“To the Tortuga!” my husband and I heard the announcement from the backyard. Our two boys, Ben (7) and Miles (3), had become pleasantly obsessed with the coolest brothers in nature – the Kratt Brothers. From the moment that these two energetic animal-loving brothers were discovered by our kids, they’ve been huge fans. Our house has been transported to the Sonora Desert where we saved a Gila Monster, then to the Australian Outback to learn about the Thorny Devil. We even went to swing with the Spider Monkeys in South America and then back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A to harness the speed of the Roadrunner – since we are, after all, a family of runners!
Our boys have been the Grand Brothers for months and there are no signs of it letting up. At the end of summer, I decided to reward the kids with a Creaturepod, a plastic toy meant to look like the fictional walkie talkie of the same name used on PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts program. They loved it, but soon found that it didn’t do anything on its own. They both have wild imaginations and like to bring to life most of their play, but the toy just wasn’t doing it for them. Being that Chris and Martin Kratt are brothers in real life, and Ben and Miles Grand are brothers in real life, Ben thought it would only be right to have “real life” Creaturepods. Real walkie talkies that he could use to communicate with his friends and have Wild Kratts adventures. This natural interest provided an opportunity to make learning, designing, and building a source of fun for the boys. It is an amazing way to teach that you can change the world around you by having an idea, making a plan, and gathering everyone with the skills needed to complete the project.
Considering all of the projects the Raspberry Pi is used for now, the fact that it was originally envisioned to be an educational tool is sometimes forgotten. One of the tools commonly available with it is Scratch, a programming language that is easy to learn and can be seen as a gateway into other computer science realms. Building on this principle, MIT has come up with a new block-based educational tool called BlocksCAD.
BlocksCAD is essentially Scratch combined with OpenSCAD and allows the user to use blocks (similar to Scratch) to build a 3D model. The interface is fairly intuitive, and with some practice even complex shapes can be created using the tools available. Also, everything runs in a browser like the 3D modeling tool we featured a few days ago, so there isn’t anything to download or install.
The key to this project (like the key to Scratch) is that the user isn’t bogged down by syntax, which is often one of the largest hurdles for anyone who is just starting to learn to program. Since it’s possible to avoid syntax but still develop 3D models, this new tool should help anyone interested in the field of 3D modeling or CAD get a start without getting scared away too easily. Of course, if you do end up deep in the field of computer science and want to learn more about this project, the developers have opened up the source code as well.
The hack that pulls this off is a simple one compared to bike hacks we’ve previously covered. Gears on the head tube make this possible. It was built by his welder friends who challenged him to ride it. He couldn’t at first; determined to overwrite his brain’s memory of bike riding, he practiced until he finally succeeded. It took him eight months. When it was time to ride an old-fashioned bike, it only took him about twenty minutes to “un-learn” the Backwards Brain Bike. [Destin’s] biking illustrates neuroplasticity, memory, and learning in a fun way (fun for us; no doubt frustrating for him).
As a testament to the sponge-like brains of youth, [Destin’s] son learned to ride the Backwards Brain Bike in only two weeks.
Project-based learning, hackathons, and final projects for college courses are fulfilling a demand for hands-on technical learning that had previously fallen by the wayside during the internet/multi-media computer euphoria of the late 90’s. By getting back to building actual hardware yourself, Hackers are influencing the direction of education. In this post we will review some of this progress and seek your input for where we go next.
You can see that the board includes an etched coil to interact with an RFID reader. This is the sole source of power for the device, letting it pick up enough induced current from the reader to power the PIC 12F683 seen on the upper left of the board. The underside of the PCB hosts just three components: an LED and two switches. One of the switches puts the device in learning mode. Just hold down that button as you move the board into the magnetic field of the reader. While in learning mode a second RFID tag is held up to the reader. It will identify itself and the emulator will capture the code sent during that interaction. This is all shown of in the video after the break. We wonder how hard it would be to make a version that can store several different codes selected by holding down a different button as the emulator is held up to the reader?
Hone your fundamental understanding of computer systems by completing this online course called NAND to Tetris. The idea is to develop each fundamental unit that goes into making computer programs a reality. This starts with logic gates, which are put together into modules that eventually become a functioning computer. From there you need an operating system, a compiler, and eventually you’ll be playing a game of Tetris which you programmed yourself.
It’s certainly not an easy journey, but if you have a computer at your disposal you should be able to make it all the way through the course. There’s a software suite which includes a hardware simulator so that the computer you’re building can be assembled using HDL instead physical components.
The concept is discussed in this TED talk given by [Shimon Schocken]. It is also embedded after the break and in addition to the NAND to Tetris project he shows off some self learning software on the iPad. To us it seems very much like the learning software [Neal Stephenson] envisions in the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer from his Diamond Age novel.
[Fall Deaf] built an Arduino based universal remote control system. It uses a shield which has both an IR receiver and transmitter. This gives it the tools to learn codes from your existing remotes and play them back in order to control the devices. This functionality is really nothing new, but we think the user interface he developed for the system is absolutely fantastic!
Software is web-based. You can simply point a remote at the Arduino and push a button. The receiver will store the code which can later be assigned to a virtual button. The image above shows the channel-up option being created; it will be added to the list once confirmed. From there any web enabled device – smart phone, tablet, netbook, etc – can be used as the remote for the system. The only feature we think is missing is the ability to alter the layout of the buttons, with larger areas for the most frequently used commands.
After the break you can see a demonstration of this system, as well as the one extra feature we haven’t touched on yet. [Fall Deaf] included a Piezo element in the hardware design which lets him knock on his coffee table to use the remote if a smart-device isn’t close at hand.