Monday, November 9, 2015

Circulating Science Toys

Circulating toys can be challenging. How many parts is too many? What to do about replacements? What about propriety software?  I would not recommend kits like Lego Robotics WeDo or Mindstorms to go out of the building. First, the programming software is proprietary and second having all the parts is important to each of the pre-designed constructions. Sparkfun Inventor's Kit, an Arduino beginner's package, is also something I wouldn't circulate. The parts are very small (less than a penny in size), including 2 different color coded resistors that need up close examination to determine which is which. That being said, there are plenty of small reusable kits that can circulate without hassle to any departments.

As I write this, we have just bought Sphero, an already built "ball" robot that focuses on coding through free apps as our newest circulated STEM toy. We already have two successful STEM kits that circulate for 2 weeks and are holdable by patrons with a valid Duxbury library card: littleBits and Makey Makeys. They are placed in a highly traffic area of the children's room (new chapter books) that is easily seen from the desk. All the items fit in Tupperware bins with lots of labels: price for replacement parts inside the box cover and choking hazard warning outside the box (if necessary) with checkout reminders.  Adult circulation has many hobby "kits" called toolboxes like ukulele and bird watching already. We mimicked the labeling and call number structure structure they have established but our checkouts are shorter. They can also be searched as "toolboxes" through our digital catalog with MARC records.

When composing the kit, we take the time to set out every item and take a photo of all of the contents. This helps both tech services in setting up the kit and circulation upon each check in.  To promote video game design, I added a "Learn to Program with Scratch" book ($34.95) for extension activities in addition to the purchased Makey Makey kit ($50). For the littleBits toolbox, I decided upon the smallest kit we had which included 10 bits ($89) and purchased Lego adapters ($10) as an extension activity. Kids can use their Legos from home to build their inventions. I'm not worried about broken bits since I can purchase them separately through the site. So far only the vibrating motor has broken and I just took another vibrating motor from an extra kit we had without charging the patron. I haven't given up on the vibrating motor yet either, it may just need to be soldered together. 

It is important to market these items. If they are sitting in a corner, not too many people are willing to open boxes to see what is inside. At the beginning of the school year, I emailed teachers, school librarian and local troops of scouts to let them know that these are available.  I also set up displays like the Makey Makey Floor Piano with the thought being it would encourage students to make their own at home.  The toolbox was nestled beside the display and went out the same day the piano was constructed with a few inquiries to place holds. The Makey Makey kit has circulated 13 times since February and the littleBits has circulated 10 times.

Other possible kits on the horizon:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Importance of Documentation

I just read about cognitive load theory, developed by John Sweller, a professor at New South Wales Australia.  It's the notion that people can only hold seven pieces of information in their heads at one time.

According to SLJ's "The Cognitive Connection," May 2015, recent research claims that we might be holding less, maybe 2 or 4 things (pg. 25).  With that in mind, I recently tried to recreate a "talking skull" with the Sparkfun Arduino kit that I made last Halloween (with hands on help from our local maker at the time). It was much easier said than done.

I thought I had taken detailed pictures of the breadboard layout but upon recreation, I was flummoxed. I completely forgot how to do this! I should have taken the shots from above and clearly labeled the wires. I also should have taken a photo of the entire thing. I had a few white wires, one from the PR motion sensor, another from the servo. Which was which?

So I shot a video, surely I shot up close on the Arduino itself for the skull! NOPE!

Arduino Halloween from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

After all that I realized that I had written down better details for the blog post I did last Halloween or I would have been in trouble for sure!

When I was finished with the bread boarding, I uploaded my saved code in the Arduino program and it is saying SD Fat does not name a type. I have no idea where to go from here because my actual code knowledge is minimal.  I'm still trying to google the answer.  My point is with maker projects, especially in our age of multi tasking, the brain can only hold so much. It is important to take detailed notes, photos and video. That way, if you don't touch the project for a year, you have an easy jumping off point. Now if you have a cadre of 10 or 12 tweens surrounding you, that may be easier said than done, but it's important to take the time after and add tips for making the next project smoother. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First test of Strawbees

My Strawbees came into the mail today! How exciting! I ordered the 368 piece kit for $50.

I opened the box to my only complaint about the item. It contained sheets of the connectors. I had to hand pull off every single piece with a kit of 368 pieces. It made me wish I had a volunteer handy. Make sure you have a hole punch because the middle circles of each piece all need to be taken out too.

All the pieces were separated into small Tupperware containers for later use and I got to work.

Engineering attempt #1
Like most maker space tinkering activities, there are going to be those students who don't know where to start (neither did I honestly). You can build ANYTHING. That's alot of possibilities! So I thought, why not a helicopter so I have something that moves? My first attempt right out of the box without instructions was less than stellar. So I consulted the internet and used this lampshade strawbee tutorial to begin with a cube. My favorite part of the tutorial was they laid the cube out on the ground first. If you were working with younger kids, tracing this outline would be much more approachable to start. 

Laying it out on the floor helps connect the pieces
Another important factor would be introducing the kids to all the different connection options to test which is the right one for your structure. This would help with some examples. What would be the right one for a propeller? How would you build a triangle?

The propeller in my first design wouldn't stand up so I evenly added circles to try to make it sturdier. When that failed, I cut the straw in half to balance the weight.  These are all good thinking aloud examples to act out. When that didn't work I concluded that I was using two different straw types with size and width so perhaps the bottom wasn't sturdy enough.

To turn my cube into the helicopter, it required a one connector, two connector, circle and 3 way connector at each of the 4 corners of the cube. The package comes with yellow and white connectors, it doesn't matter which color.  The top of the copter required a 5 connector piece and a one connector piece.

Engineering attempt #2
Like most STEM open ended toys, there are so many ways to get the same results. If I was going to host a program around these, I'd have everyone group build a helicopter starting with the standard cube, then invite them to build individual helicopters to see how they would design it differently. That way it's still tinkering but I provided some light guidance towards their path.

I don't think 4 year olds would master this product without help. It does take some force to put straws in the middle circle (depending on size of the straw) and to lock some of the strawbee parts together.

This has great potential to add to a makerspace cart in your library for drop in programming. Just beware of choking hazards and be prepared for missing pieces ending up in the vacuum. 

For a long term investment, you can also buy the accu-cut to make your own pieces, that way kids could take them home.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Makey Makey Floor Piano

If you are looking for a short, low cost project to do with your Makey Makeys, this one is sure to be a big hit. It's a great small group project as well as an eye catching interactive display in some noisy area of the library (as long as you can keep library staff sane). This was made as part of our Tinkering Tuesdays lab. We had low tech cardboard construction, 3D printing, and the Makey floor piano going on simultaneously. It took us about 1.5 hours with 3 teens helping.

Materials List:
Aluminum Tape $12
Duct Tape (any color) $2
Makey Makey $50
CAT cable (there's one lying around your library trust me) or just use regular wire
Wire strippers
12 x 12 x 1.5 in puzzle piece exercise mat $12
white 6 x 8 tarp (but could be smaller) $12
Computer with internet running Scratch

This video shows a demonstration with step by step picture instructions and a more detailed video explanation. I got the idea from two sites that I used for consult: Ed Tech Junkies & Make It At Your Library.  BIG THANK YOU!

Makey Makey Floor Piano from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Your BARE feet or hands must be touching both layers of the aluminum tape to connect the notes so make sure you give a good amount of border between each layer.  Hitting the center of the keys works best. It can be anything conductive really to complete the circuit not just body parts. We used a screw driver to play each note too.

The best part of this project was since the ground wires were built in there was no need for the person touching the notes to hold onto a separate ground wire while playing. This is why there are two aluminum tape layers with a duct tape (non conductive) layer in the middle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Attending the World Maker Faire in NYC

As I was already on New York on family business, I decided to swing by the World Maker Faire at the New York State Hall of Science in Queens on Sunday. It was fun!

Lots of corporate booths and lots of small start-ups were present. One nice thing about it was that there was a lot for all ages of kids to do. There was a construction area for very young children and lots of small venues for talks, which weren't going on when I was there.

The corporate presence was very heavy: Google, Intel, Microsoft, Little Bits, Lego Mindstorm and a host of 3D printer companies all had big tents.

The funny thing is, I feel that we have already done a bunch of the stuff the World Maker Faire was touting: learning to solder, exploring Arduino, building with cardboard, making marble shoots and slides... we'll continue to do these things here in Duxbury, but I'm just as happy that we focused on attending the Cape Cod Maker Faire each year as opposed to making the huge investment of time and money to attend the World Maker Faire as a group.

There were high schools, local fab labs, and tech clubs in the mix as well which was fun to see.

Demonstrations included robotics and lots and lots of drones.

This last photo shows a fun aspect of the Faire, though: circus technology. This demo showed how levers and pulleys work and the Big Apple Circus had some inventive group bicycles zooming around. This shows the creative range of marrying technology with the arts - something we are especially interested in.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Inventions to Make Cardboard Construction Easier

I have come across two products that would make cardboard/recyclable construction creations (especially for younger kids) much easier without all that scotch tape, staples, and box cutters.

Strawbees securely connect to straws to allow them to move and build crazy contraptions. After watching the video, I was sold. The opportunities are endless: bridges, masks, even a lantern fish that actually works! They come in sets ranging from $20-$80 through their store with a $15 standard flat rate shipping. I bought the $40 box which includes 368 connector pieces.  Could I have printed out my own on a 3D printer? Possibly. I'll have to see when the kit comes in. We have LOTS of straws at the library that I discovered after cleaning the craft closet.  They could be left out on a makerspace cart for students to explore on their own time or built into an already designed program. This will be used in our Tinkering Tuesday STEM programs as well as our drop in building programs (which have integrated Lego club and STEM together by leaving out K-NEX, KEVA planks and other building materials in addition to Legos for wider appeal).  A case for strawbees is it could easily eliminate the need for building with food (think the marshmallow challenge, spaghetti challenge or toothpick challenges whatever you call them) while still learning design principles.


The next one, shamefully, we have had in our craft closet for a while now and just rediscovered, Makedos. Makedo are "strawbees" for cardboard. Makedos also include tools like a safe cutter for cardboard (although a bit jagged finish). They got a makeover since we purchased them, with a new screw capability and a screwdriver tool.  The older models are being sold in kits on amazon or you can purchase the new screw kits through their store which range from $12.50-$480 as they are marketed to classrooms. They are also testing a free 3D printing gallery to make hinges and other items. Most of the programs I did this summer involving cardboard could have incorporated these. I could have had real working hinges on the car doors to swing shut in my Superhero Cardboard Drive In or "Lair" building project.

As part of the Global Cardboard Challenge, participants came together using Makedos to make a maze.  The challenge occurs every fall. It is set for October 10th this year, same as Star Wars Reads Day.

Imagine the possibilities together? Storm trooper cardboard costumes? Deathstar maze? Make your own Podracer? Then add electronics littleBits or arduino to make something light up or make noise? Say R2-D2 perhaps?

The one drawback to either of these items is what happens when the kids want to take their creations home? Based on the price, do we let them? If you had a ten kid program and gave them their own $12.50 Makedo kits it's only $125.00 for the entire program with the idea that kids could explore and create more at home. The alternative idea could be a $12.50 supply charge from the patron to fund the program. I'm going to say no for now but promise to display them somewhere prominently until I see sad faces that I cannot resist anyway. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

3D scan and print yourself

Posted by our talented Simmons Graduate School intern, Tyler Kenney:

3D scanning has come to the library, and with it the ability to 3D print yourself.  By using an Xbox 360 Kinect and simply spinning in a chair, you can scan and print a bust of yourself.

To get started, make sure the Kinect is plugged in (into the computer and into the wall) and launch Skanect, which should be located on the iMac's desktop.  With Skanect launched just click 'new' (the default settings will work fine), and then 'start' - shown below:

After clicking 'start' it will bring you to this screen:

Now is when you want to correctly position yourself.  The white box outline shows the area that will be recorded.  Grab the mouse (you will need it later) and position yourself accordingly.  With the mouse on your lap, click the record button (the red button with a black center).  Once it starts recording, stay as still as possible and slowly rotate the chair with your feet 2-3 times.  When you are done rotating, click the button again to stop recording.  It will now mesh the scan together, and once it finishes doing that go to the 'Process' tab.  From there you can use 'Fill Holes' to fill in the gaps and holes that would otherwise make printing your scan impossible.  

As shown below:

After selecting 'Fill Holes', make sure 'Watertight' and 'Very Low' are selected, and then click run.  You can select a higher 'Smoothing' setting if you wish, just know that the more it is smoothed the more detail you will lose.  After filling in the holes and gaps, go to the 'Share' tab and select 'Export Model'.  Export it as an .stl, make sure the 'Scale' is set to millimeters or inches, save it to the desktop, and then you can import it into Tinkercad and clean it up.  Note: the scans will import at an extremely large size, when importing into Tinkercad scale it down to 15-20%.  It can be further scaled down and printed within the Cura software.

Have an Xbox 360 Kinect of your own?
Want to set up your own 3D scanner?

What you need:
Xbox 360 Kinect
360 Kinect AC adapter

For Windows users it is incredibly easy.  Download the Microsoft Kinect SDK 1.8 and the latest version of Skanect.  After that, plug the kinect into the wall and into your computer.  The computer should download the rest of drivers automatically.  Launch Skanect and start scanning.

Mac users will have somewhat trickier time.  The Mac will not automatically download the drivers, and the Microsoft SDK will not work within the Mac operating system.  You can, however, follow online tutorials for setting up drivers that will work.  Tutorials for setting them up can be found here and, under 'Build Intructions', here.  These are instructions for setting up libfreenect, also known as OpenKinect, a set of open source Kinect drivers.  
Alternatively, users can try to set up their Kinect by following this tutorial.  
If libfreenect or the blog post instructions by themselves do not work (Skanect will be unable to detect a scanner/sensor), complete both of them.  The iMac at the library completed both (Mac OS 10.10) and it works.

You may also want to update your GPU drivers, just follow the links from the Skanect site.  
Shown below:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Using Tinkerplay app for 3D printing action figures

In just 15 minutes (besides the fight I had with our laptops not having a .zip file extractor) I was able to create a 3D action figure using AutoCad's Tinkerplay app for the iPad. That's the easiest part.

Tinkerplay, from the makers of Tinkercad, comes with already made parts that anyone can select to build a customized action figure in minutes. Although the options are a bit limited, tinkerplay could be a jumping off point for kids interested in designing their own toys with connectable parts.

Once the app is opened,you are brought to a blank plane. The top right corner allows you to select each part. The outer line of the wheel are the available options, while the wheel before displays the location of the part (head, chest, feet, hands).
Once the grey part is selected merely drag it with your finger onto the plane.
A simple tap of your finger on the part will bring up deleting or moving options.

Once you have built your figure, press the bright green button on the bottom to turn it into parts that can be printed.
From here, you can downscale your print with the plus and minus buttons. By adding your printer to the blue gear on the left, it will estimate your total print time (incorrectly in our case) and show presets for downloading files. We have a library Dropbox account, so we allowed tinkerplay to work with our Dropbox and it deposited the file in .zip format. Press the green button again to download it. Once the .stl files were extracted from our desktop computer, we put them into Cura (our Ultimaker software) as two large print jobs for the first try. One print job with half of the pieces (including torso parts which were the most intricate) would take 10 hours to print with supports, longer than we're allowed to print since we'd have to leave it on overnight. I know there must be some advanced settings in Cura that I'm missing which might have shortened the time. Email me if so! 

So we broke up the jobs, it took over 10 hours to print the 15 separate pieces for an overall height of 6.5 inches (160 mm). I also tried doing much smaller parts shown in red (.75 in /20mm tall for each legs) as opposed to 1.5 in/40 mm tall and without supports the job didn't finish properly for a total of 3 hours for half of the robot to complete. The parts were really hard to put together due to size and I began to break pieces trying to attach them.

If you had a class of 4 or 5 kids using Tinkerplay instead of previously mentioned Tinkercad, they could easily be finished in 10-15 minutes, with limited design learning, and you are spending 40 hours printing parts. So in a class setting, I wouldn't recommend using Tinkerplay although the end product is pretty neat I have to admit. Perhaps it would be more efficient to print out a multitude of torsos, legs, and arms beforehand and have the kids design the heads in tinkercad? Or maybe only print 2 arms and leg pieces instead of 4?  Our next project is trying to use the X-Box Kinect to scan our heads and we'd have mini mes! 

head 52 minutes
torso (2 parts) 4 hrs 10 minutes
small arms (4) 21 minutes each
legs (4) 38 minutes each
hands (2) 23 minutes each
feet (2) 30 minutes

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The marriage of art and technology

We finally had our Grand Reveal for our Arduino Garden Wall last Thursday and it was fun seeing the reaction from youth and adults alike. Some found the Garden Wall perplexing, "What is this doing here?" Some found it delightful, "You had youth, an artist, and an engineer working together on this?"

Bringing over our Ultimaker2 and having it running a loop of bracelet-making was also a big hit.

Because the artwork is on a rolling partition, bringing it up to the Reference floor was not a huge problem. We had made sure there were no delicate wires dragging and no reason why we couldn't fold it up fairly close to get it into the elevator.

Because it is so colorful and the visuals Sally Dean created are so delightful, it can hold up to being turned off most of the time and still be a visually pleasant addition to the surroundings.

We will keep it in its current location for a few weeks and then move it back against a wall near to the Digital Media Lab where so much of the on-going creation happens.

Inviting the local community cable TV crew in to cover the event as fun as well.  They totally understood what we are trying to do and were very enthusiastic about spreading the word.

Kevin Osborn came fully tricked out on his LED glory and gave the philosophical underpinnings of why Tinkering is an important All-American pastime to be encouraged by schools, libraries, parents, clubs, etc.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

3D Printing Etsy Store: Empowering Local Crafters

Looking for a fun way to empower the local crafter? Check out Etsy, an internet based shopping website that allows anyone to buy and sell their hand made merchandise. 3D printed materials still count in the "hand made" universe. All you need to do is set up a shop and take pictures of your work. If someone were to print with our $1 an hour charge, they could make earrings for a product cost to them of $1-3 (based on size), use a dremel or small drill to make a hole, and go to Michaels, or another local craft store, for the stainless steel earring hooks and you are in business for profit! (beware of copyright infringement such as printing items from Nintendo, Disney, etc.)

This is from Fish3Ddesigns, which prints using a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer in PLA. It sells for $22.00 on Etsy plus shipping.

I'd be interested to hear from an Etsy shop owner how good business is but with such a low start up cost it would be worth a try anyway.  Just another way to show libraries helping to empower local entrepreneurs and crafters!