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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Crafting Conversations

Staying connected with friends and family became much easier with the invention of the phone. The phones we know today have come a long way since the first model was invented more than a century ago. After thousands of innovations, this technology has evolved into the smartphones that are widely used today, making long-distance communication more accessible around the world.

Let’s celebrate National Telephone Day on April 25, a day that commemorates when the first telephone was introduced! While today’s smartphones are capable of much more than voice calls, it’s fun to think about where it all began.


Materials Needed

  • Bell
  • Construction paper
  • Marker or pen
  • Paint
  • Paper cups
  • Pencils(sharpened)
  • Recyclables (e.g., cardboard boxes, cereal boxes, plastic bottles)
  • Resealable baggie
  • Scissors
  • String
  • Tape


Step-by-Step Instructions

Part One: Exploring the Basics of Telephone Communication

  1. Invite family members or friends to play a fun communication game.
  2. Give a cup and a sharpened pencil to each person playing.
  3. Each player should use their pencil to poke a small hole in the bottom of their cup.
  4. Cut a 15-foot piece of string for each person.
  5. Instruct each person to thread one end of their piece of string into the hole at the bottom of their cup and pull it through, leaving about an inch past the rim of the cup.
  6. Have each person tie the string in a knot big enough so that it does not slip back through the hole.
  7. Extend the string in each cup to make sure there are no knots in each piece.
  8. Tie the ends of each string together to connect the lines of cup communication so they all form one knot.
  9. Then, cut a short piece of string and tie a bell to the knot that connects all the strings.
  10. Once the bell is attached, spread out to different areas of your home, talk into the cups and have fun communicating along these lines!


Part Two: Designing Your Own Smartphone

  1. Using an internet safe search, research phone patents online. This is called searching for Prior Art and will help you know which types of phones already exist.
  2. Once you’ve made a few discoveries about the design and inner workings of various phones, use your insights as inspiration to design your own smartphone!
  3. Many smartphones we know today are rectangular. To innovate, consider changing the shape of your phone design.
    • Might it be round to fit the shape of an ear?
    • Could you design a square phone to make it easier to hold?
  4. Once you’ve decided on a shape for your new phone, cut that shape out of a piece of paper. Use markers to add designs or text to your phone. Be sure to leave space on the edges for your phone case.
  5. Squeeze paint into a resealable bag to serve as the touchscreen of your phone. Make sure to add enough paint to cover the entire inside of the bag. Don’t forget to seal the bag well!
  6. Tape the resealable bag onto the front of your paper.
  7. Cut a new piece of paper the same size as the first piece to fit on top of the resealable bag. This will act as the front of the phone.
  8. Cut a large hole in the middle of this paper. This will allow you to see the screen of your phone when you attach the pieces together.
  9. Use markers to design a custom phone case on the backside of your phone.
  10. Tape the paper with the hole to the resealable bag.
  11. Once you are done, use your finger to draw on the “screen” of your phone!
  12. Show off your new phone design to family members or friends.


What Are We Discovering?

The first telephone was patented by National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 when he discovered how to transmit sound through electricity by the use of vibrations. This is the same way your string telephone works — when you talk into the cup, your voice makes the cup vibrate. Those vibrations travel through the string into the bottom of the other cups, allowing the other person to hear your voice. The more connections there are, the more voices you can hear!


Keep the Fun and Learning Going

For more fun, hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities for your family, check out our blog!

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