Children’s Blog

Everyday Childhood Encouragement of Experimentation and STEM Discovery

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From Hackbright Academy:

Here are 6 things you can do right now to help your children become more resilient as future innovators and leaders.

April Workshop - Tilting Bird

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The focus of our workshop this month was the tilt sensor, also know as an accelerometer. We talked about how accelerometers use gravity to determine a change in orientation. Older smartphones used accelerometers to automatically change the orientation of the screen, depending on how it was held. The Nintendo Wii remote also uses this same technology for game control. 

Newer phones, like the iPhone 5 and 6, use gyroscopes--or more specifically, MEMS (Microelectromechanical systems) gyroscopes. These tiny gyroscopes (.02mm-1mm) are manufactured using a chemical etching process. I also demonstrated a classic mechanical gyroscope, showing how it balances on a string and how it resists a change in orientation.

We wrapped up the lecture part of the workshop with a short video showing how the inner ear helps us keep our own balance through three semicircular tubes filled with liquid.

The actual LEGO building part involved a model of a bird that made different noises when it was tilted. The sounds were triggered by a LEGO tilt sensor connected to the laptop.

 (Use arrow keys to navigate presentation below Click on pictures to play video..)


March Workshop - Hungry Alligator

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This month, we talked about motion sensors--how they work and how they're used. We also discussed infrared wavelengths and where they fall on the electromagnetic spectrum, how polarizing lens are used to filter out glare, and how bats use echolocation for navigation.

All this background information led to this month's project, which was an aliigator with a moving jaw that was triggered by a motion sensor.


February Workshop - Drumming Monkey

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We started out this month's workshop with the question, "What type of mechanical element links the three videos below?"

The answer is "cams/camshafts/crankshafts." 

The first video is of a "Strandbeest," the creation of Dutch inventor and artist Theo Jansen. There's a good shot of the crankshaft driving the contraption at the 20 second mark. I also brought in a working scale model of a Strandbeest so the kids could get a close-up look at one.

Cam mechanisms are important to this workshop because they are what move the arms of our Drumming Monkey. We explored how varying the placement of the cams on the spinning shaft would change the rhythm of the drumming. We also experimented with lengthening the monkey's arms. Finally, we began to try some more advanced programming using motion sensors to trigger our models.

We'll be covering this last subject in more depth during our March workshop. See you then!


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Today we held our first ever LEGOPALOOZA event! LEGOPALOOZA is a drop in event where kids ages 5-12 are welcome to come in from 10:30-12pm and build their own LEGO creation! LEGOPALOOZA will be held once a month on the third Saturday of the month, we hope to see you there next time!

Check out some of the cool LEGO structures the kids built...

January Workshop - Smart Spinner

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In this month's workshop, we built Smart Spinners. This involved programming a motor to start at the press of a button on the computer, and setting a proximity sensor to automatically turn off the motor when the spinner was released.

We also talked about Isaac Newton and his Three Laws of Motion, and Michael Faraday who demonstrated the first working motor. I showed the kids how to recreate Faraday's "homopolar motor" with a battery, a neodymium (really strong) magnet, and a piece of copper wire. If you want to do this experiment at home, you can obtain neodymium magnets from Amazon. (Make sure you keep them away from small children--they're really strong and potentially harmful if swallowed.)

I also demonstrated how a motor can be turned into a generator to produce electricity, using a toy windmill to light a small LED.

Lastly, we watched a video of our same LEGO Smart Spinner being demonstrated on the International Space Station in microgravity (see below).

I hope everyone had as much fun as I did, and maybe even learned something. See you next month!