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.