Hummingbird by Birdbrain Technologies

Hummingbird Tutorial

Next week we have a group of teachers coming in to learn some new skills they can integrate into their classes next year. I’ll be teaching a blended session on using the Hummingbird.   It’s a great way to introduce and combine making, robotics, and coding.  Putting the pieces together is pretty simple – no wire stripping, no resisters, no soldering.  The one big drawback is the price of the kit.  But if you take good care of it and keep up with the pieces, it can last a long time.  I made this simple worksheet to guide the teachers through testing out how to connect and code each of the inputs and outputs.  They will have already had a session on coding with Scratch.  After working through this worksheet the teachers will spend the rest of the day creating interactive constructions using the Hummingbird.  

Make sure that you have both offline Scratch and the Hummingbird Server installed on your laptop.  

Go to these websites for self-guided lessons provided by Birdbrain Technologies:

Watch the two videos at the beginning of pages linked above.  They will explain how to connect the inputs and outputs to the Hummingbird and connect the Hummingbird to the Scratch extension with Hummingbird programming blocks.  When programming the following outputs and inputs, make sure that you are indicating which port you are sending the code to.


The Hummingbird LEDs and motors are output devices. By writing programs (scripts) in Scratch you can send commands to these devices to make different things happen.  You might cause a motor to vibrate or turn.  You may cause lights to blink on and off.  You may also turn text into a voice.

Overview of Module 1:  LEDs

Follow the step-by step instructions on one of the websites linked above to attach and program LEDs  (light emitting diodes) using Scratch. Light up several LEDs and change the light intensity. Learn to turn them on and off.  If the LEDs do not light up check your connections. Check your code. Check your power.

Overview of Module 2:  RGB LED

Follow the step-by-step instructions to make the RGB (Red-Green-Blue) LED light up in different colors.  Use this chart to control the colors.

Overview of Module 3: Motors

  • Vibration Motor – The shaft of this tiny motor is weighted more on one side of the shaft than the other.  This causes it to vibrate back and forth when it rotates. Attache a feather or a curly pipecleaner to have some fun.
  • Servo Motor – A servo motor is a motor that moves to a particular angle. The Hummingbird servo motor can rotate to any angle from 0° to 180°.  Consider using this motor mounted at different angles to close a door, wave a sign, or flap a wing.  Use your imagination.  
  • Gear Motors – This motor can make complete 360 degree turns clockwise as well as counter clockwise by using whole numbers between -100 and 100.  How could you include this in your construction?  A Merry-go-round? A revolving planet?

Overview of Module 4: Speak Block

The Speak block converts text to speech. The voice has tht digital sound, but most words can be understood.  In you code, remember to use a Wait block after the Speak block.


The Hummingbird sensors are input devices. They collect information from the environment and send the information to the Scratch program where it it used to make a decision or control an output device.  You can create a threshold or a range of date which will trigger a result by using If-Then statements.  For instance, it the level of sound is over a certain threshold, the Speak block may be programmed to say, “It’s too noisy in here,” the Servo motor may raise a sign that says, “Shh!” and the LEDs may light up.  

Overview of Module 5: Distance

  • The distance sensor measures the distance to the closest object  in centimeters. It can detect distance between about 8 cm and 100 cm.
  • The Sound Sensor measures the level of sound on a scale of 1 to 100.
  • The Temperature Sensor detects the temperature in Celsius.

There is also a light sensor and a tilt sensor, but we do not have these in our kit.  


What if the Hummingbird locks up?

Categories: 21st Century Skills, Art, Automatons, Circuits, Engineering, Professional Development, Professional Development Tool, Robotics, Scratch, Technology | Leave a comment

More About the KIBO

It seems logical that today’s students should become familiar with the construction and use of robots. After all, even though we can’t predict exactly what the world will be like in the future, we know that robots and humans will increasingly work side-by-side. Factories, farms, hospitals, airports, banks, and grocery stores — just about everywhere physical labor is involved, the workplace our children will enter will look vastly different than our own. This can be a good thing: robots can be built and programmed to perform tasks efficiently and safely, without fatiguing and under adverse conditions, allowing the rest of us to focus on other tasks. Consequently, it seems natural to begin preparing our young people for this future world.  Even if robotics weren’t an inevitable economic force, I think there’s a strong argument that robotics provides an amazing foil to teach children about the softer sides of being a successful adult.  At my school we often ask ourselves, “How can we plan activities in which the children develop the skills and concepts they need while at the same time fostering the development of the socio-emotional competencies needed to function as content, productive adults?”  It may seem unlikely, but I think robotics can be one answer: By setting up the conditions for children to design, build, and program robots in small groups, robotics can provide that magic mix of hands-on work, social interaction, and brain work. These three elements go a long way toward developing confidence, competence, social skills, and a sense of agency.

I use KIBOs to give my students the opportunity to practice risk-taking, creativity, engineering, and computational thinking skills. The KIBO is designed so that users can see and work “under the hood.” Unlike many forms of technology we use in our daily lives, students can actually see the circuit board and the power supply inside it, take it completely apart, and rebuild it in multiple configurations.  As they construct and program with the KIBO kits, they are placed in a situation where they must make plans and decisions, test and debug, bump up against frustration and figure out what to do next. They are developing confidence, resilience, and a sense of agency with every step of the process.  

The KIBO’s input modules (the sound, light, and distance sensors) and output modules (sounds and recordings, lights, and motors) help students develop an understanding of how we program robots to interact with our world. There are several different kinds of platforms that can be added to the top of the KIBO, each allowing students to customize their robot with their own construction of craft materials or LEGOs.  Adding a customized platform involves exercising some engineering skills to design, construct, and attach it.  I’ve observed that using the platforms often increases the students’ investment in “making the robot work.”  Suddenly, the KIBO goes from being an “it” to having a name and a persona.

The command blocks allow students to program movements, sounds, and lights using simple sequences of commands, repeat loops, and if-then statements. This promotes an understanding of some of the fundamental concepts used in computer programming.  Programs are “written” with wooden blocks that are “read” by the KIBO through a scanner, eliminating the need for a tablet, laptop, or account of any kind.  This means even the youngest learners can be both engineers and programmers. They start to develop an understanding of how robots are constructed, how their inputs, outputs, and appearance can be customized, and how they can be programmed to behave in a certain way or perform a task.  This is very empowering.

Working and playing with KIBOs in small groups fosters valuable social skills such as explaining thoughts and feelings to others, listening carefully, sharing materials, and respecting and supporting each other’s ideas. Goodness knows, we need more of that in today’s world.  Constructing a KIBO, building a customized top, and programming it to do what you want involves planning, risk-taking, problem-solving, iterating, and perhaps most importantly, persistence.  In my classroom we talk openly about being frustrated and the strategies we can use to overcome it so we can keep moving forward. The kids always laugh when I ask them to show me their frustrated face. Then I ask them to show me their resilience muscle.

One of my favorite lessons is the introduction of the KIBO to our Junior Kindergarten.  We read the book, Boy and Bot, by Ame Dyckman, and then we talk about the differences between real people and robots.  I show them just the body of the KIBO and they are excited to see the circuit board and batteries inside. They notice the power switch and the ports where different modules can be attached. I don’t show them a built KIBO or tell them how to put it together.  Instead, I give each group of children a box with a KIBO body, motors, wheels, and a light and I tell them that this is a box of parts to build a robot.  As the children work together to figure out how to build it, there are lots of conversations about the possibilities, lots of negotiations, and lots of risk-taking going on.  Inevitably, within fifteen minutes, we have a classroom full of working robots.  They are all slightly different in construction and performance, but they are all moving across the floor in one way or another.  This lesson is followed by a series of meetings during which the students iterate the construction of their robots and work with the coding blocks to program them to move, sing, light up, and respond to input. But I love this first lesson because it imparts to the children that we have confidence in their capacity as designers and engineers.  

Children need to actually touch, manipulate, and experiment with objects in order to fully understand them. Robots bring this physical interaction to the potentially intimidating process of understanding engineering and programming. When paired with the social interaction of working with friends, we can deepen the understanding through conversation and idea sharing.  The bonus is that, while the children are learning about engineering, robotics, and coding, they are practicing their ability to communicate and collaborate. I think they love that, for much of this process, they are in control.  We have acknowledged our belief that they are capable engineers and programmers.

In our children’s future careers, the way they work, interact, and communicate will continue to evolve as it has during the lifetime of today’s adults.  The products and services our children will design, build or sell will also evolve. New and exciting opportunities will exist for them. Many jobs will involve the design, construction, programming, and maintenance of automated tools, including robots.  You don’t have to look too far to see prototypes already in development or in use: self-driven cars (Uber), home robotic companions and workers (Roomba, Pepper, Paro, and Jibo), and smart home hubs (Echo, Dot, and Google Home) to name just a few.

These new tools will be programmed with algorithms that enable them to “learn” and adapt to input (artificial intelligence). We already see this when we use services like Netflix and Goodreads: when we finish one video or book, they suggest what we might enjoy next based on our history and our ratings. I think it’s important that our children have at least a basic understanding of how these technologies work.  They may have jobs designing these tools or deciding how they will look or how we will interface with them. More importantly, I would hope our students would have a well-polished moral compass to guide them in how these tools play a part in our lives and the choices we make when building and using them.  This is why the social-emotional piece is so important.  As we become more adept at building and programing machines to do our work, it becomes essential for someone to be making the ethical decisions about what these machines can do, how they will do it, and who will have access to them.

As with anything that we think is important, we start exposing children to the foundational skills and concepts when they are very young. The terms become part of their vocabulary, and if we are skillful in teaching the concepts in an age-appropriate way, the concepts become part of their general fund of knowledge. I use a lot of stories to explain the concepts of algorithms, repeats, events, functions, and conditionals to my students. They all come straight from real life so the children can relate to them. These concepts may sound foreign, but when you start to draw connections with real-life events, they become normalized and easier to understand. They are something the children can use when planning any task or event, from writing a book report to planning a playdate with a friend. I love it when a student asks me if I want to hear their algorithm for a task we don’t usually associate with computer programming.  

Saying “Coding and robotics are for ‘big kids’” is like saying “Reading is for “big kids.”  If we wait until a child is in middle school to hand them a book, we have not only devalued reading, we’ve also missed out on the opportunity to make it easy and fun.  Beginning in Junior Kindergarten, all of our students work with robots and coding in some way.  It’s not just for gifted students or older students – it’s for all students.  By the time they finish fifth grade they have programmed several different kinds of robots to accomplish tasks such as navigating mazes, carrying cargo to specific destinations, and making decisions about when to move, light up, and make sounds and when to be still.  Given the appropriate tools and the right introduction, you just need to step back and watch the magic happen.  


Categories: Robotics, Social-Emotional, Technology | Leave a comment

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.

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

Button Joy

Button Joy launches today!!!  It’s a super cool product that uses Cloudstitch to drive it. Since it’s customizable, I am excited to see the creative ways people will choose to use it.

Here’s an example of how it works: Operation Dad Pager

Step 1: Order a Button

Order a button and choose what you want to happen when you push it. You can change these actions from our website later!

Step 2: One Minute Setup

When the button arrives, connect it to your local WiFi network.

Step 3: Push the Button

Each time you push, we’ll perform the action you’ve configured. For charitable contributions, we confirm over SMS before charging your card.

If you get one, please comment here to let me know what you did with it.

Categories: 21st Century Skills, Innovation, 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.


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.  


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


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.


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?  


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.


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


 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.


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




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.


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

Lily Pad Arduino Doll Fleet

These dolls were created to introduce students to coding in Arduino.  Their construction in similar to the Arduino Ugly Doll (see earlier post for details on this doll), but their components are slightly different.  Each one has two white LEDs sewn onto the eyes, one RGB LED sewn onto the nose, and a piezo sewn onto the mouth.  They each have a LilyPad Arduino and a battery holder sewn onto the back.  

I made a pattern out of scrap paper and cut the bodies and face parts out of different colored fleece.


Next I sewed all the facial features onto the front piece of each doll.  Then I sewed the back piece to one side of the doll so that the doll could open like a book.


The LilyPads, battery holders, LEDs and piezos were sewn on by hand using conductive thread.  Below you see the faces.


This picture shows the circuitry created with conductive thread.  The LEDs and the piezo are each attached to different pins on the LilyPad Arduino.  A piece of fleece was sewn between two crossed threads and on top of the circuitry on the back of each doll to prevent short circuits.


Here is my hand-drawn circuit map.


These two diagrams of the circuitry were created by my friend, Tom Gallo, using a program called Fritzing.



The seam around the doll was completed and the dolls were stuffed with polyfill.  Here are the eight dolls lined up and ready to go to school.  


The students will write code in Arduino to control the blinking of the LED eyes, the blinking and color of the RGB nose, and the melodies and tones played by the piezo mouth.

Categories: Arduino, Circuits, eTextiles, Technology | Leave a comment

LED Painting

This project could be completed with any kind of 2-D (more on that concept later) art work.  The basic idea is a flat piece of art with LEDs behind or on top of the work.

For the first one, I painted a simple watercolor which included white dots and tree trunks.  The white was preserved with masking fluid which was rubbed off after the paint had dried.  


Tracing paper was placed over the painting to mark where the LEDs would go.


The circuit was drawn on foam core, using the tracing paper as a guide for the placement of the LEDs.  


A parallel circuit made of copper tape was placed on the foam core the the LEDs were soldered onto the tape.  Note the break in the tape which will form the pressure switch.  


The tracing paper was used again to mark the placement of the switch on the back of the watercolor painting.


Foam dots with double-sided adhesive were placed around the LEDs and the switch to hold the watercolor painting away from the foam core. The dots were ¼” inch tall.

spacers     circuit-closeup

The original plan was for the battery to be between the two layers, but I realized this would make it difficult to change the battery when the power was depleted.  So I sliced through the foam care and threaded the tape through the slots to the back.

battery-cutthrough     battery

When the pressure is placed on the painting in the location of the switch, the circuit is completed and the LEDs light up.  When the pressure is released the LEDs go out.  The thickness of the watercolor paper and the layers of paint made it difficult to see the light unless the painting was viewed in a dimly lit room.  A friend suggested cutting tiny holes in the paper.  But I started to think about the quality of watercolor paper and how mistakes can be removed by scrubbing, sanding, or scraping.  So this 2D work of art really had a bit of 3D depth to it, which might allow me to remedy the light problem.  I took a little Exacto knife and scraped away layers of paint and paper until I was satisfied with the thickness of the paper over each LED.

scrape-paper     After doing this, the LEDs easily shone through the paper even in a well-lit room.  


Categories: Art, Circuits, Technology | Leave a comment

LED Felt Hat

LED Felt Hat

This hat is one of those wandering projects that starts out with one experiment and leads down a meandering lane called “What if I try this?”

After creating an LED eTextile card with one LED on it, I wondered how many LEDs I could actually add on a 2032 coin cell battery.  I texted my awesome colleague, Shane Diller, and asked him because he knows everything about electrical circuits.  He didn’t know.  But he did suggest using a parallel circuit if I was going to experiment.  So I decided I was willing to sacrifice some LEDs and a little time to finding out.  I soldered five white LEDs to some copper tape.  I tested them out with a 2032 battery and they worked just fine.


Next I taped five more lights to the circuit and tried again.  They all lit.  I found a two coin cell battery holder with an on/off switch and taped it to the end of the circuit.  I put two 2032 batteries in it and all the LEDs lit up very brightly.  


So I went ahead and soldered the LEDs and the battery holder to the copper tape.  



It looked great.  Now what?  


I took a nap, went for a walk, worked on a paper I’m writing for a class.  Then I thought about hats.  


I had some multi-colored felt that I had made last summer out of wool bats given to me by my friend Sonja.  I had added bits of turquoise silk that my friend Sidney had given me.  It has a wonderful soft texture but the shape and size had not suggested anything to me.  It would be perfect for a pill box hat.  And I just happened to have a pattern.


I pieced the top of the hat to take advantage of the embedded silk.  It made a nice contrast to the dull colors of the felt.


The hat has a stabilizing foundation of heavy weight Pellon interfacing.  This makes the hat keep its shape even when it is not being worn.  My original plan was to line the hat with some royal blue polyester fleece I had on hand.  But that idea changed later.

Constructing the the hat was a pretty quick process.  There are only two pieces and two seams.  I took the soldered circuit and pinned it to the outside of the hat.  


I decided it would be fun to use turquoise sparkly DMC embroidery floss to sew the copper tape to the hat.  I used a herringbone stitch.


Next I decided to add ceramic beads in between each LED.  I had made these beads last summer with clay and glaze Sonja gave me.  


At this point, I decided I didn’t like the royal blue lining idea.  We made a quick trip to JoAnn Fabrics where I found some turquoise satin.  Much better.


I used a scrap felt to make a pocket on the back for the battery holder.


And voila!  The finished hat!


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

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