Un-making & Learning

Usually we think about kids making things, but the other day I realized that un-making things can be every bit as important. Maybe it’s how we begin tinkering & building things, learning how existing things work by taking them apart.

It started with my daughter and her friend asked to watch a movie. IMG_9401_1I suggested they go out in the garage instead to tear apart some equipment that I’d gotten for our maker group to build things with. The old equipment was made mostly of 80/20 extruded aluminum (some call it erector set material for adults) and it was held together with lots of things that needed to be unscrewed and disassembled.

I was a bit uneasy thinking that it wouldn’t go over well. I wasn’t sure they would like it. But turns out I was wrong… they loved it!! 45 minutes later there was nothing but a pile of pieces laying on the garage floor!

In the process, I learned something from watching/helping the kids take it apart. I really never thought about how to use a screwdriver, you just sort of well… do it. But then in watching it hit me at some point I must have learned from someone else.

Little things like knowing how the blade or hex wrench should go into the screw head, keeping the screwdriver straight up so it doesn’t slip out and get the best torque – even using the long side for leverage with an allen wrench to break the screw loose are things that is best experienced. With some occasional guidance and encouragement you also don’t give up on the task and keep learning. Kinesthetic, hands on learning isn’t the same as reading it in a book or watching a video. And the girls started encouraging each other and before long I was hearing “I get to do that one…”  – and they were having fun while doing it!!

So get out and help some kids take things apart. Building things is good fun too – don’t miss the opportunity to help them learn the tactile and hands-on portion of learning to use tools and components whether it’s making or ‘un-making’ things. Goodness knows there’s not as much in schools anymore.
Maker Materials
In fact, we’re going to host a tear down session of more equipment for the Castlemakers group this Saturday @ 11 am. We got lucky enough to get more old equipment to tear apart. Join us if you’d like – I can’t promise how long after that it will stay assembled, but we’re going to have fun tearing it all apart!!


I’ve been negligent by not talking about some other maker events going on here in Greencastle. Putnam County Library has been having Maker Tuesdays – short 1-2 hour events at the Public Library. I’ve only seen a flyer on it posted at the library but I was able to find something on the Putnam County Library online calendar. There’s another event coming up Tuesday July 29th, or stop by and I’m sure they can give you more information.

First Shovercraft Meeting

Initial Shovercraft planning
Initial Shovercraft planning

We had our 2nd Castlemakers meeting upstairs in the Eli’s Books community room last week; it was the official shovercraft kickoff meeting. It started with a video of a simple home built ‘shovercraft’ someone built and then the kids discussed what might be needed to build one.

Then there was a small demo of a simple hovercraft made with a balloon, disposable water bottle, and an old audio CD (with lots of tape on it). The demo was a hit with the kids judging by the number of balloons used!!

The kids involved got to find out their team members (3 teams with now 4 kids each) and their adult mentor for the project who also helps them on the project. There are lots of possible designs and one of the first thing they’ll be deciding includes: what shape (circle? rectangle? boat shaped?), what type of ‘engine’ (or leaf blower), and chair/no chair. Plus lots of other items, including how to decorate it! Each person there got a notebook to draw and keep notes in – the young designers/makers took off from there.

Our next full group meeting will be on July 10th at 7pm to review how the designs are coming, although the individual teams will be meeting between now and then. We now have a goal for completed shovercraft and either a ‘who goes the furthest’ or hovercraft shuffleboard competition on August 16th or August 23rd – depending on our final location. There will be more information and updates later!!

Shovercraft Build

Basic parts used to make a "shoveable hovercraft"
Basic parts used to make a “shoveable hovercraft”

The mentors have met after our last group meeting and we decided on a Shovercraft as our first group build project. It looks like there will be at least 3 groups of 3-4 kids building one, then we’ll have a competition/race in August.

Our next meeting is Thursday June 12 at 7pm in the Community Room above Eli’s Books just off the square downtown. Please feel free to join us, we have 4 mentors willing to give their time so we can investigate, design, and create these craft for the competition. Even if you haven’t been involved so far, you’re welcome to show up and have your 9-14 year old daughter/son participate in this youth-centered maker club event.

Keep watching our Projects page for more details on how the team builds are going & when we’ll have the challenge/competition for the groups in August.

3D Printers

Smaller RepRap style 3D printer that 3D Parts Manufacturing is offering
Smaller RepRap style 3D printer that 3D Parts Manufacturing is offering.

Many makers have or use a 3D printer. I’m sure there are some here in Putnam County already, but I’d like to see a publicly available one. I’m personally building a 3D SLA printer with some help from some other folks, but would love to connect with other folks near Greencastle that have a 3D printer. Respond to this post or send me an email if you have one. There’s a certain amount of learning in making these work & we can build our skills/knowledge together.

Last week I was able to visit 3D Parts Manufacturing in Indianapolis to see their operation. Neat operation and Kim Brand is doing some real interesting things around 3D printing. If you just look at their website you’d get the impression that they’re mainly involved with the high end 3D printers, and they certainly have those, but they’re also working on creating a program for middle school kids that includes a 3D printer, support, and the lessons to go with it. An IBJ reporter was there the morning I visited and an article on what they’re doing just came out in this week’s Indianapolis Business Journal. I’m hoping to get Kim over here to Greencastle later this year.

There are several different types of 3D printers, explaining some of the nomenclature can help you understand those types.

3D printing is an additive process vs. the traditional subtractive machining used with CNC, lathes, and many other traditional fabrication tools. One of the real breakthroughs in more affordable printers was the open source printers that first started appearing in 2005. Many of these were based on the RepRap design goal to create a machine that could print most of its parts. The RepRap based designs, and most current printers less than $1000, use Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) which extrudes a thermoplastic. But other options are starting to appear including some lower cost Stereolithography (SLA) designs. SLA has traditionally been one of the more expensive 3D printing methods because of the material cost and laser control. I’ll write something on low cost 3D printing methods and the equipment we’re looking at for Castlemakers in a future note.

Youth Maker Group Meeting

Some of the younger kids at the kickoff meeting looking at possible projects we could make.

Thanks to all that made it Monday night at Crown Equipment to the meeting on creating a Putnam County maker group for youth. Seemed like a fairly good turnout for a first time meeting. We had 21 people there by my count – enough to get something going!

We briefly covered what the maker movement is, categories of possible projects, the making process, and some ideas for projects groups could do. There were also some Arduino boards & shields, a small hand built catapult, various magazines full of possible projects, a 3D printed chess set, and lots of pictures of maker groups and built projects. Several people indicated they wanted to come, had conflicts, and to count them in – I’ll get you the info presented. If you’re reading this and interested, drop me an email and I can also send you a copy of the presentation.

People afterwards filling out interest forms.
People afterwards filling out interest forms.

We also gave out some forms to the kids with a listing of possible project categories and a form for possible mentors to list their knowledge/expertise areas. I’ve now got a stack that is apparently bigger than the attendance – some families only were able to send one parent and several people there were representing other families too. It’s going to take me a few days to get through these and compile the list. If you were there at the meeting please be patient until I can read through & summarize the results. If you weren’t there, here’s a copy of the youth interest form and the mentor form. You’ll have to print these out and email them back – or heck maybe in true maker fashion maybe someone can make an online form!!

Greencastle Maker Meeting

IMG_8517_1Mark your calendar for Monday, May 19th to learn more about Castlemakers and what we hope to do in Putnam County. Crown Equipment has been generous enough to let use the Tiger conference room at the plant for us to discuss a maker group for kids 9-14 years old and their parents. And you’re invited!

I’ve described what is a makerspace is in a previous post, but you certainly don’t need one to make something. We need to unleash some of the creativity, innovation, and passion here – especially in our youth. So let’s meet to create a larger group that actually makes things!!

What: Public meeting on Castlemakers for youth-oriented makers and their families.
Where: Crown Equipment, Tiger Conference Room @ 7pm on Monday, May 19th.
Who: Parents and kids wanting to create & build things, along with anyone wanting to help create a local makerspace/fab lab.

At the meeting we’ll briefly go over the Maker movement, describe what we’re doing here in Greencastle, share some ideas of possible projects, and then ask folks to let us know their interests. I’m interested in 3D printers & laser cutters for example, there are others interested in robotics, drones, and hydroponics… well the list could go on and on. The goal is being a community-based group, the get-together is about sharing interests to determine where we can pool resources and share ideas and skills. An open-source model of building and creating things.

Can’t make it to the meeting? Sign up for our email list by sending a note to info@castlemakers.org. We’ll send you updates and put you on our list.

Not sure if you want to participate yet or maybe just curious what’s it’s about? Maybe even not sure that you can contribute? That’s fine – just come – Listen, Learn, and leave. Although, our real hope is that you’ll become so excited that you’ll participate. Because that’s what it is really about, creating something with others for enjoyment – and maybe learning a new skill or sharing an old one with other people.

Dayton Hamvention

Dayton Hamvention Slow Scan Video Transmission from Balloon at 1000 feet
Dayton Hamvention Slow Scan Video Transmission from Balloon at 1000 feet.

Next weekend (5/16-18) in Dayton Ohio will be the annual Dayton Hamvention. With about 25,000 people attending that are interested in building ‘stuff’ and over 2000 outside flea market spaces (never mind all the indoor commercial vendors there) it is truly an amazing event for makers. This year’s theme even reflects that – “Makers… the future of Ham Radio.”

Many people when they hear about Amateur Radio (or Ham Radio) Operator imagine an elderly guy with a green visor hunched over a telegraph key. Matter of fact several years ago Jay Leno pitted teenagers using a cellphone against some amateur radio operators using morse code to see who was fastest at sending a message (the ham radio operators won).

Amateur radio these days is far from that doing everything from building and launching satellites, providing emergency communications during catastrophic and public events, bouncing signals off the moon to talk with other ham radio operators and much, much more. Many of our astronauts are ham operators and use the amateur radio station in the International Space Station to talk to classrooms. There was a group when I was in Terre Haute that was trying to put together a classroom broadcast to the space station -I’ve often thought that it would be a good educational experience for kids in Putnam county to talk live to an astronaut in space.

If you’re interested in finding out more about amateur radio in Putnam County, George Edenfield (KB9RZK) would be a good person to contact. He’s the IT person at Putnam County Public Library & you can reach him at 765.653.5327. I’m not longer ‘radio-active’ but still have my license and use the skills in electronics/home-brew projects/fabricating things that I learned as an amateur radio operator. Or head over to Dayton next weekend and gawk to learn more. If you’ve never been you’ll definitely be impressed. – Chris (N9VFD)

What’s a Makerspace?

Club Cyberia, a Makerspace on the east side of Indianapolis

The majority of people, especially in the Midwest, don’t know what a Makerspace is. A Makerspace may be referred to as a Fab Lab or a Hackerspace (no not a place where people break into online accounts), although most consider them slightly different.

So what is a Makerspace? My definition: A community-operated workspace where people with common interests meet, socialize and collaborate. The focus is on making (design) with lots of hands-on learning, creation, & innovation through participation.

Makers are a community of people that make things. A Makerspace is simply the place and resources that they use to do it. Wikipedia can give you a longer, more in-depth definition and some differences between a Makerspace, Fab Lab, and Hackerspaces.

I personally believe in the group/community portion and the hands-on learning that making something offers. The art of creating physical things sometimes gets lost in today’s online world.

So we’re putting together a community group to do just that – make things. And putting together a list of tools to help people do it. Things like 3D printers and fabrication tools, but those aren’t the centerpiece of what we’re going to create. The centerpiece is the people and the process of making things.

Interested in what we’re doing? Send a note to makers@castlemakers.org & we’ll put you on our email list. Tell us how you’d like to help. We’re still organizing, so if you have a passion – express it now & you can help us with the group. You can even suggest some tools you’d like to see in the makerspace.

We’re working on a more public meeting for a youth oriented maker group in late April or early May. Watch for the date and location here.

Robotics Exhibition Reminder


VEX Robotics Competition Exhibition in Greencastle, Indiana
VEX Robotics Competition Exhibition in Greencastle, Indiana

Don’t forget that this Saturday, April 5th, from 10am to 1 pm in the Community Room there will be a robotics competition exhibition at the Area 30 Career Center in Greencastle. A flyer for the event describes a little more on it and the public is welcome!

Club Cyberia, a Makerspace in Indianapolis, is having an open project day this Saturday from 1-6 pm. I’m heading over to visit & to learn more about how their model works – update later!

Aviation Exhibit

Cold War Gallery of the USAF National Museum
Part of the collection of planes at the USAF Museum

There’s an incredible aviation exhibit about 3 hour drive from Greencastle – the National Museum of the US Air Force. Well worth the drive, it’s just slightly east of Dayton and south of I-70. It’s been decades since I was last there & full of technology and just general “Wow’s”.

They have over 350 actual planes organized by era in 3 gigantic hangers with some smaller building additions for more displays. One of the ‘smaller’ building displays, the space exhibit, holds several Titan missiles along with a Mercury and Gemini capsule plus cool spacecraft ‘accessories’ on the way to that building. I didn’t realize they had a space shuttle there, check out the viewing port if there with the onboard toilet (some view!). There’s also a smaller outside display of aircraft and a WWII control tower.

Insider tip – the presidential gallery tour (located on the base not at the museum) fills up early. You have to register for this & we missed it, takes a shuttle bus to get there. One highlight is the John F. Kennedy Air Force One plane in use when he was assassinated.

Admission is free, except for a charge for the IMAX theater movies if you do that but it does go to the museum. There are kid friendly things to do (try the scavenger hunt & walk inside the space shuttle), they also have bigger STEM / kid oriented events on certain weekends. An upcoming one that looks promising is the annual Spacefest 2014 on May 16-17.

And while you’re in the area if you’re interested in surplus/source materials to build things I went in one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been for that – Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet in downtown Dayton. Heard about it many years ago at one of the ARRL/Dayton Hamvention events but never had been there. I’m still speechless about the ‘stuff’ in that place (and yes the picture is correct that’s a 6 story building – another one seems to be across the street too not in that picture).