The Think Tube

Tami O'Connor, Educational Innovations

By Tami O’Connor

Many years ago while attending a summer ChemEd conference, I had occasion to sit in on an amazing presentation.  I have to admit that as a seventh grade teacher, much of the information presented at this conference would have been a bit over my students’ heads, but I still enjoyed the chance to learn new teaching ideas. One presenter, Jeff Hepburn, came out with a prop called the Think Tube.  I’m not honestly sure whether that was his name for it or if that’s how I eventually christened it, but suffice to say, I knew immediately that I had to build one for my students.

Back to School with the Think Tube

The first week of school was always my favorite because that was the time I worked especially hard to truly “hook” my kids on science.  I tended to bring in the most awesome and thought-provoking activities to share in class.  My students typically left my room busting with excitement and looking forward to what the rest of the year would hold. 

On day two, I brought in my homemade Think Tube.  Over the summer, my husband built it out of PVC pipe, string, and wooden cubes.  Initially, the students were unimpressed… that is, until the unexpected happened.

Let the Thinking Begin!

Now, I could have told them exactly what was going on.  After all, it wasn’t magic (though, like many good discrepant events, it appeared to be).  But, by doing so, I would have removed the reason I showed it to them in the first place. 

Think Tube - Educational Innovations Blog

The whole idea was to get my students to predict, observe, revise their prediction, and then try to figure out what was happening.  I explained that I expected nothing from them, but if anyone had a hypothesis on how this contraption worked, they would get a heat-sensitive pencil—never underestimate the power of a cool pencil as a reward for students of any age!  Anyone who could recreate this and build one would be allowed to bring it to other classes to show their peers.

This wasn’t homework; I simply encouraged my students to continue thinking after science class had ended.  Lo and behold, several students in each class period came in with their own versions of the Think Tube.  Some used paper towel tubes, others were made from packing tubes, wrapping paper tubes, and even toilet paper tubes.

The best part of all was that without any formal assignment given by me, my students were totally excited to ponder and then discuss what they thought was going on with their peers and their families.  And, after all, what can be better than when kids gets home from school, and their parents ask them what they did in school that day and with excitement in their voice, they talked about science class?!?

Thank you, Jeff!  You helped me bring an increased love of science to many of my students!

For those of you who would like to make one of your own, here is a diagram (below).  Or you can purchase one from Educational Innovations for $7.95.


Think Tube - Educational Innovations Blog

If you’d like your students to try to build their own Think Tube, we suggest this video:


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