Category Archives: Programming

Edge Lit with micro:bit

We’ve still had projects at Castlemakers this summer, even with the Covid shutdown hampering our hands-on education efforts. One that I’m excited/impressed with is a high school student built project that includes programming, electronics, 3D printing and using a laser cutter – all made with items at the Makerspace!

Programming the micro:bit to control the LED light strip using MakeCode, a block based programming language.

Ever since we gave every 6th grader in Putnam County a micro:bit last year, we’ve wanted to do more micro:bit projects to help youth and adults see the power of microprocessors and IoT devices. And to get a chance to expose and use some of the some different fabrication tools often found in a makerspace. This summer Hunter Miller made a really interesting project, an edge lit sign controlled by a micro:bit. It looks a bit like an emergency exit sign with a disco like effect and instead our logo on it.

The design and case was modified from something created at the Cambridge UK makerspace, who was looking to create something to experience the different makerspace tools. We used our 50W CO2 laser to cut and etch an insert for a 3D printed case that with led lighting on the edge makes our logo stand out. Hunter, who was looking for something else to do this summer, then cut a section of a 2m LED strip and after some soldering connected the wires directly to a micro:bit. Then he wrote a micro:bit program using MakeCode that makes the LED strip change color and intensity.

Color scrolling mode using addressable LED strip controlled by a micro:bit.

It’s on display right now in our front window on Franklin St. Stop by and take a look or come in and we’ll show you how it works – the different lighting modes may have you dancing!

PCMI and the micro:bit

PCMI kits being made
Ian Girvan and Brian Howard updating & testing each micro:bit before packaging.

With the Putnam County Microcomputer Initiative (PCMI) roll out and distributions, October has been a blur and our blog has fallen behind. A lot still happened, like Putt Putnam County and the PCPL annual Halloween party, but we’ll cover it in future blog posts.

The PCMI started in 2018 from internal discussions about the technology gap in rural communities and how to get more folks interested in technology and coding, especially youth. PCMI was born after seeing a demo of the BBC micro:bit at the 2018 Hackathon in Indy – it seemed like a potential solution! Thought why not put a simple-to-use single board computer, in this case a micro:bit, into the hands of Putnam County youth so they could learn and use them?

We set up an assembly line to put together all the parts for over 500 PCMI kits.

After researching the micro:bit further and writing a Techpoint Foundation for Youth grant to get 10 for first hand experience in our CoderDojo, we decided to use a variation of what was done in the United Kingdom. We would give them directly to all 6th graders in Putnam County. The device is already being used in some US school systems, including NYC’s Computer Science for All and some Project Lead the Way classes, but with Indiana’s computer science curriculum under revision we were hoping for a quicker jump start so folks could recognize the significance of physical computing and that it doesn’t have to be difficult!

micro:bit / PCMI kits being distributed at North Putnam Middle School
Matt Couch goes over the micro:bit /PCMI kits in his North Putnam science class. 3 other Putnam County schools helped.

Luckily for us the Putnam County Community Foundation understood the importance and was willing to fund our idea. All four school systems were also willing to help – so we’ve been rolling out micro:bit kits to the 6th graders in Putnam County during October. Our last distribution, to home school kids at Putnam County Public Library, is on 11/4 and we’ll also be having a community session for parents and anyone else interested at Ivy Tech Community College in Greencastle on Monday November 4th at 6:30 pm. Seeing the excitement of the 6th graders getting and exploring their devices has been a real treat!

2019 Coderdojo Hackathon

2019 CoderDojo Hqckathon opening session at Developertown

July 20th we participated in the 3rd Annual Indiana Youth Hackathon in Indianapolis. This was the 3rd year our CoderDojo attended and this time, several of us were volunteers also. The 2019 event was bigger than ever, even people from the CoderDojo and Raspberry Pi Foundation flew in from California to attend. The CoderDojo movement, which started in Ireland, is now in 102 countries and is an international organization. Many people don’t realize Indiana has more CoderDojos than any other state in the US!

Castlemakers CoderDojo Participants Rebecca, Hunter & Ty at the 2019 Hackathon (Alice & Mason not pictured).

Attending a ‘hackathon’ might sound a little intimidating to some, but it’s really a fun event where kids can meet, work with other kids (and adults) to learn and show off their computer coding skills. While there are judges and trophies involved, most of it is a non-competitive event where you can learn and ‘show off your stuff’ to others. Giveaways (and there were a LOT), t-shirts & stickers, free food… no wonder there was a waitlist to attend this year.

MoonHack activity in the afternoon session.

There were three programming tracks this year: Javascript, Python, and Scratch. Youth worked on a series of challenges and received points for completing the task & for the best solution. Trophies were awarded to those with the most points. The kids did not need to know their chosen programming language in advance; many were there to just learn more about the language. Along with the programming challenges there was also a project expo this year, where people could show off what they have done.

CoderDojo for Parents session was led by Chris Hebb with help from Christina Foust from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

There were also drop in sessions – for example a morning session for adults wanting to learn more (CoderDojo 101 for Parents) and an afternoon session called Moonhack. Moonhack was a challenge/task to program a lunar buggy to travel across a lunar surface (that day was the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing after all) in Scratch or Python with lots of volunteers there to help them complete the coding. Parents 101 was as it sounds, a session to explain CoderDojos and answer questions. We even had a few that were interested in starting one where they lived.

What happens at Castlemakers

We often get questions about when to visit Castlemakers; the best place to start is our events webpage. You can drop in during Open Shop or also attend one of the events listed.

4th Graders from North Putnam learn coding on a micro:bit
Putnam County Kids Count catapult design testing with fruit, candy and marshmallows.
Kids test their designs with different size & weight projectiles.

For people not familiar with makerspaces, they may not realize everything going on. For example, limited ‘retail’ hours (what we and other makerspaces often call Open Shop time) reflect the volunteer nature of them. There are lots of passionate people and activities going on outside those times, often working individually and with other organizations.

Attaching bridal to tetrahedral kite before testing at Putnam County Kids Count.
Two teams combined efforts to build a 10 cell tetrahedral kite.

For example, in the last 2 months Castlemakers worked on a number of youth-oriented events not listed on the webpage or on social media. Just a few weeks ago we were out at Heritage Lake working with over 50 kids at Putnam County Kids Count helping younger kids build and test catapults, then the older ones build and fly tetrahedral kites!

Another outreach event involved 2 other organizations in early May: Castle Arts and Putnam County 4H. Thirty North Putnam School Corporation 4th graders came to downtown Greencastle to learn about computer coding. While one group learned and used a robot at the 4H office to sort and count chips, the other group was at the Makerspace.

This robot was coded to put each color chip in a different bin.

Christian Destremps did a fabulous job teaching them algorithms/coding around the corner at the 4H office using Lego EV3 kits built into a color chip sorting robot. Castlemakers helped with assembling his robot design and 3D printing bins to catch the different colored chips.

Learning how G-code is used in 3D printing.

At the Makerspace we showed them how coding is used in 3D printing, laser cutter/engraving, and CNC machines. One section saw the coding (G-code) in action with our makerspace fabrication tools. At the same time the other section programmed a micro:bit, a small micro-computer board, using a block-based coding editor.

It really demonstrates what can happen in our community when different organizations pool their resources together. You’ll be hearing a lot more about the micro:bit board in the next few months here in Putnam County.


PCMI package distributed to 6th graders in Putnam County.

The Putnam County Microcomputer Initiative (PCMI) was created to generate interest in physical computing in our area. The initiative was funded by the Putnam County Community Foundation on 6/7/19.

The idea is fairly simple: in the fall of 2019 we’re giving away a micro:bit to every 6th grader in Putnam County through the four Putnam County school systems and the Putnam County Public Library. You may also be interested in our CoderDojo and Pi Makers meetup.

Resources/links for this initiative may be helpful for anyone interested in more about the micro:bit device:

Last updated on 10/12/19.

Funding Provided By:

And Sponsorship provided by:

Pi Makers Meetup

Some of the different Raspberry Pi models at the Makerspace.
Some of the different Raspberry Pi models at the Makerspace.

Many of our posts are youth related, that’s certainly a big part of our mission, but we also encourage adults to get involved in learning and making things. Our meetups are a good example, one of the first we started was our 3DPO (3D Printer Owner’s) Meetup which first began as a group of adults but it wasn’t long before there were some teenagers involved.

Raspberry Pi with arcade buttons & joystick running RetroPie.
Raspberry Pi with arcade buttons & joystick running RetroPie.

The Pi Maker’s Meetup started last November when we got a group together to share information about Raspberry Pi’s. It also turns out we’ve got a group build of MAME system/cabinets going on at the Makerspace that will be running using a RetroPie to emulate various arcade games.

The group is still developing and like most meetups, anyone is invited to drop in on our group. We usually meet the 3rd Thursday of each month, check our events webpage for the next meeting. Please join us then or stop by during our open shop times and we’ll fill you in! You can also sign up for our events newsletter here, be sure to check the Pi Makers meetup box.

Building Phone Apps

On Sunday, January 17, about a dozen kids learned the basics of coding by building some Android phone apps. We met in a computer lab in the Julian Center at DePauw, and worked through some of the tutorial apps in the App Inventor program from MIT (

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 10.55.57 AM
Alice Howard’s “Magic 8-Ball”, which randomly says “Yes” or “No” when shaken

The system is programmed through a web browser, where you can build how the app screen will look (with buttons, labels, and connections to various phone sensors), then shift over to a “blocks” environment where the actions can be hooked up. The first example involved responding to the phone being shaken by sending some text to the speech synthesizer (such as, “Hey, stop shaking me!”).

While the app was being developed in the browser, an Android device (some kids brought phones, and the CS department loaned a bunch of tablets for the afternoon) was attached to the session and allowed immediate live testing of the program.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.03.52 AM The second app we built was like a virtual billiards table. It drew some balls on the screen, and with a flick of the finger they could be launched to bounce around.

The App Inventor website allows sharing the projects that are created, and they can be turned into stand-alone apps to download to a friend’s phone. At the end of the hour, a bunch of the kids were excited about being able to continue working on their app ideas at home. Alice turned her random yes/no app into one that could generate a random story idea for a Doctor Who episode (example: “The Doctor and Rose battle the Daleks in New New York, accompanied by Captain Jack.”), and then worked with a friend to build a pair of apps that told each other knock-knock jokes (using a speech recognizer as well as the speech synthesis)!

App Inventor is related to the Scratch environment, which can be used to control Arduino boards, so it’s likely that there will be more sessions like this in the future.

Testing the Ozobot

Experimenting with ozobots & cubelets
Dunkin works on one of the prototype tests for the ozobot. A few cubelets are in the lower left corner.

In today’s meeting we looked at ozobots & dug out the cubelets to try and get the Bluetooth control working. Technical difficulties prevented the cubelets from  working with the remote control app. But the ozobots were a bigger hit anyway with both the kids and adults there.

Ozobots are tiny dome like robots that have optical sensors that are used to follow lines. These lines can also program the little guys, through shapes and colors. Using a marker they will follow the line you draw but by using different color patterns they will change speed, change direction, pause, stop and even count.

Castlemaker kids try an ozobot on the maze they created
Path that the kids developed to test the ozobots. In this trial it’s not doing so well, but has a chance to redeem itself if it gets the square root of 1 correctly, otherwise it goes into the “imponderable death of doom.”

It was amazing to sit back and watch the kid’s creativity. After a brief introduction to the ozobot, the kids discovered much more on their own. Following mazes and lines drawn on paper, along with guessing which branch the ozobot would take dominated the afternoon.

The kids decided to “test the robot’s artificial intelligence” by creating questions that the robot could ‘answer’ by choosing the right path. The maze they created started with simple questions like 4 divided by 4, then progressed into more difficult questions like which country created french fries. There were plenty of death traps and black holes along the path for the ozobot if a wrong decision was made. They decided to conduct tests for both ozobots , you can watch one trial in this video. Of course the robot didn’t really evaluate the questions, just took a random path, but they still had fun.

The final test path they created. You can see one of the ozobots following the line near the top of the picture. In this trial it picked the correct answer for 4 divided by 4 and even chose the robot vs. human path.

The ozobot color changing capability was a huge hit (different colored lines cause the bot’s LED to match the line color). They are somewhat sensitive to line width, but it’s not a huge factor. The large dry erase board attempt didn’t work well, the bot would eventually scrape off some of the marker then stop. Ozogroove, the dancing app, was pretty useless on a Nexus 7 – don’t bother to install it on that tablet at least.

We’re going to have to experiment some more with hand drawing the ozocodes, the programming language for the robot. It seemed to be inconsistent, sometimes working and sometimes not, even for the same color coded lines. Printed ones worked great. There’s also a coding language, ozoblocky, but that will be a future meeting.