Category Archives: Technology

Elementary Electronics – Sewn LED bracelet

As part of our homeschool elementary electronics class, the kids wanted to finish up the class by making soft circuits, especially a sewn LED bracelet.

And I do mean kids because I specifically asked them – after the sewn flashlight difficulties if they were up to another round of sewing. They said yes. In fact, one fifth grader (who struggled a little with the sewing) said, “Well – I don’t know how to do it and that’s the point of learning, right? To try stuff you aren’t good at?” Oh, you could have melted my growth mindset heart!

A picture of three electronic bracelets.

Our family’s collection of hand-sewn LED bracelets.

After the success of the Chibitronics paper LED project, I knew this sewing design had to be more concrete and guided. A couple of hours (and one failed prototype) later), I had a structured lesson to present to the kids the next day.

Sewn LED Bracelet – Paper Prototype

I started by making a paper prototype. This way they could cut it out and see how their bracelet would fit together. The components would have to be placed a certain way so the bracelet could close and you could still see the LED. I also wanted to make it so that when they snapped it closed, the circuit closed and the LED lit up.

Hand-drawn paper prototype to give the kids a guide.

It was definitely helpful to have a paper guide for the students. So many of them wanted to jump ahead and try and figure it out – and that was okay. It was okay when we had to pull out their conductive thread because the circuit wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully, those were learning moments for them. Mistakes always force us to look at the structure a little more carefully.

Hot glue guns help to move the project along.

Sewn LED bracelet – Process

My younger son and I had made his LED bracelet the night before class – for two reasons. First, I knew that I would need to help the other students and since he’s seven, he would need a lot of help. Second, I wanted to have a simple, finished product so the students could see how the circuits connected.

After everyone chose their LED and figured out how their battery pack worked, I brought them over – one-by-one-  to the hot gluing station. I glued their battery holder and snaps to the felt. This made it much easier for these elementary students to focus on sewing – without having to worry about pins keeping those components in place.

The hardest part was understanding how the battery would be connected to the LED. Since LEDs have be positioned a certain way (positive to positive), I went around to each student and made sure they would line up their LED correctly. They eventually figured it out and even though this class took an hour and a half – every single bracelet connected correctly. And they were so proud (and relieved?) that it lit up after all of their hard work.

Here’s the PDF Sewn LED bracelet (PDF) handout that I created for my students. If you are teacher, please feel free to use it, but do not reproduce or sell it without gaining permission. Thanks!

 

 

Elementary Electronics – Toy Take Apart

I’ve been facilitating an elementary electronics class with our local homeschool co-op and this week we took apart an electronic toy. The toy take apart was messy, chaotic and hopefully, a lot of fun.

The idea of a toy take apart came from the Tinkering Studio; it was one of the suggested activities in their course that I took two years ago. We’ve taken apart a lot of things at our house, but this was the first time I had the kids draw out their thoughts ahead of time. Since we’ve been studying circuits and playing with batteries and bulbs, I felt they would have a better understanding of how their electronic toy might work.

C, age 7, takes apart an old kid-friendly walkie-talkie.

Making Thinking Visible – Toy Take Apart

I was really hoping for a detailed drawing of how they thought the circuits would be connected to the sensors, however, I didn’t plan for the pure excitement (and impatience) of a group of 8-11 year-olds. They were itching to take their old toys apart. Their hands were filled with screwdrivers and hammers (eek!) and exacto knives (for those with plush toys). Since we are a small group, each kid had his own toy to take apart.

R has been wanting to take this doll apart since we found her at Goodwill last year.

Initially, I was going to do a toy take apart as the first class. I thought it would be a fun activity that would get the kids excited about electronics. The timing didn’t work out and I had to postpone it, but I’m glad I did. The Tinkering Studio had it right – the kids had a better understanding of what they were looking at since they had done some experimenting beforehand.

There were still a lot of things that they didn’t recognize (and I didn’t either), but I think it gave them the same sense of power that I get every time I discover the mystery behind a product:  this isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks and there’s no reason to be frightened of it.

Lessons Learned – Toy Take Apart

Since we are a homeschool co-op, most of the parents are around, if needed. For the younger kids, they definitely needed a parent. I was busy helping another child when my youngest son, age 7, cut himself with a screwdriver. He was trying to pry open a piece of plastic and had watched some older kids use a screwdriver with much success. Sadly, the piece he was trying to crack open was still screwed shut. He didn’t look around to see if there was anything he could undo first. He ended up being fine – it just sliced the surface of his hand – but it gave me something to think about. I think it would have been helpful to pair the kids up – an older kid with a younger one, and add a parent to watch over the group.

That would be tough to do in a large classroom – unless you had parent volunteers. You could probably get around that problem if everyone had the same thing to take apart, such as a simple push flashlight. That’s how I solved the problem in my Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids class, but I was hoping for a little more creative license for this one. Oh well – lessons learned. Safety first.

Elementary Electronics – Chibitronics LED Stickers

It’s my turn to teach (again) with our small homeschool co-op, and this semester I offered to teach elementary electronics. Everyone (parents and students) seemed interested and I finally had a chance to use my electronic art skills. My circuit knowledge has been growing a little rusty since last year’s Space Camp.

R’s modified Chibitronics robot.

Upper Elementary Electronics Class

Since I designed the curriculum, I chose to focus on circuits and how to use them (as much as possible) with art. Don’t worry – we still called the class “elementary electronics.” Each session was roughly an hour. The following is a general schedule of the course:

  • Week 1: Electricity vs. electronics
    • Intro video from Popular Mechanics for Kids (about 15 minutes worth).
    • Homework sheet to fill out using these two web sites (NAS and Explain That Stuff).
    • I wanted them to know that electricity = energy = secondary source
  • Week 2:B is for Battery” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 3: Electricity is lazy.
    • Insulators vs. conductors experiment using circuit blocks to demonstrate;
    • The kids stripped some wire – just for fun
  • Week 4:D is for Diode” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 5: Parallel vs. series circuits, video
  • Week 6: LED Chibitronics sticker art (see pictures below).
  • Week 7: Reviewed parallel vs. series circuits.
    • I asked the kids to build a series and a parallel circuit from the circuit blocks.
    • They also took apart an old toy.
  • Week 8: Sewn Circuits: LED bracelet
  • Week 9: Field trip to ThemeWorks, Inc., a local business

Circuit Sticker Art

Throughout the course, the kids were willing to try new things and they only complained a little bit about the sewing (and not all of them, just a few). They played around with the circuit blocks, made some cool things and hopefully, learned the difference between an open and closed circuit.

When it came time to actually put together some circuits, I found they needed some simple, guided activities before moving on to freely creative exploits. Since we were using the Chibitronics circuit stickers to create parallel circuits, I wanted a little more direct instruction. (Those stickers aren’t cheap)! I printed out this Chibitronics template, and my oldest son and I both made a sample. He modified his a little – he traced the robot, but designed it himself – and I made a starry sky (see the photos above). We both used the provided guidelines for the parallel circuits (photo below).

The robot on the left used copper tape to connect the circuit stickers to the battery while the night sky used conductive ink.

Conductive Ink vs. Copper Tape

If you had asked me last year, I would have said copper tape was too difficult for elementary students. I would have argued that conductive ink pens are far superior for solder-free projects. Sadly, my son and I found that our ink pen wasn’t nearly as effective as the copper tape with adhesive glue. I wonder if Circuit Scribe changed their formula in the past six months? (We bought ours from Amazon). I’ve had great luck with them in the past, but my eleven-year-old could not get his Chibitronics stickers to light up. We ended up covering the ink with copper tape (and covering the stickers as well) – and voila! It worked! This is the tape we used.

Students used the lines provided in the template to lay out their copper tape.

Age Group Suggestions

Since we had guided lesson plans, this project was pretty easy for all of the members of our group. My younger son (age 7) needed some help from me, but was able to do most of the copper tape by himself. In addition to marking the positive and negative current flow, I also flattened the corners for him, however, he got a great kick out of decorating his robot and placing the circuit stickers.

a picture of a 2D robot that has a light up heart

C’s light-up robot

This project was a perfect capstone project for the upper age limits of our group (ten-and- eleven-year-olds). They could do it on their own and a couple of them modified their outer designs. If I were to do this class again, I would still do this project first. However, for the next class, I would challenge them to create paper prototypes using these stickers. They could apply their knowledge of parallel circuits in a whole new way.

After the students had made their projects and were proud of their own accomplishments, I showed them Jie Qi’s electrified Dandelion Painting. The kids (and adults) were appropriately impressed with her copper tape skills. Plus, they actually understood how it worked – and asked some very interesting questions.

 

 

Diary of a First Year FLL Coach

First Year FLL Coach – Me?

August 22, 2016
Today, I asked the 4-H robotics leaders if our club was going to participate in First Lego League this year. “Sure,” they said, “and would you mind being one of our first year FLL coaches?”

August 30, 2016
The FLL challenge comes out today. It’s called Animal Allies. I can’t wait to find out more about it.

September 5, 2016
Today, I gave a brief presentation to our club about First Lego League. I think I scared some parents, but gained the interests of the more experienced student members. We now have a team of seven students.

The coaches and mentors navigated the FLL computer system and got our team registered and the kit ordered. I had an easier time since I had gone through a Jr. FLL season with my older son two years ago.

September 18, 2016
One of our mentors (and 4-H robotics leader) built the game board. The kit and game mat arrived and the kids spent the meeting building pieces.

A picture of two 4x8 robot game boards

This was from our practice competition.

September 25, 2016
The game board is fascinating and the students finally finished putting together all of the pieces. We did a team building exercise and ran out of time.

October 2, 2016
We now have nine team members. The team has decided to split up into three groups and begin building a base robot. The team will then vote for the best design.

October 16, 2016
It took another meeting to finish and decide on the robot design. Now, the other teams are copying the robot design so that each team can work on the robot game. There has been little discussion about the animal project; everyone is more interested in the robot game.

 

The Robot Game, The Robot Presentation & The Project

October 23, 2016
Teams are finally working on programs to complete the robot game challenge. There have been some problems with such a big team. Everyone wants to work on the robot. Our initial talks about animal projects are centered on reducing ocean pollution. We are also registered for a practice tournament November 12. I have spoken to my sister-in-law twice in the last few weeks to clarify FLL rules. (She’s a FLL veteran coach and is immensely helpful).

October 30, 2016
More work on the robot game. My co-coach is amazing at finding team building challenges so the kids can develop their “core values.”

November 2, 2016
Our animal project is looking too much like a pollution/trash problem (which was last year’s FLL challenge). We have a mid-week meeting to focus on one animal and to flush out a general presentation idea for the practice tournament. The kids chose to study manatees.

November 6, 2016
I am out of town. More robot game. More team building.

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November 12, 2016
Practice Tournament. Everyone did very well and it gave the students (and coaches) a better idea of what FLL is all about. Our team did better than we thought they would.

November 19, 2016
The robot design has been modified so that there is now only one robot to compete in the robot game. That means two to three kids work on the programming while the coaches help the other kids flush out the robot and manatee presentations. Team building happens at the end of every meeting.

December 4, 11, 18
The holiday season is in full swing and we are only getting three to four kids at each Sunday meeting. This has made it difficult to move forward with our presentation since no one wants to make a group decision with only part of the team present.

December 25 & January 1
Since we meet on Sunday, we have cancelled these meetings to enjoy the holiday season (and because a lot of people are out of town).

 

Getting Ready for the Qualifying Tournament

January 5, 2017
We have an afternoon meeting at the library/park to refine the manatee and robot presentations. The students decide what they want to talk about and we (the coaches) help them by writing down main points on an index card. They are to take them home, write down what they want to say and try to memorize it for Saturday’s qualifying tournament.

January 7, 2017
The tournament is an hour away and the day is very cold and very wet. It’s a bit of a shock for our central Florida area. Thankfully, the gym is warm and the 24-team double tournament is buzzing with activity. I sent our schedule out yesterday and made a couple of copies to leave on our table. Everyone arrived on time and we were busy all day long. Our team table was close to the robot game area and the students took advantage of the location. They watched how the other team’s competed and enjoyed hanging out with one another.

This was one long day. We had to be there by 8:15 and the award ceremony finished at 4:00. Our team won the mechanical design/programming award and received an alternate bid to the regional tournament. My co-coach and I were thrilled. This is such a fabulous run for a first year team – and 7 out of 9 members can return next year! They will have a better idea of what to expect. I definitely see some areas for improvement. For example, we left more than 30-seconds on the clock for the robot game and they could do a better job at learning to share speaking roles during the presentations. But more importantly, everyone was well-supported, courteous and focused on building a good team (and good people).

January 2017
My co-coach contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission in our area and our team will visit their office to learn more about manatee rescue and how to write a regulation. Although our FLL season is over, we are still helping our team to go out into the community and hopefully, make a difference.

 

Reflections on Being a First Year FLL Coach

My co-coach and I were often coaching “from behind,” as he likes to say. We were trying to guide and ask questions (and sometimes direct) so that the students owned most of the decisions. That was really hard – especially as we tried to figure out the FLL rules. It took a lot of time to give everyone an equal voice, but I think it made for a stronger team. I also returned to being an adjunct instructor this past August and was trying to balance teaching on top of coaching. I felt like I didn’t prepare as much as I could (or should) have, but the students led the way and asked questions when they needed information.

I can’t say enough about First Lego League. This tournament is amazing and the purpose is not to win, or to get better at robotics. It’s to work as a team and to become familiar with the design thinking process. The purpose is to solve the world’s problems and to help kids (and their coaches) to know they have a voice and some power. They have power to work cooperatively. They have power to talk to government officials and business owners. This is project-based learning in action – with a little bit of legos and robotics thrown in for fun.

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.

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Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.

 

 

 

Book Review – Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover art & technology books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

cover picture of mindstorms ev3 discovery book

By Lauren Valk

Ages 9 and up
Valk, Laurens. The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book. No Starch Press, Inc.: San Fransisco, 2014.

Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book

This fabulous book is one of many in a sea of EV3 instructional books, all of which are designed to teach your young roboticist how to navigate the convoluted Mindstorms software. However, this one differs in that it is written directly to your young roboticist. It’s not written to the robotics teacher (ahem), and while it is wordier than my budding roboticist would like, it does provide a lot of little “challenges” to help reinforce the programming concepts. We have been working with it for the last nine months. Plus, it’s in color, which makes my visual-spatial learner very happy.

The target audience is the owner of the Lego Mindstorms retail kit (the ones sold at Toys R Us, etc.)  I have the kit that comes from Lego Education, which means that I own the Educational Software ($99). However, the free version utilizes the same programming, and the only major difference is that it does not include Lego’s video tutorials. Personally, I haven’t been a huge fan of the video tutorials, also known as the ‘Robot Educator,’ though they may be more useful in a classroom setting.

EV3 Mindstorms, Seymour Papert & Constructionism

For those that are unaware, the Mindstorms software was modeled after Seymour Papert’s Logo turtle, and the first wave was created by a team at MIT (including Mitch Resnick, one of the creators of Scratch). Papert’s theory being that children learn the best by playing and messing around and building new knowledge out of the stuff they already know. This became the constructionist learning approach.

Constructionism was built off the constructivist learning theory which asserts that if given the right tools and age-appropriate resources, kids (and adults) will teach themselves the knowledge that they need. Papert was especially strong on his feelings that computers should be used in schools, but not just as a tool to complete a typed paper, but rather as a discovery instrument.

Nowadays, the visual Labview computer language is the basis for the EV3 Mindstorms software.

icon-based programming

Screenshot of the EV3 Mindstorms software

EV3 Mindstorms Software

With minimal instruction and guidance, it’s easy for kids to get started with icon-based software. I see the same thing happening with my summer coding camps, where I use the icon-based programming language Scratch. I give a little instruction and let them playfully discover how the software works. However, learning without a mentor takes a lot of time (and frustration). It happens. It’s very beneficial. But, it takes a lot of time. Our society values “well-roundness” and we don’t always provide enough time for deep learning.

But, I think a skilled facilitator is invaluable at this early stage of learning and can get kids started on the path to deep learning, while still offering them a lot of self-discovery. A good teacher will ask questions to help their students to delve deeper into the materials, such as “I wonder what would happen if you changed the number of steps?” or “Is there a way to make your sprite stop at the end of the screen?” Yes, these are leading questions, but they also help children to retain their creativity, love for problem-solving and give them some direction so they don’t become overwhelmed.

Many of the kids need a little bit of – just in time guidance – to make those deep learning connections. The depth of a multilayered language, such as the EV3 Mindstorms, benefits from a good facilitator standing nearby. This mentor should not be interfering, but should step in when a child is getting frustrated because there is not enough feedback in their learning loop. I also want to be quick to point out that the facilitator does not have to be an adult. It can be the more advanced kids teaching the inexperienced ones (and vice versa).

I think the Mindstorms EV3 Discovery book provides enough free choice and challenges to keep an interested student involved, without being stifled or overwhelmed.  There are numerous colorful pictures and a lot of mini-lessons. Some of the lessons include the programming (or at least a guide to what needs to occur), and there are a lot of chances to get some direct instruction. Thankfully, there’s also a chance to play around with the code, and be able to see how their “author-facilitator” did it.

You could work through the book in order. There are nineteen chapters and they teach a number of programming concepts. Valk also provides a lot of sample programs so that you can understand how some of the sensors work. Since I have an educational set, my sensors are a little different than the ones from the retail set, but the concepts are very similar and you can apply the knowledge to those as well.

I tend to veer toward the “work in order” theory of learning, but I have a visual-spatial learner who learns best when he has a lot of control and can follow his interests. So, after the first few lessons on movement, I gave him free reign to choose whatever he wanted to work on next. We started with the ultrasonic sensor and he made a “roomba” like robot that moved away from the wall.

Later, he decided that he wanted to learn more about the color sensors and flipped to chapter seven. He then proceeded to pick and choose random programs to test with the color sensor. This required a little bit of help from mom (to remind him to pay attention to the details of the sensor), but after realizing it was very similar to our line reading Ozobots, he was off and running. He tried a little experimentation – with black markers and hand-drawn lines – which surprisingly didn’t work.

hand-drawn circle for ev3 robot

But, we remembered that we had some black electrical tape and he proceeded to try out his color-sensing robot.

A picture of a black line made from electrical tape and a lego EV3 line-following robot

R tested out the robot’s line-following abilities – using the color sensor.

After his success, I (strongly) suggested that we delve deeply into the color sensor and truly get to know it well before moving on to other programming and parts. He reluctantly agreed and we perused other ideas and opportunities from Valk’s book. We printed out the pre-made circle track and my son wrote the program to make it stay within the lines.

printed circle from book, Mindstorms EV3 Discovery book.

All told, we love this book. He loves the colorful pictures and I love the creative challenges that require a deeper understanding of content.

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A project from the book where the robot has to push out the pieces, but stay within the confines of the circle.

LED Embroidered Art

LED embroidered art

Lit up with LED Chibitronic stickers, conductive ink and some conductive thread.

Not surprisingly, I love art.

I love to make art. I love to draw, to paint, to sew, to embroider and to knit. I like to attend musicals and theater performances, and I loved tap dancing in college. But, like most people, my art is done on the side and usually done at home. It has changed mediums over the years – from drawing to sewing to knitting, but it’s always there. The creative side of my INFJ personality needs some sort of artistic outlet.

Thankfully, as I have delved more deeply into the study of robotics, programming and electronics, I see more ways to mesh art with simple technology. In fact, there was a whole field of study at MIT with a focus on high-tech and low-tech. How much fun do you think those grad students had?!

chibitronic and conductive ink

Using the Circuit Scribe conductive ink pen, I added a Chibitronic SMD LED sticker and a coin cell battery. Instant flow of electrons!

If you are in the Gainesville area, you may be interested in how UF students are combining art and science. A friend tuned me into this limited exhibit and I can’t wait to check it out.

LED Embroidered Art

As I was brainstorming samples for the upcoming Making in Action camp, I was messing around with a conductive ink pen and some leftover Chibitronic LED stickers. Voila! What if I hand-embroidered a picture and found a way to light it up?

First, I brainstormed something to embroider on card stock. I was inspired by fireworks, so I drew out the pattern and made sure to poke holes in the card stock (with my needle) before I tried to embroider. I also determined where I would put the LED lights. I knew I wanted them in the middle of my embroidered fireworks.

hand embroidered art

I used a Crewel size 12 needle and only 3 strands of embroidery floss.

Lately, embroidering has become a zen-like activity for me. I like the ease of use, and the accomplishment that I get from quickly finishing a piece.

B&W Hand-embroidered fireworks

I like how you can see the contrast of the colors in this black and white photo.

After I finished the embroidery, I started work on the LED lights. I knew I needed parallel circuits  to power the three LEDs, so I sketched out my circuit path onto another piece of cardstock. I made sure to mark where the LEDs would line up.

Then, after a little bit of testing and rummaging through my electronics stash, I came up with a Lilypad battery holder (with embedded on/off switch) and some conductive thread. After a failed attempt at soldering the thread to the conductive ink, I settled for a piece of Scotch tape.

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Place the LED card behind the embroidered card and enclose in a frame, making sure to allow the battery to be connected to the backside of the frame. That’s the purpose of the conductive thread. Hot glue the battery holder onto the back of the frame and your light-up LED embroidered art project is ready to display. Feel free to “wow” friends, in-laws, and hopefully, the parents of the kids you teach.

LED Embroidered Art - small

Lit up with LED Chibitronic stickers, conductive ink and some conductive thread.

Is learning to code a bad idea?

A picture of a computer with Scratch on the screen.

Icon-based programming tools, like Scratch, help to make writing code more accessible…and fun.

Last week I read an article that made me worried for the future.  I was afraid for my children’s future, for my own future and for the future of everyone in the United States – which was probably the emotion the author intended to invoke. Will there be enough jobs for everyone? How will the less fortunate children thrive in this new digital economy? What’s that going to mean for the peace of our nation?

Quite a way to start the weekend, no?

After the fear came annoyance and anger. Then, I stopped to consider the evidence provided by the author. There were a few links. I followed them and researched others that he didn’t directly cite (this review suggests another side to the research by the MIT professors). Yes, I don’t doubt that he has some credentials (so do I), but ‘predictor of the future’ does not seem to be one of them.

No one knows what the future can hold. Yes, we can make some assumptions based on past evidence and yes, we should have important conversations about the future (hello, global warming).

According to the 1999/2000 Occupational Outlook Handbook, there was going to be a glut of master-degree librarian jobs available. The need was going to be much bigger than than the current graduates coming out of school. And then the Internet grew and grew (and grew). The housing bubble collapsed and it affected the local tax market and now librarian jobs are hard to come by these days. Why didn’t anyone see that coming?

Frankly, it was an article such as this one that dissuaded me from learning more about front-end web development during my librarian years. Almost everyone was using Dreamweaver and it was said that no one would need to learn how to write HTML because computers will be doing it for you. Well, how wrong were those people? From what I’ve been reading, a lot of professional web developers still manually code their web pages since those software programs inevitably have bugs and problems. Even though I love my WordPress-powered site, I could do more if I had a deeper understanding of the code.

Besides, do we really know what type of jobs are going to be available? In what city? In what town? Certainly, it’s good advice to not take on too much debt while a learning a new trade, but learning something new, even if you don’t use it for more than a few years, is very, very valuable. It will still be valuable if all of the jobs disappear and you have to become an urban homesteader just to survive. At least you’ll be able to build your own automatic, Arduino-powered watering and lighting system. Your vegetable garden will be the most productive one on the block. All thanks to the empowerment you gained from learning a new skill. Even one that you don’t use anymore.

SFC Space Camp

A picture of a canvas with LED lights that make the constellation cygnet

My first attempt at an LED constellation…now being used as a teaching tool.

SFC Space Camp

This week, I’m excited to be teaching and facilitating for Santa Fe College’s ‘Space Camp.’ I’m leading the art and craft component and we will be doing art and tech while being immersed in constellations and circuits. Here’s what we’re making:

A picture of a light-up LED constellation - cancer the crab

That’s the constellation Cancer the Crab. Made by R, age 10.

Detailed instructions to follow…

Circuit Blocks, Circuit Cards

Circuit Blocks

In anticipation of teaching next week, I have been creating more hands-on activities to go along with my lesson on circuits and batteries. Circuit blocks, circuit cards, sewn circuit components…

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a small, un-lit lightbulb

This circuit is open and the light bulb is not lit.

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a tiny lightbulb.

These circuit blocks are a great way to help students learn about direct current.

Last summer, I made these wooden blocks during the free, online course from The Exploratorium Museum. The course, ‘Tinkering Fundamentals‘, showcased circuits and how to use these blocks as part of a constructionist approach to learning. For me, they were somewhat frustrating to make, so the thought of making more was not that appealing. Thankfully, I recently stumbled across these paper-based circuit cards.

 

A picture of paper circuits wth copper tape and connected with binder clips to keep the electricity connected.

The copper tape conducts the electricity that flows from the battery. When the switch is pushed, the LED will light up.

A picture of homemade cardboard circuit cards to teach about direct current

I used a switch from the Lectrify set, but had to solder it to the copper tape.

Circuit Cards

I had everything on hand – copper tape, binder clips, extra battery holders and some Chibitronic LED stickers (which made the whole process a heck of a lot easier). Add in an old cereal box and I was able to quickly make these cards, all while waiting for the soldering iron to heat up.

It was really nice to make something with copper tape, especially something that works consistently. For the last few days, I have been messing around with copper tape and Lectrify components, but nothing was working. I even tried conductive paint, but that didn’t work either. I’ve come to realize that soldering the components might be the key.

Unfortunately, that’s disappointing for a teacher who isn’t allowed to have soldering irons in a classroom. And, perhaps, isn’t quite ready for her young students to have access to such tools.

WizzBangz owner Gwen Thompson turned me on to these kid-friendly circuit components.

WizzBangz owner Gwen Thompson turned me on to these kid-friendly circuit components. The parts break off the board when you are ready to use them elsewhere.

The Chibitronic stickers eliminate the need for soldering tiny SMD LEDs, but at a $1 per sticker, they aren’t exactly affordable for a multi-student classroom, whereas the Lectrify components are reusable and nicely priced at $5 per set.

But, this is just the beginning of my research with the Lectrify components. I’m excited to continue researching new ways to use them. They were designed to work with Legos and my boys are already thinking of ways to test them. Up next for me? I want to try hard-wiring the components. Or, try using them in sewn circuit blocks.

A picture of yellow alligator clips connected to a coinc ell battery and a green LED

Taking an idea from The Exploratorium, I’m making multiple iterations of circuit blocks to help my students become more familiar with circuits.

But, in the meantime, I’m going to make a few more circuit cards. I need more battery holders and my ten-year-old suggested making cards of single strips of copper tape. He thinks it might be easier to create circuits. I think he might have a point.