After the interest in the Subaru Indiana Automotive tour, a group of Castlemakers went on a tour of a Hydroponics Lab at Airy Knob Farm just outside Greencastle last month. The ½ hour tour, which was a science project for Victor & Linda Hunter’s grandkids, went over the basics of hydroponics in their proof of concept center for growing fruits & vegetables year round. There is a pretty big ‘concept center’ with over 500 plants growing when we visited & the kids did an awesome job with the tour.
Hydroponics grows plants in a mineral rich water solution without any soil. Because the plant’s roots don’t have to use energy seeking out nutrients, most of the growth goes to top portion of the plant with the root ball being significantly smaller and a much bushier, more compact plant. Supplemental lights often help that growth when it’s used in practice today (hydroculture goes back to Babylonian times & the 1600’s in Germany).
We learned a lot, including 3 different types of irrigation systems used there, the process of germination to harvest, and how the lighting & cooling systems are used to control plant growth. The kids on the trip put seedlings into the larger growth units & also could test the nutrient solution used with the plants. With the water/nutrient solution recirculation, this type of plant growth uses a lot less water than traditional farming!
Despite the forecast, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon at Big Walnut Sports Park after we delayed the rocket launch a week. Besides the DooDad rockets built by the Castlemaker Kids, we had others show up with their own rockets, creating quite a show. We ended up with multiple launch pads and variety of different sized rockets and objects becoming airborne.
The ‘objects’ part are a little hard to describe, although they all used rocket engines. There were various polyhedrons and cardstock printed lawn darts (no chute, but colored with crayons by some younger kids – landed with a ‘thud’ nose first). Then there were the flying plates…
All of the kids (and a few of the adults) learned the proper setup and launch procedures before launching the model rockets. Thanks to the Greencastle Parks & Recreation Board (along with the Putnam County Airport) for letting us use Big Walnut Sports Park for launching the rockets. And a special thanks to Nick Adams for teaching the class, bringing his launch equipment, and teaching/supervising everyone who launched that day. And to Jonathan Green for bringing his tub full of objects, it definitely added some more fun to the event!
Earlier this month we arranged for a Subaru Indiana Automotive (SIA) plant group tour in Lafayette, Indiana. The 2.3 million sq. ft. plant was officially opened in 1989, but has undergone some remarkable expansion the last few years to a facility that has now almost doubled in size. Cars were coming off the production line every 63 seconds when we visited; it will be under a minute by November.
We had 29 people sign up for the tour, which takes you through the stamping, robotic welding, paint, inspection, and assembly areas. Most of the tour is in the overhead catwalks, which offers a great view weaving between the 16+ miles of overhead conveyors hauling parts and vehicles. You get a chance to see body parts made from giant rolls of steel, a symphony of over 800 robots welding and assembling car frames and components, and then it all coming together into a finished product that’s driven off the assembly line. With over 4 million square feet of building space, we hardly saw it all but it still left both young and old amazed at how this small city of over 5000 workers creates soon to be 390,000 drivable vehicles a year!
Thanks to SIA for allowing us to book the group & giving us the great tour. Everyone that could make it loved it and we seem to have enough interest to do other group tours in the future.
For our end-of-July Castlemakers Kids project, we built model rockets to be launched in August. Nick Adams led the group in building the FlisKit dooDad model rockets, a good rocket that first timers can get assembled in less than 2 hours. It uses laser cut basswood fins that are assembled on the outside of the rocket tube, making it easier to put together in a short period of time. The basswood fins (vs. balsawood) reduces the chances of fin breakage – they are quite stiff!
The build was also our first class/event in the new Castlemakers makerspace in downtown Greencastle. We’ve got a lot to do before it will be open for use as a makerspace, but it’s a great location that with some tables and chairs worked well for the model rocket build. With our laser cutter/engraver on order for the makerspace, I kept eyeing the fins on those rockets thinking that soon we’ll be able to make those…
The rocket launch for these (and others) will be at Big Walnut Sports Park in Greencastle on August 27th from 3-5 pm. Feel free to join us on the east end of the park, near the Frisbee golf course.
A special thanks to Nick for doing all the research into model rocket kits for first timers, the donation of kits to our group, and his time in helping everyone build the kits!
Last month we were asked to do a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) related activity with the Summer Enrichment Program at Gobin Memorial Church. It’s a great program which provides positive interactions for at-risk kids in Putnam County. Their goal was exposing these elementary aged kids to a STEM activity; I also wanted them to make something that they could experiment with at home.
We originally looked at doing something with Brushbots, but it turns out those kits are hard to find now & pricey. For Castlemakers Kids we built our own from scratch, but didn’t have enough pager motors on hand & ordering in bulk would take too long. So I settled on making catapults using wooden craft sticks and rubber bands.
There’s a lot of different craft stick catapult designs, but we went for simplicity. Had to, there were more than 60 kids in two sessions – plus only around an hour to build them. The large range of ages, 2nd through 6th grade, meant some would get the ‘lesson’ and others would have no idea what I talked about, but at least they were exposed to it!
After dropping a few names, like Galileo & Newton, I explained the basics of a lever using a see-saw example. Also mentioned Newton’s laws and apples falling from trees; then told them they were to decide which would hurl further – a marshmallow or a grape. This craft stick design can provide fairly consistent force input since everyone pretty much pulls it back all the way (who doesn’t want to launch it the furthest!).
The kids each build a catapult with 6-8 kids and 1-2 counselors helping at each table. It worked well, especially considering there wasn’t time to coach the counselors first. Everyone involved certainly had fun and when they’re exposed to levers and Newton in a more academic setting they will have heard of it. Lessons learned: Grapes have more mass than mini-marshmallows but don’t go as far & the model I made with a binder clip (stronger spring/more force) definitely shot things further. Mini-peppers… well things were degenerating at that point & we ran out of time.
We didn’t have enough bottle caps to glue on the throwing arm (they still work without them), and several of them were going to add when they got home so they could launch more. I also brought one with a longer lever (2 craft sticks), hopefully a few of them made those at home!
This week we explored the world of paper mechatronics (sometimes called automata or Karakuri in Japan). In the Castlemakers Kids meeting, using 2 sheets of paper cardstock, we created a cam/lever mechanism that caused a sheep’s head to nod when the crank was turned.
For thousands of years people have created mechanical toys and dolls out of metal, wood, or in our case paper. The primary use seems to be for entertainment and amusement, but it also offers incredible opportunities to teach people about levers, cams, gears, linkages and other mechanical mechanisms. Ever looked inside a mechanical watch, clock, or older film projector? You’ve probably seen a Geneva stop or Maltese cross (along with a lot of other mechanisms), but may not have known what to call it.
We made a design created by Rob Ives, who has an UK website on cardboard cutouts, called “Agreeable Sheep”. It’s a cute model and uses a single cam along with a lever which nods the sheep’s head when the crank is turned. I can also heartly recommend the book Karakuri by Keisuke Saka if you decide to try a hand at making mechanical paper models. He covers how they work and has a wonderful gallery of karakuri that he and high school students in Japan have created. The tips and instructions for basic mechanisms are worth the price of the book if you want to try make different models or creations of your own.
I’m sure we’ll be doing this in the future again, there are plenty of other things to try. My mind is already buzzing about scaled up models could be made out of big sheets of corrugated cardboard…
It’s been a busy time for Castlemakers this last month; we received our first grant a few weeks ago for equipment. A group of us have been working very hard to create a physical location for Castlemakers, a makerspace, and watch for an announcement soon.
Several years ago I wrote something about ‘what is a makerspace’, which have become even more popular since then.
Their numbers and importance has grown since that first post, with the White House proclaiming this week in the US as a Nation of Makers and hosting a reoccurring Maker Faire this coming weekend (June 18th & 19th). If you visit different makerspaces, as some of us have, it’s a very entrepreneurial movement with many different makerspace models. You’ll find makerspaces as community co-ops, ones associated with libraries, ones that are affiliated with science and children’s museums, and even some at universities.
Perhaps one of the largest and most successful makerspaces is Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, MA which I visited last year. Started in 2010, it’s grown from a 1,000 sq ft “hole in the wall” to a 40,000 sq ft facility with over 600 members! What impressed me the most in my visit: the projects being built & how they bridged different disciplines along with oozing creativity and innovation. The sheer size & scope of the current facility was also impressive, but the people involved & what the makerspace environment seemed to be the key why it works.
Locally we’ve been making great strides in creating our own makerspace here in Greencastle. Thanks to a June 2016 grant from the Putnam County Community Foundation we’ll be purchasing our first major piece of equipment, a CO2 laser cutter. Of course we’ll need a place to house it, and we’re very close to that.
While in Chicago last month to see the Strandbeest exhibit we took two maker classes. The first class was creating a greeting card using an electronic cutter and the second an acrylic keychain with a laser cutter. Both were hosted at public makerspaces, although the largest was called a Fab Lab (alternate name for a makerspace).
The Chicago Public Library (CPL) Maker Lab workshop began by teaching Inkscape to design the greeting card. They supplied a blank template, then using a laptop with Inkscape we added text and art for the card. The saved file was put on a flash drive, imported into the electronic cutter program (Silhouette), and then drawn on the card (the cutter’s blade was replaced with color felt tip pens).
CPL Maker Lab was the first publicly accessible maker lab in Chicago, created in July 2013 with a fairly large corporate grant and a 6 month trial/study. While a major portion is classes, they have plenty of ‘open shop’ times, at least 3 hours/day. They worked closely with the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) in creating it, which was our other makerspace/fab lab visit.
The Fab Lab in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry goes back about 10 years and is part of MIT’s Fab Lab network. Located in the back of the MSI it’s easy to miss, I had walked past it on two previous trips to the museum and hadn’t noticed it was there! While not open to the public for personal projects or general use, the classes are available for a modest cost ($7-9/person in our case) once you pay the general admission to MSI. They do fill up, so consider booking in advance.
The class was well run and began with an overview of the lab, which has a lot of equipment and well organized. We used Inkscape to create the drawings, like the CPL Maker Lab class, and a template to get everyone started. This was a much more scripted class, which was needed because of the 1 hour timeframe. There was plenty of assistants to coach folks through the lesson and very helpful to all, even offering suggestions to some indecisive younger kids! This lab caters more to the young, although there were adults like myself attending.
These were good examples of the Museum & Library-based models of makerspaces. There was significant institutional support in creating both and in these cases they have a massive potential user base to draw on. There are also many makerspaces in our region that started with extremely small budgets and even self-funded. One thing I love about the makerspace community is their willingness to share with others; I ended up with curriculum content and contacts that offered to help we move from a makergroup to makerspace in Greencastle.
After the big winds a few weeks ago, we decided to build some kites for our latest Castlemaker Kids project. For those not familiar with tetrahedral kites, the engineering behind the geometric design and history of Alexander Graham Bell’s involvement is interesting.
Alexander Graham Bell saw the Tetrahedral Kite as a way of getting to manned flight. Just before the turn of the 20th century, there was a big debate in the scientific community on whether human flight was possible. Kites were being used to test aerodynamics and flight stability for possible aircraft. After Lawrence Hargrave developed the box kite in 1893, Mr. Bell designed a tetrahedral kite in 1895, which was not only very stable but simple to expand and easy to fly. Mr. Bell wrote a National Geographic article in June 1903 on his new kite structure that explains the development and gives a comparison with other designs. He eventually created a steamboat towed 12 meter (40’) long 3,393 cell model in 1907 that carried a man 51 meters (168’) above the water!
There are lots of variations today – the design we chose was built using drinking straws, string, and tissue paper (Tyvek also works). Individual tetrahedrons are made out of straws, tissue paper is put on 2 sides, and then they are tied together in groups of 4 to make a building block. The 4 cell model can fly by itself but if you get ambitious 10 cell modules work well too, all of which could be attached together into larger tetrahedral kites. Instructions for a simple 4 cell model can be found here, but it can be tailored to the supplies available and what you’d like to build. To help with the kids’ attention span (and time constraints) we stayed with a 4 cell model.
Finding non-bendy straws locally turned out to be a challenge, each 4 cell module takes 24 straws. The rest of the components are pretty straight forward, it’s just a matter of time and patience to assemble a kite. Once you figure out the pattern, the most difficult part is tying together the individual tetrahedrons with the string, in the version we used. There are several other versions if you search the internet, including one that uses flexible drinking straws, but the individual cells in the folding model are wired together. This makes assembly a bit more challenging and I found it harder to put and keep together, although the folding feature is nice.
A tetrahedral kite’s advantage is the low weight to sail ratio. Because of the shared trusses, as you add additional cells performance improves – what Bell saw in this design over other types of kites. And it’s easy to put multicolored paper on the kite, making a good looking kite. Don’t be surprised if you see some larger ones in the sky this summer in Putnam County!
A high school Principles of Engineering class I visited last week is providing a great example using a 3D printer to teach the engineering design process and critical thinking.
Mr. Shields at Greencastle High School inherited a 3D printer when he took over a new class this winter. I had contacted him to see if he or his students were interested in a community 3D printing competition that Castlemakers is putting together. He was able to take the basic idea we had and turn it into valuable classroom experience for the students. Plus provide a pilot test for a future community 3D printing event!
The challenge was to 3D print a functioning device that would make noise or music. They had to walk through a seven step design process, print the part, and then write a report that included evaluation of their prototype by others.
The projects they made were impressive with whistles, a drum, ribbiting frog, and of course musical instruments. While all of them were good, perhaps the most impressive sounding was a musical instrument that 2 students collaborated on – Mattia designing and making a mouthpiece while Dalton did a horn. You can hear the mouthpiece/horn in this video.
Piaget would be proud of the constructivist learning going on Mr. Shields’ classroom. It really shows how hands on learning and the maker movement can improve learning in the classroom. IU School of Education is embracing the movement, opening a new a makerspace(The MILL) last fall in the Wendell Wright Education building just for teachers. Not all learning goes on in a classroom however, and people need tools/equipment and a place to practice – one of the reasons that Castlemakers feels Putnam County needs a makerspace.