Project talk:Classroom HackSpaceChallenge

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Relevant experience in education etc

in terms of biggin-up the hackspace, it would probably be sensible for us to add we have members who know about education / child development / classroom environment /etc.

Is any of our members a teacher?

I have some relevant experience myself: I've worked in educational software, design and build of games to match against specific educational targets in the uk national curriculum. I've also been a volunteer youth leader (Scouts) for the past 6 years - I know Spike is an ex-Scout leader too. Anyway, if people feel this is relevant then feel free to write it into the draft.

  • I'm in Sixth Form; I can ask teachers and other pupils for feedback if needed. Daniel
That would be very handy - also maybe for beta testing? --AndyE 19:53, 16 March 2011 (UTC)
That would be fine, I have teachers in all the relevant departments (for the projects so far) that I'm sure would be up for it.
Chemistry dept is up for the visible light spectrometer. They have a few very old, bad ones if we need to look at some. (I didn't ask but I've never seen them out of the cupboard).


  • Do you mean lego? I think something between Lego mindstorms and PICAXE/Arduino, as I know at my school (and the Young hackspace kids) love to get the mindstorms out - but the PICAXE programming overwhelms them slightly (maybe due to bad teaching?), so school doesn't use them a lot. Maybe making it inter-operable with lego pieces? I know there is a guy at the hackspace trying to reverse engineer them, and the modular-ness is great. (MonkeyJam)
  • I meant logo, kids today :P. Modularness would be cool. If we had a working makerbot we could make bricks that are lego compatible(maybe not the hackspaces?). Or could we do something with the laser cutter, hmm.
  • The makerbot would seem the obvious way - but we wouldn't need to make many pieces as schools may already have lego - I was just thinking making a different sort of 'brain', where they can learn more about EE, (making it better than NXC) as well as a kid friendly language. So there is more guidance than with arduino, but its more open than Lego, and is hackable if you know what you are doing.

Programmable Bricks

What about ... bricks which allow you to create programs? So, for example, a brick which does an "if" statement, with an input and two outputs (for true and false), an input for the condition (so, a sensor reading brick perhaps). Something like LabVIEW except physical objects instead of theoretical ones. You could have the contacts be magnetically attached. You could have power coming from a "start" brick, perhaps with a LiPo battery? And give it a USB interface for both charging and manipulating it via a computer if you have one available.

You'd design the interconnects such that it's impossible to plug them in wrong (for obvious reasons).

This would give people the chance to use mechanical design techniques (maybe build prototypes with makerbot/laser cutter), electronics (custom PCBs), as well as some fairly hardcore programming which would puzzle people for hours.

Very Similar idea:

Except we'd want something a bit more rugged and portable

Open Spectrometer

A small box that could be cut from laser cutter parts (probably MDF), and assembled with simple components (screws bolts etc). Along with some slighly more complicated motors and electronics. Moving mechanical components could either be from laser cutter or from Makerbot (or RepRap).

It would semi-need to be plugged into a laptop for obtaining the raw data, although there could be alternative modes that feedback information to a simple multi-line display without a laptop. Ie absorbance, good for concentration vs absorbance experiments.

  • This should be easy to fit into the confines of the competition, although I personally hadn't thought of a portable power supply it should be simple enough to incorporate. I have ideas that I will try and outline soon to help development. Ciarán
  • Is that a machine to find out what elements are in a sample? Like a mass or IR spectrometer? You can make those? Daniel
    • Well it is usually used for chemical identification, though some decent analysis I'm sure you could do elemental analysis. This would be a visible light spectrometer, a mass spectrometer is much much more difficult and expensive to make (£100,000's). I'd like to attempt an IR spectrometer in the future but not at the moment.Ciarán
    • But yes you can make visible spectromerers, relatively simply. They can also be useful rather than a toy, I hope! Ciarán

I'm not sure how components will be obtainable around the world, but the designs would mean that alternatives could be made from other materials. There is no need for it to be MDF.


I believe this is a good idea because it is a basic scientific tool that many schools cannot afford. It would teach A-Level students about fundamental chemical and physical properties and processes, whilst allowing younger students to conduct experiments that would otherwise be beyond the capabilities of their school.

The open nature will allow the students themselves to improve on the design should they want to.

It's enclosure can be constructed with simple components (MDF) and fittings that are all available at the hackspace, and the optics are easily available to purchase. Full documentation of the spectrometer's workings means that schools should be able to maintain the equipment themselves should any component fail, as most schools I have seen have D&T departments that are staffed by clever people with cool kit.

The science is well developed, we simply have to come up with our own implementation and optimise it. For this I think the Czerny-Turner design would work best to give optimal performance, and fewest parts. This would mean that we can spend more time fixing problems, than coming up with a workable idea.

Realistically we are not (unless we are spectacularly lucky) going to obtain analytical grade resolution, but we should get something that is more useful than nothing, and a lot cheaper than £1000+. The inclusion of the "secret ingredients" should be easy, it will need a microcontroller of some kind to handle motor control. The addition of a battery, although something I originally did not think to include, would be of benefit to the design allowing the possibility of "field" experiments.

My initial idea is to build an enclosure, optics mounts and motor gears from 3/4mm MDF/ply cut on the laser cutter. This can all be held together with nuts, bolts and rods from a hardware shop. I will spend some time this evening planning the design.

My plan for the implementation would be:

  1. Design optic mounts (I have an idea for these) (6 hrs)
  2. Design diffraction grating mount, this includes connection to stepper motor. (12 hrs)
  3. Design crude electronics: stepper/servo motor controller, light dependent resistor and a white LED. (6hrs)
  4. Test design on a table in a dark room, or underneath a cardboard box. Controlling the stepper motor, and taking down LDR readings by hand to see what we get. (6 hrs)
  5. Design bed for optics to be mounted on, this fixes them in position once we know how they are working. (12 hrs)
  6. Design box to go over the top to block out as much light as possible. (6 hrs)
  7. Design software that can scan wavelengths (move stepper/servo), take readings from LDR and present them nicely. (12 hrs)

Total 5 days work if we work constantly.

Bearing in mind that we won't work constantly I expect it to take about 3 weeks to get a working prototype and the rest of the time to optimise and fix bugs. Some tasks can be done in tandem, like the electronic design, optic positioning and software. Once that is done we can perhaps try experimenting with different light sources, incandescent bulb, different white LEDs, or maybe something more exotic.

With the skill sets of those involved and sensible division of labour (code stuff for coders, arduino stuff for Sol, etc) I really think we can get this done quickly and build something people will actually want to use.