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!!!!