Gifts for the Gifted – Girls Garage

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Before I get into today’s recommendation, I do want to let you know that I will be making one more recommendation next Thursday, Christmas Eve. It will be a digital subscription, so you won’t have to worry about receiving it in time. The price varies, based on the features you want, but the company is also offering a 15% discount code. In addition, I will be giving information on a free class I will be teaching involving this surprise. So, be sure to tune in next week for the final edition for the 2020 Gifts for the Gifted series!

Now, let’s talk about this week’s great gift! I actually wrote about this book in June of this year. The full title is, Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See (Teenage Trailblazers, STEM Building Projects for Girls). The book is written by Emily PilIoton, who founded Girls Garage in California in 2013 with the mission to empower young women from ages 9-18 to design and build. Girls Garage is full of practical advice for using tools and regular maintenance activities that most of us encounter as we live our lives, in addition to instructions for fun building projects.

As with most of my recommendations, this is the kind of gift you should use with the recipient. If you just present the book with no follow-through it will likely sit on a shelf collecting dust. In fact, I think it would be a great idea to put it in a basket with the supplies for one of the projects that you could do together. And if you don’t know a lot about using hand or power tools, that’s even better. Kids love to learn with adults, and it’s a wonderful way to model how to handle problem-solving and mistakes.

Some of you may be asking whether or not this book is suited for boys, given the title. In my opinion, the content is great for anyone who is not used to working with tools. There may be similar books out there that don’t address a specific gender. Yes, I would give it to my own son if I had one – along with his first power drill. However, you will ultimately have to be the judge about whether or not the person would appreciate this gift.

Amazon has made enough money this year, so if you can purchase Girls Garage from Bookshop or directly from your local independent bookstore, please do what you can to help them out!

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.

CoBuild

Teachers and researchers came together to create the CoBuild At Home website during the Covid-19 pandemic with the goal of encouraging children and their caregivers to use common household items to build and create.  You can find multiple project ideas on the site that range from extracting DNA from food to making art from sneezes.  Most of the projects have short challenge videos, and many include downloadable resources.

In addition to the challenges offered on the CoBuild website, the Science Friday podcast is collaborating with CoBuild at Home to provide a CoBuild Camp from July 24th, 2020 – July 31st, 2020.  This free camp is designed for children in 1st-6th grades, and will include a one hour Zoom each day of the camp.  Visit the link for more details, and to fill out an interest form.  Be sure to fill out the interest form soon, as spots for this great opportunity may fill up!

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Image by Design_Miss_C from Pixabay

3d Printed Lithophanes

I asked a couple of people on Twitter if I could share their projects today.  I have been fascinated watching them post pictures of their 3d printed lithophanes.  In the past, lithophanes were traditionally etched in thin, translucent porcelain that revealed the artwork when backlit.  3d printing technology, however, allows for lithophanes to be created using filament with very similar results.

Julia Dweck (@GiftedTawk) has been working on 3d printing lithophanes with her students to showcase their individuality.  As you can see in the first picture below, the lithophanes are not truly visible without light.  The second photo displays her amazing student photos once the lamp has been turned on.  Follow Julia if you aren’t already – she is always doing incredibly creative projects!

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3d Printed Lithophanes courtesy of @GiftedTawk

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3d Printed Lithophanes courtesy of @GiftedTawk

Rob Morrill (@morill_rob) has also been working with lithophanes.  His designs are in honor of Black History Month.  You can see his Rosa Parks example below.  I also suggest you take a look at his Nina Simone and Shirley Chisholm lithophanes available on Thingiverse.

Rob has provided step-by-step instructions for creating lithophanes with Tinkercad here.

Most of the lithophane DYI articles, including Rob’s,  recommend using this free online lithophane generator to make your photos into an .stl file.  Once you have this file, you can use any slicing program, such as Cura, to prepare the file for 3d printing.  This Sparkfun article has basic instructions.  For more complex “tweaks” that you may want to make in your preferred slicing program, such as setting the layer height and infill, this Instructable may help you out.  Most of the sources I looked at recommend using white PLA filament.  Other colors may work, but the translucency will not be as consistent.

Let me know if you’ve done a lithophane project!  I’d love to see the many applications of these unique form of art.

 

Turtlestitch

One of the many things I didn’t know anything about when I first started teaching at Advanced Learning Academy was working with textiles.  My skills were limited to hand-sewing buttons.  Even though my in-laws had given me a sewing machine a decade ago, I still didn’t know how to thread it or why in the world I needed a bobbin.

I had seen the Turtlestitch Kickstarter page, and was intrigued by the idea of using coding to design for textiles, specifically for embroidery machines.  My colleague and I decided to order a combo sewing/embroidery machine (Brother SE600) for Zorro Astuto, and it arrived about a month before I retired.  I took it home for the Thanksgiving Break to try it out and, with the help of a lot of YouTube videos, figured out how to use the machine.  Although I was by no means an expert, I begged my family to buy me one for Christmas.  I knew I would suffer from fabrication withdrawal once I was no longer teaching in Zorro Astuto, and the Brother SE600 seemed far more practical than adding a 3d printer or laser cutter to my personal collection – though I’m certainly not ruling those out for the future 😉

I’ve made a lot of mistakes with this machine, which makes sense since I knew zero about it when I started.  For example, I didn’t know that you need to put a stabilizer behind your fabric (sometimes even on top of it, depending on the fabric), and that there are many, many different types of stabilizers.  The type of fabric, or other medium, and the types of stitches will determine your stabilizer and needle types.  This blog post was really helpful.  I have also learned quite a bit about how to service my machine as pieces of thread and fabric have gotten caught inside when I didn’t stabilize correctly or a needle broke.

You can download embroidery designs, but most of them will cost you money.  Finding just the right software for creating your own designs can be overwhelming.  That’s why Turtlestitch is such a genius idea.  Using block coding, you can create your own design and export it to a USB – for free.

To start, I decided to choose from one of the many free designs already available on the Turtlestitch site.  The project is called, “Twisty.”  Because I wanted my design to be in different colors, I decided to remix the original by randomizing the RGB colors.  Each time I run the code, the colors will come out different.  However, once I like the colors, I can export the file as a .dst, and those colors will be the set used for the embroidery file. The machine lists each corresponding Brother Thread color number as it is needed, and I was fortunate in this case, as almost every single thread color was part of my original package of threads.turtlestitchtwisty

My machine will stop for each color change, which turned out to be a bit demanding on this project, but I’m thankful for the automatic needle threader!

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Turtlestitch “Twisty” remixed, stitched on felt, using tear-away stabilizer on bottom

I love using coding with math, and there are lots of possibilities here.  There are a few fractals projects already on the site, as well as tessellations.  If you follow the @turtlestitch Twitter account, you will see examples of student projects, including jewelry (my next personal challenge).

Recycled Toys

Last nine weeks, I co-taught an Electronics class for our 7th grade elective.  I say “co-taught” even though my colleague, Kat Sauter, actually did nearly all of the planning and teaching – and I learned nearly as much as the students.  One of the projects that the students did was to take apart old battery-operated toys to identify the different electronic parts.  After dissecting the toys and making posters that illustrated diagrams of the inner workings, the students could make new toys using the parts and any of the tools we had in Zorro Astuto.  This group was particularly proud of the musical toy they transformed into a UFO, complete with 3d printed alien pilot, laser cut acrylic laser beam, and very confused 3d printed cow.

One of the resources Kat used for ideas was this “Toy Take Apart” project from the Exploratorium.  You can find some more ideas in this article from User Generated Education.  You can also see some other fun examples by looking at #toydissection on Twitter.

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