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.
At our August 9th meeting we covered the Water Balloon Challenge, which is now up to 8 groups. Details on our project page, but they seem to be performing so well that we concluded that the Greencastle Farmer’s Market display in early September should be a demo, not the actual competition, since the Greencastle square may not be large enough!
For our ‘show & tell’ portion Chris brought liquid nitrogen in a dewar for experiments. After explaining describing liquid nitrogen and where it comes from, we poured the -196°C (-320°F) liquid over the marshmallows that Alice had brought in. We also froze a banana to drive nails into a piece of wood and then tried lots of things that kids and the adults suggested. Some that worked and some that didn’t!
Freezing balloons was a big hit, the kids had tons of questions which you can hear and see in the balloon video that Brian H. took. For the coin collectors there, we showed how older copper pennies are more malleable at minus 200 degrees Celsius than the new copper plated zinc pennies – which shatter after hitting them with a hammer!
There’s another good regional event for science in Bloomington on 8/29, Makevention, along with some other events on our events page. Last year we took one of the shovercraft (shoveable hovercraft) to the Bloomington event and did demonstrations. It’s well worth the trip if even to just to look at what other people are doing.
Since we’re starting to look for projects after the Water Balloon Challenge, I can’t help but mention the Lexus created hoverboard that uses liquid nitrogen. I just watched a video (long version) on it, sort of outdid our shovercraft but a lot of more engineering in that design. Now that would be an awesome next project!
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!