Thursday, December 17, 2015

Making and Building When I Can

It's been some time since I have taken a moment to share some of my making adventures here at The Laboratory (A.K.A. my apartment).  I recently received and out together my first Raspberry Pi based laptop, courtesy of pi-top and their Indiegogo campaign.  I am now waiting on the second version which costs less than $100.00.  I interact with the CEED Universe program in my pi-top as much as time allows to see how it might be used in my middle school S.T.E.M. classes.  If these get inexpensive enough, they would be great learning tools.
I have been hard-pressed for fun, maker time lately.  I am still working as a Model Teacher of S.T.E.M. in my middle school.  On top of this already busy life, I have chosen to train to be a school leader (i.e. a principal).  So now, I also go to night school and serve as an administrative intern while teaching this year.  Busy, busy!

Thankfully, the universe knows when to hand me a problem that requires some making skills to fix.  I have been having my Science students design turbine blades (at least 3 iterations) that we then hook to a D/C motor connected to a multimeter that we test to see how much electrical energy they can make.

The D/C motors came in some Arduino kits that we had purchased last year for our ArdBots.  The wire connections on the motors were extremely fragile.  Finally, today, the last of the wires broke from all of my motors, and we still have one more day to test!  I left work early (and early for me is on time for most teachers' end of day) and was able to get home by 5:00 pm.  I set up a temporary soldering station and got to work.
I used flux for the first time, and it was a great help.  I made strong connections to some solid wires that should last for a long time.  Plus side, I didn't burn myself once!  For those that know me, I am clumsy, to say the least.  I can trip over air and fall down while sitting.  Plus, it was a great excuse to wear my respirator while listening to awesome music blasting through The Laboratory.  Thank you Biggie, "Mo Money Mo Problems" helped me jam through soldering with a smile and a little swing.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Finally Making Again

I was starting to get pretty pissed at myself for not building or making anything for such a long time.  Don't get me wrong, I think about building and making all the time.  I find ways to help students build their robots in the classroom.  I just don't spend a lot of time making for myself.  So I made a point of attaching bumper switches to my robot today to practice my first round of touch sensing.

Oddly, I got it to work the first time.  It was quite a pain in the a55 using the cheap wire I apparently bought without reading the product description well enough.  Word of warning, stranded wires suck for small building and breadboards.  They are flexible, but that doesn't really mater until you get up into the larger gauged wires.

I cleverly hid my battery packs beneath the top deck.  I just wish I had cleverly used my multimeter to check that the batteries I was using had power before I made them disappear "under the hood".

All of my coding (and my students coding practice) can be viewed through where I store all my Arduino sketches (e-high-five to Christos and the Codebender team for making sharing sketches really easy).  Search for code under brybry75 and know that the code I write always starts with 0_ or BG_ (my students start their code practice with their own initials under my account).  Today's code can also be searched by name 0_Bumper_Demo if you are interested in viewing.

Hopefully there will be more to share before school is back in session on 02/23.  Then it is back to being a Science and Robotics Instructor for the kiddies.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday 'Bot Building

I have been struggling to get my first homemade robot up and running.  I decided today I wasn't going to let slightly wrong parts stop me any longer.  There was an ongong problem where I could not get the 2 5/8" Futaba servo wheels connected to my SpringRC servo motors.  All the servo hubs just didn't want to connect.  Screw it!  Time to get dirty.  When parts don't fit, you don't go buy new ones, you make that sh!+ work.  I pulled out a drill, held the hub and wheel together with locking pliers, drilled using a 3/32" bit through both parts, and screwed them together with a 4-40 tap screw.  They fit just fine, now.

What a great start, but I needed to separate my solderless breadboard power rails so they would fit on the top deck of my robot.  I had an old breadboard from an Arduino Uno Starter Kit I bought a couple of years ago.  I thought I might be able to use that breadboard, but it was adhering to a balsa mount.  I figured I could just separate it from the adhesive using an X-ACTO knife and a little elbow grease.  I was very wrong.  On the plus side, I know what the inside of a breadboard looks like now.

My final issue today was dealing with the flimsy wiring of the 4xAA battery connector.  If I had to do it all over again, I'd buy one with solid wires, if they exist.  Overall, I"m happy to have moved forward successfully today.  The plans are being used from the TeachBot plans in Arduino Robot Bonanza, by Gordon McComb which can be found on his wonderfully resourceful site, Robotics Universe.  I am saving my Arduino sketches using the cloud-based wonder-site, and you can see the 2Servo_Demo sketch using this link Again, huge thanks to Christos and his team at for letting me beta test the Collaborate function in my classroom.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Expand NY was a BLAST!

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Engadget Expand NY event at the Jacob Javits Center.  I was joined by my long-time friend, Veronica L.  We had a blast walking around and speaking with the presenters.  There were so many interesting little gadgets, both from a consumer perspective and from an educator perspective.  Here are a few of the notables:

1.  One of the favorites of mine was the Equil Smartpen 2.  I hate trying to write notes in my tablet -- the way I hold my pen places my palm on the screen which adds stray marks in my notes (I'm a self-diagnosed, slightly OCDer, so that kind of stuff kills me).  With the Smartpen 2, you take notes in a paper notebook, and the notes are transferred to an electronic device.  It will even turn your writing into editable text.  I hope to try one in the future and use during Professional Development courses in my new Model Teacher position.  I also think this has a LOT of potential for helping struggling writers in my classes.  I hope to try out this product and get bigger ideas about all of its possible uses.  (Picture borrowed from

2.  The best conversation I had was talking with Amie Baron of BloomSky about using their product in my classroom to be part of a weather network that can use data from around the country as the basis for secondary research long-term science investigations.  (Picture borrowed from

3.  The coolest device I saw caught me by surprise.  I walked into a dark tent and found a sandbox with LED devices on it.  I instantly fell in love with the Sand Noise Device.  Awesome concept.  It had me entranced for more than a few minutes while I learned about it from Matt Roads, a jazz musician from California.  Their videos are a must-see to truly understand this contraption.

4.  Jack Grannan of Aldebaran in Boston, MA was kind enough to share information about the NAO robot.  This humanoid-style 'bot was fun to watch.  I will be in touch with them about looking for grant money to get a robot to use as a learning tool.  They are already in schools around Boston.  Hopefully, they will arrive in New York City soon!

5.  I was impressed with the DIY Lab kits available from The Public Laboratory.  This is citizen science using inexpensive DIY techniques to collect data about environmental issues.  What a great way to learn science and contribute data to help out communities!

6.  Lastly, I want to mention Nomiku.  They make a WiFi enabled sous vide immersion device that can be programmed from anywhere.  You can have wonderful food waiting for you at home by connecting wirelessly to the device.  I enjoy cooking, and this really made me happy.  I really enjoyed meeting the crew at Expand NY and I hope to try this one really soon.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Pluto Debate Continues...

For those who don't realize it, scientists are constantly debating and redefining our work.  Scientists gather evidence through repeated trials and replicated investigations, and we learn something new.  We analyze data, and find new meaning.  We discover new knowledge.

Back in 2006, scientists at the International Astronomical Union voted to demote Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet.  Three days ago, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics had their own, unofficial, vote and decided that Pluto should again be considered a planet.  You can view the entire debate on YouTube at under the "What is a Planet?" video.

I was on board with the redefining of planetary bodies back in 2006.  I tend to embrace change when it happens in science after a tragic mistake as a teacher telling my students that bacteria did not have cytoskeletons in 2008.  I had not been up to date with scientific knowledge.  Turns out that after graduating from USF back in 2005, scientists had in fact discovered bacterial cytoskeletons.  I had to return to my class and own up to my mistake, of course with a full lesson cytoskeletons and their functions in all cell types.

However, after watching the video from the CfA, I'm leaning back for Pluto's return to planetary status.  It will mean a huge increase in the number of planets in our solar system, including the eccentric oddballs.  But I read stories constantly of exo-planets with eccentric orbits.  I'm back on the Pluto is a planet side of the debate.  Where are you?

Pluto photo above courtesy of

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My First Robotic Arm

I built my first robot grip!  :::snickers to self:::

I read through the wonderful Robot Builders Bonanza by Gordon McComb, and I saw a diagram for a gripper mechanism like this in the book.  I tried to recreate using parts from an Erector Set, but I just couldn't get the functionality I had hoped to see.  Luckily, after some random searching -- and Amazon's ability to track my constant "window" shopping -- I landed on this hobby style robotic arm with gripper.  Lots of servos, 5 degrees of movement, and well drawn plans made this build a blast!

It is wired to the control panel, but I bet once I learn more, it'll be a breeze to hack that into something wireless.  The build really gave me first hand experience with building the gripper portion.  That was a huge struggle in my FIRST robotics team last year (Shout Out to Team 1880!).  Now I have a model that is usable as an exemplar for future builds.

If you decide to build the OWI Kit Robotic Arm Edge (OWI-535) yourself, here are a few tips:

  1. Separate and label all the tiny screws, you'll thank yourself later
  2. Overtightening tap screws will strip the joint, so turn carefully.
  3. Use a multimeter to check your batteries before installing.  You don't want to have to open the case back up for a while.
  4. When wiring to the PC board, watch your ground and power connections.  The wires are colored for a reason.  
  5. For some reason, I seem to have bad luck around battery cases.  Don't ask me why, but when it comes to building around or moving batteries, I seem to be cursed to screw something up.  Dropping a tiny tap screw into the battery case after it has been installed and encased beneath a  is a frustrating time waster.  Be careful when putting on the PC board atop the case lid of the batteries.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Updating

 It's been quite a summer!  I finished teaching a summer S.T.E.M. course for rising 9th and 10th grade students interested in high school robotics.  Now I am focused on planning for the coming school year for 2014-2015 middle school.  I found out recently I am teaching 8th grade science again.  I am really excited to be back with the younger students so I can help to build scientific curiosity and strong student skills from the start of their time in middle school.  I also will be teaching one 7th grade science course.
    Special News:  I am also planning to teach Global Neighborhood Secondary School's first ever Middle School Robotics Program!  This is going to be a really fun year.  I can't wait to see my former students again, as well as meeting my new students.
    We must also say goodbye to a Science Classroom friend and learning partner.  Arby the rat passed away over the summer.  He is now resting in a hammock in the sky munching on as many cheesy-poofs as he can handle.

Finally, I am also building my classroom website.  Visit every now and again to to check out what's happening in my classrooms.