Monday, October 26, 2015

"Cheating," Piracy and Invention

My mom mentioned a post on Facebook about the Turtle Blocks after school club and a student who was hiding his iPhone during club. I half expected that he was off task: he was new to the club on week three and was not engaged with the other two new students to learn some basics. As I approached him he tried to hide what he was looking at, which further piqued my interest. It turns out he googled Turtle Blocks and ended up on the project's github page, then tracked down a graphic of a couple of procedures.

His clubmates erupted in shaming him for getting caught. 

I told him a couple of things. 
  • It wasn't copying, it was remixing.
  • He was clever for finding this information, but I worried he was jumping really far ahead without understanding the blocks (he asked where the "pop" block was, for example).
  • I hoped that as he assembled the procedures he would be able to explain to me at some point why the procedure does what it does.
The students all immediately grasped the idea of remixing: the student who was "caught" was proud he was remixing what he hoped (but had no idea) would be a cool procedure that would put his clubmates to shame. 

Here is Young Guru from PopTech 2012, which I fortunately attended, addressing hip-hop culture, constructing instruments when you do not have the money to buy your own or take music lessons, "Piracy and Invention."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

3D Printed Sugar Skull Stamp

Twitter is great at providing collaborative possibilities. After @zackboston and I collaborated around a LEGO WeDo SpinArt 'Bot design, I jumped at the chance to work with her again.

I wanted to play with Tom Burtonwood's idea of 3D printed Play-Doh stamps and the Sugar Skull. I downloaded a good Sugar Skull from Thingiverse and made a prototype stamp. ZackBoston sent me the graphic she uses in her events and I went to work.

First, I created a mask of the skull shape by editing the graphic in Paintbrush and coloring it entirely black.

The mask was easily converted to an SVG with Online-Convert

I tried to be clever and invert the skull design in Online-Convert but the conversion lost details. I reverted to doing the work manually with a combination of Inkscape and Tinkercad

I wanted the black parts of the drawing to be what gets depressed by the stamp. When I finished my work I had a really awesome looking sugar skull design ready for download.

I downloaded the model and scaled it slightly to fill the bed of my Thing-O-Matic.

The details looked awesome as the first layer was 3D printed.

The finished model printed beautifully.

I put together a roller with a piece of PVC tubing, a welding rod, and 3D printed end caps.

The stamp made an excellent impression.

Try riffing on somebody's idea and remixing it: you both might be surprised by where you end up!

Update: Right after I posted, ZackBoston remixed the design further, using it as a stamp on paper and fabric!

How will you remix the project?

Macintosh Servant and MultiMac

I built this website in Claris Homepage (woot!) in 2002. In 2008 I was contacted by an attorney representing Apple. I expected they wanted the site taken down. On the contrary, my arcane knowledge of this software proved to be a valuable asset in a court case involving Apple. I don't know how long the NDA lasts, so I won't give any details, but suffice it to say that the software is an interesting adventure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Farm Field Trip: MaKey MaKey and Scratch Farm Sounds Poster

My four year old son went on his first school field trip today. As is often the case, parents miss out on going on the field trips. That did not stop me and him from creating an interactive poster of his time at the farm.

When he got home from school I asked him if he was up for a project. He was, so I asked him if he could draw pictures of what he saw and heard at the farm.

He had trouble with the goat. I helped him break it down into smaller parts. How many legs does a goat have? How many bodies does it have? How many heads? Did the goat have any horns or its head? How many? He drew a goat and a pig before his attention shifted.

After he tired of drawing, we built some simple buttons. I stuck a long piece of conductive copper tape to the goat and the pig.

He helped me glue some aluminum foil over the copper tape to make bigger buttons.

Right now his farm drawing has two animals and two buttons. There is also a farm building and a tree from a previous drawing, but it fits on the farm.

I helped him record a goat sound and a pig sound in Scratch on his OLPC XO-4 laptop.

We used one of the supplied backgrounds. I took a picture of him in Scratch using his laptop and edited it in Scratch to remove the background.

He chose a pig to be his ground on the MaKey MaKey. A little copper tape on the pig makes it conductive so we can connect it to Earth on the MaKey MaKey.

Maybe he will dream about the farm tonight and draw more animals tomorrow.

This project was a spur of the moment attempt to capture his memories and observations from an important day in his school life. The materials were all on hand, and some were easy enough for a four year old to successfully use, or have help using. Choosing to record his voice rather than use a pre-made animal sound personalized the project and made it fun for Mom and Dad to use, too. If we share it on the Scratch web site, his grandparents could play with it, too. There is still plenty of room on the roll of paper he drew his farm on, so he can continue adding animals and sound effects as he desires.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Turtle Blocks After School Club

I was introduced to some people at a charter school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who were looking for somebody to run an after school Turtle Blocks club. Walter Bender taught a three hour workshop at the school last year, and some kids really connected with the ideas but the school was at a loss how to carry it forward. I was approached by a Rotarian while I was at my Westport gig, and after I made him take my TurtleArt workshop, I talked with him about the school and what they were looking for. Fortunately, I was able to make it happen. This teaching experience has been one of the most rewarding I have had in the past three years. The kids are so proud of their work, the knowledge they are creating, and the designs that they are conjuring from their procedures. I am terrifically proud of them.

For the first class I built each student a notebook in the manner that my friend Joseph Schott taught me, made from discarded paper that is omnipresent in every school. Tearing a stack of paper into three even strips and folding the strips into a booklet shape makes an easy notebook. We wrote our names on them, the URL for Turtle Blocks, and I suggested they write down things they learn as we worked.

The students were shown how to connect blocks, and how a forward and right block can be connected and clicking these blocks to run them will draw a square after four times running the procedure. Other than that, the students were encouraged to explore the software and see what designs they were able to create.

I was very happy to see the notebooks return to our second meeting. Some students worked on procedures at home, which they wrote down so they could re-program them at school! I taught them how to export their work and copy it to their Google Drive, but most still like to hand write the procedure after they finish it.

The designs in the second session became more complex, too as the students better understood the turtle's movement. Everyone declined my invitation (once again) to put themselves in the turtle's shoes to work out complex algorithms.

One student realized that programming the turtle to snap back to a specific x,y coordinate would cause a ray to be drawn from the origin point to wherever he dragged the turtle.

We talked a little about colors as numbers in Logo, and then I showed him the Cartesian plane and how we could tie the color to the current location on the x axis.

Another design choice that emerged during the second session was running a procedure (which the students learned was the fancy name for a stack of blocks that you put together to teach the turtle a new set of moves) over and over again, but in gradually smaller pen sizes and different colors every time you run it.

The third session continued to riff on this idea. 

One student continued to manually plug in smaller brush sizes and different colors. I decided to teach her how to use variables. She named a procedure after herself. The Ariela procedure draws her design. A master procedure makes the turtle calculate and select the smaller pen and different color every time the turtle repeats the Ariela procedure by using variables for the pen size and for the color.

The students and administrator are all psyched about the club. The students continue to work on designs outside of club, too: this students came for the last ten minutes but had asked a teacher to deliver his notebook to club earlier, I suppose thinking he owed me homework.

These students are exploring mathematics in powerful, personal ways that reveal the beauty and creativity often left out of teaching "math."