LEGO Tinkering Pegboard Instructable

As we experiment with LEGO parts to explore with motions, mechanisms and linkages, we've also been working on custom elements to help us and visitors with the process of tinkering with these materials.


Early on, Sebastian created a Illustrator file for a pegboard pattern with holes that have the right size and spacing for LEGO technic pins and beams. We originally cut the pattern out of clear acrylic, but Nicole adjusted the design to create personal-sized wooden pegboards for learners to use to create linkage machines. We liked how the transparent acrylic allows people to see what others are working on around the table, but something about the smaller wood pegboards lent a friendly element to the experience. LEGO pegboard

We've liked using these bases for building surfaces for linkage sound machines and robot arms experiments and we've seen a bit of the potential for others to take the idea further over social media using #LEGOtinkering hashtag. We've had a bunch of requests to share the file for the pegboard, so Sebastian and I took some photos and wrote up a quick instructable for the project.

LEGO Tinkering Pegboard on Instructables


Hopefully others will take the lasercutter file and basic instructions further and customize the design to fit their own needs. It's been great to see all of the different ideas that collaborators near and far have been prototyping and we're excited to see the next iterations!


LEGO Robot Orchestra

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been trying some initial prototypes of LEGO linkages in the Tinkering Studio workshop. We built on our previous robot arm experiments in the learning studio, but as we continued to prepare the activity to be tested on the museum floor, we shifted the focus more toward sound making and music as a prompt for exploration.


We felt that sound making can help to both lower the threshold for entry and increase the possibilities for complexity. While building functional robot arms like tooth-brushers and hair-combers inspired some thinking around linkages, the experience led to a stopping point once the motion felt complete. For sound makers, it was natural to add on more elements and instruments to make machines that used linkages in increasingly interesting ways. IMG_2266

Before testing the activity with the public, we collected a bunch of bells, xylophones, mallets and toy instruments. We also created a few extra parts like film canisters filled with sand and beads to serve as makeshift shakers.


Nicole's small pegboard walls worked great as backdrops for building and we created an initial setup with some starting point linkages for people to use as examples as they designed their own sound machines. IMG_1908

We also used a little bit of hot glue to create a custom clothespin hack that could be used to attach extra objects to the mechanisms.


We also wanted to expand the possibilities for music making by using unexpected objects like combs and sand paper to made interesting noises. Some of these objects also gave us the chance to reuse our 3D printed pen holders from art machines. IMG_1914

It way really cool to see how one linkage could power very different rhythms with objects are attached to different places. We were encouraged to see people needing to pay very close attention to the movements of the linkages as they decided where to put each sound element.


Even without adding in any extra objects, the sound machine prompt encouraged visitors to think about the LEGO elements in a new way. One visitor used the friction of a flexible rubber LEGO axle to create a percussion instrument using a variety of technic parts. IMG_9457

As we develop activities in the tinkering studio, we try to design for unexpected outcomes and innovative solutions. This pie-tin shaker that moved ball bearings around was an unique contraption that got us thinking about possibilities for going more 3D with the devices.


Another interesting thing that we saw as we tried the workshop with kids is that the musical elements naturally lead explorations into a collaborative space. One group combined their machines and even linked the battery packs to create a customizable mechanical orchestra. IMG_2181

As usual, we also tried the activity with the group of tinkering studio project explainers at our weekly meeting. They took to the idea quickly, building on their experience with LEGO art machines to create a symphonic soundscape of linkage powered instruments. We brainstormed other materials to try and thought about facilitation techniques to experiment with when testing the activity with museum visitors.


The explainers got so excited about the sound machines, they volunteered to try out the activity with adult visitors at our thursday night after dark. It was a great chance to work with an adult audience and get them excited about getting back into playing around with legos. I really liked how one group used beer cans from the event to create unique sounds with the materials close at hand!

Next weekend the explainers and the tinkering team will be leading the workshop at the 11th annual Bay Area Maker Faire in the Exploratorium booth alongside a few other inspiring examples of linkages, motions and mechanisms. I can't wait to see how maker faire goers take this activity in new directions and help us develop the idea further!


LEGO Linkage Experiments

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been working with LEGO foundation to think about how to incorporate LEGO elements into tinkering experiences. We started out with exploring art machines and in the process noticed the ways that the technic pins encouraged participants to think about systematic iteration and appreciated the complexity of the different types of motion, including linkage based mechanisms. So it was an easy transition for us to start thinking about LEGO as a way to explore linkages as it's own area for exploration.


Linkages are something that we've been messing around with for a while since Noga Elhassid from the moving toys workshop spent time with us as an artist-in-residence last summer. Her beautiful and whimsical creations from simple materials like cardboard, brads, and paint inspired Lianna to lead the group in thinking about cardboard linkage workshops with museum visitors. We appreciated the expressive quality of these materials but observed that the cardboard made it more difficult to make small adjustments and iterations. IMG_1273

Linkages also relate to the Strandbeest summer exhibition at the Exploratorium, and can be a great way to explore the mechanisms that power the incredible creations of Theo Jansen. As we started exploring linkages and trying to mimic some of the classic models, we created base plates of that gave a surface for building.


Soon after, Sebastian designed an illustrator file for a pegboard panel that could match up with the LEGO technic holes as a way to experimenting with linkages. IMG_1405

We experimented with the size and material of these pegboards and eventually created a collection of personal boards with motors mounted for building. These mini boards provided a starting point for our first extended exploration.


Nicole was inspired by the useless robot arms of Simone Gietz, and Nicole riffed on her amazing and hilarious contraptions and build a breakfast machine out of mostly LEGO parts. IMG_1366

This got us thinking about other daily tasks that could be accomplished with linkage arms and how these familiar materials and actions could help lower the threshold and help people set their own goal for the linkage investigation.


It also gave us a chance to reuse our pen holders from the lego art machines activity to create machines that held a wide variety of objects like this chopstick wielding robot. IMG_1382

We collected a series of interesting everyday objects that we thought would be cool to try to animate. At this stage we wanted some elements that had both a characteristic motion but could be used in different ways.


It seems like robot arms may be a pretty interesting avenue to explore using LEGO linkages and can be a great way to encourage thinking about adding in extra materials to the LEGO set. There seems to be a lot of potential for getting to really complex creations, but gives people a reason to really experiment with linkages. As we continue to think about how to best introduce the idea of LEGO linkages, activities like this can provide a personal goal that encourages linkage use and explorations. We'll continue to explore the possibilities both at the museum during the summer show and also at our annual maker faire booth in a couple of weeks.


BAME Meet-Up Scratch & Makey Makey


Last Thursday, we hosted a Bay Area Maker Educator Meet-Up (BAMEM) at the Exploratorium with the theme of tinkering with Scratch and Makey Makey. Nicole and I set up several half-baked (or less) prototypes that we hoped would inspire the group to think about possibilities for tinkering with these tools and suggest ways to combine the physical and digital realm. The stations included light and shadow, paper circuit storytelling, sound and music, a few really rough ideas, and a 'scratch lounge' for beginners. As a follow-up to the workshop, I wanted to share links to the hardware and websites that we used as well as some notes from the reflection discussion at the end of the workshop. IMG_1215

At BAME meet-up, we used a combination of hardware that we've been messing around with that move toward lowering the threshold for the electronics portion of the activity. These tools include the following items:

Seed Studio Grove Kit (http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/Grove-Starter-Kit-V3-p-1855.html) - This shield connects to the top of an arduino and lets learners plug and play outputs like LEDs and sensors for light and sound without worrying about wires, resistors, or breadboarding. We also used the relay block that allows the arduino to switch on and off an element with a separate power source with more voltage. Nicole mounted these elements on wooden blocks a la circuit boards which we think makes them easier to use and more approachable.
Makey Makey (http://makeymakey.com/) - Makey Makey acts like a computer keyboard and allows learners to build switches out of familiar materials to control a wide range of programs including Scratch projects.
Mesh Sensors (http://meshprj.com/en/) - Ryoko has been experimenting with these sensors which are programmed through an Ipad app and can control motors, lights, and sensors that can all be triggered wirelessly. We're interested in incorporating these small components into projects like chain reaction, light play, or other tinkering activities.


For the programming element of the activity, we used Scratch based visual programming language both through the regular site as well as ScratchX, an experimental space for the Scratch team to experiment with adding new extensions to the system. Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/) - The regular Scratch site allows users to create all types of projects, share, and remix them. It's developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten team at MIT media lab and is something that is a great introduction to programming for people of all ages. ScratchX (http://scratchx.org/) - This experimental site adds blocks that control arduino pins. It's a little bit clunky with the grove sensors but once you start with programming you can create patterns, if/then statements, and projects that interact with the digital and physical world. Scratch Educator Guide (https://scratch.mit.edu/educators/) - There are tons of resources on the scratch site for teachers and educators. IMG_1219

As a way to get started thinking about tinkering in the digital world, we've been testing out ways of adapting pre-existing tinkering activities including Light Play and Paper Circuits. We have a few resources for starting point materials and prompts for those basic activities that can be a springboard for explorations into the digital world and programming.

Paper Circuits (http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/sites/default/files/Instructions/paper_circuits.pdf) - For paper circuits, we created a few example projects like an alarm clock, firefly, heart, and sunset that we thought would encourage participants to try to make blinking, fading and rhythmic patterns when connected to the LED outputs.
Light Play Instructable (http://www.instructables.com/id/Light-Play-Set/) - Light play is something that we spend some time with the LLK team experimenting with a few months ago. For the BAME meet-up we just used relays to switch the lights on and off but we are imagining that in the future we could find ways to make color changing, fading, and sensing lights with help from our colleagues at MIT.


Specifically for some of the activities or prototypes, we've added a couple extra things for explorations of music and motion that we think are specifically good for Scratch and Makey Makey experiments. Servos (https://www.servocity.com/html/hs-322hd_standard_deluxe.html#.Vx_GUj_LNaQ) - Nicole built version 2.0 of a arduino powered xylophone that essentially has the same mechanism as her bubble blowing machine, two servo motors hot glued together. In Scratch, you can program each motor to move a set number of degrees and pattern to create a wide range of movements to play instruments or accomplish other tasks. These motors were also used in the Robot Petting Zoo workshop that Nicole and I participated in a few months ago. Bluetooth Speaker (http://www.amazon.com/OrigAudio-Bumpster-Bluetooth-Wireless-Speaker/dp/B00MV6X2M4) - We think there's a lot of potential in creating musical instruments with homemade switches and Makey Makey and it seemed like and interesting path to include a small bluetooth speaker in the cardboard creation. This speaker seemed to work well but I think any small wireless speaker would be great to try. IMG_1185

At the end of the session, we used the 'compass points' Project Zero thinking routine where we analyze the experience with four prompts representing each of the cardinal directions. For east, we identified things that EXCITE us about tinkering with Scratch and Makey Makey projects. Some of the participants mentioned things like the collaborative aspect of the activities, the amount of variables to explore and the chance to be playful with these ideas. For west, we shared WORRIES that we have about Scratch and Makey Makey, including the cost and accessibility of the tools, providing enough professional development for colleagues and getting buy in from schools and institutions. North stands for the things we NEED TO KNOW before trying the activity. Some of the questions people had were around where to get the materials, what they cost, and well as questions about assessment and how to scaffold deeper investigations. At the southern point of the compass was a STANCE or a SUGGESTION to others after trying these prototypes. I loved the group's ideas, to keep the activity focused on immediate feedback, the power of hands-on experiences, that you can do plenty of 'programming' without computers, and that we can balance open-ended and guided provocations to create diverse entry points to these computational tinkering experiments.


Love Tools? Here's the list...

Open MAKE: Tools

Photo of cardboard tools created by Scout Tran-Caffee as part of OpenMAKE:Tools

Last month several members of the ASTC Community of Practice (CoP) for Making and Tinkering had a G+hangout dedicated to TOOLS used in our making & tinkering spaces and why we love them.  Since the hangout aired, we've received requests for a list of tools that were mentioned - so here they are as a comprehensive list (see below)!  You'll have to watch the recording of the hangout to learn why we love each one of them, but the list makes for a handy reference guide or cheat sheet.  For some reason there seem to be a disproportionate amount of cutters on this list - not sure what that says about us, other than we like to cut things, but we all came away with new insights and ideas regarding tools and tool use.  We hope you find familiar favorites on the list as well as a few new ones you might wanna check out!  We've already ordered 2 items from the list for the Tinkering Studio. 


Leo Palombo, Dana Schloss from ScienceWorks 
Sara Bolduc
from CEC Makerspace
Rebekah Nelson, Prinda Wanakule
from The Tech
Reid Bingham, Annalise Phillips, David Wells
from NYSci
Mike Cook & Bill 
from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
Nicole Catrett, Karen Wilkinson
from Exploratorium

Here's the recording of the hangout 



Klever Koncept Safety Cutter By ULINE
(David Wells, Keith Braafladt)

Vinyl cutter
By Silhouette Cameo
(Annalise Phillips, Keith Braafladt)

Medical scissors (with the blade 3” long)
(Dana Schloss)

Box cutter
Rotary cutter
(Sara Bolduc)

Hack saw
(Rebekah Nelson)

Japanese saw (Nicole Catrett)

Oscillating power tool (cordless)
By Milwaukee
(Mike Cook)

12V cordless powered jig saw
By Milwaukee
(Reid Bingham)

Electric rotary fabric mini cutter
(Dana Shloss)

Bonsai scissors
(Dana Schloss, Leo Palombo)

Screw punch tool (also known as the Martha Stewart Tool or Japanese Book Drill)
(Summer Brandon)

Hole puncher with spring By Fiskars
(Rebekah Nelso)

Cutting tool for popsicle sticks with certain angles By Mid-west / teachergeek.com
(Annalise Phillips)

Laser cutter
By Universal, Epilog
(Karen Wilkinson, Nicole Catrett, Summer Brandon)

Bone folder (Karen Wilkinson)

Multi meter with the volume setting
(Nicole Catrett)

Apps: Adobe Capture CC By Adobe
(Prinda Wanakule)
(for laser cutter, shape function will vectorize of objects from photos)

Battery powered soldering iron By Hakko
(Betty Brinn)

Apps: Spin Turntable (Sara Bolduc)

Apps: Shadow Puppet

Web: Build in Progress (Karen Wilkinson)

Youtube video to a gif (Dana Schloss)

Attention getter
made of bamboo from Thailand
(David Wells)

Small impact driver
By Makita
(Rebekah Nelson, Nicole Catrett)

Hot glue gun “the universal connector”
(Nicole Catrett)

TIG welder “glue gun for metal”
(Tim Hunkin)

Digital Caliper
(Reid Bingham)

Handheld 3D scanner (Mike Cook)

Structure sensor on iPad
By David Wells

Micro screwdrivers By Wera
(Dana Schloss, Nicole Catrett)

Watercolor bot By Evil Mad
(Karen Wilkinson)

Jewelry plier (Karen Wilkinson)

Good scissors
By Fiskars
(Lianna Kali)

Pico cricket By Playful Invention Company
(Luigi Anzivino)

EMT Scissors
Klever Kutters
Silhouette Cameo vinyl cutter
Button maker (Keith Braafladt)

Makita drill little battery drivers
Safety goggles,
Japanese saw,
Metric/ SAE tape measure,
Cutter with sharp blades