MRRF: Jellybox, a STEM-Oriented Printer

It’s the first full day of fun here at the Midwest RepRap Festival. This year’s turnout is quite impressive—as I’m writing this, we’re an hour or so in and there are already hundreds of people and a couple of R2D2 units milling about.

The talks will begin in a few hours. This year MRRF has expanded to another building, which should tell you something about the growth of this festival. We are excited to hear [Filip] and [Ladi] give a presentation about Jellybox, a STEM-driven project he started to bring 3D printing into education in a comprehensive and hands-on way. The initial idea was based on [Jean Piaget]’s theory of constructionism. [Piaget] was a clinical psychologist who helped advance the idea that human learning is greatly influenced by connecting a person’s ideas with their experiences.

Building a Jellybox printer is about as easy as it gets, and takes about 4-6 hours depending on your skill level. The laser-cut clear acrylic panels are connected with zip ties that lock around 90° plastic brackets. The back panel even has a etched diagram that shows where all the connectors should go, and the wiring is neat and tidy by design. It’s meant to be easy to tear down so that teachers can use them again and again with middle and high school-aged students. The Jellybox is open-source; both the extruder and the hot end can be swapped out in a flash.

IMade3D offers one- and two-day intensive courses in the DC area that cover building a Jellybox and learning some things about 3D modeling. The kit is included in the price of admission. Jellybox kits will be available in a few weeks, but can be preordered today for $799.

Lego Nuclear Reactor Uses Arduino

Before the NSA deletes this post, we’ll be clear: We’re talking about a model of a nuclear reactor, not the real thing. Using Legos, [wgurecky] built a point kinetic reactor model that interfaces with the reactor simulator, pyReactor.

Even without the Lego, the Python code demonstrates reactor control in several modes. In power control mode, the user sets a power output, and the reactor attempts to maintain it. In control rod mode, the user can adjust the position of the control rods and see the results.

If things get out of hand, there’s a SCRAM button to shut the reactor down in a hurry. The Lego model uses an Arduino to move the rods up and down (using a servo) and controls the simulated Cherenkov radiation (courtesy of blue LEDs).

We’ve been excited to see more high schools with significant engineering programs. This would be a good project for kids interested in nuclear engineering. It certainly is a lot safer than one of our previous reactor projects.

Hacking Candle Extinguishing

Anyone can put out a candle by blowing on it. According to [Physics Girl], that method is old hat. She made an educational video that shows five different ways to put out a candle using–what else–physics.

You might not need alternate ways to put out a candle, but if you are looking to engage students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), this video along with others from [Physics Girl] might spark interest.

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Kids and Hacking: Electromagnetic Eggs

One of my favorite things to do is visit with school kids who are interested in engineering or science. However, realistically, there is a limit to what you can do in a single class that might last 30 to 90 minutes. I recently had the chance to work with a former colleague, a schoolteacher, and The Teaching Channel to create an engineering unit for classroom use that lasts two weeks.

This new unit focuses on an egg drop. That’s not an original idea, but we did add an interesting twist: the project develops a “space capsule” to protect the egg, but also an electromagnetic drop system to test the capsules. The drop system allows for a consistent test with the egg capsule releasing cleanly from a fixed height. So in addition to the classic egg drop capsule, the kids have to build an electromagnet, a safe switching circuit, and a test structure. Better still, teams of kids can do different parts and integrate them into a final product, closely mimicking how real engineering projects work.

There are a few reasons for the complexity. First, given ten class sessions, you can do a lot more than you can in a single day. Second, I always think it is good if you can find exercises that will appeal to lots of different interests. In the past, I’ve used robots and 3D printers for that reason. Some students will be interested in the electronics, others in the mechanics, and still others will be interested in the programming. Some kids will engage in 3D modeling (robot simulation or 3D objects). The point is there is something for everyone.

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Microsoft, Minecraft, and Kids

Code.org annually sponsors an Hour of Code (December 7th to the 13th will be the third one). The goal is to try to teach kids the basics of computer science in just an hour. Microsoft has announced they will team with Code.org to bring Minecraft-based lessons to this year’s hour.

It makes sense when you remember that Microsoft bought Mojang (the company behind Minecraft) last year. Users can sign up for the free Hour of Code Minecraft module and learn how to make characters adventure through a Minecraft world using programming. There are other themed modules, too, including Star Wars, Frozen, and other kid-attracting motifs. There’s also a lot of videos (like the one below) that explain why you might want to learn about computer science.

If you think Minecraft isn’t a sufficient programming language, don’t be so sure. There are many Minecraft CPUs out there as well as a (very slow) word processor. If you want real hardware, you might check out our review of Minecraft-related projects from earlier this year.

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Low-Cost, Arduino-Compatible Drawing Robot

Bringing women into technical education at times seems to be an insurmountable challenge. As a counter, a small drawing robot created by [MakersBox] might help. The robot was used in a ChickTech workshop for teen girls.

640px-Turtle_draw
“Turtle draw” by Valiant Technology Ltd..

The goals for the robot were to have an easy to build, easy to program robot that did something interesting, and was also low-cost so the workshop participants could take it home and continue to learn. These requirements led [MakersBox] to the Adafruit Pro Trinket 3V, stepper motors for accuracy, and a 3d printed chassis to allow for customization.

Another version of the Arduino should work without any problems and even possibly a Raspberry Pi, suggests [MakersBox]. With the latter’s more diverse programming environment opening up a lot of possibilities

Drawing robots like this for education are not new. [Seymour Papert] created one of the first turtle robots, seen at the left, in the 1980s. He even created the Logo programming language and adapted it for use with the turtle. An interesting similarity between [MakersBox’s] and the original turtle is the drawing pen is in the center of both.

Hat tip to our friends at Adafruit.

A rose, is a rose, is a rose, even if drawn by a robot, after the break.

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Open Source Tracked Robot Supports STEM in Africa

A lot of hacker projects start with education in mind. The Raspberry Pi, for example, started with the goal of making an affordable classroom computer. The Shrimp is a UK-based bare-bones Arduino targeted at schools. We recently saw an effort to make a 3D printed robotic platform aimed at African STEM education: The Azibot.

Azibot has 3D printed treads, a simple gripper arm, and uses an Arduino combined with Scratch. Their web site has the instructions on how to put together the parts and promises to have the custom part of the software available for download soon.

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