This last weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering for the Indiana VEX Robotics Championship in Indianapolis. While I’ve been to both FRC and VEX competitions, this annual event at Lucas Oil Stadium still stands out as my favorite. Sponsored by Techpoint Foundation for Youth, this year there were 274 enthusiastic teams competing and 1500 students there at the Saturday event.
I ended up being one of the judges for the middle school VEX IQ Challenge section, which included around 80 teams. For this event we broke into pairs to interview the teams in the morning, then met later in the afternoon to combine scores from their engineering notebook judgements, in-person interview rubrics, and match scores to develop the awards and winners. As you can imagine for an event this size, it takes a LOT of organization, hard work & hustle by the organizer to make this all happen that day!
But when you listen to the excitement, the passion and what the teams are learning, you realize what a makes it such a great event. It not only teaches youth STEM skills but they learn about teamwork, project management, and much more. This event has turned into the biggest robotics competition in the US, and Techpoint Foundation for Youth works hard to make it happen. You can read more about this year’s event in their blog post and some highlights of this year’s event in this video.
Besides having a lot of physical tools & hardware at Castlemakers, we also spend a lot of time with software. For many of us making physical things is a lot of the enjoyment, but in today’s world many of the newer tools use software to control the machinery and the product design is often created in software also.
This ‘fusion’ of software and hardware is what gives many of the newer tools we have their power; whether it’s 3D printers, our laser cutter/engraver, desktop CNC’s, or even some of our electronic test equipment. Knowing how to use that software to its full advantage can make things simpler to create or even create a more innovative design possible. Skilled makers will combine that knowledge with the older hands-on skills; for example, knowing how a kerf will impact the final piece when you a laser cut wood.
Many of our classes, like our upcoming Fusion 360 class, help others to learn the software that can be used to design and create digitally and then later into actual objects. And our monthly Castlemakers CoderDojo helps youth learn about coding to create computer programs, online environments, and even coding with physical computing. Stop by to see some of the creations or attend one of our events or classes!
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!
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.
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.
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 gave away a micro:bit to every 6th grader in Putnam County through the four Putnam County school systems and the Putnam County Public Library. Since then we’ve provided these kits to other organizations in our area. 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. Since our initial distribution there has been a micro:bit upgrade to V2 (although still very hard to get), which added several features including a microphone & a speaker. More specific differences can be referenced here, but functionally they are the same and look very similar.
You can read about getting started with the micro:bit here. Please note you can also ‘pair’ the specific device to your computer, which lets you download directly to the device & not have to use the drag/drop feature.
micro:bit features may help you understand the sensors and has some simple projects to help you try them out. This webpage has instructions for hooking up earbuds or speakers to use the micro:bit sound output!
MakeCode is the block-based code editor from Microsoft that works with the micro:bit and some other devices.
Hardware geeks: here’s the reference material, including input/output pins and much more. This website has been updated for V2, but if you dig around you can find information on previous versions.
Like a challenge? If you look in the Castlemakers front window on Franklin Street there’s a micro:bit running with a scrolling text display. By using another micro:bit to send a text message, you can remotely activate lights and sounds inside the makerspace! Here’s a hint on how to do it at the end of a blog post…
Raising questions and seeking answers can be great learning. When given a trash bag full incandescent holiday mini-lights last year, it raised the question “when one bulb burns out the string stays lit, but why do they all go out when you remove it?” That led to a lot of learning about holiday light strings and the bulbs they use, more than can be covered in this blog post!
And resulted in the topics for the last 2 months at the Castlemakers Kids meetings. We started with simple electrical circuit diagrams, schematic components, and voltage/resistance in November. With a volt-ohm meter we were troubleshooting incandescent light strings pretty quickly. By December’s meeting we got into diodes and LED’s, along with Ohm’s law, to make our own LED lights for packages. And learned why lithium batteries can power an LED, but alkaline batteries can burn them out!
It’s safe to say everyone there learned something, including the adults. Few of the adults for example had heard of anti-fuse’s, one of the features of those small incandescent bulbs that let them burn out yet still keep the rest of the string lit. Who would have guessed that the piezo sparker from a butane candle lighter or gas grill could restore a burned out light string to identify the bad bulb? Too much to cover here, will try to write a longer blog post later detailing some of the experiments and what we found. In January’s meeting we’ll be continuing experimenting with LED’s and components – join us!
This last Saturday we had 2 events going on in 2 different cities, a bit of a landmark for Castlemakers. In Greencastle we had our first STEAM class for the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. 15 girl scouts and parents from Indianapolis learned about sensors and coding using Circuit Playground Arduino based boards.
At the same time, in Bloomington, we had a booth at Makevention, our 2nd year there. Makevention is a little harder to describe. If you’ve ever been to a Maker Faire that’s close, especially this year since they added workshops and presentations. Makevention is a celebration of the Maker Movement, you can learn about all kinds of DIY/making – from robotics to soap to swords/knifes to lock picking to…
At our booth we had some of the PuttCode robots which we used on the CoderDojo mini-golf hole, although several other holes from previous Putt Putnam County events were there also. The other booths were also interesting, it’s a great event for seeing what other groups in the area are doing and making. It’s usually the last Saturday in August and definitely worth attending.
One of the community efforts that we perhaps promote enough is the local CoderDojo. The Castlemakers CoderDojo was one the early ones in Indiana, starting in 2016, and now going on it’s 3rd year.
What’s a CoderDojo? Simply it’s a club where youth, ages 7-17, learn programming from volunteers – including professional programmers. The kids/ninjas bring in projects that they are working on or are interested in… or the mentors have some structured & unstructured exercises to help them learn more about coding.
This is the second year we’ve taken kids to the CoderDojo Hackathon sponsored by CoderDojo Indiana / Techpoint Foundation for Youth. Both years we’ve had teams that won trophies, something to be very proud of!
If you missed the Indiana Vex Robotics State Championship in Indianapolis last Saturday, you missed a great event. This was the first time it’s been held at Lucas Oil Stadium and despite stadium size with over 300 teams participating on 6 stages it seemed like the right choice!
With over 900 teams in Indiana, I was unable to find anyone that made it to the event from our area. Should Castlemakers help organize a local event to encourage more teams? Comment or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you think we should!
So much happened at Castlemakers in 2017 it’s been a challenge to keep the blog current. This entry started in December, but had to be finished in 2018 – which I guess highlights 2017’s theme of expansion and growth! 2017 growth included:
Thanks to several generous gifts, Castlemakers added more equipment in 2017. Perhaps the most notable was our desktop CNC (Computer Numerical Control machine, a Nomad 883) which we’ve now put into use and will be offering the first class in January. Techpoint Foundation for Youth also gave us 10 Chromebooks, which are getting heavy use in our Castlemakers CoderDojo (a youth coding club) and the gift helped with our classes.
Since last June we’ve had general public STEAM oriented classes essentially every month for the old and young. From 3D printing & Arduinos to lasercuttering, they provide practical learning using technology where the participants take home something they make. What a great way to learn!
With a new Makerspace soft opening in December 2016, memberships now offer 24/7 access to the physical space and equipment. ‘Open shop’ times offer anyone a chance to use/try the equipment for their own projects. But the real value is the associated people/members and their knowledge. Plus it’s a great way to try/use an expensive piece of equipment that you can’t justify for yourself.
But the real growth is with the makerspace community & people. It’s the December CoderDojo with 10 kids spending their Saturday afternoon practicing computer coding along with showing and sharing what they were working on. You could see kids programming a tablet to adults there teaching robot navigation and a 12 year old coding a humanoid walking in an online landscape he designed.
It’s also listening to a member take what he learned in our laser class to create a wooden 3D map of his farm. It’s a 3DPO regular showing off the 3D printer he designed or seeing the cable supported 3D printer in which the print size is only limited by the room’s walls.
2018 looks very promising indeed…
If you walked by the Makerspace this summer and looked in the window, you may have noticed a very large model rocket. It was the first stage of a creation that Nick Adams, who taught our ‘build a model rocket’ class, built last year and launched. Several people have stuck their head in since it left and asked us where the rocket went. The short answer is he prepping it for an even higher/faster launch this Labor Day weekend in Kansas.
Earlier this year Nick asked if we could make something that would plug the air intake holes, the kind of project we love! When you go supersonic a flat surfaces creates even more turbulence, so for his upcoming flight he wanted a more streamlined version. Plugging 4 intake holes on the side of the rocket would help.
We initially fabricated a plug out of foam, using a hot wire cutter at the Makerspace, then scanned the piece so it could be 3D printed. Creating the styrofoam piece was easy, scanning… well the Makerbot Replicator we have wasn’t quite up to the task initially. Learned that covering the foam with masking tape helps (the foam color and irregular surface created problems), but it was still less than a satisfactory design.
Then one of our younger makers, Ephraim, helped by creating by creating a quick model in Autodesk’s Inventor. That design came closer, but we missed measuring a few key dimensions like the chamfer where the plug goes into the rocket. We finally ended up redrawing with Fusion 360, which turned out to be the best solution. Although the program has a steep learning curve, it allowed us to make several more design changes quickly & easily to get the 4 pieces printed out last month.
This weekend Nick’s letting Castlemakers take the rocket to show off at Makevention in Bloomington, Indiana – an annual celebration of making things. Located at the Monroe County Convention Center, it’s open to the public and a great event! Stop by and see the assembled 12.5 foot tall rocket and also stay tuned to Nick’s YouTube channel. I’m sure he’ll have a video of the launch posted not long after the launch on August 30th!