2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Teens

Boston terriers in red ear-flap hats with white beards

Teens can be hard to find gifts for. We have two at home–we know! Never fear. We have some great ideas for you, plus a couple gifts from my own list for the kid at heart. As with our 2018 Holiday Guide for Ages 5 – 11, I look for gifts that help kids attain … Read more 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Teens

2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Ages 5 – 11

2 Boston Terriers in silly hats with ear flaps

2018 Maker Gift Guide: Ages 5 – 11 I’ve long believed the things we give our kids matter. Some gifts are simple pleasures, but a truly great child’s gift will expand their mind in some way, let them explore new ideas and it will be so much fun that the recipient won’t ever consider it … Read more 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Ages 5 – 11

Oh the Possibilities!

A variety of several microcontrollers: Arduino nano, Circuity Playground, Raspberry Pi 0, ESP32

Here at MKR LAB we LOVE microcontrollers! These tiny but powerful devices can power a wide array of projects and they bring your code to life, making lights blink, buzzers sound, motors move … the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Plus, they’re small and relatively inexpensive.

We really like that all of these let you code with popular languages, from Python, JavaScript, and C to block-code languages like MakeCode and even Scratch! It’s pretty fabulous when tech expands to enable young coders to test out their skills and create what they want. And the physical computing projects give them immediate gratification when their code makes something physical happen.

So what would you make with a microcontroller? I have a few ideas:

  • Connect sensors to a glove with the micro:bit or Circuit Playground, both of which have built-in accelerometers, to create hands-free physical games. Take this up a few levels by creating a whole suit with sensors or even haptic feedback and you’re ready to enter Ready Player One territory!
  • Use biometric sensors that measure heart rate, skin tension, and temperature to create controller-free games. Biofeedback games and programs have used this technology for more than a decade, but it’s still not mainstream, not sure why because these games are AWESOME! It’s like you’re playing them with mind control, but really you need to elevate your heart rate at times, and lower it at others. It’s not magic or mind control, rather mind-body connection.
  • Make interactive sound art installations with capacitive touch sensors. I’m dying to use some conductive paint to do this. And I think any sound installation deserves good speakers, so I’d like to use a wifi-enabled board like the ESP32 to connect to a decent sound system. Just imagine a mural that makes different sounds or music when you touch it.

We’ve also made a series of projects with students at MKR LAB. Here are a few of them. We’ll be making a lot more in Microcontrollers: Novice to NinjaRobotics w/Raspberry Pi & Python, and Create & Code: a Maker’s Intro to Computer Science.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about wearables. I’d like to cultivate a group of students who are interested in taking this tech beyond basic conductive thread circuits and begin to connect clothing, textiles and accessories to microprocessors. We can embed heart rate sensors right into a shirt and connect it to an LED display. We’re already seeing products come to market that can be put right on the skin, like a UV-detecting tattoo that changes color when the wearer has been exposed to excessive UV. Sneaker manufacturers are embedding sensors into the soles of shoes to gather data and help high-level athletes refine their form and increase their performance. Safety-wear is now incorporating lights to make road crews visible at night. So while we may be making fun wearable projects, the underlying skills and tech lead to innovations that improve people’s lives! I’ll leave you with a fun wearable project I made for Halloween. The video is above. Here’s a peek at what’s powering it all: an Arduino Nano that I hacked by soldering a motor controller to it and then soldering 6 strings of fairy lights to that. Enjoy!

An Arduino Nano powers LEDs in a skirt.

LED PomPom Crowns

Glowing Pompom Crown Workshop

No power, no problem! The lights may be out, but this crew is glowing with LED headgear they made. After tornados passed through Westchester and left most of our town without power, but the kids were good to proceed so we quickly secured a couple more battery-powered hot glue guns and had a great time … Read more LED PomPom Crowns

The Button!

Sometimes adding a simple button is wildly exciting! Some of my favorite questions are “what if …,” “wouldn’t it be cool if …,” and “how do I …” Then I figure out how to do it. Case in point: the button. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could touch a button and make the LEDs blink alternatingly? And if they continued to blink while I held down the button? Done.

We’re going to Maker Faire Westport!

Have you ever been to Maker Faire? It’s lots of fun for the whole family. There are hands on activities, some super cool robots, vendors selling the latest high-tech equipment. It’s a huge gathering of crafters, makers, tinkerers, students, hobbyists … And there will be some good food trucks too. This one is FREE! So come on by Sun. 4/21 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and look for our booth in the Baldwin Lot up Church Lane (by the big plane)!

Talking Mother’s Day Cards

We’ve got a fun and free event coming up at the Lewisboro Library. This one’s for all ages, and it checks off an item on your to-do-list too! Using a greeting card sound module, you can record a personal message for Mom, Grandma, that special woman in your life. Kids will draw on the front, … Read more Talking Mother’s Day Cards

Scary Clown, Hacked Halloween Decoration

Scary Clown was an old broken Halloween decoration, not so scary. Until Clark teamed up with our 8-year old to hack it. They installed a Raspberry Pi where his heart would be, added ultrasonic sensors so it could detect when someone was near, motors to move its arms and head, installed AlexaPi, giving it all the functionality of Alexa (yes, Scary Clown can tell you the weather). But it still wasn’t scary enough. So they gave him a German accent and programmed some terrifying lines. We don’t really dislike small children, but it sure is disturbing when Scary Clown says he does! This project is more involved than our intro class, but shares many of the same elements. This naughty clown was programmed in Python.