Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Preschool Science wraps up its first session

It was hard at first to wrap my brain around doing a science based session of story times as a stay alone program for 10 4-5 yr olds for 30 minutes. In my 9 years of experience, I've never hosted a stay alone story time (crazy right?). How do I even begin? How messy should I get? What happens since I'm by myself trying to conduct experiments without parental help? What about food allergies? What kinds of questions do I ask? I decided that the whole session would be us pretending to be scientists, using their tools, and experimenting/observing a new theme each week.

One of my main concerns was organizing the flow. I like stations but it's hard to do that without more supervision so we tried to do as much as possible as a group first and then had a few choices to play with afterwards.

This was a great jumping off point for me from the Boston Children's Museum STEM Family Activity Guide & the Boston Children's Museum Sprouts.
Then I went to Pinterest for the rest. It's amazing how much comes up when you use the keywords Preschool, STEM and sensory.

Here is my outline of the sessions with some tips I learned along the way.

Class 1: What is a Scientist?
Book: What is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn
We discussed the 5 senses that scientist use to experiment and observe.
Introduced magnifying glass
5 Senses song from Hi 5
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes song
Magnet board game with 5 senses
Sound: Animal sound app guessing game
Touch: Mystery Box
Sight: Eye Spy with chalkboard dice
Take Home: worksheet exploring the 5 Senses at home

Using the songs was really jarring for them and I don't think they got much out of it. I actually over-planned this one as a group. I think this is one of the few that would have been OK with stations and have the kids choose where to go themselves after the magnet board game. It's hard with all the allergies worries to do anything with taste or scent so I stayed away from it but we did talk about it.

2. Color
Talk about scientists and how they use their 5 senses to experiment and observe
Book: Mouse Paint by Ellen Walsh (alternative: White Rabbits Color Book by Alan Baker)
Color Wheel discussion with them filling in color worksheet
Flashlights with CDs and color paddles to explore prisms and color mixing
Colors of the rainbow Song by Singing Time with construction paper
Talked about eye droppers and safety goggles
Color Volcanoes with baking soda, food coloring, and vinegar
Take Home: Color Wheel bookmark

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:  The song once again was too fast and the kids were far beyond color recognition anyway.  Make sure to have enough supplies for EVERY kid each time something is passed out.  I also passed out markers so kids could fill in their own color wheels but it would have been a better take home or station project with marbles or buttons. The kids loved the volcanoes. I should have went from the color wheel diagram with color paddles straight to the volcanoes.   I had tubes full of baking soda and cups of mixtures of vinegar and food coloring on the side with eye droppers. This is very messy so take predations especially with their clothing. It was good practice with the droppers.  Be aware that some kids might not want to get messy and have something for them too (I just left the color paddles out and the flashlights).

3. Sink or Float
Talk about scientists and how they use their 5 senses to experiment and observe 
Book: Does it Sink or Float? by David Adler (did the experiments in the book as we read)
Experimented with various objects as a group with a Tupperware bin full of water ie: rocks, cups, balls, spoon, ice cubes, coins.  Passed a cup around to talk about weight before/after water in it.
Introduced scales and weighing objects to make predictions
Pre-filled water table with Sink or Float kit from Lakeshore
Take Home: Sink or Float worksheet at home

I thought the water table would be a sure hit and it was for some kids but many just wanted to hang out by the scales and weigh things so I brought out marbles and anything else I had handy so they could compare.  If I had more hands for this one, I would have separated more of the experiments in the Sink/Float kit and guided them a bit more scientifically. Most kids just dumped as many stones/animals as they could until it sunk.  A count of the stones and weigh in would have been better.

4. Matter
Talk about scientists and how they use their 5 senses to experiment and observe 
Book: What is the World Made Of? by David Adler (passed around objects and talked about it's state: Solid, Liquid or Gas following book's model. They didn't like the lavender scent I sprayed during the air test)
Made Slime with liquid starch, Elmers glue, and food coloring in Tupperware.
Take Home: The slime

This one was my favorite of the series. The kids loved the slime part and it was few enough ingredients that I let them experiment with pouring different amounts in and pointing out the differences between the two. Liquid starch was the gluten free option but it seemed watery. Borax might have been a better choice even though it's more toxic.

5. Air & Bubbles
Talk about scientists and how they use their 5 senses to experiment and observe

Book: Pop: A Book About Bubbles by Kimberly Bradley
Talked about air in our lungs and how it can blow up balloons, make pinwheels go or even through a straw to push a ball.
Had ball races
Talked about blowing bubbles: do they have a shape? 
Bubble experiments using sugar, honey, salt, vegetable oil, liquid starch, glycerin.What works? (I premixed all this)
Introduce measuring cups
One tub of regular bubble solution: 1 cup water for every 1/4 cup dish detergent with different utensils like slotted spoon, colander, bubble wands, and pipe cleaners to experiment. Do bubbles change shape? Can you touch a bubble without popping?
Graduation Handout: STEM tip sheet from BCM sprouts

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: This one had a classic case of many kids not wanting to get messy so they spent 15 minutes with straws trying to move balls around the room and have races. I had different weighted balls and taped them up a race track to try.  Meanwhile, 2 kids were going nuts pouring stuff into our huge experimental tub (created on the spot) to see if the bubbles would blow after adding the solutions mixed with each ingredient. They LOVED pouring (but pre portion stuff).  After about 1/2 of the salt container went in, we could safely conclude that after adding the salt, the bubble solution does not work.


Find things with only a few ingredients so they can pour themselves
Go over different scientist tools and leave time for them to play with them
Keep repeating vocabulary but only a few things like Experiment, Observe, and Predict and use them every class
Focus on simple scientific topics: Air, water, light. They're only 4! 
It was good to always talk about the rules and what a scientist does before each class
No songs (at least due to time constraints)
Plan for clean up (usually 1/2 hour) and towels, LOTS OF TOWELS
30 minutes wasn't enough, next time I'd go 45. 
Always have on hand another experiment for kids that don't want to get messy or become sensory overstimulated
Get someone to take pictures (my hands were always dirty).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New companies offer alternatives to electronic card design

I'm very excited to try out Chibitronics, electronic circuit stickers to implement into our upcoming Holiday Electronic Card Tinkering Thursday this December. Many of the issues we had previously in our Mother's Day blog post should be rectified with these stickers providing a more stable solution.  
With their easy tutorials, I learned that you should not rip but fold the tape down when turning corners to ensure a stronger connection with each circuit. No wonder they had such problems working previously! Not to mention our conductive tape role was over 2 inches wide.
The opportunity for adhesive LEDs with tutorials for multiple circuit paths will provide easy instruction into multiple lights and even command them to blink. The stickers are reusable so kids will have a take home that can be used at least once more. The starter kit begins at $29 with a deluxe kit at $99 that includes effect and sensor stickers.  Some of you may have things at home and you can just purchase separate items on their own. The stickers will work with conductive paint, thread or even aluminum foil.   
Another more expensive but intriguing solution to electronic circuit design is Circuit Scribe which guarantees a quick drying conductive liquid with their own designed output bits that are magnetic. The possibilities are becoming endless with such quick advances in technology. It's a great time to be a librarian doing STEM programming.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Taking STEM Toys on the Road

This week as part of a Mass. Library Association Youth Services Section Workshop at the Turner Free Library, I took our popular STEM toys, Arduinos, littleBits, and Makey Makeys to offer local librarians hands on time with these products and to share my programming experiences. Noelle Boc from Tewksbury Public Library presented on her popular Hexbugs parties.
We also talked about iPad implementation and new marketing strategies. A link to all our handouts and presentations can be found soon on the YSS wiki. 

With the new emphasis on STEM programming, there aren't many opportunities to try before you buy with so many new businesses coming from Kickstarter and other start up internet based only companies. (Although a special announcement that littleBits will now be offered at select Radioshacks around the country.)   So librarians out there, be thinking about the toys that you have to share with your local librarian community to support and enhance their professional development at workshops, roundtables, annual conference and beyond.  Not only did we provide hands on opportunities to try equipment but we offered easy explanations into introductory circuitry.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Getting adults and girls in on the Arduino action

Sidney codes the blinking light array with her dad
while Bill Johnson shows them his Arduino sensors.
We finally invited adults to come discover the wonders and power of Arduino microprocessing kits. With his real life application story of using Arduinos in an industrial diagnostic setting, Bill Johnson added an urgency and interest level for the adults to consider. Getting familiar with Arduino and code is a ticket to an innovative job, he says.

Jess showed us her clever Halloween applications and then the teens went to work showing their parents just how the bread boards, code, and micro-processors work together. They ran through the blinking lights exercises pretty fast and moved directly into coding messages in their LCD panels. Whew!

Lily shows her dad how to change the message
on the LCD screen through re-coding.
Jacob shows his dad how the Arduino works.

Julia works next to Sandra and digs out the
potentiometer for her project.
Our Simmons GSLIS intern, Anne, and I
find the right pin to match the pattern.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

We were featured on the littleBits website!

We are very excited to announce that we were the next featured case study on the littleBits education blog.  High fives all around for the hard work of our staff and students who were eager to learn circuitry with us over the past year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween with Arduino

Arduino Halloween from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

It wasn't easy but we were able to accomplish our 2 Halloween projects: an LED pumpkin and a talking motion sensor skull.  I'll go over each and things that we learned (aka what they sometimes to forget to tell you in the directions). Special thanks to Kevin Osborn for coming down to provide his expertise for the skull.  Also worth noting, also has great tutorials for beginner Arduino. This subscription is offered free of charge in our library and also if you are a librarian through the MBLC.

We started with the hardest one first, THE TALKING SKULL (Advanced)
*If you are just starting out I suggest doing the entire SIK CODE GUIDE book (comes with the Sparkfun Inventor's Kit) and if you're not ready to throw it out the window then try the Pumpkin*

Items required:
PIR Motion Sensor   $9.95
Sparkfun Inventors Kit  $99.95
Sparkfun MP3 Shield  $39.95
microsd card and micro SD reader (to put mp3s on it from computer) $18.99
Soldering gun
skull  $8.99
9v battery and 9V Barrel Jack Adapter (to run the program without the computer) $2.95
speakers or headphones
mp3 sound


VIEW OF MP3 SHIELD. THIS SITS DIRECTLY ON TOP OF THE ARDUINO (with 9V Jack of Arduino and speaker jack of the shield aligned)

Wire Connections:


PR SENSOR WHITE TO ANALOG 0 ON SHIELD  (All analog outputs are free)



AV SERVO WHITE TO DIGITAL PIN 10 ON SHIELD (This pin isn't being used by the MP3 shield but some are so you have to see the Sparkfun online tutorial if you want to hook up a button or LED)



Here's a dropbox link to our code: Hallowscream with 2 mp3s to try. Kevin O. wrote this using a modified code of his INSTANT PARTY.

It also comes with a button and LED coding that we didn't use. This way you would have to press the button before you activated the motion sensor.

If you hook this up the same way we did, and use the code. It will work. Make sure to name your mp3 tracks track001.mp3, track002.mp3 and so on.

I recorded my Happy Halloween in Garageband for MAC (use Audacity for PC) but there are plenty of free sites to download spooky sounds.

Things we learned:

You have to solder the header pins onto the mp3 shield. This is a one time thing but it is a must for the connections to work properly. Be careful when putting the headers in because a pin could get bent easily.

The PR Sensor's wires don't match standard protocol. red= positive White=ground, black= input. We changed the wire colors during hookup so it matched standard red= +, black= ground, white=input.

It is really hard to program multiple outputs (ie: servo motor, motion sensor, LEDs) and getting them all to work in relation to each other without a solid knowledge of arduino coding. It's like a deep rabbit hole where many things can go wrong.  Also not every code is equal, some people write great side notes in their code so it's easy to change things up, some don't.


Items required:
Sparkfun inventor's kit $99.95
SIK Code Guide Project 4 (included in kit)
Pumpkin $1.00
large LEDs
9v battery and 9V Barrel Jack Adapter (to run the program without the computer) $2.95
 extra wire
electrical tape

Rather than hooking up the LEDs directly to the breadboard (see traditional instructions below where yellow circles indicate the LED placement)

I cut some wires and stripped the rubber off inserting one end of the positive (RED) and negative (BLACK) wire to match the yellow positive and negative circles indicated {ONE WIRE C3 (+RED), C4(-BLACK) to PUMPKIN LED, NEXT WIRE C5 (+) C6 (-) to PUMPKIN LED and so on} . The other side of the wire was brought to the pumpkin and connected to the the positive and negative leads of the LEDs (remember the positive lead on the LED is longer than the negative) Think of it like an extension cord so the LEDs could be moved to the pumpkin and still powered by the breadboard.


This project will allow up to 8 LEDs. I didn't need to put all the resistors and wires in place since I only used 5 LEDs but it was nice to have the option to pick and choose where to put the extension wires on the breadboard. It tended to get hairy in there. If there is no wire, nothing lights and no code needs to be changed. (The less code changing THE BETTER).

Just remember where you put your extension wires affects the order of the lights. C3's Wire being first LED in the order to blink.

Highlighted Yellow was wire connections rather than LEDs. White circles indicated placement on breadboard. 


The Arduino has been the hardest thing we have done yet in STEM. It's important to truly understand the projects in the book that comes with the Sparkfun Inventor's Kit (SIK CODE GUIDE) and experiment with code that gives copious notes on each part before trying an off book project. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Power and Challenge of Arduino

Working with the Arduino microprocessor platform is challenging. It teaches many lessons to teens and adults alike that are worth listening to.  Precision matters. Reading the fine print and following directions pays off. Learning how things work and how to diagnose an error takes time and can be boring anf frustrating. It helps to collaborate and ask others what they think.

We're learning to take the code and run with it. If the piezo buzzer is playing Monster Mash, what else can it play? How do we change its tune? If the LCD screen says, "Hello world," how can we change that to say a different message? How do we adjust the code to do what we want it to do?

Adding sound and sensory shields to our Arduinos is a big step and we are still working out the details and complications of them. But we are not stopping at the introductory stages. We are pushing ourselves to learn more about how things work and why. We are constantly surprised by how patient our teens are and how willing they are to hang in there for the long haul.

It's not enough to be a user or a consumer. We want to be the makers and creators.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Halloween with littleBits

We had a great time in the children's room this week making Halloween decorations for our Tinkering Thursday class for grades 4 & 5 using littleBits.  Besides the littleBits, this program cost $7 in Halloween decorations at the local dollar store.  We are fortunate to have littleBits deluxe kits as well as base kits to mix and match.  
The most important thing to have extra is: 
*blue power bits and batteries (since a 9V battery can only power so many bits at once and you can't add extra power circuits onto your original).  
*orange wire bits (to extend their led lights or buzzers off of the circuit bases).

I began the one hour class by opening the kits and having kids experiment with all the bits available, towards the 20 minute mark I showed them all the decorations they had to work with and they began thinking about how they could design circuits that went with it.This is where the orange wire bits came in handy . 
 One thing I wish is that we could hang these on the walls. The littleBits bases with the circuits are too heavy (not to mention we can't tape anything to the walls with any adhesive strength to it) but we made do on our display table. What I found the most interesting about this program is I only had 5 kids sign up, only one of them being a girl. With our huge after school population, I just came out of the room and said "Who wants to help make Halloween decorations for the children's room?" and immediately 4 other girls jumped in. I'm curious if I said "Who wants to build circuits?" if it would have elicited the same response. We have to think about how we approach our marketing to kids especially those that label themselves "not really into science" (like the younger version of ME).  What if I just labeled these as craft programs? Food for thought.

littlebits for Halloween from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

DIY Club: Stop Motion Month

Just in time for the release of the new movie The Boxtrolls, done entirely in claymation stop motion, we finished up a month long after school Lego stop motion program on Tuesdays for students in Gr. 6-8. Ellen thought it would be a good idea to talk about the structure of the program and some tips we have learned along the way.

Material Must Haves:
iStopMotion ($5.99), iMovie ($9.99), and DropBox (free) app
Bins of Legos and figures

*Note: This can also be done though the camera in a phone or tablet (regular camera phone app that comes free) and downloaded into iMove for a Mac or Windows Movie Maker for a PC (bearing in mind you have laptops or free computers handy) if you are on a shoestring budget. It's just less streamlined that way.  The key to stopmotion is FRAMES PER SECOND which can be changed in any of these editing programs as long as the students have taken enough photos.

Preparation Tip: Make sure to separate out weapons, costumes, and Lego figures before the kids come in to save time.  I stored all of it in a pencil case.  If you have any choice for Lego figures, I prefer the ones with 2 faces (usually happy or sad) that the kids can change with a turn of the head. It makes things more expressive.
Preparation Tip: If you have any budge left, buy Lego bases. They are much easier to use than to cobble together Legos for a makeshift base. Bases range from 4.99 to 14.99 each.

Other props that would be nice to have on hand:
colored paper and printed backgrounds
clear fishing line (for making things fly in the air)
cotton balls (for making explosions)
lots of masking tape (to tape the bases down to prevent moving and various other things)
felt/sheets (to cover tables and walls for a less distracting background)
sharpies (to write "THE END" and various other notes on paper) If you can getting kids to storyboard their ideas and shots first it would be ideal but I've never been successful at it.
clay (for blood, ooze, water or just to use to make models)
stands for ipads (we used our book display holders)
Small cardboard boxes (for stacking-the iPad has a limited zoom so it's challenging setting up shots without something to change camera heights. We have these awesome cardboard blocks that kids use in our children's room that have been re purposed for backgrounds and camera stands during shooting). 

Week 1 & 2: Set Design & Picture Taking  (1.5 hrs per session for 3 hours total)

Shooting Tip:Take 3 consecutive pictures for every time you make one stop motion move.  This will slow down your movie immensely and people will be able to notice all the details. This also adds time in if you want to add dialogue later. This can also be accomplished after the fact by tapping on the wrench for each picture in iStopmotion and pressing the "Duplicate Frame button"  or by changing the frames per second in the upper corner gear button.

Shooting Tip: Watch out for shadows, people moving in your backgrounds, random hands in shots, etc.  If you can get a group together, have one person in charge of moving each Lego figure. They can make one move say all set and another person can be in charge of the camera.  That way each person knows if they have moved the Lego or not. There is a "ghosting feature" on the iStopmotion app that helps and is worth the $5.99 in itself. This shows a blurry marker of the last movement shot once the Lego is moved. It's like a place marker.

Week 3: Editing and Film Debut (1.5 hrs)

We edit through iMovie on the iPad which is very limiting but easy to manage since we're already on the iPads.  One of the best features of the iPad version is that students in the class can make their own sound effects in addition to the library that is included. iMovie for the computer allows more options for adding text and film transitioning.

Our class was working nearly to the wire so we were unable to present them on the projector for their big debut but I emailed everyone their own files through our DropBox account right from the iPads.  Make sure you have a good wireless connection otherwise this part takes some time. Each iPad needs to be signed into a DropBox account. We have one for the library. DropBox allows you to share specific folders while keeping your personal/work files private. 

Structure Tip: What's interesting about the class is to see all the different styles of the students. Some spent the entire month doing one very long film (it was nice to have extra iPads on hand for them to be able to shoot multiple scenes at the same time), while others worked alone on one different story each time. I usually prepare for everyone to have their own iPad but many wanted to work in groups with varied success. Not everyone can be the director!

When we started editing some went with their own dialogue while others didn't want any sound effects at all so finishing times varied. Be prepared with something else to do during downtime. Research some awesome stop motion videos that are kid friendly that can be shown in the background. I'm a big fan of this epic Halo battle but use your judgement on the violence factor.  Another talented stop motion filmaker on youTube is Michael Hickox  I've played these videos before and during sessions (not near their shooting areas though because it affects the light) for inspiration. (video training tutorials) has a detailed stop motion tips and tricks class if you want to sign up for 2 weeks through MBLC.

Class extensions: SLJ  (School Library Journal) just covered Lego Story Starter packs to promote literacy which includes computer software, Lego figures galore, and a spinner to help stories get started. These can easily be integrated into stop motion class along with Lego WeDo Kits to add robotics (something the kids wouldn't have to move on their own to convey motion). I think we could devote an entire summer reading program to Legos and still keep the momentum going (think Building theme of 2017!).

In the meantime, enjoy our internet film debut:

DIY Club Stop Motion from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Halloween Circuitry Projects

In the YA & Children's department, we are gearing up for Halloween using Arduino and littleBits. How cool would it be to do homemade Halloween interactive props? Every year we say that we want to do a Haunted House and this is our first step in the right direction.

littleBits just released some Halloween inspired projects: creepy picture frames, pumpkins, & EL wire wearables using the Deluxe kits. We will be using these as a baseline for ideas in our Tinkering Thursday Halloween projects on October 16th. My hope is that they could be put on display until Halloween (if they aren't too scary).

As an advanced project for the middle school DIY Club, we are going to be using the Sparkfun Arduino Inventors Kit to go through the manual for 2 weeks practicing breadboard circuitry and preset Arduino programming. They have a great easy to understand manual with detailed pictures for beginners. From there, we have researched Halloween based projects for further exploration to include a talking skeleton and LED pumpkin. Here is our additional experimental materials (- a pumpkin and a skeleton).

2 - $5.90 - PRT-09518 - 9V to Barrel Jack Adapter  ($2.95 ea.)
4 - $2.00 - PRT-09280 - Arduino Stackable Header - 6 Pin  ($0.50 ea.)
4 - $2.00 - PRT-09279 - Arduino Stackable Header - 8 Pin  ($0.50 ea.)
2 - $79.90 - DEV-10628 - MP3 Player Shield  ($39.95 ea.)
2 - $1.90 - COM-10722 - Thin Speaker  ($0.95 ea.)
2 - $3.90 - COM-09151 - Speaker - 0.5W (8 ohm)  ($1.95 ea.)
2 - $57.90 - COM-10747 - PowerSwitch Tail II  ($28.95 ea.)
10 - $17.60 - ROB-11696 - Hobby Motor - Gear  ($1.76 ea.)
2 - $19.90 - SEN-08630 - PIR Motion Sensor  ($9.95 ea.)
2 - $5.90 - PRT-10512 - 9V Battery Holder  ($2.95 ea.)

A few things to keep in mind:
How is the Arduino powered? We thought we'd try 9v batteries and a powerswitch tail.
WAV or MP3 sound shield? Either shield works, depending on the Arduino board you have, but most of the popular music is mp3 format.  You also need a memory card: SD or mini SD depending on the shield.
All motion sensors are not equal. PIR motion sensor or range? We still don't know!

Happy Halloween Makers. Wish us luck. Pictures to follow!