Bread Board Games—DIT’s Electronics Workshops in Wexford

What a great weekend in Ireland, teaching four electronic engineering workshops for kids, mostly 6-8 years old, in Bunclody and Enniscorthy. I love working with the kids, and it’s always fun having a weekend outing with my friends from DIT.

DIT lecturer Frank Duignan invented the small hand held video games and instructions for helping kids assemble their own. Retired DIT lecturer Charlie Pritchard worked with local librarians to schedule these two dates, plus three more dates for workshops to be held around Wexford. Charlie also secured funding and ordered the parts from hither and yon. Then Frank and his son Sam prepared the parts. And the day before we set out for Bunclody, I helped Frank assemble the kits in our project room at DIT.

The photo gallery below shows three days of our adventure. You’ll see Frank and me assembling kits, and then sights I saw along the way from my home to the sunny southeastern corner of Ireland. You’ll see our two Friday workshops in Bunclody, our team dinner at the Pritchards’ home, and the village where my overnight hosts, the Hays, live. You’ll see some of the sights I got to take in with retired DIT lecturer Richard Hays, before Saturday’s events, and some lively fun we had between workshop sessions.

Mostly you’ll see young kids happily learning new skills, building their own video games, and operating their little devices with glee. You’ll see a bunch of teachers excited about what they do, and librarians dedicated to supporting them. You’ll see two secondary students, Oran and Sam (who were also there helping lead our booth at Dublin Maker just a few weeks ago), donating yet another day to teaching kids electronics.

I’m so lucky to know these folks–Frank, Richard, Charlie, Oran, Sam, Edith, and Geraldine–and get to help them give kids a taste of engineering. The kids’ joy when the screen lights up is worth it all. These kids’ focus and attention to detail in assembly pays off when the Bread Board Games spring to life.

Bread Board Games

The best way to spend a rainy Saturday in November? Teaching kids about electronics!

On Saturday–as part of Ireland’s 2017 Science Week, our RoboSlam team delivered two workshops in Bunclody, county Wexford. Kids as young as seven participated, and each built a working video game developed by our team’s very own Frank Duignan.

Workshop 1 – For students with coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game, change elements of a game using coding (15 Students, 10.45a.m. – 1.00 p.m., 8 – 12 years)

Workshop 2 – For students with no coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game (15 Students, 2.15p.m. – 3.30p.m., for kids 7 – 10 years)

The kids were such fun, and all were completely engaged and excited to learn. Bunclody Library hosted the Workshops, Toaglas sponsored the event, and DIT retiree Charlie Prichard organized sponsorship. For more photos and info, visit our RoboSlam blog.

 

Sinead’s Slammin’ TV Production

RTE's Sinead Morris filming DIT's Ted Burke using a kitted-out iPhone 5.

RTE’s Sinead Morris filming DIT’s Ted Burke using a kitted-out iPhone 5.

TV journalist Sinead Morris came to DIT’s Kevin Street location today to film robot construction in action. Our RoboSlam team leaders — Ted, Damon, Frank, and I — are preparing for the upcoming Dublin Maker event, to be held at Trinity College on Saturday, July 26.  Sinead wanted to capture the activity.

The Dublin Maker event served as the impetus, Sinead explained, but the main intention of her piece is to show what the RoboSlam group is doing with robotics.

Sinead’s production is likely to air on RTE’s digital news channel, News Now.

Ted and Sinead set up for a shot of the robot underworld.

Ted and Sinead set up for a shot of the robot underworld.

Sinead is testing photojournalism innovations. The Irish television company where she works, RTE, wants its journalists to gain experience with spontaneous, low-tech approaches — so staff members can shoot, edit, and post “on the go.”  At the end of this innovation project, RTE staff will have the skills needed to disseminate news on the run… when opportunities arise.

RTE asked its staff to take this challenge: produce interesting and informative pieces wholly on their iPhones.

Hampton University journalism students were learning to do the same when my friend Tony Brown was dean of the program so, for me, watching this process firsthand proved fascinating.  The move toward spontaneous creation of new content aligns with the goals for our RoboSlam project; we want our workshop participants to take their robots home and start creating new “home grown” code for operating the ‘bots.

TV news technology has come a long way in my lifetime. When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, my parents were television journalists. They used 16mm film equipment, and I learned to use the same when I was in college studying architecture.

Today’s capture-edit-and-post culture speeds the process. Mom and Dad used to shoot the footage and put it on a Trailways bus bound for the TV station one hour away. While it was in transit, they’d phone the station to make a voice recording of the text for the station to overlay.

It would appear in its synchronized form on that night’s news.

Now, Viola!, Sinead can do, alone and in moments, what it took dozens of people hours to create in the 1980s.

Robot show down.

Robot show down.

So, I was able to learn quite a bit from Sinead today, about software as well as hardware, and perhaps now I can give her videography techniques a go.

She also inspired me to write up this blog on site, while she’s finishing up her interview with Ted. Moments ago, she asked him what it’s like to work this type of job. He said he loves coming in every day to build robots and work with students.

He didn’t mention that he and his colleagues are currently on vacation and aren’t at all required to be here.  They just can’t keep themselves away!

We actually had quite a few interesting projects underway in the lab today while we were filming… a veritable Santa’s workshop of robotics. For instance, one of DIT’s third year students, Shane Ormonde, was here developing a new robot to show at the Dublin Maker event. He just completed a degree in Electrical and Control Engineering (DT009) and will pursue yet another degree in the fall.

Shane is conducting a robotics experiment while on summer holiday.  It’s a nice break, he says, from his call-center job.  (Gotta love that initiative!)

Shane Ormonde's new global robot arm.

Shane Ormonde’s new global robot arm.

Shane is building and programming a robotic system that, using a globe, can show in real time what the International Space Station is actually tracking at the same moment. Eventually, his robot will also be able to point to any location a person requests, using the laser on the end of its moving arm.

The globe itself moves to set the correct longitude and the arm moves to pinpoint the latitude.

He originally wanted people to be able to tune in via internet to ask the robot to identify specific locations and complete other such actions.  Shane’s creation will be featured as one part of our DIT RoboSlam exhibit at the Dublin Maker event.

Come join us next Saturday – near the cricket pitch at Trinity – and see!

New “RoboSlam for Facilitators” Workshop

Ted, Damon, and I have been gearing up for future RoboSlam workshops.   We have been looking for sponsors to help us continue and scale up our work.  For now, we’ll have to keep things fairly small and simple.  We’re not letting the lack of funds hold us back too much!  We’ve got to keep our momentum going!

During my Fulbright fellowship, I had several official projects. Along the way, I adopted a number of other projects–like RoboSlam–where I could learn and also contribute.

Ted and Damon are so talented and passionate about what they do that it’s impossible not to want to contribute to the success of their project.

While I was away studying in Rome, Ted and Damon hosted a workshop for people we hope will want to become facilitators of RoboSlam.  It’s part of our strategy for getting more people involved in the project.

RoboSlam Ratings

The organizer of last week’s events at DIT wrote to those of us who conducted the RoboSlam robot hacking workshop. She said:

In fact, in the survey I conducted at the end, 61.8% of 34 participants said it was ‘excellent’ and 35.3% said it was ‘very good’. One student said it was ‘good’ (2.9%) and that was the lowest score Roboslam got. It even beat Wednesday’s visit to the Aviva Stadium which, in the week of the Heineken Cup, is saying something! A whopping 67.6% of participants said it was their favourite on-campus activity and, interestingly,  11 students now say that electronic engineering would be their preferred choice of engineering discipline, up from 8 students at the start of the week…

To read more, please see the RoboSlam blog on this topic.

Starting with Circuitry

RoboSlam

RoboSlam starts with an introduction to the overall robot-building process and then delves into assembling the electronic components (i.e., building the circuitry).  The photos below track the progress of several groups of participants in the “Engineering Your Future” event held the week of May 13-17 at DIT.

These photos were all taken by DIT’s current Fulbright Scholar in Engineering Education, Dr. Shannon Chance.  Participants are welcome to download them and share them with others.  Shannon will post images of the rest of the week in the days to come….

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Slammin’

We are running a RoboSlam robot hacking workshop with high school (transition year) students here in Ireland. Having great fun and learning circuitry, programming, and lots more!

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