Friday, February 27, 2015

Tips on Lego Mindstorm

Thanks to the Duxbury High School Lego Robotics Team for allowing me to observe their Lego Mindstorm Class for Alden students in Grades 3-5 as part of Engineering Week.  They taught me a valuable lesson, you don't have to use the instructions! I was so caught up with building the official robots that I forgot that the whole point to Legos is the individualized creativity with the pieces. Now this type of learning isn't for everyone but I've always hated instructions and doing step by step Lego instructions was a huge set back for me.  I'd rather trial and error free build and problem solve throughout the process. That's closer to tinkering anyway.

In a 3 day consecutive after school class, each team built their own robots for battle.  The first day was a lot of experimenting with the parts. The students immediately delved into the kits asking questions about sensors or just building something with gears that physically moved without electricity.  The second day was building their robots for battle, and the third day was the actual battle where the winning robot needed to be pushed out of the circle ring.

I was so excited after the 2 classes I attended that I came immediately back to the library, threw the instructions aside and actually looked at the pieces themselves to build a car. I suggest building first and to have a plan of what sensors to use (that way if you have kids that just want to program they can get started while you build). I knew that I wanted the two large motors to drive the car and a motion sensor. From there I just built the housing to keep it in place being mindful that one side of the EV3 Block (the Gameboy looking piece) has alphabet ports for the motors while the other side includes the number ports for the sensors. Once you start programming on the computer, you have to make sure the letters/numbers on the top of the blocks below match the ports that you used on the EV3 block.  (Motors were connected to port B + C while motion sensor was connected to port 1).  My goal was that the car would keep driving until the motion sensor is set off and then it will back up, turn and play a note.

My Program
For a brief programming explanation this is my sequence of events, after the green triangle I built a loop where the main motors go forward until the motion sensor is hit (first green and orange block). Outside the loop is another main motor command green block where both wheels are going backward (hence -50 under the speed dial) then the third block is turning with one motor rotating -50 and the other 50 under the speed dial to make the wheels turn. The last green block is the music note which can upload sounds or just play a note.
My Robot

I had the car built and the program running in under 2 hours but I'd suggest a longer class so the students have time to build their own custom bots while others are programming the bot or everyone has time to build a few bots (first hour) and then program them (2nd hour). It does require the computer software so you'll need sufficient laptops. I think ideally 4 or 5 kids per Mindstorm set so they can all stay engaged.  I'm still learning so from here maybe I'll watch an actual Lego Mindstorm programming tutorial video or two or maybe I'll just keep experimenting. Look for updates soon!

Lego Mindstorm Robotics Test 1 from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting our feet wet with 3D printers

We were lucky enough to win a grant from 3D Systems and the ALA for two 3D desktop printers and now we are digging in to learn the ins and outs of how they work and what can be done with them. They come with 25 pre-set projects with which we can start.

With young people and adults alike chomping at the bit to get their hands on 3D printing, we feel it is important to make access to them and the programs that support them easy and democratic.

Matthew Scorza, a Duxbury resident and recent engineering grad, came in to see them and immediately got a hankering to use AutoDesk Inventor to create some cool designs to be printed.  In the interest of  getting comfortable with the machines, the filament, the printer designs, we had printed a Rook on Saturday. Matt added to that a simple map of Duxbury just to see how it handles detail.

There is much to be learned about how to design a successful project in terms of getting the changes of filament layers to shift gradually enough to adhere to each other.

Because of the creative outcomes of the 3D printers, we are hoping that making unique pieces and objects that are stand alone or may even fit together will entice girls into our Tinkering Tuesday program!

Jessica, Suzanne, and I are planning to have at least three stations of projects available on Tuesday afternoons - simple robotics with We-Dos and Minecraft, 3D printing design, and electronic crafts starting out with simple soldering skills.

We are excited to have been invited back to host a table at the Cape Cod Mini Maker Faire in Barnstable on Saturday, May 30th so if you're in the area, swing on by!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our 3D Cube Printers Came In!!

With a collaborative grant writing effort from community members and library staff, we are proud to announce that we won 2 Cube 3D Printers from the Maker Lab Club in collaboration with the American Library Association, American Makes, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

We cannot believe how easy these were to set up.  The first one took some extra time as we had to navigate around the new website to find the software, activate the printers, and calibrate it but we were able to figure it out in an hour. The 2nd printer took about 15 minutes! With the 25 free designs already preset for the Cube, we printed a chess piece Rook. It took an hour and a half to print. It even had a staircase inside, what great detail! The Cube has it's own software and design file name (not the standard .stl) so files designed elsewhere will have to go through their software before printing. Once it is ready, file transfer is done over a flash drive that is plugged in directly to the printer.

The printer isn't very noisy (about as noisey as our computer printers) and the smell of plastic was only prevalent when we were sitting pretty close to it at the desk. The only thing to check before printing is that the special glue was applied to the plate before printing. We love that they are lightweight, easy to transport, and we can buy the print cartridges at Staples if we need to.  Hopefully the bright pink Cube will encourage girls to design.

There will be many program opportunities in the future for patrons of all ages to be able to come in and see the printer in action or attend a program to design their own pieces to print.

Check out our video to see the printing in real time.

3D Cube Printers Unboxed from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Podcasting with teens

Radiofaces groups reading through script in teen lounge
Our teen podcasting group, the Radiofaces, has been re-constituted from a few years ago, and now meets weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the high school drama department schedule, all school year.

Lately we have enjoyed reading short folk tales adapted by Aaron Shepard, in his excellent book, Folktales on Stage: Scripts for Reader's Theater.

Set-up for podcasting
The teens are making these their own by adopting kind of crazy accents and affectations that they find goofy. The only reservation I have for this is that the result has to be intelligible!

What do we use for recording? Why, the Blue Yeti multi-directional mic, of course! This powerhouse of a mic can be adjusted to mono-directional, bi-directional, and omnidirectional. We use it plugged into one of our Mac laptops running Garageband. This makes it super easy to edit, add opening and closing music, save to iTunes and send it off to our podcasting host service, Liberated Syndication, which publishes it in the iTunes catalog (search in the podcast catalog under the name: diffle presents), on the LibSyn web site and out onto RSS feeds such as Feedly! You can subscribe via email or RSS. We also have it publish out to the library podcast blog here.

We don't have our own LibSyn account yet, so we're piggybacking on the library podcast service now but we hope to be able to become independent in the future!

How it appears in iTunes catalog

Our latest effort is the American tall tale, Slappy Hooper. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lego WeDo Robotics in Action

What I love about Lego WeDo kits as opposed to Lego Mindstorms is how "out of the box ready" they are.  Keep in mind LegoWeDos are geared for lower elementary school students but they can still serve as an introductory lesson for middle school students.

In February, we are conducting a 4 week, 1 hour Lego Robotics program for the Middle School DIY Club. We decided for the first lesson, we would introduce the concept of Lego Robotics with the WeDo kits. Even before we turned on the computers, they were off and running. Once the software was installed, it was literally plug and play.

A note about software: if you do not have Apple laptops with CD/DVD drivers, it takes a bit of computer know-how to trick the mac into thinking the CD is there (our windows laptops were no problem!).

WeDo projects can be made in under an hour, unlike the Mindstorms Gyro robot I've spent about 6 hours building only to find out that I must have missed a step somewhere and need to take it all apart (there was lots of silent screaming).  Not to mention, I've spent so much time building it I haven't even gotten to the coding part yet. It could take an entire semester to build the robot and program it. As I was struggling on the desk putting my Mindstorm robot together, one of the elementary school students came up to me and said,
"You know on YouTube there are a lot easier projects"
"Oh where were you a few hours ago?" I replied.
"I was in school of course"

Lego Robotics from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lynda At Home Access at the DFL

We're very excited to announce that we were able to get remote Lynda access so that anyone with a Duxbury Free Library card can enjoy learning at their own pace from the comfort of their own home. What a great to beat the winter blues and get those new years resolutions started! Lynda is full of professional easy to understand video tutorials on a wide variety of topics. Learn about 3D printing, Adobe products, resume building, MS Office and more. The breadth of Lynda is amazing. I have watched a variety of photography classes and I cannot estimate that amount of money I have saved by learning from home with these free videos.  I am now proficient in Photoshop, introductory flash, and understanding exposure. What I love about Lynda is it not only teaches you a topic but it helps you with studying tips along the way.

Check it out today!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Preschool Science "Frozen" Edition


We're trying to get kids excited about learning about science and if Goldieblox has a major point it's that sometimes it's all about the marketing and packaging of the idea. Since I was going to do snow and ice during my next preschool STEM session, why not call it "Frozen" Preschool STEM and use those beloved character faces (maybe Photoshop some lab coats on them). Will more girls come?

The possibilities are endless for this so here's my 2 session plan:

Session 1: Making Snow
What happened to the weather in Frozen after Anna leaves? 
Talk about meteorologists and tools
What makes a Blizzard?
Making our own blizzards in a jar

Baby Oil


Session 2: Melting Snow
What did they do when Anna was Frozen?
(You could also base it around what would happen to Olaf during the "in summer" song?)
Talk about archeologists and tools
Stages of Water
Ice Excavations: How do you melt it and safely?

This will be based on two posts:
Save the Snow Princess
and Lego Excavation

Tupperware and frozen figures
Lego guys
blow dryer
rulers (to measure melting)
magnifying glass

Some other great ideas to try: Thank you Pinterest!

5 Minute Ice Cream

"Frozen" Erupting Snow

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lego Robotics Hooray!

Just got my Lego We-Do and Mindstorms robotics shipment thanks to a generous grant. It took me about 30 minutes from out of the box to my first finished We Do project which always boosts my self esteem as a scientist. It helped to have background familiarity with a simple coding program like Scratch or Hopscotch and Lego instructions. The curriculum suggests as young as 2nd grade and I can see that this would be right up their alley not to mention filling a gap in our programming for 2nd and 3rd graders.
I ended up purchasing the 16 person classroom set from Lego Education which includes 8 We Do sets, a site license, and curriculum binder so I can put it on as many computers as I need for a total of almost $1500 (you can buy them separately for a much cheaper price). I wanted a site license because we don't have enough laptops necessary for single licenses to run a program and I wanted the freedom of downloading them to as many computers in house as I could.

The teacher curriculum binder is worth its weight in gold. Complete with step by step instructions, different approaches (talking about animals in the wild and then making the animals) and did I mention already printed worksheets?!

The software was quick to set up, even on a Mac, and all the project instructions are visible on screen with the Lego part steps in easy digestible sections. The software includes prompts and suggestions for not only changing the physical Lego structure ie: how does the configuration of the pulley affect the time? but coding choices as well...make the motor turn right, left, wait 5 seconds, chirp. This is all drag and drop into the project area. I used the included one sheet index card of parts to decipher which ones they wanted me to use. My only concern is all these small Lego parts aren't going to stay nicely in each of these boxes for long but I do appreciate that Lego gave nice Tupperware boxes for storage.  I look forward to putting one of these kits out for use after school on one of our internet computers very soon.

Dancing Bird Lego We Do from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Conversations with my Grandfather: A personal digital media lab story

This August will mark my grandfather's 90th birthday and I am fortunate to say that he is still in good health and sharp as a tack.  Now that I have a digital media lab at my fingertips, I decided it would be a good time to experiment with scanning his personal photographs and telling his story. Many friends this year have experienced personal loss and the one thing they all say is I wish I had more recordings of them: how they laughed or things they said (even with pets!). This has really stuck with me.  Not to mention,  I discovered that my mother lost my entire photograph album of growing up when I asked her for some "Throwback Thursday" Facebook photos. I should have scanned them long ago! How fragile a thing a photo album is! In the age before digital, especially the age of Polaroids that I grew up with, there aren't any back ups or iCloud servers.

I started going through every album my grandfather had trying to pick out key people and moments that I thought would be important. They were placed in a box with dividers: Pa's early life, Meme (my grandmother's) early life, their wedding, the 70s and 80s (lots of Polaroids), Me, My Dad, and later. I also had a stash of "People I don't know, should I?" which elicited a hilarious taped conversation between my dad, grandfather and myself for my blooper reel.

I spent 2 hours scanning all the photos with my divider system.  Everything was given a name followed by a numeric order based on chronology.  So my first set of photos were labeled paearlylife_001, 002, then memesearlylife_001,002, etc. I found using the home profile for the DFL scanner worked well with color restoration on especially with grayscale (black and white) photos because it really brought out the blacks that were faded with time.  Everything else I figured I could edit with in Adobe Photoshop if need be. There was one particular photo I loved of my grandfather in his 20s on his way home from work but it was full of creases. With a few swipes of the spot healing brush (the band-aid tool) in Photoshop, I fixed it in minutes. Technology is really awesome sometimes.

My next step was securing a video camera which I borrowed from a friend. Then I traveled down to my grandfather's house to put him on camera.  I thought he would be a bit put off by being on film so I told him I was just using it for his voice (I lied).  I took the order that I scanned the photos in and began presenting them to him one by one. At the end of every divider I would hold up the photo to the camera so I'd know the breaks when I started editing. This is the same trick behind director's movie slates during film takes. With a little prompting from my father and myself, he just started talking. Some memories were more detailed than others of course and between my father and I we were able to steer the conversation.  I wish I had written the questions down beforehand because I forgot a few key ones, so a return trip is in the future. What I ended up with was 55 minutes of film footage and 150 still images.

I had limited Adobe Premiere experience for movie editing but I figured this would be a good chance to learn. I began taking Lynda tutorials online at the library. Premiere Essentials Training was a great step by step introduction. The good(and bad) thing about Premiere is the endless possibilities! After watching a few hours of training,  I decided that iMovie might be a better choice for me. I have edited many movies in it before and I was very comfortable with the format. iMovie has some built in features like the Ken Burns effect for still photos that would have taken me hours to do in Premiere (although I could customize each photo individually in Premiere).  It is also a nice feature to be able to choose from varying text fonts and movement so they can fly anywhere on screen but iMovie has a lot of these styles built in. I just can't play with the fonts as much with busy backgrounds so my transitions were all standard black backgrounds.  I figured I wasn't winning any academy awards with this piece anyway so no need for all the bells and whistles.

I ended up separating my raw film footage's audio in iMovie from the actual video and putting it over the still images, changing the amount of time each picture stayed onscreen based on what he was talking about. Sometimes the same picture stayed up for 30 seconds, sometimes a whole minute.  When the raw footage showed him particularly animated, I left both the film and audio together so everyone would know what he looked like now and enjoy his mannerisms and character. I still have a few photo albums at home and I'm debating about going back to add some more photos to the stories or images he told more about (so not to bore the viewer with the one image of NH I scanned for instance).  I'm still working on my part of the full movie, which is 38 minutes long so far. I made the mistakes of skipping all of my childhood images with him so now I have to talk about my memories. For Facebook purposes (and this blog) I put up 4 short segments of what I finished to highlight my favorite parts. It also helped separate things into themes: work, the navy, the wedding to my grandmother, and traveling.

I'm so glad that I had the chance to do this and it has prompted me to start thinking about interviewing other family members. It has created a lasting and easily sharable memory with my family and friends. My father was able to see my post on Facebook and share it in real time at a family party. I'd say grand total was 10 hours on the project start to finish but it's meaning will last a lifetime.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Electronic Holiday Cards Take 2

blue is negative, black is positive
I was really excited to order my chibitronics set of LED stickers and effects.  Unfortunately it is not as cost effective as I had hoped ($50 for 10 kids to use 3 lights each plus 8 extra 3V batteries) but the stickers are much easier to use than actual LEDs alone and the diagram book is extremely helpful in mapping out your circuits. I've actually used their methods on other sewing projects I have previously posted.

For our one hour holiday card decorating program, I gave each student 3 LEDs. I had extra binder clips, batteries, (you only get 2 of each in the kit) and copper tape on hand. Unfortunately the effects stickers, which allowed the lights to blink, I ordered only came with 4 stickers for $19.99 so I kept them for a later time.

Like sewing, the circuit design is crucial. If I could go back and do this project over I wouldn't have put so much space between the positive LED branches and negative tape connecting to the slide. I also found that my positioning of the battery was all wrong. It would have been better on the top left so I could attach it to the corner of blue paper. I also tried overlaying another piece of paper between the tree and the lights but it was harder to get the lights to turn on. My first attempt is not the prettiest, but it does light up! (much more successful than the Mother's Day card hooray!).

With a stand alone program like this, you never know the level of the kids coming into the workshop. The 4th and 5th graders  had difficulty with circuit design so I started by getting them to artistically design their card first, then circuitry but when it came to the circuitry they didn't want to follow along with the templates I had printed for them. Everyone wanted to design their own unique circuit which poses a bigger challenge to the instructor to figure out individual designs. It's also hard to tell students go ahead test away when you know how much the supplies cost.

That's the trouble with tinkering. Sometimes kids do need more one to one help and they don't like experimenting with failed outcomes. Next time everyone just does one simple LED circuit together to understand the concepts and then design their own later (which sounds like it would need an extra half an hour to the program).  I should have used the tutorial videos from the chibi website with iPads on hand to supplement questions.

One crucial thing in card making is that the tape needs to be free of creases so pressing your finger down over the entire circuit will help conduct the electricity. I fixed 2 students who were ready to give up their cards that way.

At the end of the program the parents ask, what did you learn today? I always wonder did they learn anything?  Did I help them too much? I try to make it a point with every student (we ended up with 5) to reinforce how their individual circuit worked at the end of the program and always vocalize my thought process when troubleshooting the circuit design but how do you get science concepts to sink in? Are kids after a really long day of school even up for an extra educational lesson?  Food for thought.