First Annual Electric Car Drag Race! - 5th Grade

The 5th grade class spent the last few months building electric race cars. These cars have one motor in each wheel (4 wheel drive), a central power supply and switches rated for 120volts. Yesterday the 5th grade class assembled in the gym to race their cars for the first time. This was a king of the mountain style elimination race with the winner from each race staying on to race the next competitor. The winning car won 9 straight races, some by only a few inches.

Next week each team in the class will debrief on the race and start to look at how their car might be tuned. Where is energy being lost? Are the wheels aligned? How would a change in the wheelbase affect the tracking stability of the car? Are four motors necessarily faster than two? The cars from each team will start to look very different from each other as designs evolve. 

Working on Space Station Hardware - 8th Grade

Earlier in the year our 8th grade class built touchscreen Linux based tablets built around the Raspberry Pi. We are now adding a new board to those computers called the Pi Hat. This is a small circuit board with six sensors (Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Temperature, Barometer, and Humidity). This is exactly the same board flown on the International Space Station by the European Space Agency (ESA). The board was flown as part of Astro Pi Challenge last year. 

Our students learned to control the 8x8 LED matrix last week. Over the next few months we will explore mapping inputs from the each sensor to different positions and RGB values in the matrix. The Pi Hat is attched to the same tablet students are learning to hack MineCraft on. More on that in the next 8th grade blog entry.

 The Pi Hat has six sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Temperature, Barometer, and Humidity. It also has outputs with a 8x8 LED matrix and inputs with a 5 position joystick in addition to full GPIO pin access.

The Pi Hat has six sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Temperature, Barometer, and Humidity. It also has outputs with a 8x8 LED matrix and inputs with a 5 position joystick in addition to full GPIO pin access.

Yummy Gooey CAD Candy!!! - 5th to 8th Grade

A Graphical User Interface (abbreviated GUI and pronounced Gooey) is made up of all of the buttons, icons, and windows in a computer program. Of all of the software tools we have used in the St. Raymond Mechatronics program, the GUI that generates the broadest instant obsession among students is TinkerCad by Autodesk. Once unleashed in a classroom, it is very hard to get students to put down the tool. The interface is so fun and intuitive that we stopped calling it TinkerCad and started calling it "Yummy Gooey CAD Candy" (Software Developers would recognize this as a terribly sticky pun).

As a teacher, I wondered how students with some exposure to TinkerCad would adapt to a professional engineering design environment like Fusion 360. Autodesk has made all of their educational as well as design software totally free to schools, so I was able let students loose and observe the results in the professional CAD environment. The results were generally stunning. Students between 5th and 8th grade who had some experience in TinkerCad were able start realizing their designs within a professional engineering environment after just a few minutes. In both cases pictured below, I asked students to make a spherical shape from a rotated pattern of torus(s) (tori???). Elapsed times:

Students with some exposure to TinkerCAD pick up professional CAD tools like Fusion 360 surprisingly quickly. These tools are free and accessible from home or school computers. 

St. Raymond at SF Archdiocese Tech Day 2017

The San Francisco Archdiocese held the annual regional Tech Day 2017 on Friday, February 3rd. Technology directors and teachers from the area gathered to learn from each other and share best practices on everything from student digital privacy issues to rolling out MakerSpaces on a limited budget. This year marked a new level for the conference with a national sponsorship. Dremel Tools generously donated a new 3D Printer to the conference. Alexandra Iwaszewicz, Technology Coordinator at St. John High School, won the Dremel 3D printer for her school - Happy 100th year St. John School! Additional thanks goes to The San Francisco Archdiocese for providing funds so every teacher could keep the Arduino microcontroller they used in the training session. 

During the MakerSpace session of the conference teachers had the chance to jumpstart some basic MakerSpace skills. Most session attendees went from no prior experience with microcontrollers to seeing the link between coding, microcontrollers and prototyping tools. There is an exciting trend in both private and public schools across the country exploring MakerSpaces as an integral part of the school campus. Special Thanks to Becky Wong St Thomas More School and Gordon Fair of St Gabriel School for organizing the event. Lots of fun and learning was had by all!

To support seeding more MakerSpaces within San Francisco Archdiocese, St. Raymond school will be hosting a unique 30-hour educator PD session through KCI later this summer. Teachers will be paired 1:1 with students. Each teacher/student pair will explore MakerSpace tools with original projects.

@DremelEdu (3D Printers in Schools)
@ken_hawthorn (Making at St. Raymond)


Left to Right: Ken Hawthorn weaves 3D Printing with Arduino, Alexandra Iwaszewicz wins a Dremel 3D Printer, teachers get hands-on with Arduino

Extending the Rainbow - 1st Grade

Today in 1st grade we learned that the rainbow includes many colors we can not see as well as those we can. There are colors with very short wavelengths (ultra violet) and very long wavelengths (infrared). Heat and cold around us can be remapped with an infrared camera into the visible spectrum so we can see changes in temperature. We can paint with ice by moving it quickly (light to dark blue) or slowly (purple to black) over a period of time on a water-proof canvas. 

Ice Painting in 1st grade. The canvas stays coolest in spots where the ice stays the longest.

The St. Raymond parking lot on February 1st, 2017. Note the hood of the Tesla vs. other hoods in the parking lot. 

It's all About the Developing Student, Not the Technology - 7th Grade

Today the 7th grade Mechatronics class at St. Raymond really elevated the bar nationally in STEM education by reaching a very important milestone. The project includes the use of commercial stepper motors that power so many of the real-life machines around us from 3D printers to the actuators on spacecraft. To do this students in 7th grade were successfully working with the same hardware that students in upper level high school and college programs use. 

None of that is important - at all. These students are young. There is plenty of time to learn this stuff as they get older. The technology is going to evolve so far by the time they would see it again in a high school or college level program. So why do it? 

Grit developed from a 15 week project mixed with an emerging confidence that there is no corner of the technical world that can not be mastered and used to improve the human condition is both the motivation and result of this project. 

 Upper left: It is not about the technical lessons learned, it is about early success with technology - like when the machine you just spent 15 weeks building passes an intial test.

Upper left: It is not about the technical lessons learned, it is about early success with technology - like when the machine you just spent 15 weeks building passes an intial test.

An Engineer's Notebook - 7th Grade

Ideas evolve into machines, but their genesis is on paper. One student who comes to the weekly after-school MakerSpace received a leather bound notebook with a nice pen for Christmas. As a teacher, I was thrilled to see the notebook already filling up with drawings that expressed in detail how this student's ideas are evolving over just a couple of weeks. Every engineer I know keeps notebooks capturing ideas for future projects, and they hang on to every notebook they have filled. It is interesting that every writer and artist I know also keeps notebooks to capture and evolve ideas on paper. An engineer's notebook, an artist's notebook or a writer's notebook - it is remarkable how universal this tool of the imagination is among people who shape our world. Leonardo's notebooks, Einstein's notebooks, Steinbeck's notebooks. They changed the past. A child's notebook will change our future. 

The message this parent was sending by buying this notebook for their student was clear: "Your ideas are valuable and deserve a nice place to live and evolve. Take pride in your ideas and spend time developing them"

 A student's first Enginering notebook.

A student's first Enginering notebook.

Stop-Motion Lego Movie Making! - 4th Grade

Today students in Mrs. Mattei's class got to work with a special guest speaker. Hannah Moran came out and set up stations where students can make their own lego stop-motion films. As we build out our after-school Makerspace to include students in lower grades we might consider building a stop-motion camera rig and having it available for student use after school if there is sufficient interest. For more information check out this excellent resource.

Above: Mrs. Moran works with 4th Grade Students Learning About Stop-Motion Animation

A short clip showing what 4th graders using stop-motion tools for the first time can do in a few minutes of work.

A Mostly Dremel Mobile Maker Space (2nd - 8th grade)

As we are coming up to the halfway mark in the school year, I thought it would be a good idea to put on my DIBA (Dremel Idea Builder Ambassador) hat and give an update of the equipment we are adopting as we build out the Makerspace at St. Raymond. No one tool can stand alone in a Makerspace. We need to look at workflows - that is the order of tools used in the larger processes students will follow as they build different projects. The application and order that you use tools in a Makerspace is critical to success in brining a design into reality. 

How does the 3D printer integrate into different workflows? Below are project examples that use different tools in various workflows:

Puppy Mobile: This is a great project because it highlights how to use a 3D printer in a class project. Think about your design and apply the 3D printer where it is most useful - on parts that cannot be formed with other tools. In this case, the class is building 17 Puppy Mobiles powered with a 9V batteries. Start in Tinkercad, then 3d print the battery case. Use the router table, drill press and Multi-max to cut and form the wood chassis.

Smart Mirror Frame: The 8th grade class is building Raspberry Pi smart mirrors. Just the frame of the mirrors had morphed into its own project! Instead of using wood and 3d printing separately, this frame (just one corner shown in the picture below) workflow strengthens the traditional wood joint cut by adding a 3D printed exoskeletal element (the blue clamp will be removed after the glue is dry).

Buggy: This project combines Arduino with foam board and 3D printed elements. While scoring and cutting works for most foamcore construction, when it comes to quickly modifying the 3d printed end cap parts without having to wait for a re-design and reprint 6th graders found it very useful to just use the Dremel rotary tools to add features to the 3D printed joints.

I have really found these tools to be useful in the Makerspace and in the Mechatronics classroom. They are safe, easy to store and transport. As teachers from other schools reach out to me and ask more about how we spend our money at St. Raymond in building out our Makerspace, I can say that Dremel as a company really hits the sweet spot for our students. - Mr. Hawthorn

Smart Mirror Project Update - 8th Grade

The class has broken into teams to complete a Smart Mirror project by the end of the semester. We have teams working on the 1) Red Oak Frame which includes precision bezel cuts, 2) Hardware Mounting, 3) Graphic Design and 4) User Interface. We are up against the clock to finish this project on time. The teams are learning to share design data with each other.

One of the resources we started to use today is the file repository GitHub. Projects like the smart mirror are great in that we can leverage the open-source work of people who came before us. We can then improve on their designs. This is the type of project gets more interesting as people from around the world keep interating and publishing. We learn from each other. This class will contribute to the cumulative knowledge about this project. 

Skilled teams working together to complete one project. 

Working in Milliseconds - 6th Grade

Today our 6th graders started coding inside the Arduino IDE (integrated development environment). We looked at the minimum code needed to blink a light on and off at a given frequency. Timing defaults to milliseconds, so if we want to blink a light once per second then we instruct the Arduino with code that functions like this:

1) Turn on the light
2) Wait 1000 milliseconds
3) Turn off the light
4) Wait 1000 milliseconds
5) Go back to step #1 and start over

Step #4 is non-intuitive and it takes a while for students to see that without that 2nd delay the light would appear to stay on and not blink because the microcontroller would turn off the light after the initial delay and then jump back to step number one so quickly the human eye could not see the light blink off. 

Some questions to ask at home: "How many milliseconds are there in a 1/4 of a second?" or "What values for the delay do we need to blink the light on for 3.25 seconds and off for 9 seconds?"

Soon students will start to learn to use variables in code so each time we make a loop though the instruction set we can increment that variable.

Serious About Sewing

People often think about welding equipment, electronics and wires when talking about building a Tesla electric car. Very few people think about the near perfect leather seats in a Tesla. Machines that interact with people often have fabric or leather - things that need sewing, as part of the design and build process. 

We are exploring building a plush toy .mp3 player in a few of our classes. This project would involve the design and fabrication of a stuffed animal that has an Arduino heart, battery and speaker. Students would be able to upload songs in the memory. iTunes to-go in a huggable package!

 The new sewing machine with big smiles!

The new sewing machine with big smiles!

Electro-Mechanical Connetions

Wires have both mechanical and electrical properties. A wire needs to be big enough (gauge) to handle the amount of electricity it carries, but it must also have a firm mechanical connection to each component in the circuit. Today every student in 3rd grade had the opportunity to wire a switch using screw terminals (a clamping post for the wire). We used wire cutters, wire strippers and screwdrivers today in order to make the connections. 

We also examined different kinds of wire. We realized that the small wires we use in class would not be sufficient to carry a large amount of power. The more power we want to carry the larger the wire must be in diameter. One of the machines we looked at is a motorcycle that set the record of 217mph at Bonneville for an all electric vehicle. At 240,000 watts of power (600 volts x 400 amps) the machine needed some very big wire, a sample of which we examined in class. 

Getting the feel of a screwdriver and how hard to tighten a screw holding a wire requires focus and practice.

Jumping from One Wire to the Next and Navigating a Matrix

Students in 1st grade today first built a circuit using a breadboard (a prototyping tool that allows temporary electrical connection between more than one wire). The students then worked in pairs to see how they could send the electricity from the battery though more than one wire. This is a first lesson on series circuits. 

Although the class was focused on lighting up LED's with their efforts they also learned about the Cartesian plane and using a lookup table. The breadboards are electrically connected in rows so "1A" is connected to "1B through 1E", but "1A" is not connected to "2A". Being able to start on any intersection on the board and know how to add or take away wires in a circuit is a big step to being able to wire any circuit we wish to experiment with.


Today in our MakerSpace we are learning about layout and measurement. For this project students spend about 45 minutes laying out two holes on a board. The saw can swerve off the precisely laid out lines and ruin our effort in a fraction of a second. We measure twice and cut once!

A Student uses a Fine Cutting Blade on a Scroll Saw to cut a precise line.

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