Monday, December 15, 2014

More Fun with Conductive Thread

We recently finished a 3 day workshop on sewing with conductive thread for 5-8th graders.  The students made felt ornaments for the holiday season.  We used the adafruit electronic sewing kit for our supply list. One of our biggest hurdles was getting the kids to learn to sew (and having the patience for it!). Also, thinking about the stages of design before actually committing to sewing. How can the lights be arranged and still make the circuit work? (since the positive and negative sides can't cross).  What's the easiest place to put the battery holder? How does using a snap or button affect the circuit?

1. Begin by practicing threading a needle and perhaps work on different stitches (without conductive thread).  Ellen has this great stitch book that she made with another group a while back.
2. When you are setting up LEDs label positive and negative sides on felt or with tape
3. Might want to skip adding a switch for the first ornament
4. Make sure the needle fits through the 3V battery holder (if you are using something you had around the house it might be too big)
5.  Multiple felt layers make it tough to hand sew
6. Your first circuit might want to be sewn onto a separate piece of felt, then shape it to fit in the final design and lay over another piece of felt as shown with the dino candy cane on the left
7. Have wire cutters handy to shorten LED leads after curling the ends
8. Make sure to have normal thread that matches Christmas colors 
9. If everyone is a beginning sewer, it might be nice to have volunteers on hand for a one to one ratio for the first class
10. Talk about troubleshooting thread before...what to do if the thread gets stuck, comes lose, etc.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

DIY Electronic Ugly Sweater Part 2

So you want to add more pizazz than just LED lights? See Part 1 for conductive thread tutorial. This is where littleBits, my favorite magnetic circuit toy, comes in handy.

Bits used: Button, bargraph, wire (2), power, servo motor, battery, plastic shoes and Velcro shoes.

Originally my idea was to make a felt waving snowman but when I actually tried to put it on the sweater, the arm waving failed miserably. The servo ended up on my shoulder (an easier place to hold the motor anyway).  The bargraph and button ended up underneath the 2nd circle on the snowman with a Velcro shoe to affix it to the sweater. I hand stitched the snowman around the major outline to keep all the bits from moving with regular thread.  No conductive thread is necessary for this part.

I bought the sweater at a thrift shop so I had no problem cutting holes into it to fish the servo motor underneath the sweater. The servo bit had a Velcro shoe attached with more Velcro sewed on the underside of the sweater to keep it secure. The battery and power bit are going in my pants pocket.

The best part of it being an ugly sweater is it doesn't matter how bad your sewing skills are! It actually makes it look quite charming. A quick trip the dollar store brought some christmas balls, garland, and a hat.

Check out our quick vimeo video for the final product.

Ugly Sweater from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

DIY Electronic Ugly Sweater Part 1

The holiday season is upon us and that means it is time for Ugly Sweater Day on December 12th. If you're invited to a party or trying to outdo your co-workers to see who can come up with the best, why not try to electrify your masterpiece?

There are a few ways you could go:
  For my tree decoration, I decided to use conductive thread, felt, snaps, a 3V watch battery with holder and LEDs. We found all of these items in the Adafruit Candle LED bow kit that we recycled from a previous program. This is a project to directly sew onto any plain sweater (since the ugly sweaters have probably all been scooped up from the thrift stores by now) or make it a pin and not do any permanent damage to your sweater.  One downside to using a 3v battery holder, there is no on/off switch so I used a dark green felt piece for a snap to connect/disconnect the circuit.    
I highly advise to plan out your conductive path and LED placement on paper beforehand. It's a bummer to hand sew an entire pathway only to find that nothing lines up right and you have to take it all out and start over.  For this project, there were 3 threads. One is the negative thread that goes from the top of the tree straight down through all the negative leads of the LED to the negative side of the battery holder. Second thread on the dark green fabric piece from the positive side of the battery holder to the male snap and lastly, the third thread from the top of the tree straight down through all the positive leads of the LED to end with a female snap on the light green fabric.

Tip: Be careful of your needle size, they don't always fit through the tiny side holes of the 3V battery holder so it's good to use the ones with the adafruit kit. 

After making a few of these: Christmas ball, gingerbread man, Santa head, etc. you could haphazardly pin them all onto your sweater (eyes closed) and TAD-AH! You just learned circuitry while crafting and sure to win a prize in the ugly sweater contest. Next blog post will be building electric pieces on your ugly sweater using littleBits, magnetic snap together circuits that I love, inspired by their Ugly Sweater Hack Project.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Digital Media Lab: finally the grownups get to play!

Building a Maker-style library requires that librarians educate the public about what can be done in libraries. As Bill Derry says in his speech, "Retinkering Libraries," people need to see the library as a place for creation, not just for consumption.

We are trying to do just that at the Duxbury Free Library - first by providing experiences for teens and children in STEAM activities and now for adults by creating a Digital Media Lab in the Reference Area.

It will be a place where the public can convert their family VHS tapes to digital files and DVDs.

Recording conversations, radio plays, poetry, prose, and publishing them as podcasts and on RSS feeds will be possible.  We will give people the tools and space to learn new software and the latest applications through multiple subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud and training videos.

We have to see Makerspace programming as highly individualistic if we want people to dig deeply into the new technology and platforms we are increasingly providing.

Large group programs are not conducive to the hands on exploration we are trying to encourage.
At the same time, we can't justify spending hours at a time with just a few patrons. As libraries, we need to help people find the tools and confidence to build their skills in a warm, encouraging environment without taking the initiative away from them.

I am going to be spending some time in well-established Library Makerspaces to educate myself on how to strike the perfect balance between "giving a person a fish" and "showing them how to fish for a lifetime..."  People want a warm social environment, but they need quiet and long stretches of time to dig into a new format and become creative....

Monday, December 1, 2014

Extending Hour of Code to Ipads

Hour of Code, an international collaboration to promote computer science to kids and families of all ages begins on Monday December 8th and continues throughout the week. Using, companies around the world offer tutorials for students to experiment with many coding programs and languages such as Scratch, Python, and more. Learn how to code JAVA, make an app video game, or an interactive Christmas card quickly and easily. Students who complete one hour of coding that week will receive a certificate (and in our library get a chance to enter a raffle for a free Game Stop gift card).  Kids can sign up for a free hour of code account to keep track of their time from year to year but it's not mandatory.  This week is a great opportunity for libraries to provide a drop-in exploratory program without the stress of learning or prepping all these platforms. There are multiple video tutorials on the site.  It is also a great collaboration between local schools and the library.

Besides changing the homepage on our public computer to the website, we also like to provide a few options on our stationary children's room iPads. Here are the free ones we like to highlight:

Daisy the Dinosaur (Ages 6 +)   provide word commands to make the dinosaur move, jump, etc. Learn about sequencing with visual programming in a fun environment. You can play in free creative mode or challenge mode.

Kodable (Ages 4 +)  guide a cute little monster through a maze to collect coins using very simple directional commands; a good introduction to robotics. I've even seen preschoolers use this app with some parental help.  (includes in app purchases)

Hopscotch (ages 6-12)  Very similar to MIT's Scratch program.  A step up from Daisy the Dinosaur where you can give more commands and have control over your character in an appeal "stacking" command format. 

Scratch Jr (Ages 6+)  an younger App version of the popular web based MIT software. Makes games, interactive cards, and more!

Monday, November 24, 2014

We were guest speakers in a littleBits webinar!

Jessica Lamarre, children's librarian, was excited to be a part of a panel about Library Makerspaces  hosted by littleBits. 

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.