Learning how to solder is a fundamental skill that every maker should master. In this blog post, I will outline materials that I recommend for teaching kids how to solder, lesson plan suggestions, and safety tips and tricks. Whether you're building a robot or working with a Raspberry Pi, knowing how to solder will come in handy as it is an important gateway into creating.
Materials Get started on the right foot with all of the materials you'll need to teach a classroom of students how to solder!
1) Soldering Iron
For multipurpose soldering, I recommend the Vastar Soldering Iron Kit. The Vastar full set 60W soldering iron kit is made of the iron-plated tip and stainless steel. The kit has adjustable temperature control.
2) Solder While working with children, I recommend solder with lead in it. The vapor pressure of lead is low so that there aren't a significant number of lead molecules in the air as a result of the soldering. The largest health danger from soldering is inhaling vaporized flux. Lead-free solder is more dangerous because the temperature required for a good joint is far higher. I recommend this solder: Electrical Solder.
3) Helping Hands
While on a FIRST Robotics Competition team in high school, we didn't invest in helpings hands to hold what we were soldering. This led our soldering projects to involve (and burn) multiple people. I recommend having several types of helping hands if you're working on electronics projects. If you don't have helping hands, often a solderless breadboard can be helpful to stick things into.
Both of these products are ones that I use frequently and really like, as seen in the photo: Helping Hands Soldering Aid, Adjustable Circuit Board Holder. Anjali is seen soldering a LED into a Perma-Pronto half-sized breadboard from Adafruit.
4) Safety Glasses
Safety glasses play a vital role in keeping those soldering safe. Keep safety glasses on at all time, as both the observer and solderer.
For the classroom, I recommend always having both types of safety glasses on hand to be as inclusive as possible. I lose them fast when I lend them to students at robotics competitions, so I try to keep around 100 on hand at all times. I myself use prescription safety glasses, and if you're an instructor who is in safety glasses frequently then it is worth the buy. If you're going to be using the safety glasses for competitions, many places have rules that the safety glasses need to be clear. The links above are to clear safety glasses.
5) Soldering Tip Cleaner I prefer a soldering tip cleaner rather than a wet sponge as it cleans better. Soldering tip cleaners are also great because they don't reduce the tip temperature and doesn't cause premature wear of soldering iron tips. This is one of my favorite soldering tip cleaners: Soldering Tip Cleaner.
6) Desoldering Pump A desoldering pump, is a manually-operated device that removes excess solder. It isn't inherently needed for initial lessons where the quality of the project doesn't matter (if your first lessons involve making actual circuits, then you will need the pump so that it doesn't short circuit), but if you intend on soldering a lot with your students it would be good to have on hand. Here is a Desoldering Pump.
7) Pliers & Wire Cutters
I usually solder whilst holding the entire roll of solder, but while working with kids cut the solder into pieces around 8 inches long so that they can both complete their project and not burn themselves. I recommend getting a Multi Pliers Set because you'll be able to use it for a variety of projects.
Before getting started with a lesson, ensure that your environment and students are as safe as they can be.
Before handing your student a soldering iron, do a soldering demonstration so that they know what to expect and will be as safe as possible. Talking through a demonstration and saying why you're doing some things (like cleaning off the tip of your iron or cutting the solder into pieces) is the best way to teach soldering. Essentially, don't hand a child a soldering iron and tell them to go ham.
If you have never soldered before, try practicing before teaching it. It is very easy to learn and is a lot of fun. Learn from someone who knows how to solder and use that as a way to increase your skills and knowledge. Learning to solder as a STEAM instructor especially is a valuable skill because it cuts down on costs of having other people solder technology for you, like a motor controller (it can be time consuming, though. Personally, I never want to solder another motor controller ever again....)
Ensure that a consent form is signed by parents
Have a clean area
Have adult supervision
Open classroom window
Tie long hair back
When complete, wash hands
Let's Start Soldering!
Starting Out One of the first projects that I give my student's to learn how to solder and become comfortable with the tools is by soldering an LED into a breadboard. This can be an inexpensive way of learning how to solder in a group setting especially.
What Next? Try a soldering kit! It can be an inexpensive way to introduce kids to different types of soldering in a consistent manner. Here are a couple of kits that I found online that seem to be a lot of fun: Day of Geek Soldering Badge, Soldering Elenco Kit.
I also know at events I have attended like the Detroit Maker Faire, there was a soldering station with the Maker Faire robot logo as an LED pin. I thought this was a great way to introduce kids to soldering in a manageable and fun way. Soldering is always cooler when the kids can take something home.
Stepping it Up
Have students try to prototype their own circuit board or build their own robot from scratch. Try implementing Every Kid Gets a Robot into your classroom.