Here at Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn, we have been developing a new physical programming activity called "Machines Gone Wild!" that helps our youth learn about mechanical engineering with mechanisms and physical programming with Arduinos. So many of our youth "think with their hands" while building and last year we found that none of them had ever studied automata or mechanisms in their schools. The youth teachers also told us they wanted an activity that programs geared motors because in the past, we have only used servo motors.
Developing great activities often starts with inspiration we get from some of the great examples found on the internet. We took our inspiration for the Cam Mechanisms from the great San Francisco Exploratorium project:
At Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn we repeat each activity four times because our 34 youth teachers are divided into small learning groups of 8-9. This works wonderfully for piloting and developing activities. Each week we get feedback from youth teachers about what would make the activity better for them and then improve our activity design for the next week. The first week, we had youth teachers cut and build the cam boxes themselves, but they suggested that we fabricate the cam boxes so that they could spend most of their time experimenting with the automata cam mechanisms, rather than cutting cardboard.
So, our wonderful community industrial designer Brad Presler collaborated with mechanical engineer Robert Crowder and I to design a wonderful Cam Mechanism Box, as well as the cams and levers, that we fabricated on our lasercutters with recycled cardboard boxes.
We cut down small dowels from our local hardware store for the axels. Straws and skewers came from the grocery store. Glue guns helped a lot!
For the physical programming part of the activity, we used Arduinos with Modkit MotoProto Board Shields that have headphone jack plug-ins for inputs and outputs. A small connector that pressfit our geared motor (http://www.robotshop.com/en/solarbotics-gm9-gear-motor-9.html) attached to the dowel to make the axel move. We also created LED lights, buttons and potentiometers that could be plugged into the MotoProto Board to add programming options for the automata mechanism.
Arduino Modkit was used as the software. It allows drag and drop graphical programming, but also has a code view that shows the Arduino code equivalent to the block view to scaffold programming learning.
Here are a few of the projects from our pilot session!
You can see the sun and moon cam in action connected to the geared motor here on youtube:
Here's a little video that shows some examples made by our youth teacher and shows the cam mechanism connected to LEDs, geared motor and touch sensor, programmed using Modkit Micro:
Credit: We were able to take the time to develop this activity in such a way that we can take it to 600 elementary and middle school youth this summer through a generous grant from the Making the Future Foundation at Cognizant.