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.