Breadware With Middle Schoolers

Arduinos, IoT, apps, modules, prototyping all rolled into one

IMG_1368Late last school year I met up with the folks at Breadware to determine if their Internet of Things (IoT) Development Kits could be a nice fit in local high schools. They were a local “start-up” company and they were willing to loan their kits to local teachers and students as a pilot program. After a short training with them I determined they might just fit well in middle schools as well (maybe even down to 4th or 5th grade).

The development kits are meant to speed up prototyping new IoT and other hardware products as well as keeping costs down.

A few weeks back Daniel deLaveaga, a co-founder of Breadware, showed up in Mike Imari’s classroom with 15 kits that include an Arduino board and 13 plug in sensors, buttons, lights and more. The thirty 7th and 8th graders followed along as Daniel walked them through building an app on their phone or pad device and then learning how to write the code and plug in the appropriate module(s) to turn on a light or make a buzzer sound based on temperature, movement, brightness, humidity and several other possibilities. The app designer even allows students to include their own logos.

Below Daniel walks students through programming modules on their Breadware Arduino boards.
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After the walkthrough, where the students successfully turned on an LED light after they flashed their programming onto their Arduino, students were told to try other possibilities – like using the temperature module to turn a light on when it reached a certain temperature and off once it cooled. (see video below)

 

 

 

 

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The students confirmed my thinking and they took easily to writing and editing code and began to design apps for their pad devices … but time was up and they’d have to save the app design for another day. The apps allow them to trigger the code remotely from their device to, for example, use the temperature module to check the temperature in their classroom anytime day or night from anywhere.

I’ve also arranged to try this out at one of the high schools I work with after the 1st of the year. Will be interesting to see what designs and coding the students come up with!

 

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App designing.

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Learning is messy!

Bee-Bot Cadre 1st Meet-Up

Programming, problem solving, and much more for K - 2

Last spring I was able to purchase, thanks to some unspent funding from a grant, 3 Bee-Bot “Hives” – they are about $600 each – each “hive” includes 6 Bee-Bots, a charging plate and a yellow backpack for transporting them. With time short before the school year ran out I taught/facilitated a quick class with 6 teachers from 3 schools to gauge teacher and student interest and learning using robots in the primary grades.

The idea was to facilitate teachers in their use and then loan a hive to each school – the participating teachers shared the hives at their site. Teachers and their students loved them and didn’t want to give them up. We even came up with a “STEAM” activity that I shared here.

 

With that success I was able to get funding for an additional 6 “Hives” this fall. Last Wednesday we started a year long cadre of Kindergarten to 2nd grade teachers (I couldn’t get any Pre-K teachers to join). There are about 27 teachers in the cadre from 9 schools and a local children’s museum.

I included the teachers from last spring, and although I feared what they might do if I didn’t include them, the reality is they are all excellent consultants and have already added much to the class.

In preparation for class I charged 54 Bee-Bots (9 “hives”) so they’d be ready to go.

 

 

 

 

We learned how Bee-Bots work and saw a few short videos showing them in action. Next teachers were given some time to get “messy” with them. Lots of button pushing, discussion and laughter ensued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I passed out large sheets of foam board and let them work in school groups to design straw mazes so they could experience firsthand what their students would be doing (but you can use blocks and lots of other materials you might already have in your classroom).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also shared a Bee-Bot wiki resource we started last spring and will add to as the year goes on. I was able to include a yellow digital camera in each hive (the color match is awesome). The cameras are NOT part of what comes with a hive, but I wanted a way to collect and archive data and ideas and the cameras were available.  I’ll also set up a Flickr account for this class, like we had last spring. We’ll collect data on how long a program students write without prompting to see their progress during the year.

The teachers were sent out with their hives to get started and set-up how they want to manage and utilize the Bee-Bots in their classrooms – the teachers from the spring cadre shared some of their experiences which should help. We meet again next week. More later.

Learning is messy!

High Hopes Launch 11/28/2017

High altitude ballooning, science and STEM

We finally managed to launch a balloon this fall. It’s been in the works for well over a month, maybe two. Weather and scheduling finally came together and we launched on Tuesday, November 28, 2017, from Virginia City High School‘s football field (in Nevada). Virginia City is best known for being home to Mark Twain, who lived, worked and wrote here in the 1860’s, the Comstock Lode gold and silver rush, as being one of the settings for the old Bonanza TV show and a rich history.

We launched about 8:30AM – it was hovering around the freezing mark and the sun was just high enough to start warming us a bit. Teacher Sarah Richardson had the honors to release the balloon after a quick countdown. Besides  3 of our GoPro cameras and various data loggers and communications gear, Sarah’s students had designed a payload to release the “high hopes” of the world we’d collected … including their own (over 700 high hopes were included in their payload) so they were intrigued to see how this whole launch thing works. The “outlooking camera” recorded this:

And the “downlooking camera” recorded this:

This launch was mostly about giving Sarah and her students some experience in how this works. The plan is now for them to design various payloads to carry out science and engineering investigations this spring … that will give them plenty of time to prepare. They designed the payload we launched by breaking into groups that each built a payload to release the high hopes which are printed out on small strips of paper. They then had trials that led to choosing the one we launched. They’ll use what they learned about payload construction and I will be visiting class to facilitate them through the process some, but most of that will fall to Sarah. Here is what the balloon burst looked like at 26,000 meters (85,000 feet) a bit less than 2 hours after launch:

In Quicktime you can play the video frame by frame which is awesome! You miss a lot in real time … besides the hunks of balloon that float by you can see high hopes fluttering through the air and one comes right at the camera and you can read it – “people everywhere” … because it is handwritten it must be one from Sarah’s class (the others were printed out) – I’m hoping we find out which student wrote it.

Folded “High Hope” with the words, “people everywhere” clearly visible – hope to find out what the rest said. About 85,000 feet, that’s Pyramid Lake in the middle of the screen shot.

I’ll be uploading some of the photos we took to Flickr when I get the chance and I’ll add a link to them.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a Flickr set of launch and recovery photos

Learning is messy!

 

Da Vinci Mechanics Exhibit – Machines, Engineering, “Making” and More

Inspiration for "making" in your classroom

Da Vinci A few years ago (2015) my wife and I were in Christchurch, New Zealand, and we came upon this hands-on Da Vinci Mechanics Exhibit at the Canterbury Museum.  I’d meant to share a post about it when we returned and I was reminded of that when I came across the Flickr album I had set up just the other day.

NOTE: Click on any photo in this post to enlarge it. Then you and your students can read the descriptions and see the drawings in more detail.

From the museum web site: “He studied the workings of nature’s devices and sought to recreate these as practical machines: machines for moving water, for war, for excavating, for drilling and, perhaps most famously, for flight. Exhibition highlights include the tank, the spring powered car, the hang glider, the air screw (the precursor of the helicopter) and a robotic drummer.”

What intrigued me were not only the devices themselves, but Da Vinci’s drawings that accompanied them (careful drawings of plans easily turn a STEM activity into STEAM). The fact that this was a hands-on exhibit multiplied the engagement exponentially.Da Vinci

 

Da Vinci’s designs and devices are a great model for a class engineering/making STEAM experience. What devices and the drawings and explanations that go with them could your students design? Then share them online through Flickr or a blog or wiki or video-conference or … too many ideas to list. Many more photos here.

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Da VinciI noted online that this is a traveling exhibit so maybe see if it is scheduled to be coming to a museum near you. And I bet students could find just a bit more about Da Vinci if they search even a bit. Please share other ideas and links to any “Da Vinci inspired” devices your students “make.”

Learning is messy!

An Eclipse by Any Other Name is an Occultation

Neptune's Moon Triton will cast shadow on Earth traveling 37,000 MPH, SOFIA plans to catch it!

 

 

I’ve been posting lately about NASA’s SOFIA flying telescope (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) and its upcoming mission to catch the occultation of Neptune’s moon, Triton. NASA has posted more information about the upcoming event and I’m sharing that here including a link to resources I put together to help others understand more about why scientists are excited about this occurrence.

From NASA:

“On Oct. 5, as Triton passes in front of a faraway star it will block the star’s light in an eclipse-like event called an occultation. During the celestial alignment, the team aboard the specially equipped Boeing 747SP aircraft will make observations of the distant star’s light as it passes through Triton’s atmosphere.

Triton has not passed in front of bright stars for many years, making occultation observations difficult. Now, as Triton passes in front of a bright star, the data collected by SOFIA’s 100-inch (2.5-meter) on board telescope and three powerful instruments will enable researchers to better study and characterize the moon’s atmosphere, including its temperature, pressure and density.” 

SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP. Note the large opening in the side that contains a 2.5 meter (100 inch) wide reflecting telescope.

And:

“Catching Triton’s shadow as it races across Earth’s surface at more than 37,000 mph (17 km/s) while the aircraft is traveling at Mach 0.85 (approximately 652 mph), is no small feat. To ensure that they are in the right place at the right time, researchers have made advanced observations of Triton and the star with multiple telescopes to determine the location of their shadow. From these precise calculations, SOFIA’s flight planners have designed a flight plan that will put the flying observatory in the center of the shadow for approximately two minutes as Triton aligns in front of the star.”

I put together a wiki page of resources that explain the where’s and whys of this event.

SOFIA will have to fly perpendicular through the shadow (so its telescope is pointing at Triton) that is moving at 37,000 MPH while it is flying at over 600 MPH … apparently some math is involved in figuring out just where to be and when to be there to make this work!

Learning is messy!!

NASA’s SOFIA Flight 9-25-17

My Excellent Adventure!

My flight on SOFIA went off last Monday, but not without a few hiccups. During our mission briefing before the flight, it was explained that our flight path, originally scheduled to head up into Canada, was now headed out near Hawaii. SOFIAPath I’m not clear on all the reasons it changed. We had 5 or 6 targets during the mission … the flight path is designed to get the 2.5 meter wide telescope that is embedded in the side of the 747 pointed in the right direction for each target.

Not long after we boarded I was told I’d been chosen to sit in the cockpit with the pilots during takeoff. It was a wondrous experience! Our takeoff was delayed however because the telescope operators were having problems getting some of the instrumentation to turn on … no use taking-off if the telescope wasn’t working. I was up in the cockpit, but my comrades down below told me later that I missed this incredible problem solving effort by the entire team.

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One of the highlights of the 10 hour flight was talking with Chao-Wei Tsai, a scientist from UCLA who was on the flight to study a super massive black hole. IMG_0970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later in the flight I was able to sit with Samuel Richards IMG_0996 who was one of the telescope operators that night.  During our conversation they lost a connection to the telescope and I watched as he and his assistant (and the rest of the team) problem solved the issue. Window after window of computer code was opened and checked … occasionally a line of code was edited until they found the problem lines of code and they were back online … what was awesome was how everyone communicated and stayed calm under the pressure of getting the telescope back online. Getting your chance to use the telescope is beyond highly competitive, and if things go wrong getting another chance to fly is somewhat problematic.

Here are more photos and videos taken before and during the flight by me and other members of our group.

SOFIA took off today to position itself to chase the shadow of Neptune’s moon Triton on Thursday. More about that soon. Much more to tell here about my experience than I have time to write about. Hope to share more later.

Learning is messy!

Chasing Triton’s Shadow – Neptune’s Moon Will Cast Shadow on Earth

SOFIA can travel where the action is

A few weeks back I travelled with a NASA sponsored team to Idaho to launch high altitude balloons during the recent total eclipse. We sent up various cameras, data recorders and more (even an Idaho potato) to record data and media at high altitude during totality (being up above any possible weather or smoke is an added bonus). We travelled to Idaho from Reno and Las Vegas because that was where totality would occur. We only would have experienced a partial eclipse if we’d stayed home and would have missed out on important data you can only record during totality. Since then we have shared almost all the data and media we recorded and will continue to do so.

Partly because of that experience (and other NASA projects I’ve been allowed to be part of), my experience with the RECON project and because my job requires me to have a social media presence and share resources and experiences via those connections, NASA recruited me to take a flight on SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy). My flight is scheduled for September 25th – here’s the observation plan for that night. Needless to say I’m thrilled and honored to have this opportunity!

SOFIA over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I’ve been told we will takeoff about 7:00 PM and not land until 5:00 AM the next morning, so 10 hours in air.

SOFIA’s infrared telescope weighs in at 19 tons (38,000 pounds) and was built in Germany.

SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP. Note the large door in it’s side that when open exposes a 2.5 meter (100 inch) wide reflecting infrared telescope to the sky.

So why put a telescope in a 747 and fly all night recording data? Seems expensive for something you can do on the ground from much larger telescopes.

SOFIA generally flies between 12,000 and 13,000 meters (39,000 and 43,000 feet), and that is important. It’s important because at those altitudes you are above most of the Earth’s atmosphere and humidity. The “Twinkling” of the stars in the sky experienced from the ground is caused by the starlight traveling through the atmosphere’s humidity and variations in temperature. You are also above clouds, most air pollution and other factors (like bad weather) that limit grounded telescopes from obtaining a clear view (also why the Hubble space telescope gets such awesome observations even though it is much smaller that many ground based telescopes on Earth).

A huge advantage SOFIA has over ground based telescopes is that it can go where the action is  – like when it travelled to New Zealand to capture Pluto’s occultation of a star

 

 

 

ANNNND it will travel to the US east coast on October 5th to Chase Triton’s Shadow over the Atlantic Ocean.

From SOFIA’s media outlet: “As Neptune’s moon Triton passes in front of a distant star, it will cast a faint shadow on Earth’s surface. The team of researchers will carefully map the path of that shadow and then fly into it to study Triton’s atmosphere, directly, for the first time in 15 years. SOFIA will takeoff from Florida to catch the shadow that will fall over the Atlantic Ocean. The shadow is moving; the plane is moving; and the predicted path may change in flight, making catching the shadow very challenging. Researchers are trying to determine if Triton’s atmosphere is expanding or collapsing and if haze last seen by the Voyager mission is still present.” triton-final[1][1][1] (link to flyer)

I won’t be on the flight chasing Triton’s shadow (it happens over a week later than mine), but that gives me the opportunity to pass on what I learn about SOFIA in preparation for the October 5th flight. I will be presenting about Chasing Triton’s Shadow and SOFIA locally in Reno and I’m available to visit local schools and even video-conference in pretty much anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be adding more posts about SOFIA soon and you can follow me on Twitter @bcrosby. I’ll be uploading photos to FLICKR as well, I’ll post the link when I post photos.

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

 

 

Photos, Video and DATA from the Eclipse Balloon Project

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe

I’ve been back for awhile from our Eclipse Balloon Project launches. We’re still processing data we recorded from cameras and data loggers from 3 HAB balloon launches outside of Twin Falls, Idaho, (really from Camas, Idaho), but wanted to share some of the incredible visuals. Click on any photo to see enlarged.

This is the shadow of the Moon from about 23,000 meters (75,000 feet)

Video of the shadow moving across the Earth’s surface :

More video – Click Here

More photos from Dr. LaCombe:

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe – Peekaboo

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe – Full Disk

Total Eclipse 2017, Camas ID, USA, by Dr. Jeffrey LaCombe – Prominences

 

 

 

 

 

The track of our flight. Starts at the top near Camas, Idaho.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prediction was very accurate – this is actually 10 predictions on one screenshot – yellow dots are predicted burst and blue predicted landing spot:

ASTRA flight prediction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did send up a small solar panel attached to a voltage data logger. We usually do this to record data on what happens to the voltage as the panel gets higher and much colder. But this is interesting for obvious reasons:

 

Note the voltage goes up as the altitude rises over time … then “something happens” that causes the voltage to drop to almost zero.

This balloon came down within sight of a temporary command center of sheriffs and other emergency personnel that had been set-up to help with the crowds and any issues that may have arisen. You’ll note that at the end of the data it seems to have gotten dark again. The sheriff investigated what had landed  nearby and picked up our payload and placed it in their command vehicle until we showed up. Once we had described it they briefly handcuffed Dr. Wang and I for endangering the public … then had a good laugh and took the handcuffs off.

Dr. Eric Wang and I handcuffed with our payloads in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing too surprising about our temperature readings – at 28,000 meters (92,000 feet) it was about -42C :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have other data as well I might post later.

We successfully launched 3 balloons – one got to over 110,000 feet, but we also had 2 balloons pop on the ground during and just after inflation – one seemed defective, the other probably got stressed in the relatively high winds at the launch site and popped just as we were connecting payloads. Fortunately we had enough gas to fill 2 more balloons.

Learning is messy!!

There’s going to be an eclipse? So what?

Why teachers and students should get excited about the eclipse!

Image from NASA

So there is going to be a solar eclipse in the US … for those lucky enough to live in or travel to the path of totality it will get dark for a few minutes and for others they’ll see (using appropriate, SAFE glasses or other viewing device) the Moon cover part of the Sun.

So what? Why should we care much about an eclipse?

It’s a phenomena. “Natural phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict. The goal of building knowledge in science is to develop general ideas, based on evidence, that can explain and predict phenomena.” From: Using Phenomena in NGSS-Designed Lessons and Units – This is a “MUST READ” (and its only 3 pages.)

For very young students an eclipse is a great way to build their observation skills (and “wonder” skills too) as well as a chance to explain what they saw and experienced … get them started verbalizing! Have them note that the Moon is out during the day and night whereas the Sun is only seen during the day. Have them note how bright the Sun is … it is dangerous bright!

For older students it is a great ABC’s of science (Activity Before Content) opportunity. Go out days before the eclipse and view the Sun with the glasses or viewer and discuss what is seen. Then observe the eclipse and discuss the different stages the Moon and Sun went through – have them draw it in a step-by-step fashion. After they observe can they model what just happened? How did that work? Why doesn’t that happen more often? Instead of just searching the internet for the answers give them sphere’s (styrofoam balls, tennis and ping pong balls…) and flashlights and see if they can recreate the phenomena in the classroom. Don’t front load how an eclipse works or the vocabulary of eclipses … have them figure it out with you facilitating as little as possible. Remember, an eclipse doesn’t happen every month so just having the spheres cast shadows on each other isn’t the entire explanation … what must be true about orbits for them to happen only intermittently? Have them read (and/or read aloud to them or with them) myths, legends and stories about what people have believed was happening (now that their interest has been aroused).

Why do scientists study eclipses? How do they predict when and where they will happen? What do they see and learn from them and why is that knowledge important to us? These are great questions for students to answer.

Ask a scientist … find a scientist/astronomer/expert that you can video-conference in … show him/her the students modeling what they think happens with their spheres and flashlights as well as asking questions and clarifying what they think they learned (more language skills). Ask the s scientist about how and why they became a scientist as well as about some of the cool things they have studied too.

It is a chance to do some Ambitious Science.

Lots more possibilities as well …

REMEMBER – if it’s cloudy it will be live on TV and the internet. Be eye safe and have fun!

Learning is messy!

Eclipse Ballooning Project

3 balloons capturing images, data and awesomeness!

One of the awesome parts of my job is that I get to be part of some wondrous projects. Being part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project is one of those. 

In case you haven’t heard there will be a solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. It will be a total eclipse for some parts of the country – the gray line across the country below is where you’ll want to be to see the total eclipse:

 

 

 

 

 

If you are lucky enough to be on that line of totality and you have a cloudless sky, the sky will go dark, stars will come out and the corona of the Sun will be visible. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse of varying degrees based on location.

I’m part of Nevada’s NASA Space Grant and the folks that I’ll accompany (the real experts) are from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Washoe County School District and Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program.

My team’s plan at this point is to launch about 3 HAB balloons from eastern Idaho that should each reach altitudes of around 30,000 meters (100,000 feet). One will carry a payload that will stream live video … if we can get it working … during a test flight it only worked intermittently and then when a parachute failed it hit the ground hard and now is being pieced back together (messy learning?). The others will carry temperature, air pressure, humidity data loggers along with GoPro cameras and a 360 degree camera. All the balloons carry communication gear so we can follow, find and retrieve them. I’ll post links to videos, photos and data after the launch.

We may live stream the launch, probably on Periscope if we have enough hands and solid internet. I’ll tweet that out if it looks like it will happen. @bcrosby

We do have back-up locations in mind in Wyoming and Oregon if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Learning is messy!!