Operating on the Edge

There is something very empowering about holding and using a power-saw. That works fine as long as the cutting edge of technology doesn't cut a finger. This week we are testing new power-saws for the Makerspace at St. Raymond. The saws are actually cutting edge technology in that they won't draw any blood. These saws will cut right though metal and wood, but you can rest your finger on the blade while at full power and it will not even scratch the skin. Very, very, cool technology! The blades oscillate a couple of millimeters in each direction a few thousand time a minute, they do not make full rotations. This means scissors and staples are still something to watch out for in the classroom, but the greatest danger for students using these power-saws is straining a face muscle holding back a smile while posing to look gritty.

Girl Power!

AWG vs. Diamater in mm. - 5th Grade

Today we looked at the math behind AWG (American Wire Gauge) vs. the diameter of a wire expressed in millimeters. We started to consider that wire has both a diameter and a cross-sectional area. The cross-sectional area grows much faster than the diameter. Stated another way: The cross-section of a wire increases the capacity to carry electrical power faster than diameter increases. We will look at this in more detail when we look at why there are not giants in 6th grade math. 

We also picked up the essential skill of being able to strip and braid a wire. Students combined this skill with hot glue in order to electrically and mechanically attach the wire end to a motor terminal.

 Brain Teaser with Symmetry: If the 4 motors in the lower right picture are for a model car then why are the blue wires on top of two motors and on the bottom of two others? 

Brain Teaser with Symmetry: If the 4 motors in the lower right picture are for a model car then why are the blue wires on top of two motors and on the bottom of two others? 

Vinyl Cutter - 4th Grade

We learned each step in the process of transferring an image from the vinyl roll to a surface we want to decorate. This is done using transfer paper. We call it a "half as sticky sticker". Try saying that quickly five time in a row. We use the less sticky surface to pull up the cut vinyl off the roll backing and move it to another surface. The vinyl is twice as sticky so it stays on the new surface while we can peel off the less sticky transfer paper. 

It did not take long for students to realize that they could print the same pattern in more than one color and align the patters to form multi-color designs. It will be interesting to see what happens when they find out we now have a tee-shirt press on campus. Happy Halloween!

Working with Lasers - 7th Grade

Students at St. Raymond learn to look at the world around them as accessible and modifiable. If you need a part (or a whole machine) that does not exist then you simply design and make it from scratch with the tools you have on hand. That outlook on life is what is known as The Maker Mindset. Yesterday we built our own mounting system for a laser and stepped through the basics of laser safety. 

The photo in the upper right is not Photoshopped. The laser is interacting with the camera lens.

Building The Tools

During the school day the Mechatronics program is focused on academic reinforcement with students completing projects designed to teach a specific lesson. After-school MakerSpace Tuesdays for the upper grades is quite the opposite. This is a self-directed experience where students design and build what they think should exist. We are still working on the Space in MakerSpace, but in the meantime we started on the Maker bit and brought in some basic tools. Those tools needed assembly. While we want to be creative in our projects we are very by the book when it comes to tool assembly.

One local MakerSpace that has influenced us quite a bit is Autodesk's Pier 9. This clip shows what a MakerSpace can be. We are starting with small with a few tools, but watch up build our dreams in the coming years!

 Assembly of the Belt Sander, Drill Press and ShopVac by Students and for Students

Assembly of the Belt Sander, Drill Press and ShopVac by Students and for Students

We Love Wire Coat Hangers! - 5th Grade

Wire coat hangers without clothing to hang are just plain closet clutter, but coat hangers in the hands of a 5th grader with some wire cutters and pliers are one of the most exciting design materials we can imagine! Today we learned how to cut though steel while keeping our fingers attached to our hands. It was not easy work, but with some leverage we were able to cut away the bent bits of a wire coat hanger and go after the prize - the straight steel rod on the bottom. This steel oyster of a part can be used to form the chassis of so many projects.

Today we looked at the feasibility of building a 4WD garden rover. If you look closely in the picture you can see that the chassis is actually just one contiguous section of wire coat hanger. If you have not built something in a while, do yourself a favor. Open that tool box, and take out a pair of wire cutters and pliers. Then go to work on a wire coat hanger.

We will happily accept your donation of wire coat hangers at St. Raymond, but before you give them up click here: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/wire-hangers/

 Cutting out the best part of a wire coat hanger: The bottem unbent bottem section

Cutting out the best part of a wire coat hanger: The bottem unbent bottem section

Art in Recycling - Vinyl Cutter - 7th Grade

Yesterday the 6th and 7th Grades learned how a vinyl cutter works (stepper motors - two motors that drive a sheet of adhesive vinyl under a knife in the x,y directions of a coordinate plane). The classes converted a few old trashcans into recycling bins. The project was engaging enough that we decided to extend it to more elaborate designs in the future. 

 Surface Prep and Careful Transfer of Designs onto the Trash Cans Translate to Pride in our Clean and Recycle Friendly Campus! 

Surface Prep and Careful Transfer of Designs onto the Trash Cans Translate to Pride in our Clean and Recycle Friendly Campus! 

What Kinds of Machines Use Motors? - 1st Grade

Today we looked at a machine that uses two motors to move a small platform side-to-side and can move a sheet of paper or plastic forwards and backwards. We put a pen in the machine and found that we could get the machine to draw on paper for us. We then put a knife in the machine and found that we could cut vinyl with it. 

Every student used the stickers we made in class to decorate an envelope. Students then discussed how the shapes, sizes and colors on their envelope compared with each other. Later we will use this tool do decorate the machines we are making.

Can I get some help please? - 2nd Grade

Today the 2nd grade class applied team math skills to make physical representations of a 4 step addition and subtraction problem. When the correct answer was represented with wires, the circuit was then completed and we could light up an LED. 

The biggest skill we worked on today was looking for resources around the room. If our own group gets stuck then where can we get help? Being aware of the other teams working around our table allows us to keep track of who else we can get help from, or who we might be able to offer help to. This is a great skill to develop as our projects will start to involve more that just one team in the future.

Breadboarding - 3rd Grade

Students in 3rd grade today reinforced what they are learning in math with breadboards. A breadboard is a piece of plastic with holes in it that are electrically connected in a predicable pattern. This allows us to build a complicated circuit without any soldering. Today students demonstrated their ability to use the coordinate grid to layout wires and a 5v power supply. 

Parents: as a check for math understanding from the lesson today you might ask your 3rd grade student “What is three times grey?” If your child replies “One Dollar and Fifty Cents” then they are correct. We had green wires that are ten units long and grey wires that are five units long. We used the green wire to represent one dollar. This lesson sets us up for more complicated circuits in future weeks.

Building Hewlett Packard's 1st Product

The first successful product for HP was an Audio Oscilloscope sold to Walt Disney. Today our 5th graders started building one of their own. This could take a few weeks…

Seriously, we will be building a variation on the theme and delve into how the machine works as a system. Next week students will describe in more detail how the system works prior to proceeding further down the design path.


 Taking on the first step of the build process and testing a laser!

Taking on the first step of the build process and testing a laser!

7th Grade Coding Progress.

Our 7th grade students are getting to the point where they can write code to meet a given specification. The example below is the first submitted work from a student in the 7th grade class to meet the specification presented in our first informal coding challenge. 

Press the triangle play/run button next to the right of the yellow circle Trinket logo to run the program. You can also edit the program before running it to change the behavior of the program. A reset button can be found in the dropdown menu to the left of the same icon. 

Using Digital Calipers to Measure Accurately - 3rd Grade

We are heading towards CAD in 3rd grade within the next few months. One skill that really needs to be in place is the ability to translate measurements from the real world into a digital model. Today we looked at the same stepper-motors the 7th graders will be using later in the year. We started measurement work needed to design the motor mounts in 3D. Parents of 4th graders should be proud - with the whole class measuring copies of the same object there was only 0.63mm difference between the largest and smallest student measurement! 

 Digital Calipers are Accurate to about 0.1mm or 0.003 of an inch.

Digital Calipers are Accurate to about 0.1mm or 0.003 of an inch.

Using Math to Model a Circuit - 6th Grade

In 5th grade we started to look at series and parallel circuits. As 6th graders we learn to use math to calculate the resistance in a circuit and then measure to verify that calculation. We use estimation to say that if we have four of 4.7k Ω resistors in series than we are looking at about 20k Ω of resistance. Similarly if you put those same resistors in parallel you would see about 1k Ω of resistance.

Completed Raspberry Pi Tablets with Touch-Screens!

The 8th grade Mechatronics class completed building their Raspberry Pi tablets. This is the tool students will use to impact the world around them. Code does not just live on these computers, but it can change physical things. We will learn to use the GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output pins) in the coming months to do things like control a machine in another environment.  

 The Raspberry Pi logo above belongs to a very useful Linux platform that the 8th graders will be using all year.

The Raspberry Pi logo above belongs to a very useful Linux platform that the 8th graders will be using all year.

Music, Math and Code - 4th Grade

As the year starts to roll along we wanted to find subjects in every grade level that Mechatronics can reinforce. In forth grade students have started to work with musical notation. There is a very real connection between math, music and coding. We will start to explore those connections in the coming weeks.

 Musical Notations are code that Record Frequency Values

Musical Notations are code that Record Frequency Values

You can edit the code above by typing in letters separated by spaces. Notice an error will pop up when you use a letter that is not a note or forget to add a space. Press the play arrow in the upper left section of the code window to play your creation.

Using Big Kid Tools in 1st Grade

As an engineer I used a multimeter everyday. The multimeter holds a special spot in the top drawer in my main toolbox and is still used for home projects. We want to teach addition and subtraction in 1st grade. We already know that Volts are a unit of measure for electricity. We know that if we connect a single 3 volt battery to a 5 volt light then it will glow dimly. We also know that if we add two 3 volt batteries together then the resulting 6 volts will make the light glow very brightly. 

Today in 1st grade we used the multimeter to measure than same effect with an analog scale (a needle that moves to show what value we are reading on the multimeter). It does not matter if our students grow up to be biologists or finance executives. Everyone should be comfortable measuring and quantifying electricity. I learned how to use a Multimeter in high school. Some of us adults have never touched one. At St. Raymond’s we pick them up in 1st grade.


 A Multimeter with an Analog Scale

A Multimeter with an Analog Scale

Understanding Resistors in Parallel and Series Configurations (5th Grade)

Yesterday the 5th grade came up with a really good analogy for resistors in an electrical circuit. Resistors (electrical components that resist the flow of electricity are measured in Ohms Ω). The analogy had to explain how you can add resistors in a parallel circuit (a circuit that allows many possible paths for electrons to flow) and the resistance actually drops. Using these same resistors in a series circuit (a circuit that electronics have no choice where to go other than pass through each resistor in order - in a series 1,2,3…) we see the resistance increase. How is possible to start with the same voltage and same resistors and the result would be so different?

The analogy is that each resistor is a small diameter coffee stir straw. If you put one to your mouth and tried to breathe then you would be able to, but it would be hard and not much air would flow through the straw. If you added more straws by putting one in the end of the other until you had a longer straw of the same diameter then it would be even harder to breathe through that long narrow tube (series circuit) as each air molecule has to go through each straw - one after the other. It would be much easer to breathe if you took those same straws and put them side by side and allowed yourself to breathe through all of the straws at once which gives the air more paths in and out of your mouth.

Working in Pairs - 2nd Grade

The 2nd grade class agreed that it would be ideal if everyone was able to take home the brushbot (aka handmade hexbug). The class decided to work in pairs and finish the project over two weeks so everyone in class would be able to take home a completed brushbot. This allowed students to focus on working as partners, but enjoying the finished project.

Look for homeward bound brushbots next week!