The Tech Bandits

Here be robots! 

This is the official site for The Tech Bandits…a makerspace/breakerspace, drone building, assistive tech teaching, 3d printing, robot ruling, YouTubing chaotic adventure in Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Mathematics, STEAM inspiration.

Now… the first thing you should do to really get in on all the fun, is to sign up for my Tech Bandit’s ‘Techletts’ mailing list!

Shhh! I'm thinking…
Brilliant! You are now signed up for my TECHLETTS Mailing List… you should feel very happy with yourself!!
A Treasure Trove of Tech Banditry

Check out our past TECHLETTs here!

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Socrates

David Hewlett and his EZ Robotlett, Marvin…fuelling up for another Tech Bandits club meeting!

Session Three… Robo Face Spider!

We’re back… with Doomsday Glaciers, IceFin – the under-ice-robotic-oceanographer, Face recognition for attack spiders and a whole new world of biohacked robots…we’ve got all sorts of crazy new inspirations, projects and fun, peculiar approaches to STEAM for you!

Attack of the Face Finding Robo Spiders - Session 3 Techletts Cover

Tech Bandits – Session One

Hello Tech Bandit Family, Patrons & Friendlies!


Well, that was WAY too much fun and over FAR too quickly?!  Session One has come and gone and it was wonderful!


Last week it was my pleasure to meet the 2020¬†Tech¬†Bandits!¬† We immediately split into two groups dividing our time between Mr. “Video” Vida’s French Room… where we were hosting our “No-Hands” Minecraft Xbox… and the school library… which Mike “The Machine” had rearranged for optimal electric wheelchair road testing…

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Adaptive Controller Testing at Microsoft

Half of our intrepid¬†Tech¬†Bandits¬†took control of the¬†XBox adaptive system… designed by Microsoft specifically to help people with disabilities to play video games and use Windows computers.¬†¬†

One of our¬†Bandits¬†has kindly broken his collarbone for us (I believe?) and thus had his arm in a sling so was a perfect test case for our footpedal and micro-switch XBox gaming combination. ūüėȬ† Other¬†Bandits¬†tried trapping their hands in their sleeves to simulate a partial limb and¬†when¬†Bandits¬†began defecting to the “easier” traditional handheld XBox controller… we agreed that a more productive solution was to lose our shoes and control them with socked toes instead!¬† We discovered that this method works best when the controller is locked into place, so we’ll have to see how best to accomplish that so as to avoid continually chasing our controller around the classroom! I’m also going to look into a wider selection of input switches, joysticks and possible configurations for this… so many possibilities!

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Bandits Playing “no hands” Minecraft

Meanwhile back at the library… our other group of¬†Bandits¬† took turns piloting the electric wheelchair through Mike’s “bibliotheque¬†chicanes” … though they were sure to keep the mode set to “indoor” and the speed setting to low, despite much interest in the aptly named “Aggressive” mode!¬† The idea was to give our¬†Bandits¬†a sense of¬† what it’s like for people with disabilities to get around.¬† It was generally agreed that wheelchairs could be a lot of fun… which makes me think an enlightening¬†test of this belief might be having them limited to ONLY using a wheelchair for a whole day!

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Bandit Navigates bibliotheque chicanes in our Electric Wheelchair

For the last few minutes before the end of lunch bell, we all came together for a quick orientation and discussion… talking about¬† different types of disabilities and our upcoming field trip to McCordic¬†School for kids with developmental and physical disabilities next week… speaking of which…

Pending some work-to-rule limitations, our fabulous principal Ms. Ellis and Mr. Vida have worked it out so that we can make it a real visit, not just lunch!  So we now have a couple of hours in the morning that will give our Bandits an opportunity to meet the spectacular staff and students at McCordic and see how they spend their days and get our Bandits thinking about possible projects to collaborate on!

There were a whole lot of questions and suggestions… a few of which really got me thinking…

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McCordic’s¬†Apartment “set” beginning to take shape!

– McCordic School has a brilliant project in the works…they are in the process of putting together a “training apartment” where their kids can learn and get a start at familiarizing themselves with the day to day skills needed for independent living¬† …This sparked a whole discussion about Virtual Reality and how that could be used, along with an real world apartment set to help kids with disabilities to gain the confidence and skills they need

This brilliant VR idea reminded me of a project done by King’s College Hospital in London aimed at reducing the anxiety for kids preparing to have MRI scans done… check it out!

There was also discussion about salvaging old switches and game controllers (of which I have many!) to create calming “fidget spinner”-esque sensory projects incorporating lights and different types of inputs and triggers to keep kids focused and relaxed… and as such, I may run into a¬†Tech¬†Bandit¬†or two on my Geek Trash forrays on garbage nights in the hood… looking for cool old¬†tech¬†to autopsy, fix or repurpose!

Here’s the Roomba robo-vacuum¬†that I told our¬†Bandits¬†about rescuing from the garbage on my very own street having a playdate with the wheel section of our electric wheelchair:

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Turns out there is a lot of interest in tearing down the electric wheelchair… which BTW really needs a name!!? Ideas for repurposing it included creating a robotic helper for when “Machine” Mike gets too old and needs help carrying his groceries…I guess it’s too late for me!?  ūüėČ

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One of many possible EZ-Robot arms

After realizing that preparing breakfast… initially thought to be “so easy”… could prove challenging for some people… there was much enthusiasm for using some of my EZ-Robot motors to engineer a simple robotic arm to help make breakfast or at least handle the spoon-feeding… of suitably sugary cereals, of course!
So we’ll be adding this great EZ-Robot project to the mix for sure!

And lastly there was a lot of questions about Brain Computer Interfaces…heady stuff!  I’ll be looking into wiring up my OpenBCI headset in the near future so we can see if there’s a way to try that out!   

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Here’s a cool little video animation about all about BCI or neural interfaces:

So, as I said to start… a thoroughly¬†amazing experience… certainly for me!
Please feel free to send comments, suggestions or questions my way… would love to hear what the¬†Bandits¬†have to say about things!
I am still looking to spread the word about donations to help investigate some of these ideas and fund projects and other STEAM inspirations… so if you or friends or family want to help out, it would be much appreciated!
https://www.patreon.com/techbandits

Patreon is a US based website that allows creators, artists etc. to connect patrons and creators who pledge donations monthly to their favourite projects… please consider signing up and helping out…everything helps!

Can’t wait for next week!

Peace,

D!

Contagious Curiosity -> Inspired Learning
You can Follow our Tech Bandit Adventures on Twitter @dhewlett

Greetings 2020 Tech Bandits

Hello Tech Bandits!

So happy that you’ve decided to join us for this year’s round of mad Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Maker-ing!
Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Tech Bandit cause thus far… and I invite everyone else to consider contributing whatever you can.  All the money goes towards making it possible to do cool STEAM stuff with kids… like yours!  Donations can be made at https://www.patreon.com/techbandits …and please share the link with friends and family in the hopes that they may want to pitch in too!

This year our focus will be on assistive tech… We’re looking to inspire Tech Bandit collaborations with people living with disabilities, be they related to physical, developmental or mental health issues…by creating cool Maker projects with them!  You may want to start discussing ideas with your Bandits, so I wanted to give you an idea of what kind of trouble we’re hoping to get into this year!

THE EVIL PLAN

Once the holidaze are over, we’ll meet up over lunch and talk about different disabilities and the myriad of different technologies that could be used to help make lives easier… the first thing being how best to collaborate with the kids who need this stuff the most!  
We’ll then be dividing into two bands of 5 bandits and TTC’ing our way over to marvelous McCordic school for kids with developmental and physical disabilities.  5 kids at a time is McCordic’s recommended number, so I’ll be doing this over two days. We need to keep the groups small so we don’t overwhelm them with our Tech Bandit awesomeness!  ūüėČ

On our visit we’ll be getting a tour to see how the school works and meet some of the staff and kids over there, learn about their day and what kind of projects we can be working with them on.   
Next we craft our plan of attack!  What projects will we be working on… and how will we make it happen?

It’s TECH TIME!

I’ve got a few XBox assistive controllers like these:

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Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller

and eye trackers allowing eyes to follow things like this:

In-game eye-tracking with Tobii

so we’ll be looking into customizing these amazing assistive controllers for people with various disabilities¬†so that we can all play video games together…

A gamer with disabilities and his engineer friend having fun trying out the multitude of switches available for the Xbox adaptive controller.

here’s a video about these amazing things that work on XBox and Windows PC:¬†

and here’s what happens when you add eye control to minecraft!

We’ll also be looking into some Maker creations for McCordic’s sensory wall… maybe a wall of locks or something like this amazing box of switches:

And we can’t go a year with robots!?¬† I know that the McCordic kids will enjoy some Robot dance demos? I was there the other day with a couple of robot and the possibilities are endless… though I doubt our robots will be this big!

Our robots will be more like these line dancing EZ-Robots:

I’ve also just got my hands on a crazy cheap old electric Magellan wheelchair: 

A picture of a similar Magellan electric wheelchair model. Ours isn’t as new as this one, but it runs beautifully!

…Which I’m hoping we can begin exploring all sorts of assistive projects with.¬† Given the weather, maybe an electric snow plow?

Or since I also have¬† one of these OpenBCI headsets…¬†
…maybe even a wheelchair controlled by our brains!

Enjoy exploring and discussing all of this with your Tech-Bandit-in-waiting and feel free to get in touch with any comments or suggestions as we STEAM into 2020

Have a great Holiday and I look forward to conspiring and creating with your Tech Bandits in the new year.

Peace!

David Hewlett

Tech Bandits 2020!

Hello All!

Next year’s Bandits?!…This year’s Bandits? We start our Tech Banditry in January, so I’m going 2020 with it ’cause it sounds cool and futuristic!?

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I’m trying a new experiment this time around. I’ve set up a Tech Bandits Patreon page in order to raise donations, rather than just hit up parents, to cover the cost of materials and such. It may be a complete and utter disaster and cost me an arm and a leg, but I really want to see if there’s enough interest out there to expand our Tech Bandits offerings and spread the word! Here’s what I’ve sent out to the school to describe my hopes for this year:

THE TECH BANDITS

Break Stuff…Make stuff…For fun and for the future!

Change the world for the better…with an exciting mix of science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Play minecraft with assistive tech, using only your eyes, or Fortnite with no hands…navigate a room blindfolded.¬† Listen to sounds your ears can‚Äôt hear and tell robots to do your bidding!

The Tech Bandits are a kid-driven tech club that promotes analytical thinking, team building, empathy and understanding…and we‚Äôre not afraid to make a mess along the way!

This year, the Tech Bandits are hoping to team up with a local school, for kids with developmental and physical disabilities, in order to learn about life with disabilities and how we can make a difference, by creating amazing, assistive, tech solutions with the kids who need them!  

The club is free, but we‚Äôre always looking for people to give us old tech and donations!¬† In the hopes of raising money for materials, supplies and cool new tech and tools, I’ve set up a Patreon account and would ask parents to consider a 2 month @ $60 donation for having their kids in the mix: http://bit.ly/techbandits

I’ll also start sharing fun Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math things I find in my Internet-ing once again. Here’s a few things that I’m hoping to put to nefarious use throughout the coming season of the Tech Bandits:

I’ve got to start with one of my favourite robots and robot companies, Boston Dynamics. They are light years ahead of just about every other humanoid, and now dogoid?!? robot out there…I actually got the chance to pilot one of these a couple of years ago at the Robotics Conference in Boston and let me tell you…they had to chase me down and pry the controllers from my sweaty little hands!

Robot Operating System

Training is important for dogs and roboticists. And if you want to talk robot this is “language” you’ll need to make sure your robots to do your bidding…https://www.ros.org/ is a treasure trove of robot programming expertise and resources:

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And speaking of robots… if you’re having a hard time finding good renovation help for your home renovations…why not put this tireless drywalling fellow to good use?:

And skip all those pesky ladders by having these drones handle the cleaning for you…

Oh, and they can also handle giant wind turbines if you happen to have a couple of those gathering bugs!

And of course you’ll need to get those robot parts delivered…so check this crazy mail sorting dance number out!

Not dead yet!

Hello Team Terror!

I’m sending this from downtown St. John’s Newfoundland… where I’m currently matching wits with a great hairy detective…  so pardon the grammar, spelling and general confusion! ūüėČ

So, we snuck in a little extra session this week… I wanted to let any eager tech examiners, who might have wanted more tech autopsy-ing time to finish up taking their tech victims apart, before they returned to sports or Harry Potter clubs… now that’s a club!

In case you don’t get to the end of this update… PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOUR TERROR, OR ANYONE YOU KNOW’S TERROR, IS INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IN SOME YOUTUBE SCIENCE VIDEOS WITH ME.. got some cool, new and returning favourite Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math projects I’d like to produce!


Massive thanks to the amazing Mike ‘Muscles’ V. for all his help carting stuff around, his cleaning and packing skills and for putting up with my own last minute salvaging of parts as we did our session end clean up…though for some reason, Mike didn’t want the laser printer in his car? ūüėČ 

¬†Art and technology combined… our savaged colour laser printer!¬† I made a bit of a mess in the “clean up” phase admittedly, but the technology and precision behind these things is just incredible… managed to explain the basics to a few of the kids… I’ve discovered it helps to say “laser” loudly and a lot!

And of course huge thanks to the unstoppable Ron ‘Video’ V.!¬† Once again Mr V. has gone above and beyond his many roles and his crazy near-lunch-less schedule to add gaming videos to the mix and make all this Tech Terrors happen…again… thank you sir!

Many terrors were very eager to leave with some salvaged tech parts to play with…I think I managed to chat with just about everyone who did and I let them know what they were and what they did… but feel free to send me photos or questions if any of your terrors want to know more about what they’ve brought home with them!


Ladies tackling the last of the PS3 game console while the lads work on the laptops!

We figured this must be the controls for our multi-CD changing stereo!

Some cool new Science Technology, Engineering arts and Math finds to share:

Don’t Eat Your Spinach?!Spinach plants are being modified using carbon nano-tubes to detect chemicals… including toxic gases and chemicals found in explosives… check out these plant detectives:
http://news.mit.edu/2016/nanobionic-spinach-plants-detect-explosives-1031

Not the first time I’ve seen plants communicating thanks to the amazing Neuroscientist Greg Gage … check out this Ted Talk to learn how a Venus fly trap counts… and how it can be hacked and tricked into controlling the movement of other plants through electrical impulses, like the ones that make our hearts beat!:

Another Call for Terrors!
I’m going to be filming a series of experiments and Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math related YouTube videos and I’d love to have some of the kids, in smaller groups of 2 or 3, come and work with me on them and appear in the videos.  If anyone is interested or knows someone else who might be interested, please, please do get in touch!

It has been such a pleasure working with your Terrors.  There is nothing like seeing the kids get excited about something I’d never have thought of or taking things in some crazy new and entirely different directions… It’s a struggle not to have more fun than they do! 

The End… ?

Hello Team Terror!

Hard to believe, but this was the last official Tech Terrors session…doesn’t it feel like we just started!? Either I’m in some kind of time loop… or maybe we’ve just been having the BEST time!?

Our Robo Disco was a roaring success… we had a dance-crew of 5 EZ-Robots networked together so that they could do suitably robotic and synchronized gyrations!

I then turned the programming over to our terrors. Some opted to knock their robots off our TerrorHQ network and take the reins themselves, using a tablet app to control them by hand… others were curious about how the programming worked and so I walked them through the basics (there’s a scratch drag and drop, and a text based programming interface for EZ-builder.) The kids skipped the Scratch and dove straight into the code… quickly teaching the robots some new moves of their own… as their friends called out requests… handstands were popular!

Nobody wanted to give up on the Tech Autopsies, so a number of terrors were elbow deep in dissections before the robots had finished their first dance number! One of the more popular victims… an old Playstation 3!

Rest in pieces dear Playstation 3

The PS3 includes something called a cell processor…this baby is so powerful that one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, the IBM Roadrunner, uses it as well! In fact, the US Airforce connected 1700 playstations together and built their own super computer! Here’s a link to the brochure they made for the ribbon cutting ceremony of what they called their Condor Supercomputer!:

We’re going to need a few more Playstation 3’s!

The Terrors have been very eager to bring some salvaged parts home with them, so I’ve been letting them take anything that didn’t look too spiky or injury inducing… if you see odd bits and pieces coming home with them, ask them what they’ve got and what they are… if they don’t know, I’ll be happy to remind them!

Our Rainbow, electric-pump-activated-cloud-and-tree-planter-irrigation-system went into build mode… two bags of cotton balls were hot glued to a nice white round, cloudish, ramen bowl that I dug out of the kitchen recycling…much to my wife’s chagrin…but the Terrors have transformed it into the cuddliest cloud a tree could ever wish for!

It’s so FLUFFY!

The ladies spent quite some time discussing the very best dimensions for the rainbow …made out of “perfectly good” cardboard that someone had “just thrown in the recycling bin!”… it seems my geek trash adventures are catching on with the Terrors…sorry folks!

Geek Trash… it’s completely natural!

We’re hoping for at least one more Tech Terrors when we get back from the Break… and I will be filming a series of Tech Terror inspired videos if any of the kids have an interest in being a part of that, please let me know!

Thank you all so much for having the best Tech Terrors a geek like me could wish for… and have an amazing March Break!

Perfect Terrors

Hello Team Terror!

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As squirrels frolic on the roof above me, I wanted to let you know about this week’s Tech Terror’s adventures…sadly we were missing 3D Mike at this session…  but a small car entertainment system was sacrificed in his honor. ūüėČ
I focused primarily on Tech Autopsies this week (it’s just not the same without Mike, so wanted to keep it simple and make him feel as guilty as possible…we miss you Mike!) and it got messy fast…colored toner, laptop keys and screws galore…we even had a couple of autopsy related cuts and bruises…I have to say, I’ve got so many nicks and cuts from doing this stuff that I think I’m immune, but I do want to make sure nobody gets hurt… so, I’ve reminded the Terrors that there are gloves and glasses available amongst the Tools of Terror if things get hairy…speaking of which:
A number of our intrepid Terrors were “grossed-out” by the amount of dust that accumulates in a lot of these old electronics and so I started wondering…Why do electronics get so dusty?  Why do they seem to attract more dust than other things around the place.  The answer is either, “because nobody ever cleans them” or… it’s a great excuse to go atomic!

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Everything in the world is made up of atoms.  Atoms are themselves made up of even tinier things, called electrons, protons and neutrons.  If an atom has more protons than electrons the atom is said to be positively charged, if it has more electrons than protons then it’s called negatively charged… finally, if all the protons and electrons are equal, they cancel each other out and the atom is called neutral.  Once an atom or a group of atoms (a molecule) has a positive or negative charge you can call them an ion… and  sound like a real scientist!
Like everything else, dust is made up of negative and positively charged particles.  Negatively charged particles attract positively charged particles and vice versa.  Negatively charged particles repel (push away) negatively charged particles and positive ions repel positive ions… simply put opposites attract & likes repel…just like the North and South poles of a magnet.

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Now… back to our dusty electronics equipment!  All that electricity running through electronics creates negative and positively charged areas which as we know, become very attractive to their opposites… in this case oppositely charged dust particles!
Electricity creates heat…especially when forced through the tiny paths in electronics, and that heat can literally cause them to melt down and stop working…so we need them to chill out!  For some electronics, just designing cases to have good air flow and using vents, is enough to keep them cool.  But in other cases… certainly in the case of the super cool gaming PC our PC modders have just re-built, they need a more active cooling system.  They need fans to draw the cool air in and blow out the heat…if that air has dust… which air generally does… it’s going to stick around!

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Back to our session!  I had the Terrors focus on their Autopsy victims:

Our giant 3 color laser printer is still offering up it’s tech treasures… and a ton of colored toner… and the hunt is on for the laser hidden deep within!
A multi-CD and tape deck system, which initiated the discussion about dusty electronics has been reduced to few electronics boards and some cool looking motors.
An old in-car entertainment system has been taken apart and it’s little monitor was last seen heading for the library.
Video Vida was also back at his fabulous game recording… I’m assuming that vast amounts of YouTube money is going to start flying in any second now! ūüėČ
And we’ve had a breakthrough¬†with our Plant Drive initiative….I planted a few clippings in used nespresso pods for the plant drive and figured I’d get the Terrors to design a basic 3d printed plant holder for them…

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Nespresso pods as planters!

Turns out I was thinking WAY too small!? I’ll let the Terrors walk you through their diabolical schemes!


(The video is public, but I made sure to crop out faces in order to protect the perpetrators! ūüėČ
I believe that next week may be the end of this Tech Terrors season, but I’d love to do at least one more after that… if only to make up for the snow day… will have to see how that works with the Frankland schedule.
Next week, for our (hopefully NOT) final Terrors session…. we’ll be having a Robo Disco!
As always, any questions, concerns suggestions about The Tech Terrors and their evil deeds, or advice on squirrel care and feeding (don’t)…feel free to get in touch…and I’ll continue to look out for more cool things like this laser-wielding Snake Robot that can cut a nuclear reactor to ribbons!

We’re back!

Not quite what any of us had in mind for Tech Terrors last week but I do have to say I was rather pleased to hear how many Terrors actually voiced their regrets at missing it!
I spent some time digging up (after digging out)  a few, fun, Winter Tech related things I’ll share as I’m currently in the process of making another of my STEAM inspiration vids…the first was on Fire Fighting Tech if you want to see that:
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There was a surprisingly interesting article in Wired about the crazy amount of work and organization required to keep airports running in our miserable snowy weather… something that concerned me as my wife was flying back from Berlin.

Wired: It takes crazy effort to clear snow from airport runways!


https://www.wired.com/2015/03/takes-crazy-effort-clear-snow-airport-runways/


I had always assumed that runways were heated…but it turns out that the vast majority aren’t…but that may be changing:

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And we may need more heated landings by the sound of it…given all the new air traffic companies like Uber may be creating:h

And when you start looking you’ll find there’s are more than one way to shovel a drive with robots…in fact they have a competition!:
https://youtu.be/njW7mBH0ORQ

Robo-Snowplow…Now there’s a project for the Terrors…and a great way to save my back!


But I digress…Now, it’s this week!

I staggered into the Terror’s lair with a simpler plan…Tech Autopsies and Robots…while the Mad Modders PC crew finished up the rebuild of their complete PC teardown…yep, these kids were born to mod (modding computers is like customizing cars…only with computers…so WAY cooler! ūüėČ They have one more fan to install and they’re up and running…I even saw the system boot…looking forward to hearing more about that!
YouTube Gaming Guru “Video” Vida was down two of his Terrors but he’s looking forward to some actual game and commentary recording next week, I believe?


We all wanted see the school tour video that will be showing off Frankland to another school in Africa, so we got that running on the magic whiteboard…nice work ladies…filming, hosting, editing and all!
I started the class by asking if anyone had any interest in figuring out something Tech Terror-y to do with the Frankland plant drive…I had brought in a few clippings that I planted in old Nespresso capsules (the coffee grounds have made a great starter soil for seeds in the past…plus I hate wasting all those little aluminium things.) A few of the Terrors really ran with it…designing a tree with 3d printed holders and a series of straws to water them…I even got a list of required supplies! I’m going to try to decipher the plans and have something for them to work with next week!¬†¬†
I also had a little gaggle of Terrors who were quite captivated by the CO2 sensor setup I brought in…and how the levels had jumped since before they’d arrived and filled the room with their collective lunch breath…they were also surprised that breathing on the sensor had such a small effect on the readings.¬† The sensor is a neat little kit from my favourite Canadian charity, Let’s Talk Science which they created for their LivingSpace action project in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency and the International Space Station…Frankland may already be using some of these…but if not they should be!:

The Tech autopsies stole the show this week with just about every terror having torn something to pieces by the end of our session. Surprise to me was that I didn’t have a single taker on wiring up the Tech Terror robot army?!  So, I’m going to take a different approach and have them wired up and ready for the Terrors next week…see if the they are more interested once they can make them walk, talk, do push ups, sing and dance…via some simple scratch programming!