Recycled Robots 2016

The end of the year brought another round of Recycled Robots to Rata Studios.  We kicked things off with an introduction to electricity as the students made their own wiggle bots to take home.  Wiggle bots are robots made using a battery, hobby motor, and cup.  Some students turned their wiggle bots into mobile monsters, other drawing robots, and still others made fans and face massagers!

In the very next class two enterprising young lads brought their wiggle bots back, but with upgrades their dad helped them undertake over the weekend!  These new-and-improved bots featured fancy on-off switches and shiny aluminium foil bodies.   Throughout the term other students brought in electronic items to share, many of which had been taken apart to see what was inside (with parent’s permission, of course).

As the term went on students created more advanced robots using the Hummingbird Robot Kit.  Unlike the wiggle bots, which can only be turned on or off, these new robots could be programmed to carry out a sequence of tasks!

Through multiple projects students discovered how to use sensors, motors, servos, and LEDs to bring craft and recycled materials to life.

Once everyone had the basics down we moved on to creating final robots for our Robot Petting Zoo.  These robots had one special requirement, they had to be activated either by “petting” or “feeding” the robot.  There was quite a lot of discussion about which sensors would work best for this task, but eventually all groups settled on either distance sensors or light sensors.

The day of the robot show was quite exciting!  There was a lot to get done before our guests began arriving.  All the robots still needed to be tested to make sure they were in good working order.  Everyone knew just what to do and began working as soon as they arrived.  Many people came to pet and feed our robots and best of all, the Petting Zoo closed out with a delicious robot cake made by Charlie’s Mum!  (For consumption by humans, not robots)

Creative Technology courses will be returning in 2017 with Game Design Adventures and Mixed Media Animation.


Steampunk Science

Kids honed their engineering skills at Steampunk Science this spring holiday.   Class kicked off with an exploratory trip to the Cable Car and Museum.  We observed the inner mechanics of the Cable Car which uses many different simple machines to work.  This makes it a compound machine.  It was really interesting to see all the moving parts and how they fit together.  We were even able to hold a piece of cable similar to the cable used to pull the cable car.

We then headed back to the Space Place to build our own simple machines!   Before students could begin collecting supplies they sketched out their plan.  We ended up with a wide variety of machines, but they all fell into two categories: pulleys and levers.

Mistakes were made throughout the building process, but that’s all a part of learning.  By asking questions and being persistent everyone was able to work through the sticky bits.


Questions to Keep the Learning Going:

  • What are the different parts of a pulley?
  • What is a fulcrum and why is it important in a lever?
  • Where should you place the fulcrum in order to make it easier to lift a load?
  • Where might you find pulleys, levers, and ramps in your daily life?

Powerful Programmers

In Girl Powered Programming girls and boys alike honed their programming skills as they learned about female programmers throughout the ages.

A big part of learning to code is using creative problem solving to figure out what’s gone wrong or what you need to do next.  Over eight weeks the students learned how to problem solve and even began helping their classmates with difficult coding challenges.

For their final game students put their creativity to the test by digitally drawing unique sprites and backgrounds.   For inspiration we looked at 8-bit art from classic games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Brothers.   Art doesn’t have to be complex in order to be powerful!



Students were encouraged to make a list of tasks they wanted to complete by the end of each session.  Some weeks we focused on art, others on coding.  By session 7 there was still quite a lot to be done on our final games, no one felt like they were completely finished.  We still pushed forward with our play-testing, play-testing is when you let others play your game and provide constructive feedback on how it can be made better.  After the play-testing session everyone had a clear picture of what still needed to be done and how to achieve it.   By the end of the next class all the games were complete and ready to be shared with the world!

You can play all of the games created in Girl Powered Programming online at our classroom’s Scratch Studio.



Next term we are offering our popular Recycled Robots course at Rata Studios.  In Recycled Robots students will use engineering, art, and programming to turn yesterday’s trash into the robots of tomorrow.

Morphing & Molding

Clay is a classic medium for stop-motion animation.  It was first used for a dream sequence in 1908’s films, The Sculptor’s Nightmare and the Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream.  Clay’s malleable nature allows it to become literally anything that can be imagined.

Returning students who previously attended Mixed Media Animation already had some experience morphing clay, but this term we took it to a new level.  We focused not just on the act of morphing from a ball to an object, but actually making a ball of clay appear to be alive.   Many of the students incorporated morphing into their later, character based, animations.


We also explored how Aardman Studios creates characters with personality, then made our own quirky characters and props.  It is important to include small, subtle movements unrelated to the main action taking place on screen.  An eye roll or blink can really convince the viewer that a clay character is alive.

For our final projects, we tried something new.  Each student chose a short, Creative Commons licensed, song to animate a music video for.  Students used storyboards to plan out their animations, then they spent the last three weeks making their ideas into reality.

Watch the whole show below:

Next term we are returning to programming on Wednesday nights with Web Builders.  Youth ages 11 – 14 will learn how to code and design their own webpages using HTML, CSS, and Mozilla Thimble.  Registration is now open:


LEGO Creations

Wow, what a term!  I have watched these young ones grow immensely in just eight short weeks.   They have grown into amazing animators and learned life-skills that will hopefully follow them wherever they go.




A huge obstacle they over-came early on was learning how to problem solve in order to sort out disputes, the most popular of which was “But I wanted that LEGO piece!”  They quickly learned that they could work together and share pieces so everyone got what they wanted and no stories were compromised.


They also learned how to set up the animation stations and began to set up as soon as they arrived without any prompting from me. This requires putting everything in exactly the right place, opening up the correct programme, creating a new project file, and making sure the camera lines up correctly with their sets.  Older children sometimes have problems with this process, but these young animators accomplished the task with ease.




Seeing their customised mini-figures was by far the coolest part of the class and I think they enjoyed creating them as well.  We saw a wide range of characters from superheroes and scary grannies, to anthropomorphised farts.  Knowing how to customise mini-figures allows animators to create stories outside of anything anyone else could have ever imagined.



The kids also added a bit of trickery into their films.  By switching out LEGO heads they were able to create the illusion that their characters had emotions and were reacting to whatever drama was unfolding on screen.  This illusion was completed with the addition of sound effects placed at the exactly right moment.


This group clearly pushed the bounds of what is possible and let their imaginations flow, but don’t take my word for it:


Girl Power!

With the popularity of Game Design Adventures we decided to develop Girl Powered Programming, a girl-focused course that contains more artistic opportunities for character creation and a special focus on awesome female programmers.

The girls learned about video game programmers from the very first programmer in the 1800’s all the way up to present day.    Ada Lovelace really caught their attention, they loved that she was both a countess and a programmer.   One of these spotlights even spawned discussion about what makes a game a boy game vs a girl game.  At first everyone said girl games are pink and princesses, but the more they talked many of them said they didn’t actually like those things, but they did like some things that had been suggested for “boy” games (guns, motorbikes, and Star Wars were a few of their suggestions).    There was even talk about creating a game where you could play as a heroic knight saving a princess in distress or a heroic princess saving a knight in distress.   In the end, these clever young ladies decided maybe girly things are just anything a girl happens to like!



When asked what they liked most about the class the girls unanimously said they enjoyed making games and beta-testing other people’s games.   The creation of unique sprites and backgrounds was a huge draw for them as well.   Throughout the eight weeks they learned how to make sprites move, use variables to create scores, and how to place objects exactly where you want them using x,y coordinates.


I can’t wait to see what these ladies will dream up for us next!  In the meantime, all of their games are available to play and download online at our classroom’s Scratch Studio.



If you missed this instance of Girl Powered Programming never fear, we will be back in Term 3 at Rata Studios.

Master Builders

Weta isn’t the only animation powerhouse on the peninsula.  Twenty-four master builders spent the term animating at Rata Studios this term.  They used their skills to build fantastic sets and create amusing stories using LEGO bricks.


Though the medium of LEGO is relatively new, stop motion animation is nearly as old as filmmaking itself.  The technique requires animators to take many photos, with minimal changes in action between each one.  Though students spent three to four sessions perfecting their final animations, the longest one was only a minute long.   Just imagine how many days and months it must take to create a feature length animation!  The art form certainly takes dedication.

Students certainly learned patience as well as teamwork.  It takes both an animator and someone on the computer watching what is happening in real-time and capturing photos to make an animation great.

Next term the animation adventure at Rata Studios continues with Clay Animation.