Thursday, August 13, 2015

3D Printing: The New Reference Interview?

If you are thinking about implementing a pay to print service with the 3D printer for kids, it won't be something simple as dropping off a file and walking away at least for the first few prints. It is as much a trial and error process for us as it is for the designer.  In library school, they teach us the importance of the reference interview, how to properly cull what a person really wants out of a simple question. If they were looking for architecture books, do they want photography? how to build? famous builders throughout the centuries? Is it a school project or just a hobby?

When a student comes to drop off a 3D print job, questions need to be asked. The librarian will have to look at the design as a .stl file and open it into the propriety software of the 3D printer they have before printing. Cura in the case of the Ultimaker for us, or Cube for our Cube 2D printers.  Once the file is saved as a Cube file, it cannot be edited so always saving the original .stl file is important too.  This way the librarian can decide if they want to make slight edits without having to call or email the patron asking them to come back in or do they because it is a teachable moment? You'll have to decide.

Questions to ask before they leave:

Does it need supports? If you are building anything vertical, say a house, supports may need to be made (for example: where my finger is pointing) since the printer prints the entire project horizontally layer by layer  (think like a house foundation). When it got to the roof layer in this instance, it would have had nothing except the columns to build off (which don't go over the entire area) and it would just spray 3D filament into the air. Supports happen after the .stl file is made because most printer software creates their own supports that are easier to take off.  These supports weren't too much fun cutting out later (it made jagged edges over the house door) but it would just be a matter of some light sanding or wire cutters to make smooth. They are very thinly printed and usually can be broken off by hand.

Can we print it hollow? Printing anything hollow takes up much less time because if you print solid, every inch (except where you made room for the holes) will be filled with filament. Printing in solid (or even strong), will prevent fragile thin items from breaking but it is usually not necessary for most simple print jobs.

Are you sure this is the right size? The concept of MM is foreign to most students which is when I break out the digital caliper and show them the actual size. Most of the time the kids say, "Oh I didn't realize it was that large".  If someone just drops off a file, there can be no back and forth.  The print will be done before there's a conversation (and may need to reprint).

Is the base level with the work plane? I've talked about this before. It's crucial! If the base is floating off the work plane in tinkercad even 1mm the entire print won't work.  You can check in tinkercad by clicking on the black cone (IT TURNS RED). It should say 0.0mm. I can't see any easy way to do this in the Cube software.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Mad Science Mondays come to a close

Another round of weekly summer Mad Science Mondays comes to a close. These were drop in science & art based programs for grades K and up with an adult taking place in the children's room for a 2 hour drop in. We did this for the first time last summer. It was so successful we decided to do it again. Our schedule was as follows: (keeping in mind Superheroes as our summer reading theme)

Superhero Gadgets-Use littleBits to make your own gadgets for your hero tool belt
Superhero Lairs- Make your own secret hideout
Superhero Traps-Make Rube Goldberg inspired designs to capture your enemies
Superhero Minions- Build and program your own Lego robot to do your bidding

We were fortunate enough to get a donation of refrigerator boxes from a local appliance store to help us with lairs (think about where you can store these before the program. In our case we had a delivery of boxes two months before and things got tight!).  If lairs would be too big to store, I suggest making superhero cars out of smaller boxes. We had a superhero drive in as another separate program and the kids loved it. I had the custodial staff save all the big paper towel boxes and they were a good fit.  I pre-cut windshields and doors with an exacto blade and left the decorations up to them. Once construction was over, we watched 2 Pixar shorts: Mike's Car (Monster's Inc.) and Jack Jack Attack (from The Incredibles).  The small size of the cardboard cars also fit in most of the parents cars afterward for take home!
One reflective thought after the series was Superhero Minions was during the same week as the Minion movie release. Some of the parents thought that we were actually making Minions based on the movie. The program turnout for this was the biggest Monday I had and I'm wondering if the word "Minion" drew them in.  Do librarians go through all this effort to think up catchy titles and end up confusing or alluring our patrons (it worked out in this instance)? It is a constant debate for me.
These Monday programs required a bit of prep work for example collecting cardboard and recyclables, making sure all littleBits or Legos are in the right boxes, testing the batteries, double checking flash is up to date on the computers, etc but well worth it.  I ran the programs mostly hands off explaining what their challenge was for that Monday and showing them the cart of supplies and an example. The exception was Lego Robotics which required some troubleshooting once they began programming in the WeDo software. WeDo software comes with guided instructions on a few different robots but leaves the programming part to less guided experimentation. My one concern in something like Lego Robotics as a drop in is when everyone isn't working on the same construction it is very hard to see where things went wrong in the design. WeDo is recommended for ages 8 and up but I was surprised to see many 5 year olds (with the help of a parent) succeeding in their constructions. It was a great day to be a librarian when I saw how proud they were as soon as their parent's camera phones came out.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What to Do When the 3DPrinter Breaks?

After 6 months, our 3D printers have had some hiccups. Any library must take into consideration troubleshooting and repair when purchasing a printer. Who is going to fix the printer when it goes down? When the photocopier or printer is busted, we have servicemen we can call. Depending on if you are using 3D printers solely for programs or as a "service," the immediacy of the fix might be more than one librarian can handle.  When purchasing a 3D printer, be sure to ask what kind of support will be given by the company.  When our Cube printers were clogged, we received an email with step by step instructions (with pictures) on how to fix the jam. But what if you're someone that has no experience taking machines apart? How do you overcome the hurdle of taking that leap? The commitment from the staff, and more than just one person, is one of the biggest obstacles I can see to libraries thinking about a printer.  We were very fortunate to have a brave soul on staff that took it apart and was willing to get the rest of us up to speed.  It turns out we weren't using a tool that came with the printer inbetween color reel changes! Where was that in our instructions?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

When someone takes the ball and runs with it....!

Yesterday, as we wrapped up our last Arduino Interactive Wall building sessions, Lily showed me the Simon Says exercise she finished. This led us to discuss, "What next?"  We decided, together, that we'll take a little hiatus, have our big Grand Reveal of the wall in a display setting where people can come by, ask us questions, take photos, get some good press for the library, and then we'll use our Tinkering Tuesdays to really dig deeper into C coding language and 3D printing to learn how to write our own code and light up a diorama of 3D printed replicas of famous (and not so famous) places around the world... Having the group make the decisions is a way to get buy-in and create a sense of continuity from project to project....

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Arduino Interactive Wall is close to complete

After a fun month of building, painting, attaching, coding, 3D printing, our Arduino Interactive Wall has all the components in place! Still some painting and touch up to do. I plan to document all the circuitry and code so we can make sure it is safe to move to a new location.

It was a BIG commitment of resources, time and treasure, but I felt it was worth it. One of the things I love about it is how we were able to collaborate with artist, Sally Dean, AND engineer, Kevin Osborn. They led us all in the concept and creation of it - adults and teens alike. It felt like we were taken on a creative journey together, following the lead of two seasoned experts.

Is this tinkering? Not on the grander scale, but it was certainly problem-solving and skill-building. Some of the teens learned C++ coding, we all perfected our skills with Tinkercad 3D design work, and the movable parts were somewhat dictated by the teens' interests. All in all, about 12 library patrons participated in this project. Many will benefit from seeing the end result, however, and hopefully, it will spur us on to try more micro-processing projects in the future.

A project like this appealed to girls as well as boys, adults as well as children. The interactivity will be a fun addition to walking through the library, we hope.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Nitty gritty details of Arduino installations....

Here's one of our Arduino interactive mural installation elements.


The challenge for us is to find the balance between getting our Maker-in-Residence to install a few elements to give us a sense of what is possible and "jump-start" the installation but not doing the whole thing for us.

We want our young patrons to build and explore the artistic and technological possibilities and learn the building blocks of 3D printing and programming for microprocessors. We have our work cut out for us and there may be some post-session mopping up to do, but that's okay.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My new favorite 3D Printing tool

I'm in love.....

Digital Caliper Tool

We tried to print an iPhone case twice and still did not get the exact measurements right because we were using a regular ruler. With the Digital Caliper, we can now get an exact reading which will help with persnickety items like a phone case. It's available through Amazon for only $30.  This is also a quick and easy way to show kids what the actual size of their object is before printing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Starting the Arduino interactive garden mural

We are starting to paint our garden, designed and facilitated by Duxbury artist, Sally Dean, on the plastic blue partition wall. The garden elements are being 3D printed by the kids and teens and today we will begin learning from Kevin Osborn, how to write Arduino code to make the servos that power the interactivity work!

This is a big, on-going project, which is just the kind of thing we feel sparks creativity and BIG thinking in a Makerspace.

Tools and equipment:

  1. Portable Partition from Minnesota company
  2. Acrylic paints, brushes, drop clothes, etc.
  3. Gridding out the garden design with a wax pencil
  4. Arduino kits from Sparkfun
  5. Lots of extra sensors and stuff from Adafruit

Riley thought to glue gun details on that she had 3Doodled.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jewelbots, a new way to engage girls in coding?

The next step in engaging girls into coding could be jewelbots. Jewelbots are friendship bracelets that will allow girls to communicate with each other while Bluetooth syncing with their iPhone and friend's bracelets. They remind me of a girl's hair elastic they are so thin (which might be a design flaw). The bracelets are not available just yet but you can get on the email list.  These bracelets will allow girls to send messages between synced bracelets or get message updates about social media or texts from their phone. So how do girls learn code? The program is Arduino open source based and the website alludes to being able to program a multitude of different commands into the bracelet. reports girls will be able to send messages through Morse code in the bracelets. Another merging of old technology and new!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Our interactive wall is underway!

Last week, when we demoed our 3D printers, one mother asked me, "Why is this at the library?" I think projects like our summer interactive wall will be the answer to her question. Thanks to the help of local artist Sally Dean Mello ,"maker in residence" Kevin Osborn and students from our Tuesday Tinkering Lab, we've begun working on an interactive wall that can be wheeled around the library. Our goal was to have a painted mural wall that patrons can touch with 3D moving aspects.

We started by buying a plastic screened wall which Sally designed and outlined a garden scene. We decided upon this wall because we could move it around the library, or maybe even take it on the road, rather than using one of our permanent walls. For the past 2 weeks, students have been coloring it in with acrylic paint during our Tinkering Lab. We invited art students from the high school to come over and now we have a few newcomers to the Lab. 

While this has been going on, we have also been designing 3D printed moveable parts like butterflies, bees, flowers, and fish to bring the garden to life with our Ultimaker 2, Cube Printer, and even 3D Doodler.  Some students designed their own items while others found already created files on thingiverse or tinkercad. Just the act of selecting what items to print was exciting for them especially for students intimidated by the software.

For the month of July, Kevin will be training students to use the Sparkfun Arduino Inventor's Kit to make the parts move using motion sensors, servos, and sound mp3 shields. Students will learn electronic skills of bread boarding, wiring, and programming the Arduino in C++ code. This whole project has been a wonderful pairing of makerspace and art. Students who might be reticent to learn 3D printing or electronics could be lured in by the artistic aspect of painting the mural and get hooked. Not to mention the marketing appeal of having a finished project to help patrons understand the applications of library makerspace initiatives that were designed by the community. Isn't that what STEAM is all about? Stay tuned for more updates as we go!