Friday, February 27, 2015

Tips on Lego Mindstorm

Thanks to the Duxbury High School Lego Robotics Team for allowing me to observe their Lego Mindstorm Class for Alden students in Grades 3-5 as part of Engineering Week.  They taught me a valuable lesson, you don't have to use the instructions! I was so caught up with building the official robots that I forgot that the whole point to Legos is the individualized creativity with the pieces. Now this type of learning isn't for everyone but I've always hated instructions and doing step by step Lego instructions was a huge set back for me.  I'd rather trial and error free build and problem solve throughout the process. That's closer to tinkering anyway.

In a 3 day consecutive after school class, each team built their own robots for battle.  The first day was a lot of experimenting with the parts. The students immediately delved into the kits asking questions about sensors or just building something with gears that physically moved without electricity.  The second day was building their robots for battle, and the third day was the actual battle where the winning robot needed to be pushed out of the circle ring.

I was so excited after the 2 classes I attended that I came immediately back to the library, threw the instructions aside and actually looked at the pieces themselves to build a car. I suggest building first and to have a plan of what sensors to use (that way if you have kids that just want to program they can get started while you build). I knew that I wanted the two large motors to drive the car and a motion sensor. From there I just built the housing to keep it in place being mindful that one side of the EV3 Block (the Gameboy looking piece) has alphabet ports for the motors while the other side includes the number ports for the sensors. Once you start programming on the computer, you have to make sure the letters/numbers on the top of the blocks below match the ports that you used on the EV3 block.  (Motors were connected to port B + C while motion sensor was connected to port 1).  My goal was that the car would keep driving until the motion sensor is set off and then it will back up, turn and play a note.

My Program
For a brief programming explanation this is my sequence of events, after the green triangle I built a loop where the main motors go forward until the motion sensor is hit (first green and orange block). Outside the loop is another main motor command green block where both wheels are going backward (hence -50 under the speed dial) then the third block is turning with one motor rotating -50 and the other 50 under the speed dial to make the wheels turn. The last green block is the music note which can upload sounds or just play a note.
My Robot

I had the car built and the program running in under 2 hours but I'd suggest a longer class so the students have time to build their own custom bots while others are programming the bot or everyone has time to build a few bots (first hour) and then program them (2nd hour). It does require the computer software so you'll need sufficient laptops. I think ideally 4 or 5 kids per Mindstorm set so they can all stay engaged.  I'm still learning so from here maybe I'll watch an actual Lego Mindstorm programming tutorial video or two or maybe I'll just keep experimenting. Look for updates soon! I just found some great tutorials online for programming the bots with sensor explanations.

Lego Mindstorm Robotics Test 1 from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting our feet wet with 3D printers

We were lucky enough to win a grant from 3D Systems and the ALA for two 3D desktop printers and now we are digging in to learn the ins and outs of how they work and what can be done with them. They come with 25 pre-set projects with which we can start.

With young people and adults alike chomping at the bit to get their hands on 3D printing, we feel it is important to make access to them and the programs that support them easy and democratic.

Matthew Scorza, a Duxbury resident and recent engineering grad, came in to see them and immediately got a hankering to use AutoDesk Inventor to create some cool designs to be printed.  In the interest of  getting comfortable with the machines, the filament, the printer designs, we had printed a Rook on Saturday. Matt added to that a simple map of Duxbury just to see how it handles detail.

There is much to be learned about how to design a successful project in terms of getting the changes of filament layers to shift gradually enough to adhere to each other.

Because of the creative outcomes of the 3D printers, we are hoping that making unique pieces and objects that are stand alone or may even fit together will entice girls into our Tinkering Tuesday program!

Jessica, Suzanne, and I are planning to have at least three stations of projects available on Tuesday afternoons - simple robotics with We-Dos and Minecraft, 3D printing design, and electronic crafts starting out with simple soldering skills.

We are excited to have been invited back to host a table at the Cape Cod Mini Maker Faire in Barnstable on Saturday, May 30th so if you're in the area, swing on by!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our 3D Cube Printers Came In!!

With a collaborative grant writing effort from community members and library staff, we are proud to announce that we won 2 Cube 3D Printers from the Maker Lab Club in collaboration with the American Library Association, American Makes, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

We cannot believe how easy these were to set up.  The first one took some extra time as we had to navigate around the new website to find the software, activate the printers, and calibrate it but we were able to figure it out in an hour. The 2nd printer took about 15 minutes! With the 25 free designs already preset for the Cube, we printed a chess piece Rook. It took an hour and a half to print. It even had a staircase inside, what great detail! The Cube has it's own software and design file name (not the standard .stl) so files designed elsewhere will have to go through their software before printing. Once it is ready, file transfer is done over a flash drive that is plugged in directly to the printer.

The printer isn't very noisy (about as noisey as our computer printers) and the smell of plastic was only prevalent when we were sitting pretty close to it at the desk. The only thing to check before printing is that the special glue was applied to the plate before printing. We love that they are lightweight, easy to transport, and we can buy the print cartridges at Staples if we need to.  Hopefully the bright pink Cube will encourage girls to design.

There will be many program opportunities in the future for patrons of all ages to be able to come in and see the printer in action or attend a program to design their own pieces to print.

Check out our video to see the printing in real time.

3D Cube Printers Unboxed from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Podcasting with teens

Radiofaces groups reading through script in teen lounge
Our teen podcasting group, the Radiofaces, has been re-constituted from a few years ago, and now meets weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the high school drama department schedule, all school year.

Lately we have enjoyed reading short folk tales adapted by Aaron Shepard, in his excellent book, Folktales on Stage: Scripts for Reader's Theater.

Set-up for podcasting
The teens are making these their own by adopting kind of crazy accents and affectations that they find goofy. The only reservation I have for this is that the result has to be intelligible!

What do we use for recording? Why, the Blue Yeti multi-directional mic, of course! This powerhouse of a mic can be adjusted to mono-directional, bi-directional, and omnidirectional. We use it plugged into one of our Mac laptops running Garageband. This makes it super easy to edit, add opening and closing music, save to iTunes and send it off to our podcasting host service, Liberated Syndication, which publishes it in the iTunes catalog (search in the podcast catalog under the name: diffle presents), on the LibSyn web site and out onto RSS feeds such as Feedly! You can subscribe via email or RSS. We also have it publish out to the library podcast blog here.

We don't have our own LibSyn account yet, so we're piggybacking on the library podcast service now but we hope to be able to become independent in the future!

How it appears in iTunes catalog

Our latest effort is the American tall tale, Slappy Hooper. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lego WeDo Robotics in Action

What I love about Lego WeDo kits as opposed to Lego Mindstorms is how "out of the box ready" they are.  Keep in mind LegoWeDos are geared for lower elementary school students but they can still serve as an introductory lesson for middle school students.

In February, we are conducting a 4 week, 1 hour Lego Robotics program for the Middle School DIY Club. We decided for the first lesson, we would introduce the concept of Lego Robotics with the WeDo kits. Even before we turned on the computers, they were off and running. Once the software was installed, it was literally plug and play.

A note about software: if you do not have Apple laptops with CD/DVD drivers, it takes a bit of computer know-how to trick the mac into thinking the CD is there (our windows laptops were no problem!).

WeDo projects can be made in under an hour, unlike the Mindstorms Gyro robot I've spent about 6 hours building only to find out that I must have missed a step somewhere and need to take it all apart (there was lots of silent screaming).  Not to mention, I've spent so much time building it I haven't even gotten to the coding part yet. It could take an entire semester to build the robot and program it. As I was struggling on the desk putting my Mindstorm robot together, one of the elementary school students came up to me and said,
"You know on YouTube there are a lot easier projects"
"Oh where were you a few hours ago?" I replied.
"I was in school of course"

Lego Robotics from Duxbury Free Library on Vimeo.