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.
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.
If you haven’t heard of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests, and even if you have, the Chicago Cultural Center has a fabulous exhibit for anyone interested in mechanical creatures. You get to see what an eccentric artist can do when combining engineering and art. Jansen’s wind powered beach creatures have evolved over the last 25 years, getting more sophisticated by storing wind energy, sensing when walking into the water, and even self-correcting to prevent them getting stuck. Some even anchor themselves if they detect a storm, all without any electronics just plastic pipe, cloth, and recycled bottles.
Check the schedule if you go, you can watch a 42’ long Animaris Suspendisse walk or they might actually let you move an Animaris Ordis by yourself! The exhibit also included the evolution of the creatures and a small case of what other inspired people in the making community have done with his designs. Hamster powered Strandbeest anyone? How about 3D printed Strandbeests? The Segway like device inspired by a Strandbeest was pretty impressive too! Anyone interested in building a Strandbeest here?
The Chicago Cultural Center is a beautiful building itself and just across the street from Millennium Park – you can see Cloud Gate from many of the windows on the east side of the building. Make sure you check out the other exhibits in the building and look at the incredible dome on the 2nd floor of the Center.
I’ll cover the workshops on making your own greeting card using a electronic (vinyl) cutter and making a custom acrylic keychain with laser cutter in a future post…
Despite the snow & cupid competition, we had some not-so-lonely hearts show up yesterday to continue learning and honing their soldering skills. This was our 2nd soldering session, during the first one the kids learned first by soldering wires together and then went on the kits. A little simpler kit with color changing/blinking lights was used this time for those that missed the first meeting or were quick to finish.
The LED chaser kit (Velleman MK173 rev2) was a medium difficulty build; in retrospect something easier for first timers would be better. But the coolness factor is very high, you can see it in this video link to Connor’s just after he finished. The socket helps protect the IC from overheating, but 44 solder joints is a lot to do. Solder pads are close together on both kits, not unusual, which offered opportunities for many kids to learn unsoldering techniques (some more than others). Glad we had a couple of solder suckers to clean up the bridging and over ambitious solderers! We also had one solder pad on one of the boards come loose but hard to tell if that was a circuit board problem or not.
The color changing LEDs kit (Lux Spectralis 2) was definitely simpler with 24 solder points, but was bought on clearance so now hard to find. It has 38 modes of color/flashing to choose from and could be easily finished under an hour or less. The IC (ATtiny13a, no socket included) held up well to overheating, least from our experience. One kit was short a few parts, something we’ll plan for next time.
We’ll be doing more learning to solder classes, this is a skill that generated an lot of interest from both young and old. Our next meeting will be using App Inventor again, part of our series building up to Arduinos and other microcontrollers.
Our first ‘learning to solder’ session last Sunday drew quite a crowd. With 20 kids showing up and quite a few parents there too, we packed the FYCDP house on Crown Street. George Edenfield, who’s involved in Putnam County Auxiliary Communications and an active amateur radio operator, helped lead the session. Many of the kids brought their own soldering irons or borrowed one from a parent, but only a few had ever soldered before.
After going through the basics and soldering safety, George had everyone solder two wires together so they could learn how to handle a soldering iron and learn how to recognize a good soldering joint. We then moved on to a small kit that creates a ‘chaser’ effect in 6 LEDs. The kids picked it up pretty quickly, although most needed someone to help them with the first soldering joint on the small circuit board. A few even got to learn how to use a solder sucker (desoldering tool) when they got a little carried away putting solder on the copper pads on the circuit board. Desoldering techniques, a possiblebackup topic if there was extra time, will be covered at a future meeting.
Although the kits didn’t get completed due to time and everyone helping each other, everyone kept saying how much they liked it and wanted to do more. So we’ll continue working on those that didn’t get it completed at our next meeting, February 14th, and for those that did or missed the Jan 31rst meeting we’ll have another simpler, quicker soldering project. It was so popular we ran out of the chaser kits.
Today we assembled some really inexpensive Google Cardboard kits and explored different 3D virtual reality programs that use a cell phone for viewing. By using the cell phone gyro for judging head movement and the magnetometer as an input device, with a little cardboard and a couple of lenses you can experience virtual reality!
We started with some ‘un-certified’ Google Cardboard kits, I suspect these are version 1 models vs. the latest version 2. These do not have the QR code that can help with configuration. These particular units don’t come with any instructions, which since they don’t strictly follow the Google Cardboard guidelines, made a little more challenging build. But really not that hard and adding some masking tape made them even sturdier. And they do work!
The real fun began after Alice got her’s assembled first and then began wowing… everyone else starting racing to finish theirs. The technology is impressive and the demo app is a great place to start. There are so many more apps out there already that it will take some time to learn the best ones. Some of us old folks liked the Paul McCartney video app where you are on-stage for one of his concerts and can look around 360 degrees to watch things from the band perspective. Impressive fireworks and sound too! The VR Roller Coaster app was a hit with the kids, although I think all of them also tried the different cities in the demo, starting with Paris where you can walk around the Eiffel Tower.
Rocket launching was the theme of the day last Sunday for the Castlemakers that could attend. Nick and Emily Adams extended an invitation to a Rocket Launch at their place south of US40. Four families, along with some invited friends and Castlemakers got to see a wide variety of solid propellant rocket launches in South Putnam County.
Amateur rocketry has been popular for years; many people will remember putting together Estes rockets as kids growing up. That still continues, with additional firms involved, with more gps units, cameras, electronics and even Arduino boards. Many of the tools used in a fab lab/ makerspace are being used! For an example check out the Carbon Origins effort (10,000 feet & Mach 2 before breakup); their story was detailed in a recent article. We didn’t see that kind of launch on Sunday, but there was a video of a Mach 1.5 flight Gus hit the day before at a site near Chicago (and he does a lot bigger rockets).
What we did see on Sunday was incredible. There were four families that had built multiple rockets, all involved with Indiana Rocketry, and there were two launch pads and 4 towers to launch rockets. I noticed several with GPS units (one hit 2500 feet) and several had cameras. One even had the infamous 808 keychain spy camera, sometimes used in robotics, that had a 3D printed camera case on the side of the rocket.
The local Putnam County 4H has a rocketry group if you’d like to get more involved, or you can also contact the Lafayette-based Indiana Rocketry club which has even more information.
For the October 18th meeting we made packing tape limbs and ghosts. Well actually we tried everything from baby dolls to swords, and even mixed in a few body parts – basically anything that could be safely wrapped in plastic wrap and then covered in packing tape.
Wrapping an arm or leg and the manikin were definite hits, and looked surprising good! The process is fairly simple: put a couple of layers of clear plastic wrap on the item, then wrap it with several layers of clear packing tape, and finally making a cut in the wrapping to remove the object used. Once the object is removed you take out the excess plastic wrap and carefully re-tape the pack tape wrapper back together for a clear ‘shell’ of whatever you wrapped! Adding some LED lights inside the object can make a great ghost or really strange object for Halloween.
For our upcoming meetings we’ll be having a intro to coding class for 9-14 year old kids and a soldering class, next meeting dates are on our events page.
9/30 UPDATE: There are still sand blocks available for carving as of today, stop by Peeler Room 105 to make one!
A quick note on the Community Aluminum Pour; Thursday September 24th is the last day to make an original piece of art that you can have cast with recycled aluminum. From 4-8 pm you can carve your own design into a sand block that will be cast on October 2nd. There’s not a lot of information out there yet (although it has been listed on our events page) and carving is limited to 200 participants; but both the carving and casting is open to the public. I stopped by last night – still plenty of sand blocks available for carving!
If you miss the carving or don’t want to make your own casting, the main casting event will be on Friday October 2nd from 1 to 10 pm (back courtyard of Peeler Art Center). Looks to be fun, Sculpture Trails Traveling Foundry will be there to help and will be explaining the casting process.