Sunday, November 02, 2014

Next up on an 8 year old's soldering kit tour: Snap-o-Lantern (Updated)

The young'un received a "Snap-O-Lantern" kit from her Spark Club mentors at The Thinkery too late for us to put together at home by Halloween. But I think it'll make a great Thanksgiving centerpiece (one that can sit around most of the day and get swept aside when the turkey, etc., is ready). From the "Evil Mad Scientist" site that produced the kit: "Normally, it just sits there, in disguise as a boring old pumpkin."

"But, every twenty seconds he comes to life. His LED eyes turn on, his jaw slowly opens, and then SNAPS shut– and he goes back into stealth mode."

With a (much) bigger servo and a bit of creative pumpkin engineering you can take the concept to extremes. I'm wondering if there's some way to trigger the thing with a sensor of some sort, especially if after the holiday is over and the squash has gone bad we wanted to do something like this with it. I rather like the idea of a book that peeks up  at you with glowing eyes, but I'd like it better if it reacted to, say, someone sitting down in a designated chair, reacting to either a motion or a pressure sensor. (Ditto for the pumpkin gimmick, for that matter.)

The project is definitely within Ty's soldering/technical skills, but the use of an actual squash means we must do it relatively soon before Thanksgiving - perhaps the weekend before, at the earliest - to keep it from becoming fly infested. Using the same apparatus for the peek-a-boo book has more long-term potential, but making it sensor driven would boost the fun. Will report back if I figure out how.

UPDATE (12/16): I hope it's true we learn more from our failures than our successes because this was our first failure together, and more mine than hers. This was her most complicated soldering project to date. Because we'd gotten this from her children's museum class, I only had one and didn't put one together myself before she tried to do it. I wish I had. Every moment of indecisiveness before figuring out where to put a piece made her more frustrated (and at eight her reading comprehension wasn't quite up to the instructions, which we were reading off a lap top at the dining room table/work station, so much of it was inevitably on me). Finally, jerking away to conceal what she was doing in some ill-conceived expression of a privacy demand, Ty splattered solder just about everywhere including across more than a dozen connections on the circuit board and in and around all the chip connections. I attributed this behavior to my own unpreparedness and lack of pedagogical skills, regrettably; I understand why she was frustrated. The front end of a learning curve isn't always fun. And if my own skills were better, I'd be a better teacher. Regardless, no amount of solder sucking and wicking was able to salvage it, though I did save the motor and large orange leds for another day.

Contemplating my abysmal pedagogical failure, I came to this head slapping realization: We only took to soldering this kit because it was handed to her at her Spark Club class at the Thinkery, Austin's big children museum. But if I'd given it two thoughts, this project would be easy to put together with little or no soldering by using an Arduino, a breadboard and jumper wires. I'm going to try it first without her over the Christmas holiday. Perhaps I can get her interested in a less fussy project involving less soldering, against which she's started to push back once we reached these slightly more complicated projects.

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