Microbit Animals

In August, I’ll be one of 4 facilitators at the NYSAIS STEAM Camp, a 3 day intensive making/learning/unconference workshop. The opening project will be making a Microbit Cardboard Animals. This project is a takeoff on  a project by TechHive Studio’s of Science in Berkeley, CA. At the Camp, each participant will receive a BBC Microbit to keep. The Microbit is great platform for making for students from grades 4 through 12. Learn more about the Microbit from microbit.org

Here’s a video of my test Microbit Cardboard Animals.

One Solar Panel


This is one of the 4,158 solar panels which will be installed at Poughkeepsie Day School.

The panel is wired to an electrical outlet and an on/off switch. The lamp is plugged into the outlet. There is also a multimeter wired to the panel, so you can see the number of volts the panel generates at any given time. If the switch is up and there is enough light hitting the panel, the bulb will light up.

On a cloudy day, inside the lobby, about 10 volts are generated. On a sunny day over 70 volts is being generated.

Answer two questions about kids and STEM

I received an email this afternoon from the school’s Communications person, asking me to for an article.
How can parents get kids interested in STEM at an early age?

Is important to keep a child’s natural curiosity about how the the world works. Children ask a lot of questions. Answer them in a simple, accurate way and tell them how it ties into the wider world. And if you don’t know the answer, together find the answer. And if after answering a question and they respond “Why”, keep answering till you’re both exhausted!
them a sunflower and explain how the flower and my other objects of natural express themselves in math (the Fibonacci series).

Take them a planetarium, a Maker Faire, and watch episodes of PBS’s NOVA series. Fix things together. Make a solar powered bug or shine a laser on a piece of mirror taped to an audio loudspeaker to see the patterns that sound make.
There are plenty of resources out there. Start with San Francisco’s Exploratorium website -www.exploratorium.edu/explore/activities
What can schools and educators do to support students learning STEM?
The very definition of STEM means that there is an interconnection of knowledge and systems. Many schools have a robotics program in which hardware, software and structure must work in tandem. The Maker Movement and school’s creating makerspaces are another manifestation of how STEM is taught in school. Think big. Create a hydroponic garden that is connected to the Internet of Things or build marionettes that are controlled by sensors mounted on your body.

Brain Massager – V1

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Finally, I completed version 1 of my brain massager. It consists of 15 programmable 12mm vibration motors hot glued on to a BraiNet Placement Cap. The vibration motors are soldered and hot glued onto an Adafruit JST-PH 2-Pin SMT Right Angle Breakout Board which is then connected to a JST extension cable and hot glued onto the Brainet Cap.

The heart of the massager is an Adafruit Metro Mini Arduino processor. The JST extension cable is wired to a protoboard and wired to the Metro Mini.

In the early programming stage, there are sequences that vibrate one side of the brain then the other. Another sequence revolves around the scalp. And yet another vibrates the symmetrical points on either side of the scalp. I’m still experimenting with different sequences.

Version 2 is already underway using 21 motors and this time using an Adafruit Bluetooth Feather processor, so I can develop a smartphone interface.


Project Nightlight

“Project Nightlight:  Creating Interactive Art and Technology Project”

David Held, dheld@poughkeepsieday.org, 914-474-1248, Poughkeepsie Day School


Project Nightlight is a unit in which students design, build and program a 3D printed computer programmable night light. The project was taught in a middle school art class. The purpose of this project is to engage students in an authentic and meaningful project with a well-defined and functional outcome. The learning goals for students include understanding the basics designing a physical object, gaining a simple understanding of electronics and computer programming.. Students need not have any previous experience in 3D modeling or programming.


The goal put to students is to design a nightlight, that will cast patterned shadows. They are instructed that the design of the nightlight must house the physical components of a microcontroller, a set of RGB LEDS, and a button. The wiring diagram of the components is given to the students. Students are told that they must program to microcontroller to detect button presses. When a button press is detected, the pattern of the lights change. They are instructed that there must be at least six “light states”; all LEDs on with white light, all LEDS off, and four moving colored  light patterns of their own design.

Students learn to build a 3D structure using a free 3D design software, such as Tinkercad, 123Design, or Shapshifter.io. Once the design is printed on a 3D printer, students then install the electronic components into their printed design. Students taught the circuit diagram and the function of each component. The last phase of the project is for  students write a computer program to change and customize the light sequences. In programming what they have built, students learn the interactions between hardware and software. Software templates are provided to students and examples are presented that demonstrate programming control structures for them to modify.


The materials required for this project are access to a 3D printer (or recycled materials if a 3D printer is not available), one Adafruit Trinket microcomputer ($6), one Adafruit Neopixel stick ($7), a button ($0.50), and some wire. The tools are a soldering iron, solder, wire cutter and wire strippers. If your school does have or want students to solder, then the project could be done with conductive wire glue available from Radio Shack or other suppliers.  


When a student feels that they have completed a project. The teacher reviews the nightlight with the student. They review the decisions that went into the design of the structure, going over the 3D model in software. This way the teacher can see if the student can manipulate objects in the software.  The teacher then reviews the student’s knowledge of the hardware and software. The student might be asked a series of questions, such as “if I moved this wire to here, what in the software would have to change” to test their knowledge of the hardware/software interactions. Finally, the software is reviewed by the teacher looking at variable naming conventions, commenting, and efficiency of the code.

This project appeals to students at many levels. It engages students in a variety of skill sets – design, construction, problem-solving, understanding circuitry and  programming.  Success in the project involves grasping all the aspects of the design and production phases as well as the creation of a unique and functional nightlight.

Several students may have a proclivity towards different aspects of the project. Some students excel in design and construction techniques, while others have a knack for computer programming. Cooperation and collaboration are encouraged so students can help each other in the different aspects of the project. The main goal is for all students to complete a working nightlight with a full understanding of each phase. If students received help, they still must complete an oral comprehension evaluation.

Students work is checked after the successful completion of each step of the project; design, wiring of the circuit and programming. At the conclusion of the project, the teacher reviews the project with each student in an oral examination to assess their understanding of the hardware and software and recommends and reviews the process against a rubric (see below). This project is most appropriate for middle school age students.

Design/Creativity Construction Programming Effort & Perseverance
Planned design incorporating shadow & light Components wired correctly Program is written in a clear and logical manner Follows directions
Design adequately fits electronic components Correct colored wires used (red ­ 5v, black ­ ground, other ­ data) Control structures are used correctly On ­task for entire class period
Unusual solution to problem Wires properly stripped of insulation (1⁄4”) Variable names are make sense Project was successfully completed
Skillful use of the software Soldering done correctly Comments are clarifying and complete Project completed on time
Program executes as intended without errors


Students must use  critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making to design a tangible, original product using the technology of 3D printing and computer programing.

Students develop several skills in the course of  Project Nightlight based on the ISTES standards. The project requires students to use their creativity and innovation in the creation of  an original work (ISTES 1b).  The project draws on the underlying complex system of design, hardware and software and students must grasp this in order to complete the project. (ISTES1c).

Each student develops a unique nightlight. In the process of doing so students  needs to share and communicate their ideas and process. the work requires them to collaborate and solve common problems together (ISTES 2d). As a result students learn from each other and see different solutions to common problems on the way to project completion (ISTES 4 b & d).

In the final programming phase of the project, students learn computer operations and how hardware and software interact with each other. Students must learn to diagnose problems as hardware or software and then resolve them. (ISTES 6a, b & c). Success hinges on their ability to do this.

Most of all students enjoy working on this project integrating creativity and technology (ISTES 5b).


In adding creativity to a STEAM curriculum, students can learn basic electronics and computer programing while creating a useful interactive project. When students use their creativity, there is no limit to what they can learn. In an Art and Technology course, students delve into the Maker Movement, learn computer programming, engineering, design and electronics while stretching their imagination and  problem solving abilities.

More information:

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BBC’s Micro:Bit looks like the answer

For the past several years, I have taught a “Tinkering” class to sixth graders. First I started out with Adafruit’s Trinkets but the Arduino language for 11-12 years olds in a bit daunting. Here’s a writeup of the course.

This summer I planned to explore using a headless Raspberry Pi Zero, so students could use Scratch, Python or Processing.

But I think the answer arrived in my mailbox last week. Its the BBC’s Micro:Bit, a small fully programmable computer  which will be given out to every  Year 7 or equivalent child across the UK.

MicrobitFrontLabeledWhat’s it got? First the hardware. As you can see with the picture above it has quite a few devices built onto the board.  It can be powered  by USB connector or  batteries.

It has 3 digital input/outputs that you can connect via alligator clips plus there is an optional edge connector to expand the Micro:Bit even further.

But what I really love about the Micro:Bit is how you can program it. First you can use a laptop, tablet, Chromebook or smartphone (Android or iOS) to write programs, basically anything with a browser.

There is a Scratch-like block programming language, Javascript, Python, even a touch screen editor.

You go to the Micro:Bit site and after you sign it, you see a list of your programs. Once your in an editor, there is even an image of the Micro:Bit on the side of the screen which is an emulator, meaning you can test your program before you download to the Micro:bit.

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To load your program into the Micro:Bit you compile the program and since the Micr:Bit looks like a flash drive, you just drag the .HEX over to it. Or you can use the Bluetooth to pair up and copy it.

For further expansion to teach circuit building there is the Pimoroni Prototyping Kit which gives you an edge connector, breadboard and mounting plate.

I just order one kit for each of our 6th graders and can’t wait to start.

That’s it for now. I’ll keep you posted!