Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Toy Hacking in New Orleans

Toy Hacking can be all consuming, that's for sure, but what fun. Since I took all my toys to Good Will before I moved into the bus, I had little to work with. No Good Will stores nearby, but aha a Dollar General. Rounded up a few toys with potential and came up with this Toy Hack. 

Deconstructing was great to do "after" a circuit unit. I understood what was happening and imagined the parts I could not control (like the song being played) .

I appreciated the programming in the Toy Phone which had both English and Spanish, and lots of conditionals (including a built in Quiz)

One of the toys appeared not to work, but after swapping out the watch batteries from another toy, we discovered it was the batteries and upon further deconstructing discovered the switch was stuck on ON (thus the drained batteries).

After I got everything apart I started to imagine possibilities. In playing with possibilities, I managed to dislodge some wires, which gave me the opportunity to learn to solder. Lucky me, I had a great teacher nearby who let me use his tools.

This got me to reflect on the importance of having access to resources (both tools and people) to support your process. Also important is a person who notices when you've reached capacity and encourages you back on your journey to a point where you have the desire and confidence to keep going. After all the tools were put away and we were working on some decorative elements, Mr. Potato Head's light up nose, stopped working - didn't take me long to spot that one of the wires had broken on the switch. ;-( By that time it was late at night, I had worked all day on this, and didn't have any stamina left for this 'slight' setback. Although Craig had left me to my "inventions" most of the day, he was within earshot and stepped back into the picture long enough to get my spirits up again, and offered to take out the solder so that I could "practice my new skill". ;)

A school environment does not lend itself well to the extra time mishaps take to fix. And many kids do NOT have mentors outside school that could lead them through this type of learning. When I read the Steve Jobs biography, I learned that Steve's adopted father was a tinkering and set up many opportunities for Steve to feel empowered as he learned to control computing devices. Where is that opportunity for our kids today?

To me creating these type of opportunities provides a common goal for schools and community to work  for together on.  I'm glad to see the interest in "making"  come to the surface again.   I think its a sign that our society is try to correct its path after having wandered too far off course.   
Time to  make to learn, invent to learn, and play to learn. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I See the Light - Exploring the world of Microprocessor Circuits

I See the Light - Exploring the world of Microprocessor Circuits
My learning journey in the world of physical computing continues to bridge the experience gap for me as I complete the 15 circuits from the the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit for the SparkFun RedBoard.

As I worked through these circuit building exercises from my Intro to Physical Computing Course from Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies, I became more deeply aware of how the experience gap widens as kids miss out on the opportunity to learn some basic science about the world around them.  I’m not sure when budding scientist usually get introduced to circuits, but I don’t remember it from my elementary school days.  It certainly didn’t happen in my household of 5 girls.  I don’t have any memories of doing this type of thing with my parents either. So by the time I got to high school, I found myself accepting the fact that my understanding of the world of science was “muddy” and learned to live with that and cope.  I put off taking Chemistry until my senior year, and then used my ability to ‘play school’ well to get through that without any deep understanding.  Needless to say, I never made it into any physics classes.  

I was pleased to learn that my science/math distribution requirements in college could all be fulfilled with math classes, which offered me yet another way to stay in the dark with my understanding of science.  Ironically  I am fascinated by science and frequently in awe of engineering, but I’ve learned to accept that this is something I can enjoy the marvels of without ever being able to do it (or truly understand it) myself.  After all, we can all enjoy music without being able to play an instrument or art without being able to draw or paint -  so it must be with science.  Maybe!  But by curiosity always made me wish I could have had a deeper understanding of so many wonders that could be explained by science.  I learned to accept the fog--which of courses increased the gap in experience and in understanding. [photo credit: doug.siefken via photopin cc]

As I proceeded through the first couple of projects in this Inventor Kit, I had a real meltdown.  Circuit 1 was pretty easy to put together. But as I was completing Circuit 2, I became very aware of my lack of any deep understanding of what was happening outside my ability to follow directions and assembling wires and components accordingly. The tension made me want to shut down and not move further.  There was no way that I would be able to complete the next 14 projects feeling this incompetent. So I took a step back and did what I usually do when I feel over my head - and that is to become a student and tune into my learning style.  I copied the code to the circuits into a Google doc and started to break it apart 1 line at a time, using yellow to highlight important concepts, orange to highlight any actual snippets of code as I dissected it, and pink to  highlight any points of confusion that remained.  The comment feature allowed me to add free form thoughts and ideas as I worked through the circuits.

But that was not enough.  I was seriously lacking some very basic basics.  Thankfully my husband is an engineering type and was more than willing to help me fill in the gaps.  After some of the fog had lifted about the basics of circuits and circuit boards,  I went back and redid the first project and moved through the next several projects with increased confidence each time.

By circuit 3 I was able to look at the little schematic and understand what was going to happen, even before I turned the page and read on.  I found myself color coding the wires I selected according to the energy flow and polarity.  Anything that went to + or 5 volt got a red wire.  Anything that went to ground got a black or white wire.  Wires back to certain pins got a different color.  As my confidence and understanding grew I started playing with positioning the wires and resistors in locations that worked for me that would yield the same results. I ran into another challenge when I hit the project that introduced transistors and relays. My curiosity and unwillingness to wander in a state of fog lead me to grill my coach/mentor/husband once more until things became clear enough for me to have a basic understanding of the role of transistors and relays in circuits.  

I completed a video of each circuit as I completed it.  Explored it further by playing with the code and then sailed through most of them (except 14 - which gave me a real hard time).  Here is my documentation.

I had 3 circuits to complete by the time we had to leave Grayton Beach, Florida on Monday, but I managed to complete and shoot the video documentation for those last 3 circuits on the road while we travelled from the Florida, through, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Throughout this wonderful learning opportunity, I found myself thinking about the importance of  Curiosity, Confidence, GRIT, Motivation and understanding your learning style.  Had I not had the curiosity, I would have never sought out this experience; had I not had the motivation and GRIT, I would have given up; had I not had the understanding of my learning style, I would have failed to see a way through the challenges and had I not gained confidence along the way, I would not have enjoyed any of it, nor built any desire to explore further.

In education today, we are doing more and more student centered learning, and offering students more choice in determining their learning path. But what does it take to create the curiosity, confidence, motivation for students to venture into unknown territories or discover areas of knowledge that might never cross their natural path? What if a desired path leaves you in the dark lacking major understanding of what is and what’s possible in our world? How can we move forward in the personalization of education without failing our children?  Providing access and opportunity to learn is not the same as providing students with the ability to reach beyond where their natural path or choices might take them.  My choices left me void of understanding of many scientific concepts.  But should my educational system have allowed this to happen? [ photo credit: Auntie P via photopin cc}]

Some would say this is why we have high stakes testing - to spot the failures and fix them.  But is that fixing the problem or making it worse. Not only do these test not reveal much data about Curiosity, Confidence, GRIT, Motivation and understanding one's learning style, they don’t yield improvements in the design of learning that increases any of these essential components. Often, they have done the opposite in that they have brought about an increased focus on remediation at the expense of creative learning environments that challenge learners to wonder, take risk, construct knowledge, and persevere. Finding a path where learners can experience that joy of thinking hard, where they have choice, follow their passions, and unpack their own understanding of the world without missing important and key understandings will not be easy - especially in a world where knowledge is growing at an exponential rate.  Thankfully people are still asking the important question of “How do we do this.. where is the path that will yield the best results?”  [photo credit: NASA HQ PHOTO via photopin cc]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A New Part for the Bus

The success I experienced at a getting a playful artifact printed on a 3D printed lead to the modeling of more practical piece to be printed.

The 30 year old vintage bus we live and learn is lacking some pieces on each screen, that keep it in place in the tracks.  They no longer make the part, so our 3D printing assignment led me down the path of getting a replacement part modeled and printed in 3D.

I started by using 1233Dcatch to see if I could get accurate enough dimensions to design it myself.

I learned that getting a good 3D scan is not that easy, but it was a great experience.

After realizing that the precision and curves of this part would require more experience and better tools than I had access to,  I decided to send my modeled file to  someone who could give me an estimate on getting a more precise model of the part I modeled and getting it printed in a substance that could withstand the tension that moving a screen back and forth on a track would produce.

Johnny from Delray, whom I discovered on  from Makexyz  modeled the part, printed it,  and provide us with the STL file for $30.   You can view it in 3D here.

 He quoted us an additional price if we wanted 10 more  of the same part.  We have decided to test it for a while.  The little knobs broke off when we put the part in the window, but they don't impeded the part from doing the job of keeping the screen 'intact' on the track.   We are thinking that the part needs to be printed with a slightly more flexible material.

Upon the recommendations of my classmates in Intro to Physical Computing, I've decided to try to have the part printed at Shapeway since they had a wide variety of materials to choose from. We've ordered 5 copies which comes to about $17.00 (with shipping).

Johnny's story is an interesting one so we asked him if we could interview him.  This interview is a great inspiration of a young man who had an idea and thought himself the skills he needed to make his idea a reality.  He has no formal training in 3D printing, but wanted to create a prototype for an invention.  He not only taught himself the skills, but also brought a 3D printer to create the prototype.
  He currently has a patent pending on the kitchen gadget that he invented. That is what I call a real Maker.