Friday, December 23, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Science Toolboxes: An Update

We have been expanding our science kits in the
children's room in an effort to introduce non-traditional circulating items for over a year now. We have littleBits, Raspberry Pi 2, Sphero, Cubelets, KEVA planks and Makey Makeys. Our newest editions were the robots, Dash and BeeBot, which gained popularity after we had them out to test during the Hour of Code. I happen to be showing one of the kids the littleBits kit, since all the robotics kits were out, when I noticed some bits are just not holding up during circulation.

Our littleBits kit included Lego adapters, mounting boards, and the small starter kit which doesn't seem to be available anymore with 10 bits included. If you are new to littleBits, they are small magnetic pieces, each with their own function, that can be put together to make an electronic invention. Bits include lights, sensors, motors and speakers. You can integrate them into recyclables, Lego projects, sewing name it! For a while, we used them in house for makerspace activities but we decided to try to circulate them for personal patron use. If you are looking to go this route, here's some advice:

First thing to watch is the battery wire. You might want to electrical tape it because they are constantly breaking. I have already replaced this at least 3 times. I have no idea why there's exposed wires on there to begin with.

2nd thing to watch is the plastic screw driver which is necessary to change the color of lights on the LED or the pulse speed input so it's something that's necessary but apparently fragile as the head usually breaks off.

3rd thing that breaks continually is the vibrating motor output which also has an exposed wire between the motor itself and the bit. Perhaps electric tape would help in this instance too? Or just take my advice and get another output that's just as fun but less exposed like the Buzzer. I have been keeping my eye on the pressure sensor input as well since it says DO NOT BEND and yet it always comes back with a bit of a crease (but still works::knock on wood::). I might swap that out for the motion sensor input since it seems more durable. I would advise to take out anything with exposed wires or fragile components and save those for in house projects.

My other failed attempt at a science kit this year is the 3Doodler 2.0, the first plastic extruding 3D pen, which has too many nozzle and jamming issues. One caused by even a seasoned user like myself while prepping it for circulation. The nozzle broke straight off while I was trying to fix a jam. The previous user left filament in the pen which I can image happening often during circulation as well. Even though my boyfriend swears I have hulk hands, I WAS being careful and following the instructions to the letter. Here are some examples of the fine details to fixing jams with this pen:

  Unscrew the nozzle only when the pen is hot (Spoiler: the nozzle isn't that secure in the removal tool once out so don't do it over your lap). It also makes references to "pulling out" the filament GENTLY or it could ruin the gears inside. Then using another special tool (which could get lost easily) to push filament through the pen, stopping when you feel resistance..this is all very detailed, delicate work that could occur at home with the patron or every time this comes back jammed to the librarian.

Even normal pen usage is quite detail oriented, you have to be sure that the temperature matches the filament being used and (spoiler: once out of the package PLA and ABS look the same!) So if you were going through with the kit, I'd only keep one or the other in there so they don't get mixed up.

So moral of this story is science kits are a wonderful thing to add to your library collection but there is always time to reflect on the number and delicacy of the pieces being circulated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Adventures in Soldering: Holiday Tree Project Velleman MK100

I was infuriated that there weren't any soldering videos out there for this so called "beginner" project so I made my own with mistakes and all. Keep in mind I've only soldered twice in my life. Once I made a Larson Scanner for a pumpkin (Battlestar Galactica Cylon) and the second time I made a Maker Bot badge. 

Keeping with the Christmas theme for the makerspace events this month, I used the Velleman MK100 kit Christmas Tree.  I will tell you out of the three projects the Maker Bot badge is where to start as a "beginner". When I hosted the class last Saturday, anyone who hadn't soldered before watched a brief intro video Soldering 101 from Adafruit (I just skipped to where there are close ups of the soldering procedure) and then I supervised while they made a Maker Bot badge. I am happy to say that all the kids successfully finished the tree and badge in an hour and they all worked (SPOILER: unlike my first try). The middle schoolers were on their own but Gr. 4-6 required a parent to help. It made my day that a dad and daughter pair came to complete the project.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Cozmo, the new library pet?

I saw a very interesting ad on Hulu last week which introduced me to Cozmo, the latest edition of mass market toy robots. Cozmo is Wall-E come to life literally AND I NEED HIM.

He has his own personality that is directly affected by your actions with facial recognition software so he can actually recognize you and learn your name. He can request if you'd like to play through a phone or iPad and if you say no, he gets SAD! The more you play with Cozmo, the more features you unlock. Here is an awesome unboxing and demo of his skill set from Dad Does. He might be this year's hottest Christmas toy since he's "out of stock" at the moment everywhere and is going on e-bay for $500.

Needless to say, this is on my library wishlist. Imagine kids coming to visit Cozmo and he would recognize them and want to play ? He's the new allergy friendly library pet! TAKE MY MONEY!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Happy Hour of Code Week

Don't forget that next week is the Hour of Code, a global initiative to entice people of all ages to learn one hour of coding through games.  You don't need to do anything more than download some promotional materials and lead patrons to the website for them to sign in.  To extend the hour of code beyond the website, we'll be putting out some of our robots to try.

This year's newest addition to our circulating collection is the adorable Dash robot. Who is by far my favorite robot that I have played with because Dash actually has a personality! I immediately wanted to hug him and yell "Johnny 5 Alive!" Dash talks, blinks, lights up and runs around on 3 wheels. He has a companion robot, Dot, many fun accessories, and even Lego brick adapters.

The apps that I downloaded for him on our iPad gen. 2 (gen 1 won't work) are:

Blockly Jr.

Wonder is the hardest and least intuitive app, aimed for experienced robotics users or at least middle school students with Path being the easiest.  I posted a video of Dash at the race track using Path on Instagram. Blockly took a few minutes to get going but if you have any experience with Scratch programs it will be immediately understood.  All of these are free downloads.

My other new robot this year is for the preschool set called Bee Bot. He doesn't require an iPad and is simply there to teach basic order of operations using 7 buttons on his back: LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD, BACKWARD, STOP, PAUSE & GO. Here is a great classroom example of its use.  You could build it a little obstacle course and challenge kids to safely make Bee Bot go through the path.

I was practicing with Dash today at the desk and a little boy about 2 came up to it completely in awe. He WOULD NOT talk to me but he readily said, "Goodbye Dash!" on his way out. His grandmother had said this is probably his first experience seeing a robot and isn't that what the " Library of the Future" is all about?