Another good regional resource for kids STEM activities is Wonderlab in Bloomington, Indiana. Besides being a fun place to visit, they also offer summer day camps for kids through 6th grade (and mentoring opportunities for those older) that can range from crazy contraptions and electronics/engineering to TV technology. They also have occasional special events, often on weekends or during school breaks, that anyone can sign up for.
Bloominglabs, the community makerspace in Bloomington, put on a 3 hour Brainbot building workshop over spring break at Wonderlab for kids and adults. Since we had some experience teaching kids to solder, ended up helping with the workshop and now helping to improve the workshop instructions. Bloominglabs also helps the Monroe County Library with speakers for the summer Make It Digital series, put on Makevention every year, and have an open shop night every Wednesday evening for those interested in making.
As we work towards creating a Putnam County makerspace, the robot building workshop is a good example of what Castlemakers will offer. Of course a makerspace is much more than just classes. But the goal is sharing/helping people to learn skills with arduinos/microcontrollers, mechanical devices, 3D printers, and more. And with the right physical location that may include welding, woodworking, jewelry making… all things that makerspaces in other cities offer.
At our July 26th meeting we shared and discussed the upcoming Water Balloon Challenge in August. Interested kids & adults signed up and there are 5 preliminary teams creating something to launch a 2″ diameter water balloon farther than you can throw it – but there are several more rumored to be forming and folks can join in at any time.
Special thanks to Isaac & Matt who brought their new drone for the sharing portion of the meeting. All the kids that wanted to try it got to fly it. We also learned that one is very durable!
Last Sunday afternoon we had a winter (indoor) version of our ‘un-making’ events. Thanks to folks that brought things: the VCR was a huge hit for the motors, gears and moving mechanisms inside and was the main star until the LCD TV showed up! We gained lots of new motors, gears, lasers, & magnets for future projects.
I was a bit surprised in all the interest in the circuit boards. Several kids starting using pliers and cutters to get capacitors, coils, and heat sinks off – it quickly spread from there (hope everyone checked pockets before the wash!). Found a soldering iron, which was a hit, but next time we’ll bring desoldering tools and more soldering irons. With the obvious interest in (de)soldering and the questions they asked, we’ll definitely do some soldering/electronics in a future session.
We’ve already gotten an offer for a barcode scanner (great laser in those!) and with a few more circuit boards to tear apart, so we’ll have another un-making session soon. Plus they only tore apart one speaker and with warmer weather coming up, I’m thinking we need to make a garden hose/ speaker water stream reverser…
At our first meeting of 2015, the kids brought in things they got or made over the holidays. There was a pretty wide range – from Ryan’s “Cool Circuits” and Boyd’s Tinker Crate (creative building/experimental kit in-a-box that comes monthly) to an owl pellet (no, Eli didn’t ‘make’ that!). Very encouraging seeing all of the other STEM related things they brought and all seemed to have a great time showing them off and trying them out.
We talked about some upcoming projects: Brushbot parts are on the way, watched part of a short demo reel on Robobrrd, and discussed a couple of different paper air rocket launcher options we could build. Based on the votes we’ll try to do both of the latter two, but both are still early in the planning stages.
We’re going to prototype the Robobrrd first, it looks like fun project that could involve both young and older kids. It’s a robotic bird made out of popsicle/craft sticks, felt, glue, servos, and controlled by an Arduino controller – there’s lots of options and a good open-source community behind it. Several adults (and a DePauw student that’s volunteered) will be building the prototype on Tuesday evenings. Let Chris know if you’d like to participate or help.
We also briefly discussed the catapult build and developing a more regular schedule given the problems last month of finding a regular time. For now we’re going to meet on Sunday afternoons at 2 pm, working on a project every 2 weeks and a more general meeting once a month. Our next meeting will be February 8th and will be either the Brushbot build or work on the big trebuchet. After the meeting most of us walked down to the Brickmania Lego event at City Hall.
This afternoon we built our first round of table-top catapults. A great turnout and thanks to the parents that helped out. With 15 kids there we ended up with 4 groups building a ‘quick and easy’ wooden catapult… well sort of. Like many projects there were some imperfect/missing parts and since we hadn’t tried the plans almost everyone made modifications. But we were able to get all 4 launching racquet balls in a couple of hours and I heard lots of ideas on how to improve the design.
Learning to use hand saws seemed to be a big hit with the kids, everyone that wanted got to try a back saw or the hand rip saw. I heard several kids comment that they could see why adults like using the power saws! Everyone also got to drill and use power screw drivers to assemble the 2×4’s. We tried both bungee cords and some bicycle inner tubes for the throwing arm. No clear winner with the designs we had, more experimentation is needed for the throwing arm tensioning. One thing we learned, the cup that holds the ball makes a difference – if it’s too deep the trajectory of the ball changes.
I’ll put additional pictures on our catapult project page later & more comments on what we did – the one we built today was based on an Instructables project. It turns out some of the dimensions were wrong and the lengths didn’t add up correctly. But that’s part of the learning, how to adjust when things don’t work and to figure out a way to make do with what you have on hand.
Although the hydroponics group wasn’t there today, they do have sprouts and will be moving them to their float tank soon. Special thanks today to Bob Hershberger for letting us use the Robert Bottoms (Southside) Community Center & to Brian Cox for getting the wood.
Next up for the Catapulters – table top torsion catapults for comparison purposes. And of course the larger group build: the Behemoth trebuchet. We now have a stack of 4×4’s to start cutting mortise and tenon joints along with a trailer for the big one…
This weekend in West Lafayette is the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon festival, which recreates what it was like in the 18th century at Fort Ouiatenon in Indiana. This was my first visit to the event and I was surprised with the how much effort people went into recreating the life at a trading post/military fort in the 1700’s and also with how many ‘making’ things going on there! There was blacksmiths, furniture making, soap and quilt making demonstrations and we only saw a small part of everything that will be going on there. Thursday & Friday it was only open for school trips, but this Saturday & Sunday (10/4 & 10/5) it’s open to the general public. A lot of fun and there’s even authentic food from the era there at the event. With the nicer weather this weekend I suspect you may want to get there early…
We’ve also forming our second making/build project – actually it’s going to be 2 projects: Catapults/Trebuchets & Hydroponics. It’s still early in the process and all are welcome to join us. Next general group meeting will be Sunday evening, 10/5, at the Community Room downtown above Eli’s Bookstore. We’re still very much in the idea stage, but as things develop there will be more information on the Projects page.
On Labor Day weekend we had our first public Shovercraft showing – what a great time for the kids!! A huge thanks to the Greencastle Farmer’s Market for their assistance. And for letting us shove the kids down Washington next to them while they were on Indiana Street downtown that Saturday.
All of the craft hovered, some of them maybe a little too well if you look through the pictures! The kids loved it & the part I really enjoyed was the excitement seeing the kids helping each other and showing those walking by how their craft worked, even letting some of the other kids see what it was like to ride a leaf blower powered hovercraft.
There was a little on-the-spot fabrication work needed on some of the craft, part of the experience, but they worked remarkably well. I’m setting up a photo album of photos, but there’s also a lot of pictures on the Farmer’s Market page and a fair number of pictures and even a video on Facebook from some of the people there.
We even took one of the craft down to the Bloomington Makevention later in the day and did some runs in their parking lot. Not as far as the twinkie cannon that was going off near our launch point, but still another fun event. Bloominglabs Makevention was an incredible event by itself, I’ll post more information on that event later.
Next up for Castlemakers: Pumpkin projectiles. Well we actually have more in mind than that, maybe some hydroponics & RC/electronics projects are being tossed around. Show up for our next general club meeting (9/28 @1:30 pm in the Community Room above Eli’s Books downtown) and find out more!!
Our hovercraft teams have been hard at work & we’ve got a 4th team that will be joining us at the upcoming event. Several teams now have prototype shovercrafts running, there are links off the project page. Our public showing/competition will be at the Greencastle Farmer’s Market in late August.
Quick reminder for the shovercraft teams that we’ll be meeting as a whole group again Wednesday August 13th, 7 pm, at the Southside Community Center (605 Crown Street).
Usually we think about kids making things, but the other day I realized that un-making things can be every bit as important. Maybe it’s how we begin tinkering & building things, learning how existing things work by taking them apart.
It started with my daughter and her friend asked to watch a movie. I suggested they go out in the garage instead to tear apart some equipment that I’d gotten for our maker group to build things with. The old equipment was made mostly of 80/20 extruded aluminum (some call it erector set material for adults) and it was held together with lots of things that needed to be unscrewed and disassembled.
I was a bit uneasy thinking that it wouldn’t go over well. I wasn’t sure they would like it. But turns out I was wrong… they loved it!! 45 minutes later there was nothing but a pile of pieces laying on the garage floor!
In the process, I learned something from watching/helping the kids take it apart. I really never thought about how to use a screwdriver, you just sort of well… do it. But then in watching it hit me at some point I must have learned from someone else.
Little things like knowing how the blade or hex wrench should go into the screw head, keeping the screwdriver straight up so it doesn’t slip out and get the best torque – even using the long side for leverage with an allen wrench to break the screw loose are things that is best experienced. With some occasional guidance and encouragement you also don’t give up on the task and keep learning. Kinesthetic, hands on learning isn’t the same as reading it in a book or watching a video. And the girls started encouraging each other and before long I was hearing “I get to do that one…” – and they were having fun while doing it!!
So get out and help some kids take things apart. Building things is good fun too – don’t miss the opportunity to help them learn the tactile and hands-on portion of learning to use tools and components whether it’s making or ‘un-making’ things. Goodness knows there’s not as much in schools anymore.
In fact, we’re going to host a tear down session of more equipment for the Castlemakers group this Saturday @ 11 am. We got lucky enough to get more old equipment to tear apart. Join us if you’d like – I can’t promise how long after that it will stay assembled, but we’re going to have fun tearing it all apart!!
I’ve been negligent by not talking about some other maker events going on here in Greencastle. Putnam County Library has been having Maker Tuesdays – short 1-2 hour events at the Public Library. I’ve only seen a flyer on it posted at the library but I was able to find something on the Putnam County Library online calendar. There’s another event coming up Tuesday July 29th, or stop by and I’m sure they can give you more information.
We had our 2nd Castlemakers meeting upstairs in the Eli’s Books community room last week; it was the official shovercraft kickoff meeting. It started with a video of a simple home built ‘shovercraft’ someone built and then the kids discussed what might be needed to build one.
Then there was a small demo of a simple hovercraft made with a balloon, disposable water bottle, and an old audio CD (with lots of tape on it). The demo was a hit with the kids judging by the number of balloons used!!
The kids involved got to find out their team members (3 teams with now 4 kids each) and their adult mentor for the project who also helps them on the project. There are lots of possible designs and one of the first thing they’ll be deciding includes: what shape (circle? rectangle? boat shaped?), what type of ‘engine’ (or leaf blower), and chair/no chair. Plus lots of other items, including how to decorate it! Each person there got a notebook to draw and keep notes in – the young designers/makers took off from there.
Our next full group meeting will be on July 10th at 7pm to review how the designs are coming, although the individual teams will be meeting between now and then. We now have a goal for completed shovercraft and either a ‘who goes the furthest’ or hovercraft shuffleboard competition on August 16th or August 23rd – depending on our final location. There will be more information and updates later!!