WMSI Mobile STEM Lab Fall Coding Projects!

By Jeremy Knowlton

The WMSI Mobile STEM Lab Unit has been having a fantastic Fall driving around Coos County exciting students about STEM! The past few months have had some particularly interesting updates in student driven coding projects! Students have giggled, brainstormed, and problem solved their way through some imaginative programming challenges, including multi-level maze games, artificial physics games, villain design, scoreboards, and even choose your own adventure story games!!

Milan students wiring up game controllers for their new creation!

Milan students wiring up game controllers for their new creation!

Most of our coding projects this Fall were programmed on Scratch, an easy to use block-based language that allows students to learn all of the tricks of a computer scientist without worrying about typos/syntax errors! Using Scratch, we challenged students to explore their excitement for games (who doesn't like games?) and focus on the story telling aspect of each design! We started them off with some basic game design tools like villain, scoreboard, movement, and jump coding (below)

The exciting world of artificial physics! We almost got the jump mechanics perfect...

With the basics under their belts,  STEM explorers began designing games with different levels. Good games always teach something, so that as you play more your success in the game will increase. Good level-based design will increase the difficulty of each level to match the user's increased skill, creating a game that is never too hard and never to easy. This concept is straightforward in theory, but is a massive task in creative problem solving to balance difficulty levels just right! Students tackled this level-based design challenge with mazes, creating 5-6 maze levels with villains, power-ups, character sensing, and challenging wall puzzles. Looks of concentration turned to grins as students tested and re-designed each other's mazes, creating hours of playing content!

Giggling maze antics from these two co-designers!

Giggling maze antics from these two co-designers!

An artistic maze with a cool dragon at the end - Sweet!

An artistic maze with a cool dragon at the end - Sweet!

Our biggest Scratch project of the Mobile program required strong story telling skills as well as some advanced coding! If/then statements, broadcasters, loops, and sensing mechanisms flew in verbal gusts around the room as students tackled the exciting challenge of choose your own adventure games! 

Three friends hard at work coding a story about a brave monkey explorer!

Three friends hard at work coding a story about a brave monkey explorer!

Choose your own adventure games have historically been in either book or computer game format. The basic idea is that your character goes through a story and you, as the player/reader, get to choose what you do from several options. The choices you make decide the fate of your character. In our Scratch choose your own adventure games, students were given the basic coding frame work and challenged to design a story, figure out text and movement patterns for their characters, and given the challenge of using broadcast coding to get the character to cue the scene when to change! Some students took the design challenge a step further, using Makey Makeys to design interactive cardboard board games that controlled their character's choices and movements!

The first scene of an adventure game! Should the monkey run away or explore the closed store?

The first scene of an adventure game! Should the monkey run away or explore the closed store?

Student code sample from a choose your own adventure game!

Student code sample from a choose your own adventure game!

After two sessions, deep looks of concentration and brainstorm faces turned to laughter and excited yelps as students tested each other's games! 

A 2nd year STEM Lab Explorer sharing his game with the group!

A 2nd year STEM Lab Explorer sharing his game with the group!

A group share at the very end of every project allows students to share accomplishments, tips and tricks, and novel ideas. At the end of our last session each student presented their games, narrating each scene and explaining the challenges they had to overcome. Coding, often considered a solitary activity, is quite fun with lots of friends and colleagues to test your code, program you out of a jam, and pass an excited high five along!

Want to see some example games that students created? Here's a gallery of them on our WMSI Scratch account

Looking forward to seeing what these STEM Explorers dream up next!

Art, Robots, and Much More in Updated WMSI Mobile STEM Lab!

With school back in session, WMSI's science van, now artistically decked out in fancy decals, is once again touring the North Country, bringing innovative challenges, creative problem solving, and loads of fun to students around the North Country!

You can see our Mobile STEM Lab van anywhere in Northern New Hampshire! 

You can see our Mobile STEM Lab van anywhere in Northern New Hampshire! 

 

WMSI Mobile Lab has been edited and shined up in many areas, particularly in regards to our curriculum. WMSI has added units in animation, videography, and robotics, to name a few! We're very excited about our brand new robotics session: Robotic Art Drawers! 

As we were brainstorming year two curriculum, we got really excited about de-mystifying the 3D printer and making it more understandable for students. a 3D printer is really just 3 motors which allows side to side and up/down movement as well as codes that give the machine coordinates to follow. We simplified this idea to two motors, more basic code, and a marker instead of a plastic melter. The main take away? Machine artistry is fun and we can build these artistic machines without having a Masters in Engineering!

After introducing these main points to students, our STEM Explorers raced into the project with enthusiasm and excitement! First, they practiced a skill every designer needs to know: following poorly written blue prints (hmm I wonder who wrote those...). They patiently built, following instructions and thinking critically whenever details were vague or unclear (ok ok, I wrote them!). 

STEM Explorers designing a sweet gear system for their robotic drawing arm!

STEM Explorers designing a sweet gear system for their robotic drawing arm!

After building, we talked about another key part of any designer's job: making your own creations through trial and error! Students fired up laptops and began to code their robots, putting together loops with motor commands that would run the robotic scissor arm of their builds. They next explored different speeds for their two motors and how those speeds would effect their designs. Soon, students had discovered motor speeds that would draw complex shapes such as hearts, skulls, spoons, and the coolest doodles the world has EVER SEEN! 

Some groups even explored using two markers!

Some groups even explored using two markers!

Some very excited Youth Leaders putting together the longest scissor arm EVER!

Some very excited Youth Leaders putting together the longest scissor arm EVER!

"I can't believe my robot just drew that!"

"I can't believe my robot just drew that!"

All in all, it was a great show of creativity in coding for our STEM Explorers across the North Country! We can't wait to see what these excited students dream up in the coming weeks!

WMSI Mobile Lab Visits The Mt. Washington Hotel!

By Jeremy Knowlton

WMSI has quickly accelerated into Fall programming with an intriguing zip-line challenge at the Mount Washington Hotel! The program was founded on the brainstorm that asked the question "what STEAM challenge could highlight the unique setting of Crawford Notch?" This question framed this outdoors challenge, which used a miniature version of Bretton Woods' Zip-line to excite kids and adults about aerial exploration in the North Country!

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The program had three main challenges: design a self propelled zip-line vehicle using a propeller, a balloon, or a robot! The day started with participants walking up to the side lawn of the Mount Washington on a gloriously sunny day with three zip-lines set up and a team of smiling blue-shirted WMSI instructors ready to start this high flying aerial endeavor!

For the robot challenge, participants started with a finite amount of pieces and the task of building a robot that could climb a huge slack-line at a steep angle...without falling! (no robots were harmed in the testing of this activity).

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Participants excitedly assembled prototypes, using a host of different mechanisms for gripping the line and stopping the robot from falling. We were particularly interested in how students increased the grip of their robots; they considered frictional factors such as slack-line gripping material as well as how weight distribution would effect holding power! Soon, shouts of excitement poured off of the expansive hotel lawn as robots climbed 5 feet, 10 feet, even 20 feet into the air! One student even attached a Gopro to his build, allowing us to see what it would be like as a passenger on this vehicle slowly making its way up to the second story of the hotel!

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Participants also designed zip-line vehicles powered by balloons and propellers! These challenges featured fast speeds, lots of iterative design, and tons of giggles! Participants designed many prototypes to solve the mystery of the high powered balloon zip-line vehicle. Working models had some combination of tape, straws, and popsicle sticks as the main body. Students spent a lot of time designing the mechanism that would hold the balloon onto the line, creating a system that would slide easily and distribute the force of the balloon release well. Students also designed propellor-powered zip-line vehicles, using plastic propellors, rubber bands to store energy, and popsicle sticks/straws for the body. We were very impressed with participant prototyping, as these young inventors happily and patiently designed 3-4 non-working models before they discovered the secret tweaks that would make their builds soar up the line! 

All in all, the day was a wonderful mix of sun, beautiful scenery, and innovative design at the Mount Washington Hotel! We look forward to future programs with North Country businesses!

WMSI Mobile Camps Across The North Country!

By Jeremy Knowlton

WMSI's first ever mobile summer camps wrapped up last week with lots of grinning faces and awesome completed STEM projects! WMSI Campers in Gorham, Milan, and Lancaster have been absorbed with the fun challenge of following the design process, enjoying their mistakes rather than fearing them, and following their passions while tinkering on awesome creations. With looks of concentration and frequent giggles, WMSI Mobile Campers created everything under the sun, including animated soccer games, complicated maze codes on Python, ziplines, 3D prints, robotic dogs, and so much more!

Participants in these camps started with the fun challenge of animating LEGOS using stop motion animation, a process which strings many still pictures together to making a movie. Soon, dragons were soaring and LEGO battles were raging! Some students took the challenge a step further and created movies about their passions, such as whiteboard soccer games, mountain rescues with helicopters, and space themed exploration! 

We also dug into aeronautical design at camp, using paper airplanes, paper helicopters, paper circles, and laser cut balsa wood planes to test what shapes fly best. There were many rubber band powered balsa wood planes that had head on collisions with our STEM van (above)! Giggles were had be all. 

A variation on our challenge: an ink slinger! very unique.

A variation on our challenge: an ink slinger! very unique.

A well designed circle drawer!

A well designed circle drawer!

With many good STEM projects, there is often an artistic portion, whether its in designing a beautiful laptop casing (Steve Jobs was very serious about having macbooks look awesome) or creating a drawing robot (above). We tasked students with creating this drawing robot by attaching hobby motors to a base. Students then attached offset weight to a rotating gear, causing large amounts of vibration. Grins grew as marker legs skittered around on paper, creating circles, squiggles, and zig zags. The coolest part of the activity was the redesigning process. Students modified their builds by moving the motor and changing the offset weight, creating different patterns. They then created hypotheses as to why their modifications led to different results! Cool science!

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We also explored a rapid prototyping tool at STEM camp: the 3D printer! Engineers use these tools to quickly test designs they have before taking the time to create a sturdier/larger model. Students began this challenge by exploring a 3D modeling software called Tinkercad. This software allowed them to create complex objects using basic shapes and virtual carving tools. Students used the software to create several different types of necklace charms. Some students created Pokemon characters (this was a very popular choice!) while others designed natural objects like flowers! One student even designed an outline of New hampshire (above), even including local objects like arrow heads in the design!

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Of course, with any WMSI STEM camp, there's always excitement surrounding coding games. Knowing how to use a computer language is now a significant part of many jobs. Students first started with using Python to code in Minecraft (above). 

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Students first used Python to generate structures, such as massive towers of lava and TNT as well as huge castles made out of glass, diamonds, and even water melon (an undervalued building material!)

Next, students used loops and conditional statements to create obstacle courses, mazes, and speed games with lots of trigger blocks and traps! One student even created a water and diamond course that had hidden TNT generating code, leading to a quick trip back to the beginning if you accidentally stepped on the trigger block!

At the end of each camp, we had one final independent capstone project. This challenge had much less structure and offered a chance for students to apply what they learned during the week with their favorite STEM tool. We started with a group brain storming, discussing how to work efficiently in an independent setting. we also discussed how to frame a project in order to stay on task and finish before a deadline. Students took off with this challenge, quickly scribbling down plans onto white boards and jumping straight into the design process of ideate, build, test and re-build! 

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Students created useful robotics tools, such as the glorious cheek massager (patent pending). Some students explored stop motion animation, creating intergalactic rollercoasters, space birds, and star explosions! (above). Some students wanted to follow along with evolution and create mammals out of LEGO Mindstorm kits. One student even created a dog with animated eyes and several different sensor triggered tricks! (below) We even had some game design projects, with students exploring the coding and story telling behind good level-based design using Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic. One student even hand coded blasters, randomized bad guys, and level-ups using Scratch! (below)

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All in all, our Mobile camps in Gorham, Lancaster, and Milan were great fun! We're so proud of all of these campers for their excitement and progress within STEM. We hope to see you all at another WMSI program soon!

Robot Camp Final Days

By Jeremy Knowlton

Robot Camp finished up last week with robotic games, autonomous robots, line following artificial intelligence, and one of the most epic Sumo Bot battles that WMSI has ever seen! In order to create these robotic masterpieces, campers used the design process heavily, testing their builds, discovering weaknesses and flaws, and fixing those weaknesses. Iteration and lack of fear regarding failure led to some very cool builds!

Some students (above) were very interested in the use of robotics in game design. One group even built and coded a basketball hoop to record their score!

Each student also designed some sort of artificially intelligent car, with the challenge being to design a robot that could move about the room using input from sensors. While each student completed the same challenge, builds were wildly different (above)!

The faces of engineering success!

The faces of engineering success!

For the final challenge, students created a robot that could push other robots out of a ring. This iterative design process led to tanks, robot flippers, chainsaw-like LEGO arms, and defensive shields. Students analyzed the failures of their bots, fixed those weaknesses, and then tested the design in new fights, allowing their builds to evolve into amazing structures!

Epic battles!

Epic battles!

Autonomous robot flipper!

Autonomous robot flipper!

Some students took on independent projects, such as robotic musical instruments, autonomous line following robots, and even robotic stair climbers! We were so excited to see how proud students were of their builds. They took many opportunities to excitedly explain the intricacies of their design to others (above).

All in all, Robot Camp had an atmosphere of limitless possibility and glorious amounts of fun! We owe so much of that to our amazing participants, who took chances, smiled off failure, and shared their successes with others!

We hope to see you all soon for another WMSI program!

Inventors Camp for Girls Final Days!

Day 4 was jam packed with activities and design challenges! We started the morning with some free time so that the girls could continue working in Scratch, use their stamps to make art, learn more about the art of origami and tinker with Legos.

Hard at work!

Hard at work!

After we took a little break to feel the sun on our faces, Matt and Sara came back to present us with our Design Challenge.

 

Going along with the theme of the week of water, the girls’ Design Challenge was the invention of a water hose head. There were various criteria that their hose heads had to meet, which included the dual use as a sprinkler! Collecting data was fun and a great way to cool off on such a hot day!  The design challenge integrated the use of Easel, an online Cad program that connects to the CNC machines.

Will it work?

Will it work?

Measuring!

Measuring!

A special guest, Alex, also came over and showed us what he was working on. And it wasn’t a bad thing that his designs included chocolate!

We can't wait to try it!

We can't wait to try it!


Even though today was the last day of camp, it was my favorite! We were lucky to have so many special guests!

The morning started off with Sarah, a scientist and educator, talking about what she does as an Astrobiologist! She shared her passion for understanding and exploring life in the solar system and challenged the girls to research what makes something alive.

WHAT?!

WHAT?!

Testing samples from "Mars!"

Testing samples from "Mars!"

Then, Libby and Becky came from Time Quest NH to share their story! This was an exciting opportunity to learn about a local business and their connection to engineering, creativity and problem solving. The girls asked great questions, and thought about connections in their own lives that related to game play!

 

Our next special guest was Mike! He shared a game with us using a small device called an OWL. The girls were able to compete in a relay race that included figuring out math clues! They had to start the game by finding a GPS point. When they found the point, different math problems would appear on the screen, and then when they figured out the answer, they ran back “home” and wrote it on the board. We were all lucky enough to run around outside on such a beautiful day and celebrate with M&M’s!

Time for a game!

Time for a game!

It was very close!

It was very close!

Devyn was our last special guest of the day! The girls had been helping him with a little project throughout the week, and he finally showed them the finished product! He built a mold to pour liquid metal into! It was also very exciting to watch the metal melt, and see the process used to create a mold from sand!

 

The girls have shared that they learned so many things at camp this week! They have been able to take things home like 3D printed beads, bug models, stamps, origami animals, and accessible games in Scratch! More importantly, the girls are armed with a plethora of tools that will increase their entry in a variety of experiences and activities. They are walking out of Inventors Camp with so many Superhero Skills! What a magical experience this was!

Inventors Camp for Girls Days 2 & 3

Day Two of Inventors camp was a blast!

The most popular activity for the day was learning all about 3D Printing! Each girl was challenged to learn Tinker Cad and create a small charm or bead to be 3D printed. It was clear that they were excited to learn this new superhero skill! The girls finished this design with smiles ear to ear. ( And haven’t stopped asking to do more!)

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3D Printing!

Learning Tinker Cad

Watching the process in action!

Watching the process in action!

We also discussed bio-mimicry, and thought of examples of things from nature that we see in science and engineering. Our design challenge was based on the integration of bio-mimicry and 3D printing.

While designing water striders, the girls used their creativity and showcased their modeling skills.

Will it float?

Will it float?

At the end of the day it was great to hear about all the new skills that the girls had learned. They loved talking about the connections they made with these challenges and their own lives!


Day three was one of the best days yet! Our day was full of fun, creativity and innovation! It flew by!

We jumped right in to computer programming when the girls arrived. As soon as they logged in, they didn't want to stop! The girls were challenged to create a Public Service Announcement on water, using the program Scratch. It was exciting for them to share what they created at the end of the activity!

Focused!

Focused!

Our amazing counselor Hadleigh gave us a big surprise! She shared with the girls how she got in to the field of engineering; through origami!

What can we make next!?

What can we make next!?

To finish up our day, we had 2 special guests!

Time to create!

Time to create!

Matt and Sara from Tufts University shared with the girls a program where they created stamps! They logged in to a program called Easel, and designed their own. The next step was seeing how they would go from the computer screen to their hands!

Getting ready to cut!

Getting ready to cut!

The girls got to see their designs carved in foam board using a tool called a CNC Machine. We can't wait to use the stamps tomorrow!

These past couple days have been amazing and we can't wait to see what we will design next!

Inventors Camp for Girls First Day!

Today was such a great first day at our Girls Inventor’s Camp! We spent some time in the morning getting to know each other, talking about engineering and design, women in STEM careers, playing around with Legos and decorating with laser cut cardboard cutouts. We also worked together to set rules and norms that we would follow for the week!

Starting our first Design Challenge!

Starting our first Design Challenge!

Our design challenge focused on water filtration, and we modeled our design after a large program at NASA. We discussed the design process used by engineers and scientists who developed the International Space Station Water Recovery System. Student’s used an iterative process to build, test and measure the effectiveness of their filtration devices. Many resources were used to filter very dirty water! Most of the resources weren’t known to the girls as materials for filtration! They collected and analyzed data, and used this information to work towards improving their designs.

Data collection and analysis!

Data collection and analysis!

Many resources were used to filter very dirty water! Most of the resources weren’t known to the girls as materials for filtration! They collected and analyzed data, and used this information to work towards improving their designs.

Reflecting on the day!

Reflecting on the day!

We spent some time discussing what we had done throughout the first day, and reflected on what we had learned.  Everyone is excited to see what else the week will bring!

Robot Camp Opening Days!

By Jeremy Knowlton

Robot Camp blasted off on Monday with a buzz of excitement and creativity! On our first day, we set rules, discussed engineering constraints and criteria for our designs, and started building! 

Our first challenge focused on how to design strong structures. We discussed support beams as well as sturdy geometric shapes. We practiced these ideas by pairing up and building LEGO arms with "hands" made out of paper plates. Each hand was tested to see how many rocks it could hold. The catch: each pair got one M&M for each rock that their build held. So much excitement!

Later, we practiced coding by building some silly walkers. The criteria? Each build had to somehow move without wheels! Pairs excitedly brainstormed and, in no time, crazy dogs, octopi, floppy things, and spinning offsets were whirling around the room in chaotic enthusiasm! Students got really into loop patterns, coding different motor blocks to move their robotic legs in certain patterns. One group even added markers to their build, creating robotic pattern drawers that raced across paper in feverish creativity!

A very cool robotic walker!

A very cool robotic walker!

A very excited group brainstorming leg movement strategies!

A very excited group brainstorming leg movement strategies!

We also got to celebrate a very special birthday with a LEGO "cake" and 9 glowing LEDs!

To build any advanced robotic structure, gears are usually a very important tool engineers can use. Participants got to build gear "fishing rods" that used gear ratios to either build strong rods or fast rods. Of course, with any rod, you need some good fish to catch! Giggles filled the room as students caught laser cut fish from a "pond". A LEGO robot randomly swam around with these fish on its back as students lowered their magnetic "hooks" down to catch a tasty cardboard bass! Fun was had by all. 

Students were also very excited about artificial intelligence. Coding a robot to sense its environment and make decisions for itself has become a big part of our modern world. Participants got to practice this by coding and designing a motion sensor obstacle course! Each sensor was programmed to make a noise if someone passed too close. Students had the goal of getting through the entire course without triggering a single sensor. To make the game challenging, students popped out rulers, carefully measuring the trigger distance they should code their motion sensors to. Soon, giggles filled the room as participants rolled, jumped, and crawled through a glowing forest of red sensor eyes! Excited high fives broke out amongst the group as we finished the course. 

All in all, the week has gotten off to a fantastic start! We can't wait to see what these robot designers think up next!

Mini Maker Camp Final Days

By Jeremy Knowlton

Mini Maker is finishing up today, putting a wrap on three days of wild creativity and innovation! Participant projects included 3D printer based design, hydraulics and pneumatics, Aeronautical design, Python based coding, and much more!

Participants learned the ins and outs of 3D design. Then they got to watch in fascination as the printer slowly formed the charms that they dreamed up!

Aeronautical design was a highlight, as students built and then added adaptations onto laser cut balsa wood planes. These light flyers are powered by rubber bands, which give the planes enough power to, in some cases, fly over 80 feet and subsequently get stuck on our roof!

Participants spent lots of time making minor adjustments to the wings in an effort to create optimal flight! And of course, we also spent of a bunch of time launching, chasing, and giggling after planes as well. 

Another highlight of the week was our afternoon of computer science! We loaded up one of the cheapest and smallest computers in the world, the Raspberry Pi, and played Minecraft on it! Later, we used a coding language called Python to create massive skyscaper blocks in seconds, huge custom designed castles, and even random block generators that shot out mushrooms, fire, cobblestone, and water melons  as you ran!

a massive LEGO battle with a whiteboard background!

a massive LEGO battle with a whiteboard background!

We wrapped up the last day with an all time student favorite: stop motion animation! Students broke into pairs and took pictures of a scene that was created with LEGOs, a whiteboard, or themselves outside! Participants then made slight changes to their scenes, capturing every change with a picture. At the end, they strung each picture together and created very cool videos! There were huge rollercoaster whiteboard videos, LEGO battles, floating kids, and much more!

One group (above) spent over two hours engrossed in their video, creating a LEGO coaster car that spun around a track while teleporting and getting fired out of cannons! There was also a space ship involved.

Poor Tom was cornered in a Calvin Ball sneak attack

Poor Tom was cornered in a Calvin Ball sneak attack

We ended the camp on a high note with a game called Calvin Ball. Within a boundary, students had to make up one new rule for their game every 30 seconds or so. They got really into the game design process! We ended up with a game where students tried to tag counselors with rubber bands and counselors lightly bopped students on the head with plastic balls. If you were bopped or rubber banded, you were frozen for 5 seconds. There were also safety bases and skipping rules. Loads of chaotic fun! 

We ended the day with some Minecraft group challenges where every student was on the same server creating bases and protecting each other from zombies. tree houses, battle bunkers, and castles were created for safety. All in all the camp was loads of fun for the kids and WMSI staff!

Looking forward to seeing you all next year!!

Game Design Camp Final Days

By Jeremy Knowlton

Gloriously creative final projects have been finished and sad goodbyes have been passed around. Game Design Camp wrapped up on Friday with an amazing showing of creative problem solving, coding, and a good natured goofiness that summed up the entire week. During the week, participants bonded while engaging in outdoor game design, sensor maze building, artificial intelligence design, interactive, electronic board game design, and much more! 

Some students really dug into the idea of level design, creating many-leveled games that tell a story while increasing in difficulty (above). 

Some students used Scratch to design their final game projects. One participant coded herself into a story that involved a multi layered house and a mysterious disappearing sandwich (above and below). 

During camp, we also focused on using simple tools to design outdoor games, focusing on the crux of what makes an outdoor game fun. Students got very creative with blob tag (Below)!

We also built outdoor games using a secret ingredient: paper plates. Students had to somehow design a game that fit these criteria: must be less than 5 minutes; must be contact lite; must involve at least 5 people; must somehow involve paper plates. Students came up with some whacky and inventive ideas (below)!

Designing a game usually involves a huge team of computer scientists, management teams, advertisers, testers, and artists. Several participants at camp got very into art design, creating partnerships where students took turns designing art for games and coding game elements (below). 

An electric, interactive game board. Whenever a game piece hit a game board square, it would complete a circuit, triggering your avatar on the computer to move to a different part of the spaceship. 

An electric, interactive game board. Whenever a game piece hit a game board square, it would complete a circuit, triggering your avatar on the computer to move to a different part of the spaceship. 

All in all, camp involved lots of fun and many giggles (above). 

We hope to see you all at another WMSI program soon!

Game Design Camp Opening Days

By Jeremy Knowlton

Game Design Camp has begun with high creativity, fun, and goofiness - all the things you'd expect from a group of growing game makers! We started the week with a challenge: let's learn the elements that make a good game across multiple platforms, whether that platform be a computer game, an outdoor game, a board game, or even a cell phone app. Participants have risen to that challenge!

Outdoor games!

Outdoor games!

One young designer created a paper hat throwing game with a counselor! Laughter was enjoyed by all.

One young designer created a paper hat throwing game with a counselor! Laughter was enjoyed by all.

Humans have been using games as learning tools for thousands of years. Good games always teach something, so that, as you play, your chances of winning the game become higher. Participants used this idea to design amazing motion sensor mazes (below). Students coded these sensors to have basic artificial intelligence, which allowed them to speak certain phrases or make certain sounds if triggered. Participants used these to create obstacle courses which taught strategy, flexibility, and agility. 

Having fun with sensors!

Having fun with sensors!

The obstacle course!

The obstacle course!

Good games also have good story telling, often unlocked through level-based design. As you unlock each level, you are rewarded with more of the story. Participants have been working on designing level based games using various platforms, including Scratch coding, Game Star Mechanic, and even app making software like Bitsbox! Stories have involved moon colonies, dogs looking for their owners, and even dragons flying through magical kingdoms!

Overall, its been a great start to the week with amazing creativity, group work, coding, laughs, and whacky games.

Looking forward to the rest of the week!

 

Young Maker Camp Last Days

By Jeremy Knowlton

Young Maker Camp finished up last week, tying a bow on a creative and explorative week! By days' 4 and 5, students knew the room, the counselors, and the tools they had at their disposal, which led to some gloriously whacky and creative projects! 

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Participants explored aerodynamics, where they made paper helicopters, fighter airplanes and circles that could be launched above fans in order to test uplift!

We even tested them outside, where we explored whether initial velocity of the human launcher led to faster planes!

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Later, we worked on art design within coded games, which led to loads of giggles and fun!

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We even spliced our faces onto dragons...

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We also took still pictures of LEGOS and whiteboard designs, made small changes, and then took more pictures to create videos of fantastical stories! There were snowboarders doing crazy tricks, sharks eating beneath exploding mountains, and superheroes jumping into cars!

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We took story telling a step further by using a green screen to code ourselves into stories! We took pictures in front of the green screen, removed the backgrounds, and then imported ourselves into Scratch Junior (a coding software for kids). Young makers then coded themselves doing a different action, which included jumping, spinning, talking, and even shooting a basketball!

We wrapped up our week of exploration by coding motion sensors in a cool artificial intelligence project. Young Makers coded these sensors to make a sound if triggered. Afterwards, they organized these sensors into a sweet obstacle course. Giggles filled the room as participants went around the course crawling, jumping and meandering away in an effort to avoid the sensors in this full room game!

Overall, it was a fantastic week of creativity. The counselors and I enjoyed every second of watching these Young Makers get excited about creativity through STEM challenges. 

We hope to see you all next year!

Young Maker Camp Day Three!

By Jeremy Knowlton

Throughout the week, we've been getting super excited about making stuff move; we've also been excited about questioning why things move. Today, we cranked our scientist's caps on and observed how things will move through water!

First, we handed out a plate and 10 skittles to each maker. We asked them to arrange the skittles in a fun pattern. Next? the observation challenge! As counselors poured water over each student's skittles, we watched what happened and then performed experiments! Some students didn't touch their plates and observed  how colors diffused across the plate in cool patterns. Other students blew on their plates, gasping as the colors blended into a brown mush before slowly separating back into distinct patterns again. Super cool! We challenged students to think of cool reasons why colors liked to be separate, and received lots of creative answers, including "red and green aren't friends!"

 

We also added custom modifications to our robot builds today to answer a challenge: "what stuff can your robot haul?" Makers brainstormed and giggled as their newly designed robots moved foam boards, paper towels, and Jeremy's hat!

Folks at WMSI also had to answer a challenge today: "what's a good outdoor game for a STEM Camp?" The answer was gears - lots of colored gears in the best scavenger race our staff has ever thrown! We placed gears all over our green space and had the makers collect them all as quickly as possible. The team work payed off - we collected over 100 gears in 50 seconds! Tomorrow, there will be even more challenges... 

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At the end of today, we started on our next project: Stop Motion Animation! Can't wait to dive in more tomorrow!

If you'd like to see more pictures, check out our Facebook album of the day!

Young Maker Camp Day One!

By Jeremy Knowlton

Young Maker Camp Day One started with an explosion of creativity!  Students entered the WMSI classroom on Monday with emotions ranging from excited to nervous and shy. Our amazing staff of camp counselors was there to greet them, giving them a fun art challenge: set the room for creativity. A room is just a room until you decorate it. Each participant chose two lasercut cardboard cutouts to start with and created traces on construction paper. Students then added color and taped them to the walls, creating murals where tiny cars were chased by huge cats and trains were becoming fast friends with robots!

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Afterwards, we circled up and went over rules and played some ice breakers. Participants were very polite and a little shy. Ice started melting when we introduced our theme for the week: let's make stuff move! First thing to move? cardboard creatures run by pneumatic pumps! (two syringes connected by piping)

Participants designed pants, shirts, arms and shoes for their creatures. Next, they had to make an important decision: what would they animate on their creature? 

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The design challenge was on! Participants attached hats, heads, and arms to one syringe. With the other syringe, they could then remotely control a smile, a flying hat, or even an extendable arm. There were even a few launched heads (which went a good 5 feet!) which led to uproarious giggles from everyone! Harnessing the power of air pressure is tons of fun.

After a quick snack, students jumped into another movement system: harnessing motor power to make wiggle bots! Looks of concentration covered faces as pairs attached motors, power sources, and gears to their builds. Next, they taped something light to one side of the gear attached to their motor, which, when revved up, caused an unequal force distribution across the bot, causing it to wiggle across the table! Looks of concentration melted into grins as whacky bots spun their way around the room!

With any great build, there's always an even greater clean-up! We quickly cleaned up the room and briefed everyone on tomorrow's engineering challenges: Build a wigglebot that can draw, and begin to learn how to use code to move robots! Can't wait for tomorrow!

For more pictures, check out our Facebook Page! We posted over 20 photos from the day!

Game Controller Design at Lakeway!

By Jeremy Knowlton

WMSI Mobile has been visiting Lakeway School these past few weeks, bringing challenging and fun design opportunities to excited groups of 4th, 5th and 6th graders! This week, we broke out the fruit and circuit boards in an exciting engineering challenge! The missions? Design a fruit piano, and make your own game controller!

To play the potato, or not the play the potato. That is the question. 

To play the potato, or not the play the potato. That is the question. 

STEM Explorers started the day with a demo: a carrot plugged into some electrical wires. These wires were plugged into a makey makey, which in turn was plugged into a laptop. When a student touched the carrot, the computer played a piano sound. Gasps! What was going on? Somehow the computer knew that students were touching the carrot. We challenged students to be Materials Scientists and test other materials in the room that may cause the computer to play piano notes. 

Carrot Piano!

Carrot Piano!

With grins and giggles students jumped into experimental design, testing carrots, potatoes, scissors, chairs and noses. 

Several oranges were sacrificed in the making of this instrument...

Several oranges were sacrificed in the making of this instrument...

After testing, we asked students, based to make hypotheses based on their observations about what was going on. The consensus was that materials which were even a little bit conductive (things that have metal or electrolytes, usually) completed a circuit and that commanded the computer to play a piano key. Cool science!!

Apparently, noses are very conductive!

Apparently, noses are very conductive!

We then applied this knowledge to the design of video game controllers. We used cardboard, aluminum foil and Scratch games in order to make custom controllers to fit our games! 

That controller was too big, that controller was too small, but this controller is juuuust right!

That controller was too big, that controller was too small, but this controller is juuuust right!

Soon, students were strumming guitars with aluminum strings, playing Whack-a-mole with conductive hammers, and playing Donkey Kong on classic, home-made nintendo controllers!

All in all, an extraordinary show of creativity! We're excited to see what the 6th graders do next week!

Want a fun experience this summer? Join our summer camps! Click here to find out more!

Owls in the Classroom, Pt. 2

By Marc Bucchieri

We left off in part 1 of this blog post after explaining how a team of intrepid STEM explorers at the Woodland school were introduced to the Owls and given the task of creating a game with them. Fast forward two weeks, and our WMSI staff were back at Meadowstone Farm to meet with the Olders again and hash out the details of their awesome interactive game. The students had been given a few constraints to help them narrow down the overwhelming realm of possibilities. Their game was required to be playable in less than 30 minutes, allow for at least three players at a time, use at least two Owls, and have a skill-based component. In order to help them pull these pieces together, they were shown a simple version of the design cycle (also known as the engineering design process).

Now just replace “problem” with “awesome game opportunity”.

Now just replace “problem” with “awesome game opportunity”.

The group met their constraints by developing a set of mini-game stations to be completed by a group (or groups) of players. These stations consisted of: charades, a math race, a field-sized shape-drawing challenge (called GPS Draw), and a codebreaking interactive Owl challenge that we finally dubbed “Flippy Flop”. There was some debate as to whether the game should be more competitive (student teams playing against each other) or collaborative (all students race together against the timer). In the end the group of Olders decided to run it as a collaborative game. Instead of competing against each other, students would complete stations in order to earn the combination to a locked chest containing the timer unit. If they completed all the stations and opened the lock in time, they’d be able to keep the timer from ticking down to zero.

Getting stoked on running and math problems

Getting stoked on running and math problems

After spending their third session hashing out some details and testing the different stations of the game, students were finally ready to roll out their masterpiece for lesson #4. The game begin with a lively test of creative acting: the charades station. Each participant was given a prompt to act out for their peers, and the group quickly charaded their way through a clown, a racecar driver, a policeman, and a painter. Then it was on to a speedy test of their numeric skills: a math race across the farm! The Olders dashed past signs with pieces of a longer math equation (+4… -13… x22…) and then typed their answer into a python code-powered computer terminal.

This little python script checked their math skills at the end of the course

This little python script checked their math skills at the end of the course

After the math race came the GPS draw station, which pushed our Owl tech development in ambitious new directions. The setup for this game station called for half the group to walk one Owl around a field and draw a shape with their path, pushing a button at each new point. Meanwhile, the rest of the group gathered on the edge of the field yelling instructions. To make things interesting the draw group wasn’t allowed to know what shape they were drawing- they could only listen to their teammates directions.  The “home base” Owl received the GPS coordinates of the button presses and drew the shape on the screen.

The toughest obstacle to overcome for this mini-game was the limited accuracy of our GPS boards. On a clear day, each unit can pick up its location within a 33 ft. radius. In order to achieve higher accuracy (e.g. for surveying applications) experienced users implement differential GPS techniques. This means placing one unit at a known, hard-coded location, and then comparing its known location to the location as reported by satellites. This information can then be used to refine the precision of other GPS units in the surrounding area. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately our GPS units didn’t get the memo that this should work really well, and instead decided to fluctuate wildly with no relation to each other. This resulted in a pretty amusing situation, in which students would attempt to walk a triangle and end with a shape that looks like a bird:

In order to make this station more interactive (and less frustrating) the program was set up so that users could delete crazy points by clicking on them. By the way, all this cool visualization stuff was done with a very neat programming interface called Processing, which is used by data visualizers and artists the world over.

After a lot of shouted direction-giving and stomping around a wet snowy field our heroes were feeling ready for the final station of their game. “Flippy Flop” was inspired by the initial accelerometer demo (the one with the crazy pools of color), which showed how this amazing little chip can be used to sense the orientation of an Owl in space. This led to a game station in which the Owl screen displayed a coded message that students could interpret into one of six directions, coordinating to the six faces of the Owl: left, right, top, bottom, front, or back. When our team finally decoded and re-oriented through the 9 step process they received the final combination to the lock!

This coded message translates to "Left", or put the left side down.

This coded message translates to "Left", or put the left side down.

Once the Olders had stormed back inside to unlock the treasure chest, they were faced with one more surprise challenge to disarm the ticking timer. Out of the Owl’s enclosure poked two loops of wire: one red and one blue. With the final seconds slipping away, the students had to pick which of the two wires to pull. One would stop the timer, while the other caused it to count down three times as fast! (Hint: always pull the blue wire). Fortunately, this group of STEM adventurers was as lucky as they were resourceful and successfully ended the game with a pent-up sigh of relief. Not only did they all get to win the game they had designed, but they met and surpassed the constraints we had set out for them: their final product was skill-based, involved the Owls, took about 25 minutes to play, and could enjoyably be played by at least 5 people (and probably many more). Yay for playing with technology outside!

Compost Sensor Development

By WIll Norton

Here’s the dream behind this project: Have a wireless temperature logger that can be placed in a compost pile, whether it be a classic home compost pile, a large industrial or agricultural compost pile, or possibly a rotating compost tumbler. Such a sensor set up could be a useful tool in a classroom to integrate practical everyday applications to data lessons, or be useful to improving personal or school composting systems.

Someone out in the vast world of the internet may sell exactly this, but it probably isn’t affordable for these home and classroom applications. So we turn to the resources we have close at hand at WMSI: a Walmart and a 3D printer, to try to make our own custom design. We found a $10 wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer at Walmart to do our temperature sensing.

 

Unfortunately the housing for the sensor we want to put in the compost has nothing resembling water-proofing, so the design work starts with building a new compost-proof case for the temperature sensor that others can easily recreate with a 3D printer and other common inexpensive materials.  

So far I’ve designed a couple of different prototypes for this sensor case.

Prototype I

Prototype I

Prototype II

Prototype II

Three problems with the first Prototype that I found were:

  • The case does not have a strong enough attachment point between the top and bottom to stay together

  • There was no way to attach the case to anything, in order to later retrieve it from compost

  • The sensor had a dramatically slower response to temperature in Prototype I than in other close-at-hand containers such as a Tupperware container or Ziploc bag, as shown in Fig. 1

To address the first two problems, I added larger ridges around the top of the main case, larger grooves in the lid and a loop to tie a retrieval string to. I also left an open space for a metal junction box cover I found at a hardware store, hoping to give the case a side that would conduct temperature changes to the sensor better than the plain plastic case. The results from this test are shown in Fig. 2. As it turned out, the metal cover did not make a significant difference in the responsiveness of the case, so it is probably a feature I can leave out in future redesigns to simplify the construction.

This case also needs to be waterproof in order to avoid having gross compost juices leak onto the temperature sensor and ruin it. I tested the second prototype for waterproofing in three ways to see where, if anywhere, it would leak:

  • I placed it open on a paper towel and filled each half of the case with water

  • I placed a paper towel into the case and closed it and floated it in a bowl of water

  • I filled the case with water and closed it and rolled it around to see where water came out

The result in all three experiments was:

Clearly waterproofing is something that needs more work. The largest leak by far seemed to be the connection between the plastic lid and the base, but water also leaked through the seemingly solid plastic of the case. Some solutions to explore in the future include different types of plastic for the printer, coating that would waterproof the plastic, and some sort of gasket for the meeting of the two plastic pieces.

Not to be outdone by a small flood of water leaking into my case, I put the sensor in a plastic freezer bag and put the setup in my home compost pile to get some temperature data and see if the sensor could broadcast through a pile of rotting food. The results are in the below table and Fig. 3.

*Other thermometers showed significantly lower temperatures.

*Other thermometers showed significantly lower temperatures.

The data shows a slight downward trend in the compost temperature as the weather got colder over the 6 days I collected data. However, more interesting than the actual numbers are two limitations of our sensor that I found. First of all, the indoor temperature sensor on the unit with the display which I used to measure the outdoor temperature seems unable to read below 32 degrees, since according to other thermometers the temperature was well below 32 after the seventh reading on the afternoon of March 3rd. The second limitation is that about half the time when I went to collect data, the display had lost wireless contact with the thermometer and had to be reset by removing and reinserting the battery, and in one instance was unable to reestablish contact for several minutes before I had to leave. It’s unclear what caused the loss of contact; possibilities include the compost interfering with the signal, or cold temperatures decreasing the charge of the batteries.

The takeaway from this experiment is that it is indeed possible to make a functional compost-proof case for a wireless thermometer for a small compost pile using 3D printing and easily available supplies. This setup worked just well enough for this simple experiment, but the unreliability of the signal would make it unhelpful in any sort of data logging setup. The case has some flaws such as not being waterproof on its own, and having a flimsy recovery system that wouldn’t help in a larger compost pile such as on a farm. With more redesign and research, these design obstacles may be overcome, and with more experimentation the cause for the signal loss could be isolated and removed if the cause is not the dense compost interfering with the signal.  If, however, the signal loss is caused by the compost, that may become an insurmountable obstacle.

 

Mobile STEM: Game Design!

By Jeremy Knowlton

WMSI Mobile STEM Lab Explorers have begun their final projects of the year. Using the knowledge they've accumulated from previous sessions, they've been challenged with one of our most open-ended and exciting prompts yet! The task is for students to design their own games using Scratch coding, LEGO Robotics, paper circuitssensors, and Makey Makeys. Games are great, having been used for thousands of years to teach valuable skills, such as speed, eye-hand coordination, reading, and math in an engaging way. What makes this challenge unique is that students are given a very interesting constraint - the game must be part electronic and part physical. Cool! 

Students began by getting together in groups and brainstorming. They then answered several important questions to frame their game. All good games teach something, so that as you practice the game you increase your chances of winning. What would their game teach? They also asked the important question, "what technology will we use in our game?" We originally were worried about students not having enough direction in this extremely open-ended prompt, but STEM Explorers took off with the challenge, grabbing cardboard, scissors, tin foil, wires, and robotics kits to begin their designs!

Explorers endearingly named this game board "The Octopus".

Explorers endearingly named this game board "The Octopus".

Every project involved coding. Some groups in Milan designed and coded board games that had conductive tiles you could land on. Every time a game piece landed on that tile, it triggered the computer code to randomly draw a riddle or challenge that they had to accomplish to move on!

One group in Lancaster designed a pattern game (below) with copper tape, a red LED, and a yellow LED. You spin the wheel to get a random color pattern you need to complete, such as "red red, yellow, red, yellow yellow." You then have 10 seconds to correctly light up the LEDs in the correct pattern to move onto the next challenge!

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The group below designed a board game with different colored tiles. Each color was a different kind of challenge. For example, if you landed on red, you had to throw a conductive ball at a target. If you hit the target, it completed a circuit and prompted the computer code to start cheering! So cool!

One student (below) even designed a board game that used a conductive button and a random number generator to perform an electronic dice roll for his game!

All in all, students of the North Country again demonstrated their amazing creativity and problem solving skills, and along the way had many grins, laughs, and goofy jokes. Looking forward to see what the STEM Explorers do next week!

 

 

 

Owls in the Classroom, Part 1

By Marc Bucchieri

It’s been awhile since our homebrewed Owl units were first introduced to this blog, and they’ve come a long way since then. In fact, the Owls just celebrated a major milestone in their fledgling career in the WMSI tech arsenal. Over the past month, the Owls were incorporated into a unit of lessons for the Woodland Community School at Meadowstone Farm. Tech development was pushed forward, games were designed, and ominous timer displays ticked (almost) down to zero.

Which wire to cut?!?!?

Which wire to cut?!?!?

It all started when our Mobile and Instructor-Developer Corps coordinators made their way down to Meadowstone Farm one rainy morning to play a game with the Older students at the Woodland School. This was to be the first lesson of a four-part curriculum, and the game was intended to demonstrate the technological capabilities of our Owl units. After a quick tutorial on map and compass skills (you’ll see why in a second) the students were given their Owls and a sheet of coded clues. The clues, once decoded, hinted at different locations around the farm. Students then raced to each waypoint, where their GPS-enabled Owl released a compass bearing toward the final treasure. Once several bearings were plotted, the teams could begin to home in on their goal.

Students were given these coded hints to help them find the waypoints.

Students were given these coded hints to help them find the waypoints.

In order for this game to work, the Owls were enabled with several tech features that have been in the works for months. In order to release bearings at all the right waypoints around the farm, each “seeking” Owl had to be hardcoded with the coordinates of each waypoint and its location relative to the “hiding” Owl. In future iterations these bearings will be calculated in real time, allowing the hidden Owl to be anywhere within the circle of waypoints. The Owls were also equipped with two-way radio communication, so that the hidden unit could send time updates to the seekers.

Student maps looked sort of like this, if a bit more rain-smudged and gray

Student maps looked sort of like this, if a bit more rain-smudged and gray

After successfully finding the hidden Owl (in a silo) the group returned to the classroom to brainstorm and design a game of their own. Back inside they were introduced to some other hidden capabilities of the technology, including the ability to read and transmit sensor data. Students watched in excitement as the readout from an accelerometer was displayed as shifting pools of color, then took turns moving and shaking the Owl to generate their own colorful patterns.

Our WMSI staff and students narrowly escaped without.. being.... hypnotized

Our WMSI staff and students narrowly escaped without.. being.... hypnotized

Over the next couple sessions, Woodland students went through several iterations of planning, refinement, and testing to bring together an awesome collaborative game. As with most feats of engineering, this game was designed to fit a set of constraints. The game must allow for at least three players at a time (ideally six), take less than 30 minutes to run, and use at least two Owls. Most importantly the game should be skill-based, so that participants can improve the more they play it. Check back soon for the story of how math, silly acting, and GPS were all used to create a board game the size of a farm.