Category Archives: STEM

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.

Micro:Bit

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:

Holiday Light String Theory

Mini holiday incandescent light experimentation.
Mini holiday incandescent light experimentation.

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!

Resistance is not futile, it's a feature of circuits.
Resistance is not futile, it’s a feature in circuits.

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!

Removing piezo from candle lighter.
Removing piezo sparker from candle lighter.

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!

Girl Scouts / Makevention

Central Indiana girl scouts learning about electronics & Arduinos.
Central Indiana girl scouts learning about electronics & coding.

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.

2nd Floor Main lobby of Makevention, but a lot more in other rooms and first floor.
2nd Floor Main lobby of Makevention, but a lot more in other rooms and first floor.

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…

Makevention Makerspace panel which included Castlemakers.
Makevention Makerspace panel including Castlemakers.

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.

 

2018 CoderDojo Hackathon

Castlemakers Dojo Ninjas celebrating after Indiana CoderDojo Hackathon in Indianapolis
Castlemakers Dojo Ninjas celebrating after Indiana CoderDojo Hackathon in Indianapolis

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.

Greencastle Coders work on Python in the Individual Challenge
Greencastle Coders work on Python in the Individual Challenge

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!

 

Indiana VEX Robotics Championship

Indiana VEX Robotics Championship on 3/10/18
Indiana VEX Robotics Championship on 3/10/18 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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!

One of the middle schools competing in the competition.
One of the middle schools competing in the competition.

Indianapolis has hosted VEX robotics competitions for at least 6 years – an initiative that came out of the mayor’s Office of Education Innovation. Each year it’s grown and with Techpoint Foundation for Youth’s (TPF4Y) statewide elementary school initiative, they became the host for 2018 event which combined 3 separate events (elementary, middle school, & high school) in 2017.

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 (info@castlemakers.org) if you think we should!

2017 in Review

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:

Castlemakers CNC addtion, a Nomad 883.
Castlemakers CNC addition, a Nomad 883, making a wrench out of a  piece of aluminum.

    • 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!

Castlemakers CoderDojo met the first Saturday afternoon of every month in 2017.
Castlemakers CoderDojo met the first Saturday afternoon of every month in 2017.

  • 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.

Rodney created this 3D wooden map using a downloaded USGS topo map & our CO2 laser.
Rodney created this 3D wooden map using a downloaded USGS topo map, oak plywood, & our CO2 laser.

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…

It’s Not Rocket Science

First stage of the model rocket that Nick launched in the fall of 2016.
First stage of the model rocket that Nick launched in the fall of 2016.

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.

Different versions of the intake plugs.
Different versions of the intake plugs.

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.

Nick's QCC rockets assembled, the one on the left has black intake plugs installed.
Nick’s QCC rockets assembled, the one on the left has black intake plugs installed.

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!

Weed Whacker Teardown

Weed-Whacker-Engine-Teardown-IMG_1108As Castlemakers moves from a youth oriented makergroup to an all ages Makerspace, we’re not neglecting our roots – offering kids interesting hands-on STEAM activities. Last month, for on one of our ‘un-making’ events, we used weed whackers to expose kids to internal combustion engines. It seems like small 2-cycle engines are a throw-away commodity anymore, so after collecting 8-10 weed whackers (and one lawnmower engine) we had everyone tear them apart to see what’s inside.

Tear down days are always popular, and surprisingly the girls outnumbered the boys for this one. With everyone being warned in advance to wear old clothes we threw down several pieces of plywood and cardboard out back, put a bunch of tools out to help, then let them go at it with some occasional supervision & suggestions.

Doug points out the differences between 4 and 2 cycle engines.
Doug points out the differences between 4 and 2 cycle engines.

These single cylinder engines seem to be the perfect size for kids. We began by removing the pulley and clutch off the engine. After explaining how the piston pulls fuel into the cylinder, you can explain how an engine is a controlled fuel explosion. Centrifugal clutches & carburetors were another whole discussion. After piston removal everyone seemed fascinated by how the crankshaft/rod converts the linear piston motion into rotation. A few of the piston/rod/crankshaft mechanisms were saved (although several went home), it’s a good tie into the paper mechatronics we did last year.

Weed-Whacker-Engine-Teardown-IMG_1100Special thanks to Doug Salter, a 25+ year mechanic at Ryder Truck, who donated at least half of the weed whackers and also helped by coaching the kids on disassembly and how the parts inside worked. And another nod to Jerry Hecko, our makerspace automotive repair shop neighbor, who gave us the 4 cycle lawnmower engine for comparison and often has the right tool when we don’t have one.

CoderDojo Growth

Maggie Cline & Courtney Lambert from TF4Y give Brian Howard & Chris Hebb new Dell Chromebooks for Castlemakers.
Maggie Cline & Courtney Lambert from TPF4Y give Castlemakers’ Brian Howard & Chris Hebb new Dell Chromebooks.

We’ve had so much going on lately that blog posting fell off the list. But with so much recent news to tell, we’ll start with a few shorter posts on events and recently made items that folks stopping by the Makerspace have expressed interest in.

One of the most exciting things – we received 10 new Chromebooks from the Techpoint Foundation for Youth. As our monthly CoderDojo has grown, we’ve been looking for ways to have more computers available for kids that aren’t able to bring a laptop to learn more about coding at the meetings. This wonderful gift allows us to have pre-configured Chromebooks for kids to use.

Saturday July 1st from 1-4 pm will be our next monthly CoderDojo meeting of the free coding club for youth ages 7-17. We’ll have programmers there to help, or if you’d like to help the kids learning programming please stop by also!

And if you like coding, the inaugural CoderDojo Indiana Hackathon will be in Indianapolis Saturday July 22nd from 9:30-4:30 pm. Anyone can enter & we’ve already got one local team entry going.