Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Conversations with my Grandfather: A personal digital media lab story

This August will mark my grandfather's 90th birthday and I am fortunate to say that he is still in good health and sharp as a tack.  Now that I have a digital media lab at my fingertips, I decided it would be a good time to experiment with scanning his personal photographs and telling his story. Many friends this year have experienced personal loss and the one thing they all say is I wish I had more recordings of them: how they laughed or things they said (even with pets!). This has really stuck with me.  Not to mention,  I discovered that my mother lost my entire photograph album of growing up when I asked her for some "Throwback Thursday" Facebook photos. I should have scanned them long ago! How fragile a thing a photo album is! In the age before digital, especially the age of Polaroids that I grew up with, there aren't any back ups or iCloud servers.

I started going through every album my grandfather had trying to pick out key people and moments that I thought would be important. They were placed in a box with dividers: Pa's early life, Meme (my grandmother's) early life, their wedding, the 70s and 80s (lots of Polaroids), Me, My Dad, and later. I also had a stash of "People I don't know, should I?" which elicited a hilarious taped conversation between my dad, grandfather and myself for my blooper reel.

I spent 2 hours scanning all the photos with my divider system.  Everything was given a name followed by a numeric order based on chronology.  So my first set of photos were labeled paearlylife_001, 002, then memesearlylife_001,002, etc. I found using the home profile for the DFL scanner worked well with color restoration on especially with grayscale (black and white) photos because it really brought out the blacks that were faded with time.  Everything else I figured I could edit with in Adobe Photoshop if need be. There was one particular photo I loved of my grandfather in his 20s on his way home from work but it was full of creases. With a few swipes of the spot healing brush (the band-aid tool) in Photoshop, I fixed it in minutes. Technology is really awesome sometimes.

My next step was securing a video camera which I borrowed from a friend. Then I traveled down to my grandfather's house to put him on camera.  I thought he would be a bit put off by being on film so I told him I was just using it for his voice (I lied).  I took the order that I scanned the photos in and began presenting them to him one by one. At the end of every divider I would hold up the photo to the camera so I'd know the breaks when I started editing. This is the same trick behind director's movie slates during film takes. With a little prompting from my father and myself, he just started talking. Some memories were more detailed than others of course and between my father and I we were able to steer the conversation.  I wish I had written the questions down beforehand because I forgot a few key ones, so a return trip is in the future. What I ended up with was 55 minutes of film footage and 150 still images.

I had limited Adobe Premiere experience for movie editing but I figured this would be a good chance to learn. I began taking Lynda tutorials online at the library. Premiere Essentials Training was a great step by step introduction. The good(and bad) thing about Premiere is the endless possibilities! After watching a few hours of training,  I decided that iMovie might be a better choice for me. I have edited many movies in it before and I was very comfortable with the format. iMovie has some built in features like the Ken Burns effect for still photos that would have taken me hours to do in Premiere (although I could customize each photo individually in Premiere).  It is also a nice feature to be able to choose from varying text fonts and movement so they can fly anywhere on screen but iMovie has a lot of these styles built in. I just can't play with the fonts as much with busy backgrounds so my transitions were all standard black backgrounds.  I figured I wasn't winning any academy awards with this piece anyway so no need for all the bells and whistles.

I ended up separating my raw film footage's audio in iMovie from the actual video and putting it over the still images, changing the amount of time each picture stayed onscreen based on what he was talking about. Sometimes the same picture stayed up for 30 seconds, sometimes a whole minute.  When the raw footage showed him particularly animated, I left both the film and audio together so everyone would know what he looked like now and enjoy his mannerisms and character. I still have a few photo albums at home and I'm debating about going back to add some more photos to the stories or images he told more about (so not to bore the viewer with the one image of NH I scanned for instance).  I'm still working on my part of the full movie, which is 38 minutes long so far. I made the mistakes of skipping all of my childhood images with him so now I have to talk about my memories. For Facebook purposes (and this blog) I put up 4 short segments of what I finished to highlight my favorite parts. It also helped separate things into themes: work, the navy, the wedding to my grandmother, and traveling.

I'm so glad that I had the chance to do this and it has prompted me to start thinking about interviewing other family members. It has created a lasting and easily sharable memory with my family and friends. My father was able to see my post on Facebook and share it in real time at a family party. I'd say grand total was 10 hours on the project start to finish but it's meaning will last a lifetime.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Electronic Holiday Cards Take 2

blue is negative, black is positive
I was really excited to order my chibitronics set of LED stickers and effects.  Unfortunately it is not as cost effective as I had hoped ($50 for 10 kids to use 3 lights each plus 8 extra 3V batteries) but the stickers are much easier to use than actual LEDs alone and the diagram book is extremely helpful in mapping out your circuits. I've actually used their methods on other sewing projects I have previously posted.

For our one hour holiday card decorating program, I gave each student 3 LEDs. I had extra binder clips, batteries, (you only get 2 of each in the kit) and copper tape on hand. Unfortunately the effects stickers, which allowed the lights to blink, I ordered only came with 4 stickers for $19.99 so I kept them for a later time.

Like sewing, the circuit design is crucial. If I could go back and do this project over I wouldn't have put so much space between the positive LED branches and negative tape connecting to the slide. I also found that my positioning of the battery was all wrong. It would have been better on the top left so I could attach it to the corner of blue paper. I also tried overlaying another piece of paper between the tree and the lights but it was harder to get the lights to turn on. My first attempt is not the prettiest, but it does light up! (much more successful than the Mother's Day card hooray!).

With a stand alone program like this, you never know the level of the kids coming into the workshop. The 4th and 5th graders  had difficulty with circuit design so I started by getting them to artistically design their card first, then circuitry but when it came to the circuitry they didn't want to follow along with the templates I had printed for them. Everyone wanted to design their own unique circuit which poses a bigger challenge to the instructor to figure out individual designs. It's also hard to tell students go ahead test away when you know how much the supplies cost.

That's the trouble with tinkering. Sometimes kids do need more one to one help and they don't like experimenting with failed outcomes. Next time everyone just does one simple LED circuit together to understand the concepts and then design their own later (which sounds like it would need an extra half an hour to the program).  I should have used the tutorial videos from the chibi website with iPads on hand to supplement questions.

One crucial thing in card making is that the tape needs to be free of creases so pressing your finger down over the entire circuit will help conduct the electricity. I fixed 2 students who were ready to give up their cards that way.

At the end of the program the parents ask, what did you learn today? I always wonder did they learn anything?  Did I help them too much? I try to make it a point with every student (we ended up with 5) to reinforce how their individual circuit worked at the end of the program and always vocalize my thought process when troubleshooting the circuit design but how do you get science concepts to sink in? Are kids after a really long day of school even up for an extra educational lesson?  Food for thought.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Creative Graphics Challenge we hope will spur use of Digital Media Lab

Sometimes people need an incentive to try something new or dig deeper into a familiar creative tool.

That's what we hope will happen when we announce the 2015 Creative Graphics Challenge this winter. We challenge our teen and adult patrons to come up with a marketing package for the Duxbury Free Library's event during April, National Poetry Month.

We are looking for original graphics: a brochure, a flyer, a web page mock up, some art that we can use on bookmarks, signs, etc.

Use our Adobe Creative Cloud Suite in our new Digital Media Lab and let your imagination go wild!

The deadline is February 28, 2015 so we can judge and start using the resulting winning graphics for our Poetry Campaign this winter!  What do you get?  You get the opportunity to put this competitive contest on your college brag sheet or work-related resumé.

So start your creative juices flowing!

Sign up at the Reference Desk of the Duxbury Free Library.
You can download the information flyer from here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Engineering and Girls

I recently received a hot tip at a workshop about GoldieBlox (thanks Sudbury!) for ages 4-9.  GoldieBlox sets include a story about Goldieblox and pieces to build your own themed project. You can follow along and build with the story or make something of your own. The pieces of each kit are interchangeable with other kits. The kits are $19.99 each and are sold online or at Toys'R'us.  They even had their own float this year in the Macy's Day Parade and a commercial spot at last year's Super Bowl. These could easily be circulated as kits and considered a library material! Plus the first page of the book (which includes the amount of materials with pictures and number of items in the kit) could be photocopied so the circulation staff knows what goes in it.

At first my hackles were up, these are just like "pink" Lego Friends for girls all over again! Why do girls need their own separate Legos? But think of the marketing, Goldieblox has her own doll and many of her little animal figures are reminiscent of the popular Lego Friends pets that graced every single one of the girl's Lego contest entries here at the library this year.  Aren't these better than the old popular Bratz doll phase? What if Goldieblox was as recognizable as Anna from Frozen? Plus, there was a huge increase in girl participation this year in our Lego contest due to having Legos specifically marketed for girls, so why not? Especially when you see graphs like this...

I just received my first kit in the mail. It would take good fine motor skills to get some of the pieces in (so 5 and up would be my recommendation). I wish the directions were spelled out a bit more but the possibilities are endless by mixing more than one kit. Pair this with my new favorite book, Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and I think we're on to something!
Here is a great page by page demonstration of the book.

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.

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.