorn the $20 bill.  But what’s more important than those major accomplishments for me and my daughter is for her to see her mom try stuff and fail.  And try again, and fail again.  And then try one more time, and fail repeatedly until I have a working Scribble Machine that doesn’t do much but prove that I wanted to, so I did, tripping over myself along the way.  Maria wants to learn to ride a bike this summer.  And while I won’t be the one out there helping her, I want her to believe that she can and she will.

I see my own mother do this with her sewing.  I’ve seen her tinker and toil over stitches and fabrics and techniques until she creates something so unique, beautiful and truly one-of-a-kind. Like this (oops, stained) Doc McStuffin’s jacket:


Note:  Maria’s analysis of the Scribble Machine is still pending.  Will update with reactions and artwork.



  1. Definitely makes me want to break open some of those annoying baby toys. Actually, I’ve wanted to break them open for a while, but now there’d be a purpose beyond the wanton destruction. Brings up lots of thoughts about success after repeated failure, especially seen through the eyes of a child looking at their parent. I have lots of memories of my father’s failed experiments and projects of various kinds, and his revising and tweaking until they worked, and I saw him as practically infallible. I have no such memories of my mother, and now wonder how much of that was her actions/what I saw of her, how much was what I was trained or conditioned to think, how much had to do with my gender as a boy. Lots of good things to chew on as my wife and I raise our two daughters. Great post for the activity and the context – thanks!

  2. I think you felt what a lot of our students feel in class. They don’t know how to get from point A to point B. It is only with room to try that we learn. Bravo to you for your attempts! Bravo for your persistence! I love this story. I bet your daughter won’t be nearly as impressed as you- unless you challenge her to make her own.

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