Tinkering Challenges

Maker Challenges are an excellent way to challenge learners to think differently about the tools and materials we have in the makerspace. We host a variety of challenges from 30 minute competitions to 2 hour making sessions using the design thinking process. This week, we hosted a type of challenge that we refer to as a tinkering challenge.

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Materials are placed on the makerspace work table with a sign stating two action statements. Action statements are meant to prompt students to jump in and do something (ex: “Build using these materials” or “Make something interactive”). Next to the sign, we place a prototype that we’ve made using the materials, which serves as a starting point for students who have a tough time figuring out where to start. Typically, the challenge is set up for the entire day but, we’ve noticed the most amount of tinkering takes place either during lunch times or before school starts.

For this week’s challenge, we wanted to introduce our students to our new Ozobots. The Ozobot is a small, R2D2-looking robot made by Evollve Inc. It has sensors on the bottom that allow it to detect lines as well as color. This allows students to draw a track for the Ozobot to follow using markers. Some color combinations have actions associated with them. For instance, if the Ozobot detects blue, then black, then blue it will increase its’ speed. The variety of commands allows students to construct interactions between the bots using a color code language.

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We covered our makerspace work table with white paper, displayed a sign containing our action statements, and drew a black oval in the shape of a race track. The Ozobot instruction manual was laid out for reference to the different commands students could issue with color combinations. Students and teachers alike came to tinker. It wasn’t long before the paper was full of different shapes, color combinations, and one student’s quest to find the perfect method to make the bots run into one another. As lunch ended, students made plans to meet back in the makerspace to learn more about programming the Ozobots as they rushed off to class.

You can learn more about Ozobots by following this link.

Posted: September 5th, 2015
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Experiencing a Maker Culture

The American School of Bombay (ASB) welcomed 15 students visiting Mumbai as part of a cultural volunteer program.  The American Women’s Club (AWC) Mumbai, part of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO), hosted the visiting cultural volunteers coming from international schools across Europe as well as Nigeria. The purpose of the FAWCO youth program, launched in 2013, is to promote cultural understanding and to raise awareness of global issues in young people.  As part of their packed week of visiting NGOs and cultural sites in Mumbai, the FAWCO cultural volunteers and their AWC Mumbai hosts were welcomed into the ASB High School Maker Space to experience what it’s like to be part of a Maker Culture.

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After some introductions, the students were introduced to the Scribble Bots activity by members of Re.D Studio and the Student R&D teams. “This is a Scribble Bot, but this doesn’t have to be what your Scribble Bot looks like. Feel free to try a different approach.” A Scribble Bot is a simple robot made out of recycled materials that uses a motor to become a moving contraption that draws or scribbles on its own.

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This typical example of a Scribble Bot served as a starting point. A toy motor was taped atop an empty plastic bottle with a popsicle stick attached. The popsicle stick sits off-center, when the motor spins a wobbling movement is created. The example buzzed and spun around drawing dots and circles on the chart paper. The students tried different ways of constructing the bot such as using gears to create structure or attaching heavy wheels to move.

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After trying multiple iterations of their Scribble Bots, the students returned to a group to do some reflection on the activity. One student mentioned, “I learned that when you try something new and it doesn’t work, it might be a good idea to go back to the old thing”. Other students spoke about how they were able to apply their knowledge of circuits to make the motors spin faster and how even creating a Scribble Bot that failed led them to learn and improve.

You can learn more about how to do the Scribble Bots Activity here and information on FAWCO can be found here.

Posted: August 27th, 2015
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Getting Started with 3D Prototyping

When searching the web, we can find many articles and blogposts on the impacts of 3D Printing. 3D Printing will have a big impact on the future. How do we demonstrate this to our students?

The 3D pen is one of the most popular tools in our maker space. At its core, the 3D pen is just a 3D printer in the shape of a pen with the extruder at the tip and the filament fed in through the back end. But to our students, the 3D Pen is a way to illustrate colorful, three dimensional art or make the designs in their head come to life. Making with a 3D Pen happens in real-time, allowing students to remain engaged as they run into and correct their mistakes.

Student creations made with 3D Pens
Student creations made with 3D Pens

We expected it to be a great starting point to developing an interest in 3D Printing and prototyping but there were also a few surprises. We’ve seen our students come to recognize an understanding for three dimensional space when using the pen to draw on a flat surface, then peeling the drawing off, and holding it upright. We’ve also noticed students are more willing to take apart and fix a 3D Pen when a problem occurs, allowing them to build more confidence in deconstructing and constructing electronics. We hypothesize that the 3D Pen’s size, shape, and commonality with a normal pen make it less intimidating.

Student fixing a broken 3D Pen
Student fixing a broken 3D Pen

Looking ahead, we’re considering how 3D Printing technology could add meaning to art, science, and other subjects at ASB.

Posted: August 23rd, 2015
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February: Game Design-A-Day Challenge

I have a lot of artists as friends on Facebook and I consistently see at least one of them doing a Drawing-A-Day thing.  I’ve often pondered how I could do something like this for myself being as I’m not an artist and seeing that programming usually takes more than a day to accomplish anything decent.  So I developed a training exercise in game design.

I participate in a number of game jams, most recently the Global Game Jam, and have enjoyed that burst of creativity when the theme of the jam is revealed.  Thus, for my Design-A-Day Challenge, I will be using a theme word for each concept.  I remembered back in college a friend of mine would study the word of the day, so I decided to base my concept themes off Dictionary.com’s word of the day.  I plan to document my entire design process, from initial brainstorming with a tablet (so I can put it in a document) to a document detailing the full concept.

Hopefully along the way I will discover a better design process or see some sort of evolution in the ease at which a word inspires more thoughts in my head.  I’ll make sure to post a new design each day or possibly a grouping of designs per week, I’m not really worried about that right now though.

TL:DR;

Game Design-A-Day Challenge:

  • Use Dictionary.com’s word a day as theme
  • Document design from brainstorm -> full concept
  • Goal: Improve my design skills
  • Goal: Have interesting projects to work on
Posted: February 1st, 2012
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Global Game Jam 2012: The Aftermath

The Global Game Jam is a yearly event where game developers around the globe spend 48 hours creating a game (usually a prototype) based on a common theme.  This year, the theme was Ouroboros, a picture of a snake eating its own tail.  The Ouroboros is apparently an ancient symbol with a variety of meanings that you can look up on Wikipedia if you’re interested. 😀

This year, I attended the gathering hosted by Social Chocolate in San Francisco, CA.  The event ended up being held at Citizen Space SF, an awesome co-working location inside of what seemed to be a warehouse.  It was an awesome venue, if you freelance and this place is near you I’d definitely recommend it.  Social Chocolate did an awesome job of organizing everything giving a unique take on how to do the game jam.  It all started with an email containing the skills of each attendee which they used to arrange us into teams.  From there, we were to brainstorm a game idea based on the Ouroboros theme as a group.  The twist was that after the brainstorming session the team would write a concept on a poster and each member was allowed to either stay with the idea or split off and join another team whose idea they liked better.  I REALLY LIKED THIS.  I felt that this allowed people who were passionate about each idea to join their respective projects and let those who weren’t in love with ideas leave teams without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Brainstorming

For the initial brainstorming exercise, we decided to have everyone write down 10 things they thought of when they saw the Ouroboros picture or concepts behind the symbol.  We then went around the table listing them off while each picking and choosing which ones we wanted to expand on.  The team came up with two concepts.  The first concept was very literal, a puzzle game where the player is a snake that generates new pieces on its tail and has to eat pieces on its body to make matching triplets at its’ head.  The second concept involved having players take turns molding an amorphous shape into something where each person could work for or against the current project.

After cementing our team we went with the first concept and elaborated on it.  All three of us were competitive gamers so we decided to make this a competitive game by changing the objective to eating pieces from the enemy snake.

Development

  • Create the core gameplay involving a single snake eating pieces and making matches at its’ head.
  • Spawn a second snake and change the gameplay to eating from a different snake’s body.
  • Polish… Polish… POLISH!!!

Polish and Playtesting

THIS IS ALWAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!  Our primary goal was for the game to be fun, an objective to be met at all costs.  We made tons of adjustments to increase fun while attempting to decrease the length of each match.  We implemented three skills each player could use to add an aspect players had to master to become better.  To make matches go quicker we changed matches to making pairs instead of triplets and with each pair the player would receive a benefit in speed, rotation, or skill cooldown.

Conclusion

Game Jams are amazing.  Here is the project we completed in the 40 or so hours we had to jam for.  If you’ve never participated in a game jam I highly recommend doing so whether it be for Ludum Dare, TIGJam, the Global Game Jam, or a local IGDA Chapter’s sponsored jam.

Posted: January 30th, 2012
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