Arduino Day 2015 Event

Last Friday I organised and helped run, with some other colleagues, an event at school to help celebrate Arduino Day. My idea was to hold an event in the LRC at lunchtime, demo the Pi-Bot as it did line following and include Arduino Uno boards where staff and students could code, tinker and play. I wanted to do something to mark this occasion and to show the school community that Arduino is here, our robots are built, they work and they are awesome. I also wanted students and staff to be involved in what we are doing, to raise the profile of Arduino, STEM, robotics and coding, and I think this was achieved.

In the end our robots worked beautifully, the robot Natalie had built and also Paul. They followed the line using the ‘wiggle effect’, some tinkering is still required. I used an Arduino board to create the game Simon Says, a great application of the Arduino and something fun for the kids to get involved with, which they did.

Arduino Simon Says

Arduino Simon Says

Natalie and John provided some squishy circuits, circuits constructed from Play-Doh, batteries and LEDs, a great visual activity and fun for the kids to play with.

So we had lots going on, the event was very interactive and very visual, which helps when launching new ideas. Lots of junior school girls came through the event which was nice, and they loved the activities and robots in particular. It was great that some senior staff and teachers attended and also got involved. We took lots of photos and videos and overall this was a worthwhile and fun event.

Pi-Bot line following

Pi-Bot line following

Learning with maker Spaces at MacICT

Last Thursday I attended Learning with Maker Spaces at Macquarie University’s MacICT Innovations Centre. The workshop was presented by John Burfoot, who also led last week’s EV3 Robotics workshop.

This day was all about maker spaces and covered many different topics:

  • What makes a good maker space?
  • What equipment is needed?
  • Storage methods
  • Suppliers
  • Activities and strategies

We began by talking about what a maker space is and what the Maker movement is. The Maker Movement is all about making things, mainly to do with technology. It incorporates making things from new or used materials, incorporating electronics, 3D printing, computers and coding. This day did not include 3D printing, but we did get to work with electronics and coding.

John showed us lots of photos of maker spaces he had seen on a recent trip to the USA, and many of them were very impressive. Certain things that stood out for me were the amount of tools and equipment these spaces had. From hand tools, machines, 3D printers, computers and furniture, these spaces had it all. Furniture ranged from basic work tables, tables with wheels, curved sofas and mobile tables. Spaces were organised into different areas, such as the 3D printing area, design area, tools area, and they kind of had their own identity. They were lacking in student work, and it would have been nice to see some of things things that they had been working on. Nevertheless, we got some great tips for setting up our own spaces.

The main part of the day was spent creating an interactive leg, and we made the first part, the leg, next. We had to cut 2 pieces of cardboard, around 500mm x 150mm, this was the easy part. We then had to join the 2 parts of the leg together using a LEGO WeDo hinge, which was pretty easy to do. We also fixed a LEGO WeDo ultrasonic sensor to the leg, and the reason for this will soon become apparent.

As well as ‘making’ we also looked at some computer coding resources for primary school children. The main resources we looked at were Scratch, Tynker and Kodable. I am very familiar with Scratch and Tynker but not kodable, so it was great to find a new resource that I really liked and would be ideal for children in years K – 2. We used Scratch today to create a penalty kick game. John talked us through how to create the game, including creating the background, sprites and how to make the football move. He then showed us how to connect the LEGO WeDo sensor to Scratch, something I had not done before. This whole process was pretty easy as I am an experienced Scratch user, but it was nice to learn something new and see how Scratch can connect to the real world. The point of this process was that now when you make the leg do a kicking action, the sensor reads the movement and the action is the ball is kicked in the Scratch game, pretty clever really.

The final part of our maker day was to use Little Bits to create a circuit that would kick the leg for us. To do this we had to use a servo motor, and something like a button to activate the motor. This was the hardest part of the challenge, attaching the motor to the leg in a way that when activated it would make the leg move. This is where trial and error came into play, and it did take many trials to get some movement happening. We were forced to take risks, see what happens and to expect failure, something we expect of our students. It is not nice failing, but we were all determined to try again, try something different to see what would happen, which is the beauty of maker and coding, working towards the end goal and getting there no matter what. It is exciting to work like this, designing and evaluating solutions on the fly, incorporating ‘just in time learning’ to help us on our journey.

We documented the process of making the leg and the final activity was to use the app PicPlayPost to make a small movie out of our photos and then upload to the Maker Google+ community page.

As well as working through this cool activity we were shown access to a Maker website with further resources to access, as well as being signed up to the Google+ community, another valuable resource.

This was an awesome day and a big thanks go out to John Burfoot and MacICT for hosting us. Back to school now to work out how to incorporate the Maker Movement into our school culture and classrooms.

Maker Day product

Maker Day product

Which 3D printer?

I am involved with 3D printing at my school and we are currently looking to upgrade our current printer with a new, dual-head machine. I thought I would have a look online to see what is available. Here are my current top 3 picks.

CreatBox DX Series – $2995

This printer has a bed size of 300mm x 250mm and a build height of 300mm. The build volume is 22.5 litres and the print resolution is 0.04mm. It has dual print heads semi-enclosed in a chamber with transparent walls and a heated glass bed. The extruder motors are placed at the back of the machine which apparently results in faster print speeds. The machine is apparently suitable for engineering and education, and has the ability to stack up multiple objects for production work, large architectural models, sculpture, jigs and fixtures, 3D printing people from scanned data. The extruders are interchangable and available in 0.4mm and 0.8mm. A small display shows the print status and allows you to pre-heat, control the printer and even load and print directly from an SD card slot. You can also make adjustments while printing, including changing the print speed, flow rates, temperatures and nozzles. Included with the printer are:

  • 4GB SD card
  • USB cable
  • Power cable
  • Tool kit, including scripture, spanner, tweezers
  • Adhesive sheet for bed
  • Miscellaneous spare parts
CreatBot DX

CreatBot DX

CreatBot DX screen

CreatBot DX screen

UP BOX Desktop – $2695

This printer includes a HEPA filter to remove air-born dust and other contaminants. It has a fully automatic platform levelling and height sense, so human interaction is not required. The build volume is 10 litres with a build size of 255mm x 205mm x 205mm. The promo material says it is ‘super quiet’ at 51db, as quiet as your fridge and is ‘fast’. The printer comes with a spool of white premium UP ABS. The print quality is 100 microns.



Leapfrog Creatr Dual Head – $2559

This printer has a build volume of 230mm x 270mm x 210mm, which is over over 13.6 litres. It now offers a minimum layer thickness of 0.05mm. The heated bed can print with ABS and PLA and it is apparently easy-to-use and has a high quality and stylish design. Its dual head extruder allows you to print with two different types of filament. Leapfrog recommend the Simplify3D software, however, this is not included and will cost an additional $125.

Leapfrog Creatr

Leapfrog Creatr

These are just 3 of the many printers currently on offer, and all 3 seem to have the features we are looking for at school. A bit more research is needed before we make a decision, however, the CreatBox seems to be the frontrunner at the moment due to its features and ease of use.

Robotics in the Classroom – MacICT Workshop

Today I attended the Robotics in the Classroom professional learning workshop at Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre. The course was presented by John Burfoot, an experienced teacher and robotics educator who has spoken and presented at numerous events in Australia and internationally. He began by talking about a recent conference he attended in San Diego, USA, the LEGO Education Elementary Conference. The purpose of this conference was to gather together people who use the LEGO toolset to teach STEM related subjects in the classroom, and try out new activities, share experiences, meet new people and learn about new LEGO developments.

Our first activity today was to build a robot, specifically a robot called Harvey Mark II. We were given the hardware components, including the sensors, wheels, cables and EV3 brick. We also received, to keep, a small bag of LEGO Mindstorm pieces to construct our robot with. It took me 20 minutes to build the robot, shown below, from the instructions provided.

Harvey Mark II

Harvey Mark II

This robot included the 2 main motors, the ultrasonic sensor and the light sensor. We then used the Mindstorm software to code the robot to move and draw a square shape on the floor. The challenging part of this activity is the turn the robot needs to do. It takes a few guesses to make the robot turn the 90 degrees necessary, and when achieved the first turn is perfect, but the next 3 turns needed to complete the square are not 90 degrees, due to some oversteer the robot produces. Other people experienced the same problem, and part of the fun of robotics is collaborative problem solving, working things out with others, trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t in the quest for the perfect algorithm to produce the perfect output.

The next challenge was called ‘Bug in a Box’ and we needed to alter the build of the robot so it looked like a bug. I added some antennae to mine using a few extra pieces of LEGO. On the floor of the room we were in there were floor tiles, and some of them were red, some were beige. Some of the red tiles had masking tape around them, and the challenge we faced was to keep the robot moving inside the red tile only for 1 minute. This challenge meant we had to use the colour sensor to sense the colour of the floor, if the sensor read the red tile it kept moving in a straight line, however, if it sensed the colour of the masking tape around the outside of the red tile then the robot was programmed to turn around back to the red tile and keep moving straight. This challenge was not too difficult, and again people worked collaboratively to fix any problems that arose. People in attendance had mixed experience with LEGO products and robotics, but everyone was fully engaged throughout the day.

We then altered our program to include the ultrasonic sensor, and if the robot was close to an obstacle in the box it would also change direction. For this we used the loop and switch blocks to make the algorithm more complex and efficient. We could use logic like if the robot is less than 10cm from an obstacle then turn around and go back. We also got to program sound effects and images on the screen of the robot to improve the output when these events happened.

We filmed our robots for this challenge and were encouraged to join an Edmodo group to share our videos with the others in the group, which was a nice touch. The Edmodo group included lots of resources from the day as well as plenty of others, very useful indeed.

Some of the resources I learnt about today are:

This was a great workshop and the presenter was excellent. We got to build a robot, program it to move, turn, use the ultrasonic sensor, colour sensor, use loops, switches and more. It was a packed day and the time went really quickly. The course was very well catered and other participants were like minded and enthusiastic to learn new things. After this course I can’t wait to get back to school and use the EV3 with the kids!

Future Schools Expo – Day 2 (part 2)

All conferences now moved to over 20 roundtable and breakout session on a wide variety of topics.

Roundtable sessions

Roundtable sessions

My first roundtable was Neil Bramsen on the topic of STEM programs and 21st century learning (K-6). This session was very helpful and gave me so many ideas of project based learning to do at school. He talked about creating smart learning spaces with unique identities. Name rooms something new and creative, such as ‘The Hive’ What do you want the space to be? What do you want children to do in that space? These spaces need to be places of discovery, creativity, play, fun and learning.

Some of the great resources and projects he mentioned were:

  1. Teach Wild – authentic learning in the real world
  2. Birds in Back Yards – school yard survey
  3. Novel Engineering – studying a book and incorporating STEM activities
  4. The Tinkering Studio – including a cool vibrating cup activity

He said it was very important to reflect on the things we do, work out what we can do better next time.

My second roundtable was meant to be about robotic clubs, however, there were so many people around this table it was impossible to here the speakers so it would have been a waste of time staying there so I moved to a table chaired by Shahneila Saeed who was talking about coding in schools and good resources to use.

The third and final roundtable was on 3D worlds (Minecraft), the Oculus Rift virtual reality device and Raspberry Pi. We were shown these technologies and were told about some ways they could be utilised, but information was vague and examples were not specific enough to be truly useful. I did get to try on the Oculus Rift which was really cool.

The roundtables and breakouts were a good idea, however, some tables were so overpopulated it was impossible to hear the chairperson, which was unfortunate. As all sessions were in the main hall it was loud and busy so hard to concentrate as well.

Last order of business was a workshop with Dr Tim Bell from CS Unplugged.

Future Schools Expo – Day 2 (part 1)

Day 2 began with opening remarks from Dr Megan Vazey, STEM consultant, Association of Independent Schools, NSW. Megan talked about having an intimate relationship with the computer, it is not just a tool to get something done, the relationship is much more important and deeper than that. She also talked about how it is important to share content, knowledge, work together in terms of resources and teaching skills. She said we should all celebrate ‘epic wins’ and make our lessons creative, innovative and a little bit crazy. A wonderful, positive start to the day.

The first speaker of the day was Paul Herring, Curriculum Leader IT, St Peters Lutheran College. He spoke about a four-step approach to computational thinking, but his presentation was clearly rushed and he skipped over most of his slides, speaking incredibly quickly and skimming over most of his content, which was unfortunate. He had some very interesting information and touched on the subjects of physics and religion in his talk.

Paul talked about the need for authentic learning with real world scenarios, give projects a client focus with a real purpose. He talked about some incredible projects that use technology in some amazing ways, such as SCiO, a portable molecular scanner that fits in the palm of your hand. This piece of technology could have a huge impact in so many ways, and is a sign that technology is evolving quickly and far-reaching. A reminder that we need the young people of today to be innovative, creative and equipped with the correct skill-set to be able to develop the technology of the future.

After Paul, Amanda Hogan, yesterday’s chairperson spoke about collaborative problem solving. She talked about a means of testing for collaborative problem solving, like a NAPLAN style system. Her talk raised some interesting points, such as problem solving is exciting and we should be encouraging and developing these skills. Problem solving opens up your mind to endless possibilities. What is more creative than solving a problem?

Roundtables up next.

Teaching Kids to Code day 2

Teaching Kids to Code day 2

Main points from Future Schools day 1

Here are some of the main takeaways from the day:

  • Let kids play, discover
  • I do a lot of good stuff already
  • Have confidence in the kids, let them work things out for themselves
  • Computational thinking is key, it is not just learning the latest programming language
  • Students as creators, not just consumers
  • Learning needs to be authentic, link to real world and give it real purpose
  • Promote activities to encourage deep learning
  • Turtle art is cool!
  • Code is creative, elegant, simple and efficient
  • Coders are creative people who need to work in teams and have excellent communication skills
  • The joy of computing is the discovery, the problem-solving
  • Quote of the day, ‘create your inner awesomeness!’

Day 2 reflections to follow asap.