ISTE Standards & NGSS Science & Engineering Practies

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My First Wifi-Connected Book is Complete!

Hello World!  

Electronic, Internet-enabled, Physical Story Book

To learn more about this book, visit my Instructable.

My First Wifi-connected Book 

Hand-bound, wifi-connected journal...prototype one.

Prep the covers & lay the copper leads between the holes in the spine

I twisted copper wire around the pads of the Photon & Lily Simple Power,
but I switched to stranded wire in a later iteration!
Solder the wire to the copper leads

Use a multimeter on continuity mode to identify shorts
Solder conductive fabric tape (adhesive up) to the copper leads

Sew signatures, adhering conductive fabric leads as you go

Insulate the conductive fabric on the spine using clear nail polish
Apply thin Velcro to back of battery; consider insulating back cover

Complete circuits & program Photon functions to tell your story

Add artwork & text

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Laser Cut Book Cover Prototypes

I am in the process of designing a wifi-connected book that will have a Particle Photon and a battery embedded into the back cover.

Today I went to St. Albans City School where my friend +Melissa Haberman, a tech savvy art educator, was kind enough to let me cut a book cover prototype on the Full Spectrum laser printer in the school's maker space.

While I ultimately hope to create a cover using cherry wood, I chose 1/4" medium density fiber board (MDF) for my first laser-cut prototype, thanks to the recommendation of the amazing +Leah Joly, Design Technology Instructor at Williston Central School.  I'm hoping that this sturdy material will be easy to cover, using traditional bookbinding methods. Because my first attempt at creating a cover, thick enough to embed the Photon and battery, involved cutting through four layers of binder's board with a pen-knife, I am thrilled that the laser cutter worked so well.

Although this remains a work in progress, here is a link to the Inkscape design for my book's back cover: Book Cover SVG File.  I'll be backing the covers with binder's board.  Of note, the Full Spectrum has a 12" X 20" bed.  I used a piece of 1/4" MDF, at 100% power and 50% speed, which took three passes to get through the material.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Progress Toward Wifi-Connected Book

Over the past three months, I've been learning how to program the Particle Photon, with the goal of creating my own wifi-connected book (inspired by Natalie Freed and Jie Qi). So far, I've been documenting my learning on another blog, because most of my work up to this point hasn't been super artistic. Now that I've learned some of the basics of how the Internet of Things works, I'm pleased to report that I'm about to embark upon the next stage of my process-creating an actual book!

While I am still in the process of brainstorming some of the features that I'd like for my book to have, I'm excited that I've figured out a way to use data from a light sensor to trigger different animations on a paper circuit, through the Particle cloud.  If you're interested in learning more about my process so far, feel free to visit my other blog, New Things I've Tried.  My goal is to have a completed book by March 2017.  I will be documenting my progress along the way.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Experimental Code Clip Tunnel Book

In my last post, I started puttering around with an experimental code clip being beta-tested by Chibitronics.   Over the past couple of days, I've completed a working book model that incorporates the clip.  I love the fact that I can now reprogram the patterns of the LEDs in my book to achieve different effects!

Here are a few pictures of the book's innards (and a video if you're interested).

Since the paper in my tunnel book was too weak to support the weight of the clip, I backed my circuit with a piece of binder's board.  I chose not to paste the circuit into the model, allowing me to move it (and the clip) around to other projects.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Prototyping with an Experimental Code Clip

Today I had the pleasure of playing around with an experimental prototype of Chibitronics' up and coming Code Clip, which is programmable via an audio cable (yes, audio instead of USB) and a cloud-based IDE that was created in collaboration with Codebender! This means that the microcontroller can be programmed from a tablet or smartphone, which is super convenient!

While it's still in testing mode, I am thrilled to report that this clip has a lot of fun features.  One of my favorites so far, aside from how efficient it is to program, is how ridiculously easy it has become to use the same microcontroller to jump between circuits, some containing NeoPixels and others using regular LEDs and/or Circuit Stickers.  I can't wait to see what else Chibitronics comes up with!  I just know I would have wanted to become an engineer or computer scientist if I'd learned how to build and code with a tool like this when I was younger.  This is a game changer!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dynamic Landscapes 2016

Aubrey Garrison and I recently collaborated in action research to design multimodal writing activities for seventh and eighth grade students as they composed narratives in a genre of their choice.  One group of seventh graders was given the additional opportunity to integrate paper circuitry as a multimodal writing tool.  Although we are still in the midst of analyzing data, our initial observations have led us to suspect that this approach led to increased engagement and participation among many students.

Yesterday, at Dynamic Landscapes, we shared some of our ideas, showcased examples of student work, and guided a small group of Vermont educators and students through a series of hands-on activities that included a seven-minute write and other creative writing prompts that might be applied in a writer's/ maker workshop.  Even though our workshop was an immersive (full day) session, we still didn't get through all of the activities we'd planned!

In addition to learning about circuits and switches, several participants learned to solder for the first time and how to program an ATtiny85 microcontroller to add special effects to their circuits.

Composition by the talented Caty Wolfe

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Using a TinyAVR Programmer with Codebender

Updated 30 October 2016:  Codebender is closing.

Here's a tutorial I put together to help you get started.  Under Codebender's Terms and Conditions, students must be 13 or older to use Codebender.

The TinyAVR Programmer is available at Spark Fun.

Friday, March 18, 2016


Although I've been working with LEDs for a while, I'm hesitant to admit that I haven't made a concerted effort to learn about resistors and Ohm's law until recently. Although the concept is the same for any circuit, I haven't seen many examples that specifically address how resistors work with paper circuitry.

Students that I've worked with have been discovering that not all LEDs play well with one another, but I haven't figured out a simple way to explain forward current, other than to say that "electrons are lazy."  (Although this amazing experiment, which I just discovered on on Jie Qi's flicker feed, is an incredibly useful visual representation!)

Although my understanding of resistance, current, and voltage is not as robust as I'd like it to be, I'm starting to understand how it all comes together.  My goal is to understand it well enough that I can figure out a way to explain it as simply, accurately, and confidently as possible.

Here are a couple of experiments I recently conducted to demonstrate a phenomenon that students experience when they are trying to use a blue (3.2 V) and red (2.2 V)  LED within the same circuit. The LED with the lower forward voltage (red) will receive the current without a resistor.  I've demonstrated how a couple of different types of resistors impact this phenomenon below.

Of note, Circuit Stickers (not shown here) have resistors built in, so your students wouldn't encounter this issue.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Flying Saucer: I've got a servo running on an ATtiny85, thanks to Jeannine Huffman!

I have been following Jeannine Huffman's (and Jim Bock's) work of getting a servo to run on an ATtiny85. When she shared her process, I ordered the parts and got right to work!  I used a TowerPro SG90 hobby motor that I ordered off of Amazon.

My servo moves smoothly for about 30 seconds, but then it sort of stalls out.  It will start again if I turn it off and on again.  I may have issue with my power supply.  I am using 2 coin cell batteries.

This pop-up was a rapid prototype.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Alien Neopixel Book (Second Edition)

This is the second alien book that I've made with surface mounted neopixels.  Like the previous model, this one has three RGB LEDs activated with a push button.  One thing that I did differently on this model was move the location of the battery away from the fore edge and closer to the spine.  I did this because I am continuing to have mixed results with the surface tension on embedded batteries.  I'm hoping that the battery compartment will be more secure if it's closer to the inside of the book block.

Consequently, I also changed the locations of the switch, push button, and ATtiny, allowing the added benefit of fewer cross-overs.  This was a good exercise, rather than simply repeating a circuit design I'd used before.

Soldering the neopixels is by far the most challenging part. I'm not sure that a project like this would be wise to attempt in a classroom setting. I'd thought my soldering would be more elegant this time around, but even a third hand tool didn't do the trick.