Engineering

Using the KIBO Robot to Tell Greek Myths

Last spring I worked with a group of teachers and second grade students to retell Greek myths with robots designed by Kinderlab Robotics.  I can’t say enough about the ingenious KIBO robots.  So much thought went into their design.  They provide very young children the opportunity to practice STEAM skills as they develop social-emotional competencies.

Working in groups required the children to listen to each other; make decisions as a group; combine their ideas and skills to write their myth script, design and create their god or goddess and their map, and construct and program the KIBO.  On the final day of the project, students gathered around each story map as the authors ran their KIBO programs and read the accompanying scripts. When everyone was finished, we then allowed time to debrief the whole process, reflecting on the challenges they faced and the strategies they developed to overcome these challenges. To our surprise, almost every group focused on the social-emotional challenges this project presented. They pointed out how important it is to give each member of the group time to express their ideas and their frustrations and to acknowledge in a respectful way that each person is heard and their thoughts are valued. They talked about their strategies for collaborating on story writing, robot construction, map drawing, and how to program the KIBO. They also talked about how to deal with group members whose behaviors they found frustrating.

Read more about it and see the pictures in my article on the KinderLab Robotics website.

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Categories: 21st Century Skills, Engineering, Robotics, Technology | Leave a comment

Little Pig’s Safe House

Three Pigs Safe Room

I decided to make a safe room for the three little pigs.  When the wolf finally figures out how to blow down the brick house, they need somewhere to go.  This room is under the brick house and it is totally secure.  I started with a leftover Starbucks gift box, scraps of colored paper and cardboard, glue, copper tape, Chibi lights, a coin cell battery, Sharpee pen, and duct tape.  I also printed a tiny pig portrait from the Internet.

saferoom-material

First I mounted the Chibi lights on the back wall of the room.  Chibis are tiny LED stickers.  Each one has a positive and negative side. When place on a copper tape circuit they will light up.  

 saferoom-lights

Next I created a a switch for the lights on the outside of the box using red duct tape.

saferoom-switch

Finally I constructed the furniture, the refrigerator, the books, and the locked door with the scraps of paper.  Instead of working with patterns, I decided I was going to make myself go through the mental gymnastics of trying to figure out how to construct each piece of furniture in the room by cutting, folding, and gluing the paper.  

When the glue on them had dried, I glued them into the room.

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I didn’t face any big challenges.  After I gathered the materials, it all seemed to come together pretty easily.  

 

Thinking about how to construct each piece of furniture was really the only challenge.  I didn’t want the furniture to be made out of separate pieces of paper so I tried to cut each one into one piece of paper when was then folded and glued in sort of an origami fashion to create the final piece.  It was kind of like solving a puzzle.  I think my experience with dismantling cardboard packaging to save the cardboard helped a lot.  

Categories: Art, Circuits, Engineering, Technology | Leave a comment

Left Over Larry

I am going to call my project Larry Leftovers because I made it out of leftovers from other projects.  I started with an empty crayon box, a tuft of orange wool, a red pom-pom, two blue LEDs, two 2023 coin cell batteries, and a battery holder with an on-off switch.  I used a glue gun, needle nose pliers, hole punch, and tape.  The parts were in different places in my house (sewing room, garage, and kitchen.  I gathered everything together on the kitchen table and completed it in about twenty minutes. After gathering everything, I didn’t have to get up to find something.  But this involved planning.  In the classroom, I think all teachers do this when they plan a project – they think ahead about what materials to have available so they won’t have to go get something after the kids get started.  The kitchen table is one of my favorite places to work because it is well lit by a big bay window and I can listen to music while I work.  At school I have good lighting (unfortunately no windows) but no music.  Hmmm, should I get a little radio?  

larry-parts

I used a couple of tricks I like with the LEDs.  First, I use a black Sharpee to mark the negative lead so that when I bend it, I can still identify it.  Then I take the needle nose pliers to pinch each lead and wrap it into an “eye” so that I can thread wires through them.  This eliminates the need to solder – an advantage when working with little kids.

larry-led

I put the coin cell batteries in the battery holder and attached the wires to the positive and negative leads of the LEDs.

larry-eyes

 I used a hole punch to punch holes in the crayon box and drew eyes and mouth on the box.  I glued the orange fleece on the inside of the box using the hot glue and reinforced it with tape.

larry-hair

I glued the red pom-pom on the front of the box and voila, Larry Leftovers!

leftover-larry

 

 

Categories: Circuits, Engineering, Technology | Leave a comment

Lego Pen Holder

This project started when my friend and colleague, Shahwar,  sent me a link to an article on The Tinkering Studio’s blog, Sketchpad.  We had been talking about ways to expand our lower school robotics program and she wondered if we could print some pen holders to attach to our EV3s.  The article explains the iterations the Tinkering Studio staff went through to create an adjustable pen holder to attach to a Lego brick.  It could be used on builds with the WeDo hub or the EV3 motor.  

I downloaded the file for the Set Screw Version of the pen holder from Thingiverse and loaded it to the Up printer we use in the lower School Lab.  They printed perfectly.  Next came the step of cutting the threads, or tapping, the hole for the tightening screw.  This will allow users to use any drawing tool that is the same size or smaller than a Crayola marker.  My husband, Russ, never fails to have just the right tool.  He found the ¼” tap and tap handle and we easily drilled the threads into the 3D printed pen holders.  
Next step: Challenge my students to attach the pens and program the EV3s to draw geometric shapes on large sheets of paper taped to the floor.

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Categories: 3D Printing, Art, Engineering, Robotics, Technology | Leave a comment

Rapunzel’s Bird

Rapunzel’s Bird

As an assignment for a class I am taking on early childhood technology and makerspaces, I had to design and create a solution to a problem for a fairy tale character.  This assignment gave me an opportunity to tackle a project I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Two of my favorite artists are Arthur Ganson and Paul Spooner.  Their work was the inspiration for this design.

Arthur Ganson’s work can be seen at the MIT Museum on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and I was lucky enough to see an exhibit of Paul Spooner’s work (as well as other automaton artists) at the Exploratorium in San Francisco this December.  Here are some videos of them talking about their work.  Prepare to smile.

Arthur Ganson  https://www.ted.com/talks/arthur_ganson_makes_moving_sculpture

MIT Museum https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qeaP6LmS64

Paul Spooner at Exploratorium https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi1R5qty660

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3QEY0yW4Fw

Over Christmas break I read a book called Cabaret Mechanical Movement (PDF) by Gary Alexander and Aidan Lawrence Onn.  The book was invaluable in helping me understand how the mechanisms of simple machines work.

My idea is a magical flying bird owned by Rapunzel.  It swoops down to the window of the tower to visit her everyday.  Finally she climbs on its back and carries her away to her true love.  Honestly, I couldn’t care less about Rapunzel, but I really enjoyed this challenge.

I started with an empty Clementine box, three different sized dowel rods, a wooden spool, a few scraps of wood, a few screws, a sheet of Yupo, some thin copper wire, rod couplings, E6000, Tacky Glue, and some white wool fleece.

bird-materials

The tools I used were a framing saw, a hand drill with different bits, hole saw (for drilling doorknob holes), needlenose pliers, scissors, ruler, and a needle-felting tool.  

Before starting out, I drew a sketch of how I thought it would all go together.  This was very helpful, even though I made several changes along the way.

bird-sketch

I cut five little disks of wood off the end of the larger dowel rod and sanded them flat.  Then I drilled off-center holes in four of them.  These are the cams.  I drilled a center hole in the last one to act as a bearing for the axle.  I drilled holes in the sides of the Clementine box and slid the smaller dowel rod through it to create the axle.  The cams went onto the axle before the end of the dowel exited the other side of the box.  

cams

I drilled a tiny hole in one of the axle and threaded a piece of copper wire through it to keep the axle from slipping back through.  I secured this with a ceramic bead.

bead-holder

I used a hole saw to cut a ¾” thick disk of plywood to support the crank that would turn the axle.  I drilled a hole in the center of this for the end of the axle and an off-center hole for the crank.  I glued a bit of dowel rod into the off-center hole and pull the wooden spool on it for the handle of the crank.

crank-handle

I spaced out the cams and glued them in place on the axle.  Then I drilled holes down through the top of the Clementine box lined up with where the cams were.  I cut four 3” pieces of the small dowel rod to fit into each of the holes and act as followers (they follow the shape of the cam as it turns).  They slid up and down easily in the holes, but I found that they would slip off one side of a cam and get stuck instead of riding smoothly around the perimeter of the cam.  First I tried sanding the dowel pieces so the ends were rounded instead of cut off bluntly.  This helped a bit, but I found that when I turned the crank, the followers were very wobbly, so I drilled holes in two pieces of scrap wood and glued them to the inside of the Clementine box to act as bearings.  This made the cams move only up and down instead of side-to-side as well.  

cams-followers

I needle-felted the bird’s body, slit a hole in its belly, and mounted it on a six” piece of dowel rod.  I took a short piece of the larger dowel and drilled a hole in it to support the little dowel.  Then I glued it on top of the box.

I cut the wings out of notebook paper to try to get the size and shape the way I wanted it before cutting the Yupo.  I ended up making several different notebook paper wings before I was satisfied with their size in proportion to the bird’s body. Then I used the notebook paper template to cut the Yupo.

side-bird

I drilled a tiny hole in the top of each of the followers and glued in a piece of thin copper wire. I had to test several different times to get the placement and length of the support wires correct on the wings.  But something was still wrong.  When I turned the crank, the wings would go up on the followers, but they would not come back down.  After contemplating several solutions, I decided that gravity could help with the problem.  I went to Lowes and bought four 1” rod couplings.  I detached the wires from the wings and slid the couplings over them, then reattached the wings.  The couplings added just enough weight to pull the wings down after each turn.  

adding-weight-to-followersThe pictures and video below show the finished project.  My work on this ranged from the kitchen to the garage and back several times.  I had all the materials I needed close at hand, but only after first gathering them.  I didn’t anticipate the problem with the wings so that involved a trip to Lowes for the rod couplings.  

bird-automataWorking through this involved testing and re-adjusting at every stage.  Did the followers align with the cams? Did the axle turn the cams smoothly?   Why didn’t the followers drop after going up?  Were the wings simulating flapping of just moving around randomly?  I had to deal with issues of motion, torque, balance, friction, scale, and gravity as well as a few more I probably can’t even name.  Luckily I did not have to define any of them or solve any equations on paper because I could not do any of that.  I just messed around until it worked.  

Video  https://youtu.be/kshkSg40jfo

 

Categories: Art, Automatons, Engineering | Leave a comment

Little Bees Automaton

This was my first attempt at making an automaton.  I chose to use wire to create a shaft, handle crank, and driving cranks.  The wire I used is very stiff tie wire used to connect rebar. The stiffness is good because it does not lose its shape, but it makes it hard to bend. I used a little cardboard box as the frame.

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The followers were also made out of the wire.  I realized right away that the followers were slipping on the crank and would need to be stabilized.  I wrapped a thinner copper wire around the crank on each side of the areas where the followers were attached.  Then I tried to solder them to the tie wire, but it would not bond.  However the solder did stick to the copper and created enough of a block to keep the followers from slipping.  

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I added ceramic bearings on each side of the shaft and a ceramic bead to the crank handle.  

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My first figure was a cardboard man with jointed limbs.  When I turned the crank, he jiggled himself apart.  Disappointed, I put the automaton aside and got busy with some other things.  As often happens when I walk away from a project and let my mind rest, I got a new idea – needle felting.  I am much more comfortable with fibers than I am with cardboard.  

Two little needle felted bees would be just perfect for this project.  I needle felted two little yellow oval shapes.  Then I took a few strands of black yarn and added stripes and eyes.  I cut tiny white wings out of white felt and felted them onto the bee bodies.

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I used an awl and a little pair of shears to cut a slit in the bottom of each bee and stuck them on the top of the followers.

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A needle felted flower completed the project.  When the crank is turned the bees flutter over the flower.  Here is a video of the bees in action.

 

 

Categories: Art, Automatons, Engineering | Leave a comment

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