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. Lynda.com (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!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The value of interns and volunteers

This fall we have been lucky to have the benefit of a Simmons School of Library and Information Science intern, Anne Lundregan, working with us on our Digital Media Lab Makerspace.

Everyone wins: she gets academic credit for working with us and developing some programming on her own to test out on our patrons, and we get a commited 10 hours/week professional-in-training to help us develop our new initiative.

Now we are planning to develop a structured volunteer program centered on our Digital Media Lab (DML). It's always tricky to figure out how to use volunteers and how to give them enough buy-in to make a reliable commitment.

Our circulation volunteers are very reliable and seem to know they are much appreciated. They tend to be retired folks who have daytime hours to offer, which is so helpful. With Makerspaces, the expertise we are looking for may come in the form of working people whose availability is much more constrained. Though they may not work on Saturdays, who wants to give up that precious time when errands must be run, appointments made, and healthy relaxation is required? But if we can get them excited about being able to participate in things beyond the scope of their jobs or individual lives, maybe that will be enough. Learning new skills, playing with powerful creeative tools, helping others achieve a level of competence and comfort with new technology - these are the enticements we can offer.

We have some emails in to the Duxbury High School Creative Imaging teacher as well as the Tech Department to offer ourselves to students who need community service credit for National Honor Society. We're hoping to be a good place for collaboration with the schools on this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New programs, new ways of connecting

While primarily being a resource for individuals to do their projects, we also plan to run group sessions using Lynda.com as a great teaching tool for groups as well as individuals.

We did a soft launch over the summer for our new Digital Media Lab with well-attended sessions on Windows 8 and how to buy and sell of Ebay. We had advertised in the traditional way: in the building, on Facebook, on the web site, in the local newspaper.

Now, with the start of school year, we are eager to reach out beyond the usual library patrons and people who read the local newspaper to find new patrons of the library who may not realize we have something they might need.

Hence, having paid for an initial 6 month Meetup membership to try it out and using it for an Adult Board Game Meetup group and a Crafting group, we thought creating a Duxbury Adobe Explorers Meetup group might be a good idea. Almost as soon as we posted our first Meetup for last night, we got 19 members. Eight of them came to our first meeting with 4 others gleaned from traditional sources. Folks from Duxbury, Marshfield and as far afield as West Bridgewater came!

Since we are eager to develop patron interest groups at the Duxbury Free Library, hosting Meetup groups seems like a natural fit. Discussion and feedback are easy to initiate on Meetup and we feel it gives us access to people with serious interests and yet we have control over membership.

With an emphasis on individual use of the resources, we are also trying to create a buzz about our resources AND create on-going interest groups that, hopefully, can provide networking and end up being somewhat self-directed.

Social media companies like Meetup get the word out about your programs to people for whom the subject is a passion!

Here are the links to our Meetup groups:

Duxbury Adobe Explorers

Duxbury Adult Board Games Meetup

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The New Reference: Teaching tools, Skill-building

As we adjust our print reference collection to suit the needs of the community, monies open up that we can spend on resources our patrons are excited to use - specifically ten seats in our building for Lynda.com and the full Adobe Creative Suite in our new Digital Media Lab.

Our patrons are looking for services too expensive to purchase in a home setting and the skills to use creative digital products. We have discovered another service we can provide.

David Murphy was able to give a practical class on buying and selling on Ebay last night using our subscription to Lynda.com as well as the Digital Media Lab and his own experience on Ebay. Suzanne Gunnerson held a similar class in July on mastering the Windows 8 operating system.
By using video classes, we can learn together, stop the video, answer questions, restart, jump ahead, or re-watch an exercise we might not have fully understood. We find that our patrons enjoy getting an overview togther with others and THEN coming back to the library to watch the course more slowly and in greater depth on teir own.

In September, we plan to host introductory course on a number of Adobe products: Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat, Muse, and Dreamweaver.

In fact, if a patron wants to acquire a highly coveted Adobe Certification on a particular Adobe software product, they need only be diligent enough to take the entire Lynda.com course for free at the library and then sign up with Adobe to take their certification exam, which costs a pretty penny itself, but gives a person an amazing credential for their resume. They can learn at their own speed and take the exam if and when they are ready.  All done by maximizing their available resources at the public library.

This is a great way we have found to be resource to our patrons: purchasing teaching tools, expensive software suites, and equipment such as professional scanner and conversion software so they can convert VHS to DVD, scan their precious family photos and documents, learn to start an online business, the list goes on and on!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Getting comfortable with Arduino micro-processors

Carol plays with code changes.
 Taking the time to set up our computers before our Arduino  group gathers really paid off. We were ready jump right in and  work through the excellent little Sparkfun Inventor's Kit booklet  one project at a time. Chris Connors supervised, gave advice, and  encouraged us to explore the options in the code once we set up a  project.  We played with LED light sequences, sound sequences,  and blinking speed.
 Joining us were Jed Phillips, from the Ames Library in Easton,  and Melissa McCleary, from the Pemborke Public Library.

David Murphy's blinking light circuit.
 We are now thinking, "What can we build with this?"  Halloween  comes to mind and our Halloween maven, Carol Segar, is already  thinking about setting up some spooky rooms here at the library  powered by Arduino.
For me, the lesson is: don't be put off by the unfamiliar. Give a new medium a chance to reveal its potential to you! It took me two tries, months apart, to begin to be comfortable with working with micro processors. It's new, but with good tools and a plan of attack, you can go beyond your comfort level and discover new avenues of creativity!
Suzanne works through the book
at her own pace.
Jess and Jed download new sounds
to use with their buzzer circuit.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mad Scientist Lego Challenges completes the library Lego week.

Last Wednesday the children's room hosted a Mad Scientist Lego Challenge night for families. This coincided nicely with our upstairs Lego Contest display. I'm really getting into themed weeks at the library for programming although the caveat would be if someone was on vacation that week, they'll miss out on everything surrounding the theme but as librarians we learn that we can't always please everyone (but we sure try hard!).

Upon entry to the night, participants were given a bingo card and asked to complete at least 3 of the 9 challenges. We had 9 different challenges around the room:
Challenges: Can you building something that...

1: Survives the zip-line
2: Goes down the ramp
3: using littleBits
4: using just one color
5: using 2 x 2 bricks only
6: Stop motion
7: Lego firewalk (this one differed in our other challenges. We told the parents we'd like them to experience what it was like to step on a random Lego. In true kid fashion, they all said the walk "wasn't bad".)
8: is wearable
9: is awesome (to appeal to those kids that just want to build without restrictions).

This program was open to ages 5 and up with an adult for one hour. Everyone who finished received a Lego bookmark. I think our conceptual idea of makerspaces can have so much reach when paired with the popularity of an inter-generational toy like Legos. It is all about building and experimenting!

Mad Scientist Lego Challenge 2014 from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lego Contest is a Sure Hit!

I was overjoyed this morning when I counted 57 entries in our 2nd Annual Lego Contest. The Lego Contest is one of the easiest program we've had all summer and by far, my favorite.  Participants of all ages (up to 12) create a scene from their unique Lego World at home, write a story about it, and bring it in. We host a week of bringing in entries and a week of displaying them all over the children's room while our staff judges deliberate.

Judging is based on good stories, creativity, and attention to detail. The size requirements is no bigger than 11 X 14 inches and it cannot be a set built from instructions. Those are the only guidelines I give. e try to keep entries as close to the front desk as possible and pictures are taken just in case anything gets knocked over.

Entries ranged from a working gumball machine to a futuristic civil war to a drive-in movie theater. It was great to see so many girls participate this year. I hate to admit it, but I think the pink Lego friends franchise combined with the popularity of a strong female character in The Lego Movie has made a huge difference.

My favorite part of the contest is the literacy component. It's one thing to look at Lego people in a house and think "Oh that's nice" but they take on a whole new perspective once you read their stories. It's important to have a venue like the library where kids aren't graded for their stories. I found the ones in conversational tone quite charming. We had entrants as young as 4 years old with their parents writing down what they said. 

A special album is posted on our Facebook page to include the pictures and stories of all the entries for people to "like". Whichever creation gets the most likes by Thursday will win a special popular prize.  Feel free to like your favorite! I warn you, it's a tough choice.