Sunday, December 27, 2015

Light Blue Bean and Neopixels

Adding more than three neopixels may require the addition of a voltage regulator, 
a transistor, and resistors.
Using the Blue Bean app, I can control LEDs from an iPad.

I've been experimenting with neopixels, using a Gemma, an ATtiny85, and most recently the Light Blue Bean.  While I am most excited about the potential of the ATtiny85, because of its smaller size and cost, I am also intrigued by the idea of controlling a gadget wirelessly.

Using the code from the Smartphone Controlled Mood Light project, modified to accommodate fewer LEDs, I'm able to control the color of three neopixels soldered to wire. So far, I'm only able to change the color of all the neopixels at the same time, rather than being able to customize each one individually.

If I changed the code to accommodate two LEDs, I could use this to control two glowing eyes, which would be a much easier way to do this than the Evil LED Goat project.  If I wanted to be able to remotely change the color of a hat or other wearable, this could also be useful, although doing so seems like a waste of a $30+ microcontroller.

My next step is to try to modify the code to make use of the accelerometer and or the buzzer. While I like the idea of being able to change the color of a project remotely, I'm interested in using the Bean for something a bit more useful.  I have a lot more to learn first.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Running Neopixels on an ATtiny85

ATtiny85 controlling sewable neopixels
Today, I am learning how to use an ATtiny85 to program sewable neopixels, with the goal of moving toward using surface-mounted RGB LEDs in paper circuitry.  The reason that this is so exciting is because the ATtiny85 is an inexpensive, low-profile chip, making it useful for notebook hacking and art projects!  If I can figure out how to make this entire process happen on a Chromebook, it would be a huge breakthrough for classroom instruction.

At the time I was working on this project, there was still one step that required the use of a PC: the process of burning a boot loader/ changing the fuse timing on the ATtiny85.  To use neopixels, the ATtiny85 needs to run on an 8 Mhz internal clock, rather than the default of 1 Mhz. As of 11 January 2016, this issue has been fixed, making it incredibly easy to do this type of thing with students using Chromebooks!

Once I converted the chip to 8 Mhz, I was able to use CodeBender and a Chromebook to program it with neopixel sample code (with only a couple of small tweaks).

My next step was to see if I could apply this new learning to building a paper circuit with copper tape and surface mounted RGB LEDs.  The photos demonstrate a prototype using the surface mounted RGB LEDs soldered to wire!

Since I was able to get the LEDs to do what I wanted with wire, I am 100% convinced that this can be replicated with copper tape!  Stay tuned!

ATtiny85 controlling SMD RGB LEDs

Updated 19 Dec 15:
I've created my first paper circuit with neopixels!  To learn more, visit

Monday, December 14, 2015

Program an Ugly Christmas Sweater with CodeBender

My daughter recently asked me to transform a red sweater vest into an ugly Christmas sweater for a special event at her school. Using a Gemma microprocessor and four neopixels, I made one that flashes and changes colors at the push of a button.  I originally used my PC to program the microprocessor, but a friend prompted me to see whether the same results could be achieved with CodeBender and a Chromebook. I'm pleased to report that the Chromebook worked like a charm. I simply connected the Gemma to the USB port, selected the buttoncycler sketch from the Adafruit Neopixel library, modified the code to match the pins on the Gemma and the number of neopixels used, and voila'.  In the past, I have found the Gemma to be a little finicky when programming in the cloud, but CodeBender is constantly improving.

In the process, I learned:

1.  how to program a Gemma with CodeBender (even though no ports were detected)

2.  how to use a multimeter

3.  the importance of using a stabilizer when sewing with conductive thread on a loosely woven material

Unfortunately, I had to learn a couple of lessons the hard way when threads in the stretchy sweater kept shorting out!

In order to increase the versatility of this sweater, I sewed the Gemma to three tiny snaps sewn to a piece of felt. When folded up, the felt supports the battery and fits into the sweater pocket.  This connects to three more snaps to complete the circuit.

I sewed the neopixels to a ribbon.

Originally, I sewed the neopixels directly to the sweater.  That didn't work out well, because I didn't stabilize the back of the fabric first, requiring me to have to rip out all of the stitches.

Afterward, I used what I learned from Adafruit's chameleon scarf tutorial to sew the neopixels onto a ribbon that I later sewed to the sweater using non-conductive thread.

I applied self-adhesive stabilizer on the back.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Video Tutorial: How to Program an ATtiny85 with Codebender and a Chromebook

How to Program an ATtiny85 with Codebender and a Chromebook (Using an Arduino Uno as an ISP)

Chromebook and CodeBender
Several educators have asked me about paper circuitry and expressed interest in the idea of having their students code microprocessors for notebook hacking projects. After several days of work, I've finally completed the video tutorial that I've been promising.  In the process, I learned more than I expected.  For example, Codebender recently changed some aspects of its set-up, making it somewhat difficult to find the option to select a programmer.  I also learned that Codebender will soon be compatible with Chrome and the TinyAVR programmer from Spark Fun; it is already compatible with Firefox.

Update:  As of January 2016, Chrome is compatible with the TinyAVR Programmer! 

The video below is best viewed in high definition.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

FLOG: Light Blue Bean

FLOG (Failure Log) Alert:

In a previous post, I started exploring the Light Blue Bean, also referred to as the Arduino Bean.  I had little difficulty getting it set up on my PC, and I was excited to try to my first real project, but I made a serious miscalculation by jumping right into a project without prototyping first (something that would have been easier to do with more than one Bean).  As a result, I ended up making a soldering error that caused the Bean to stop connecting to the power pin.  After several hours of playing around, taking things apart, and re-soldering did not solve my problem, I suspected that I'd damaged the gadget beyond repair.

Another error that I made, when attempting to solder header pins to my Bean (an idea that I took from Lucie's post), was making an assumption that Beans work in the same way as a typical bread board.  I mistakenly thought that all of the pins in column 1, for example, could be programmed in the same way as the first pin in that column. Since all of the holes in the first row of my Bean already had solder in them from my first project, I figured I'd just move down a row and start over. This did not work!  Only the first pins in each column are directly programmable via Arduino or an iOS device via the Bean Loader or the Tickle app.

Success at Last:

To make a long story short, +Craig Lyndes identified and repaired my power issue and encouraged me to try prototyping again, this time moving my header pins from the second to the top row!  I am happy to report that I've got my Bean working again!

Now, I am able to make LEDs blink on demand from a PC, iPad, or iPhone, and I have a working Bean to use exclusively for prototyping.  Although I will need to buy an additional one for a future project, I have learned a lot from this process!  Thanks +Lucie deLaBruere and Craig.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lanterns for the River of Light Parade

Today I attended a lantern building workshop at Thatcher Brook Primary School, taught by +MK Monley and +gowri savoor. These brilliant educators are in the midst of preparing for the 6th annual River of Lights parade, which will be held in Waterbury on Saturday, 5 December.

MK invited me to attend this workshop after we collaborated to teach some of her third and fourth grade students basic paper circuitry, which they will be integrating into their own bug-inspired lantern projects later this month.

Having the opportunity to create my own bug lantern, and hearing about some of the various ways that they are constructed and illuminated around the world, was incredibly fun! We started out by taping willow branches into square-based pyramids.  After designing them (I was inspired by ladybugs) we glued coffee filters to outside, for the light to shine through.

Please check out the official River of Light site to learn more, or enjoy this video from 2012's parade.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Google Certified Educator (Levels 1 & 2) are Complete!

I earned my Google Certified Educator badges!


The tests were different than the ones that I took last year as part of the Google Educator certification. They cost less money and were more performance-based (which was a bonus).  The practice scenarios, however, required a lot more focused concentration, because of the level of detail in them.  I struggled at times with cognitive overload, as a result of having to tab between detailed scenarios and the work space itself.  I typically use the Tab Scissors extension when I want to read directions on one screen and follow them on another.  I didn't think to add it in during the tests (which were both taken in incognito mode).  

I learned more than I thought I would during the training modules, leading to the obvious conclusion that there are always capabilities being added to Google that are easy to miss.  For example, I learned how to use the Autocrat add-on, which I hadn't used before.  I also learned about the uses of different types of charts in Google Sheets!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Exploring the Light Blue Bean

Earlier this summer, I ordered a Light Blue Bean from, a gadget I wasn't ready to play with until today.  This small chip, which you can see blinking on the left, is a wirelessly programmable microprocessor that uses the Arduino IDE and Bluetooth.  It is about an inch tall by two inches wide and is powered by a 3V coin cell battery. Since it communicates over Bluetooth, there are no wires to connect when programming!  So far, I've only uploaded a couple of sample sketchs and started playing around with the settings.  I haven't yet committed to a sample project, but I'm interested seeing where this exploration leads.  One of the tutorials on their website has directions for creating an "evil goat" with LED eyes that can be controlled by an iPhone!  What's not to love about that?

This is what the Bean Loader looks like in Windows 10.  I've got a special version of Arduino opened up on the the left.  Once you've uploaded the code there, it goes into a folder on your hard drive. From there, you select, "Program" to wireless upload the code to the device.

Monday, July 27, 2015

123D Circuits For Cloud-Based Arduino Prototyping

Last week, while attending the Create Make Learn Summer Institute, I noticed that a lot of people were using AutoDesk to access Tinkercad and other free online design tools.  As a result, I checked it out and discovered 123D Circuits and the Electronics Lab, which allows users to simulate working on a breadboard, write and compile the code, and then test it out digitally.

This might not seem like a revolutionary thing, but here's why I'm hooked:  I've found this tool to be an efficient way to code and prototype ATtiny85 microprocessors.

My digital breadboard, testing out code that I wrote for an ATtiny85

Small microprocessors such as the ATtiny85 can be incredibly tedious to prototype, often requiring multiple boards and lots of wires.  If you've ever tried connecting alligator clips to one, then you know that it's super tricky to keep the clips from touching one another while you're testing out your code.

That's where 123D Circuits can come in handy!  Rather than having to set up a breadboard (or get out the alligator clips) every time you want to test your code, you could use a digital breadboard to do it instead. Then, once you've verified that your code is doing what it's supposed to do, you can save it (along with your breadboard), making it easy to access and build upon later.

Paired with CodeBender and a Chromebook, I've found that not only can I test my code and wiring virtually, but I can also upload it right to my ATtiny85, using Arduino as an ISP.

Potential Pitfalls:
Although 123D Circuits has a lot of useful digital components, such as LEDs, resistors, and switches, I have not been able to figure out how to digitally test out a light sensor on an ATtiny85.  Also, there doesn't appear to be a sound sensor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Code Bender & Chromebooks: Cloud-based Arduino Programming

I've just spent the morning programming ATtiny85s (for paper circuitry projects) using my Chromebook!

I just discovered that it's possible (and easy) to program an Arduino board by adding the CodeBender plug-in to your browser!  Using CodeBender takes less time than trying to set up the Arduino IDE on a PC and allows users to access their sketches from any computer!  This is bound to save time if you are ever teaching a workshop for a group who hasn't set up Arduino on their devices before, or if your students are Chromebook users.

Lessons Learned:
1.  When using CodeBender, you cannot use an AVR Tiny Programmer on a Chromebook (you can use one with the Firefox browser, however).  Using an Arduino UNO set up as an ISP, however, will do the trick.

Friday, July 3, 2015

ReMEDIAtion: Transforming Your Own Videos into Animation Using DoInk Apps

Transforming Videos into Animation Using DoInk Apps

For the second week of the Connected Learning MOOC (#clmooc), we were challenged to try new tools to engage with remixing and transforming media from one form into another. 

I ended up using a feature of the DoInk Animation and Drawing App that I hadn't used before, allowing me to create animations from my own video clips!

In the process, my first draft of The Dog Days of Summer was born.  Over the past week, I've added some animations to it and tweaked the audio so that it gradually fades in and out.  Here is the link to the final cut:   "The Dog Days of Summer:  Final Cut."

Several people requested that I create a tutorial on how I created my video, so I've done so and shared it here.  In the interest of brevity, I didn't record an audio track to accompany my screen cast.  I hope that the visuals are self-explanatory.  If I can clear up any confusion, please let me know.

I chose my dog as the subject, because it was easy to record footage of him doing the things that dogs do. The process of drawing him frame by frame for hours on end was cathartic, launching me into a full state of flow.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A 25 Word Story Told with Animated Paper Circuitry

All of the sharing that's been happening during the first week of #clmooc has got me thinking more deeply about the roles of identity, connection, curation, and the ways that we portray ourselves in the myriad settings of our lives.  When we put ourselves out into the world, we are attempting to communicate and connect with others, but we may not always be successful.  Sometimes, we may feel like our words are disappearing into cyberspace. Other times, we might be hoping for a sign that our message has been received, by looking to the outside world for validation that what we have to say has value beyond our selves.  I suspect that for some, social media may even lead to alienation in the pursuit of authentic human connection.  I am grateful to #clmooc for explicitly inviting participants to reflect on issues like this as we explore and consciously create our connected learning community.

I decided to turn my latest paper circuit into an animated #25wordstory, which came to me when I started thinking about the paradox of social media.  I am interested in the intersection between paper circuitry and story-telling, to get myself thinking and expressing in new ways.

To create the video, I used the DoInk Green Screen and Drawing/Animation apps and iMovie.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Klexos Remixed #DoNowObject

binocular poem.jpgPerched upon the windowsill in my kitchen are three pairs of binoculars; this pair, found in an antique shop, is my favorite.  This object represents my attention to detail, a desire to watch, learn, and create, and my passion for noticing things that are often overlooked by others.  These lenses represent my passion for watching birds flitting around my yard, the value I place upon quiet introspection, and the ways that past events may be viewed in the mind’s eye.  They symbolize a desire to be deeply known, viewed beyond the surface.

After seeing @Susan Watson’s post depicting a list of emotions that people feel but cannot explain, I journeyed down a wormhole to explore the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. While there I savored the story of Klexos, by turning the text into a blacked out poem that expresses my thoughts.  

Klexos RemixedLife is opportunities.Look closer: notice.Questioning enrichesto allow someone to expose cracks by thoughts alone.It’s worth looking in memories,memory as art.Paint and remember.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paper Circuitry Remix #untro

For the next few weeks, I will be participating in the Making Learning Connected MOOC, a collaboration between the National Writing Project and Educator

For the first #clmooc make, we were asked to "shatter the parameters of our introductions" in order to "see things in a new way."

I decided to do this by remixing of a couple of images that I drew and illuminated with paper circuitry.

Yesterday, I drew a purple monster with three glowing eyes.  Today it was a green alien (a cosmic photo bomber?) with a glowing heart.

After experimenting with a couple of fun tools (Bazaart and Lunapic) I remixed the images into a new piece of art! (If you look carefully, you may notice an alien heart beating).

I love the way that the new image tells a story without words and how the aliens look like open, welcoming critters.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Paper Circuitry and Animation

I have been captivated by paper circuitry and e-textiles since last summer, when I first started learning about soft circuits.  Using conductive thread or copper tape with LEDs to create objects that light up makes me extraordinarily happy, even if it hasn't necessarily contributed to my becoming a better writer, yet.  
While I have been deepening my exploration with soft circuits in my personal life, and by teaching a few workshops here and there, I am particularly interested in thinking more deeply about ways that this interest of mine can be integrated into content area teaching.  I want to know whether paper circuitry can help me and my future students become better thinkers, writers, and communicators.

I'd like to hear from other educators about how you have used paper circuitry to help upper middle to high school students communicate ideas or tell stories. 

Today, while I was thinking about this, I had an idea that could have some promise.  Rather than leaving my circuit hidden in a notebook, I decided to use it in a digital animation.   

Here's How I Did It:
This video is an app smash of iMovie, DoInk Greenscreen, and DoInk Drawing and Animation. I started by recording footage of a drawing of two cars in the middle of a road, with blinking headlights powered by a paper circuit.  I imported this clip into the DoInk Greenscreen app.  Next, I took a photo of the drawing and used Pixlr photo editer to remove the background from one of the cars, saving it as a transparent PNG file.  I imported the PNG file into the DoInk Drawing and Animation app and created a new composition, making the photograph appear to move.  I added the text by creating another animation.  I imported these compositions as new layers within the Greenscreen app, uploaded the final video to camera roll, and added audio within iMovie.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Paper Circuitry and the Writing Process

I started with a drawing.
Inspired by Nexmap's 21st Century Notebooking idea (done in collaboration with the National Writer's Project) I am attempting to blend paper circuitry with my own writing process.  This might sound easy, but I was surprised to find it more challenging than I thought I would. I love making the circuits, and even drawing or making collages of images that are in my imagination; but, when it comes to writing down the words, I sometimes struggle.  

While a goal of integrating paper circuitry into the writing process is to provide another communication tool, it should be noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the writing that you desire to inspire in yourself or others will be particularly good or flow easily. If I'm being completely honest, my writing process has been labored, even though I'm doing this as my own personal challenge.  I’ve found myself procrastinating and looking for permission to take a low-stakes approach, such as creating a blackout poem, composing a haiku, or illustrating a borrowed quotation. These options seem less daunting than documenting a personal metaphor or attempting to write something profound and magical. Still, I believe that this is a process worth exploring; we all need encouragement to practice telling our stories in different ways in order to find our most authentic voice.

I allowed myself to start writing in haiku. 
I created the circuit last.
So, when I struggle to find the right words, or worry that they won't be good enough, I need only remind myself to trust the process and play.  

I started my haiku by creating a drawing that reminded me of where I grew up. With some effort, and slightly adjusted expectations, the words followed.  With a little revision, I was happy enough with the outcome to share it here.

The thing that I like most about my finished piece is the way the illuminated flowers really look like jewels.

This is the first time that I let my content drive the circuit, instead of vise versa.

As I continue my exploration of paper circuitry as a literacy tool, I am wondering how I may build upon this experience to create meaningful learning opportunities for students. I personally love making things with my hands, so I naturally gravitate toward this sort of work.  

Conversely, I am wondering what research has to say about the use of paper circuitry in the writing process. I know some audacious educators have already been practicing this process in their classrooms, but I haven't seen a lot of examples of student work. Beyond the gleeful anecdotes and gee-whiz appeal that blinking lights are sure to conjure, I am curious to know how effective notebook hacking really is as a tool for improving communication or increasing creativity. The process has value on a personal level, but I'm eager to find out what students think.

Forgotten Jewels
Dusty petals croon
against a blanket of sand.
Sing, desert blossom.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Programming Circuit Sticker and ATtiny85 Microcontrollers

Recently, I started playing around with a programmable micro-controller sticker, available from Chibitronics. Using the resources at, I was able to use my Arduino Uno as a programmer to change the code on the sticker!  It was almost as fun as programming a LilyPad Arduino in an e-textile, only this time I got to use my favorite medium, paper!  I'm still just playing around at this point, but I am eager to learn more.

I was also able to use my Arduino to program an ATtiny85 microcontroller (which costs significantly less than the micro-controller sticker) to make an LED blink and fade.

I used the resources at and to pull this off.  It took me a few tries (and some cable wiggling), but it finally works!

They suggest using an AVR Tiny Programmer to make the programming easier.  One of the benefits of using the tiny programmer is that you can put an adapter on it (provided with the Circuit Sticker sensor pack), allowing you to quickly go between programming the sticker or an ATtiny85 without much fiddling.

I am excited about the possibilities for using these both in a bookbinding project or an illuminated writing activity!

In the photo to the left, I haven't soldered yet.

Stay tuned to see where this latest diversion takes me, or visit my other blog, Bling the Book.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Reflection on Dynamic Landscapes 2015

At the beginning of the year, I listed some goals for myself.  One was to actively practice stepping outside of my comfort zone by teaching workshops for adults, with the ultimate goal of presenting at a conference.  I am happy to report that I achieved this goal over the past two days at Dynamic Landscapes!

While this is something that I'd been wanting to do for some time, I'd been reluctant about presenting to an audience of colleagues. The thought that teachers can be some of the toughest critics was not helping; I was terrified to make myself the center of attention for an adult audience.  With the support and encouragement of other educators, I was able to overcome my fears; I am grateful to Joanne Finnegan and Doug Dunbebin for helping me make the leap.  Thanks to you both for taking this journey with me.

Although I wish that I hadn't been clutching my notes so tightly during my introduction,  my first presentation, "Radical Remixing with Creative Commons," went better than I had hoped.

I was lucky to have a supportive, curious audience of about 15 people. If I'd had more time, I would have shown more examples of places to find Creative Commons licensed media.  My presentation highlighted Flickr as a go-to resource, but there are many other resources for remixing that educators can explore.   Perhaps, I will design and share another presentation that focuses more broadly on Creative Commons resources across the web.

My second presentation, "Delving into DoInk:  Adding Animation to Green Screen Videos to Tell Your Story," was for a slightly larger audience (22 people).  Although the space was not quite large enough to accommodate that many people, all trying to record video and audio at the same time (it was quite loud), I enjoyed this workshop even more.  Unlike the first presentation, which was less interactive, this one was a two-hour hands-on session, allowing me to circulate and talk to people as they practiced and played on their own.  I prefer this type of teaching to the "stand up and yammer" model.  Teaching other teachers in this type of setting is not much different from the way I teach kids, so I felt comfortable.

As a result of this experience, and my desire to continually improve my practice, I am going to be submitting another proposal for VT Fest, coming up in November.  I am grateful to Vita Learn for their support of educators' professional growth.