Tisha Saffa adds the “M” in STEM to Rippowam Labs

For many years, Rippowam Labs tried to offer STEM learning opportunities that were not offered anywhere else. Sure, we succeeded in robotics, microcontrollers and Open Source software – but we were always missing something.  But now, thanks to Tisha Saffa, we have finally become a one-stop shop in STEM education !

Tisha  has taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math in Fairfield county for the past 20 years. Currently she is a math teacher in the Stamford public schools, and an instructor at Norwalk Community College for Kids, where she teaches her own “Math Wizards,” a math enrichment program for young children.

She tutors students from elementary school math through high school Algebra and Geometry. Tisha’s mission is simple…to eliminate “fear” of math through fun, engaging activities, and allow students of all ages to discover the mathematical beauty that is all around us.

Tisha  is a true professional we are so glad she has decided to join us. She rounds out a talented roster of  teachers that will be available for after-school and weekend tutoring at our makerspace.  Stay tuned for more information!

Robotics Experts at Trinity Park Housing Complex

Our 6-week program at the Trinity Park Housing Complex has come to an end. Thanks to all the kids and parents who took part!

Each kids build and programmed their own robot – and got to take it home. Over the next several weeks, ,they will experiment with the code and we’ll meet again, to see who can make their robots do the coolest things.

I really enjoyed this bunch. They attacked each new challenge – and are looking or more to conquer. The greatest part about the class was when they uploaded code to the Arduino “brain” of their robot – and the wheels started turning. It’s always magic to the person who sees it for the first time – and these kids were no different. Their excitement only grew as they began to understand how the code works … and they began to add their own unique twist.

The whole idea of this was to give the kids something constructive to do on Friday night – and to provide an educational opportunity they don’t have in school.

We had such a great time, that we are looking to make this a regular Friday night event. Rippowam Labs covered the cost of this latest class, but we probably couildn’t continue on a go-forward basis. If anyone has any ideas for funding sources, let me know.


Friday Is Volunteer Day at Rippowam Labs – And How Rewarding It’s Been!!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been teaching three  different classes on Fridays. It’s made for a lot of running around and class preperation – but its been worth it!

I start my day at Stamford Academy. This is an alternative High School run by Domus , an incredibly successful youth services foundation. The  students there didn’t have the privilege of growing up in an ideal home environment – but the staff is dedicated to pointing them in the right direction and making them successful individuals.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I showed up – and they probably didn’t know what to expect when I walked through the door. But everything is working out spectacularly!

The objective of the class is for the students to build and program their own robots. What I’ve learned during my last two classes is that these kids are aching to learn things – and to create things with their own imaginations and their own two hands.

It’s actually not surprising. Most schools are choked off by Common Core guidelines – and students seldom get to  do things that don’t involve them preparing for tests. So when they get a chance to build robots, solder PCB boards and write computer to control their creation, it’s a welcome change.

I was surprised at how quickly the kids in my class took to building robots. There are two kids in the class that  I was worried about. I didn’t think they were going to be enthusiastic about the class. But they’ve surprised me with  their initiative … and how much they can accomplish with little instruction.

I’m hoping to create a Robot Team soon – and I am going to ask the kids in this class to take part.

In the afternoons, I am over at  the Family and Children’s Agency After School Program at the Ben Franklin School in Norwalk.  This is the second class I’ve taught through this program. In this latest class, the students soldered some RGB LED strips to an Arduino Nano and uploaded code to control the color and intensity of the LEDs.

We had issues to overcome with this – the computers in the school’s labs weren’t playing nice with the Arduino IDE – but we got around them. And, once we did, the students unleashed their creativity!

At the beginning of one class, I told them that all colors on their LED strips could be  represented via three RGB numbers. One of the kids did a Google search on his phone and found a color-picker tool that would provide him the three numbers that would produce his favorite color.  You should have seen the look on their eyes when the LEDs turned the exact color they wanted!!!

The students plan to zip tie these strips to the bikes and backpacks..

This class actually ended yesterday – and I fought back tears when one off the kids said “I’m going to miss you, John.” But we are already starting to plan our next class, so I’ll be back in  just a couple of weeks.

I’ve been spending my last few Friday evenings at theTrinity Park Housing  Complex in Stamford. I started this at the suggestion of Lyda Ruijter, the new Town Clerk in Stamford. They were looking to add some programs for the kids there – and I jumped at the chance.

We’ve got a mixture of ages in the class. We have one HIgh School Freshman and then a bunch of kids between 3rd to 6th grade.

We have built the chassis for all our robots and now I am showing them how to upload code to the Arduino brain of their bots.

One of my students, Marc, had a great night last night. He uploaded code to his robot that made it drive in a figure-8 pattern. And I only gave him the tiniest off hints to help him with this task.

The younger kids are  just a little behind Mark – and they are eager to follow in his footsteps.

But the main thing is that we’re having a whole lot of fun. We’ll be meeting at the Rippowam Labs makerspace  next week. You’re all invited to attend!!!!

Soldering Fun at the Ben Franklin Center in Norwalk

It’s always a pleasure to volunteer for the Aspire program, run by Norwalk-based Family and Children’s Agency. They’ve got a new home at the Ben Franklin Center – and the kids are loving it!

In the latest class offered by Rippowam Labs, the kids are learning how to solder an RGB LED strip to an Arduino Nano.  Special thanks to Emanuel and Josh for being great helpers in Friday’s class!!!


IoT Christmas (Box Project Club December)

In the latest installment of the Box Project Club, we’ll harness the power of the ESP8266 computer chip to create a strip of Christmas lights for your tree that you can control with your cellphone – from anywhere in the world!

If this is your first time with IoT, don’t worry one bit! The chip we’ll be working with is 100% Arduino compatible! But this WiFi-connected microcontroller can be controlled anytime/ whywhere, because its part of a WiFi network. So you could turn your Christmas Tree Lights on from your smartphone  – or from any internet browser on the planet! This way, if you have relatives that have to be away for the holidays, they can take part in the fun at home too!

This project will require students to solder, write code (Arduino and HTML) and get creative with colors.  No experience is necessary, though!!!

The event will take place on Saturday, December 16th at 9:30 am in our Labs at 425 Farifield Avenue. Signups are due by midnight December 8, to give us time to order the parts!

All proceeds go to supporting Rippowam Labs.

Friday Night Slime

Kids everywhere have been caught up in the slime-making craze that’s sweeping the nation. My 11 year-old daughter has  been making buckets of slime lately – and she wants to share what she’s learned!

On Friday, November 10th at 6 pm, come by our space and we’ll have everything you need to make your own batch of slime. So come on down and have a slimy good time!

*A $10 donation would be appreciated (to help us keep the lights on).

Our Neighbor has the BEST Ice Cream!!!

Our new home address at 425 Fairfield Avenue has so many interesting businesses! What’s probably my favorite is Longford’s Ice Cream.

I don’t know what it is – but they make the best I’ve ever tasted!

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t something you eat if you’re on a diet. But these guys are 10 times better than Ben and Jerry’s – or any other well-known brand.

Most of their clients are commercial accounts – or restaurants in the area. But they do offer their products to the general public. Just visit their office at 425 Fairfield Avenue between 1 and 4 pm weekdays and you can buy a quart of their ice cream for just $6.

Sometimes, they even have sales, where you can buy 2 Quarts or $6!!! That’s what happened last weekend. I got the following:

  • Oreo Bomb
  • Mud Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Coconut chocolate chip (tastes like an almond joy)

They even gave me a free coffee mug!!!!

For the holiday season, they are also producing ice cream cakes and pies!!

You just have to try this stuff to understand how good it is!!!

Box Project Club – Halloween

In the very first meeting of the Box Project Club, we’ll build something that will scare the daylights out of trick-or-treaters, when they arrive on your porch this Halloween.

They’ll come to your house looking for candy, like they do every year – but they’ll get a little more than a “trick” from your pumpkin. It will work something like this, except we’ll be providing our own special “twist.”

You’ll learn how to program and wire an Arduino to accept input from a distance sensor and control a servo and a sound card.

This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to make the neighborhood bully run off into the night – scared out of his mind. Even better, you can video the whole thing and post it to Youtube!

Students should  bring their own carved (and hollowed-out) pumpkin – but we’ll provide the rest.

**All proceeds will go towards supporting our mission – to bring unique STEM educational opportunities to the Stamford area. Last day to sign up is October 15th (so we can order the materials).

Reserve your space by visiting this page.

Ferguson Library MakeFest

We had a great time meeting a whole bunch of people at the Ferguson Library MakeFest on Saturday (16th)! More than ever, the people of Stamford are electrified about what they can accomplish with their own two hands – and a little bit of brain power.

A lot of people also expressed interest in our upcoming Box Project series. My advice to you is reserve your space as soon as possible, because spaces are going to go quick.

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