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Global STEM Launch and the Scottish Learning Festival

Last week was a very busy week for us here at Mindsets. We attended two different events, one in York, and the other in Glasgow! This meant one thing – road trip!

Tuesday saw the official launch event of the ‘Global STEM Award‘ , by UK STEM, at the highly-acclaimed National STEM Centre in York. We were there to integrate our products into the Global STEM Award, and all in all, it was a brilliant day. The event was well attended, with over 90 students from local schools, and as far afield as China! The Chinese students were on a trip to the UK, partially organised by Mike Cargill (Director, UK STEM), and it made sense to have more of a global audience for the launch of the Global STEM Award.

After Tuesday’s launch, we drove straight up to Glasgow, to set up for the Scottish Learning Festival. We knew it was going to be tight – but we managed to arrive with 30 minutes to set up – and we finished with time to spare! After our very busy day, we decided it was time to unwind…

We were at the Scottish Festival of Learning mainly to exhibit the Crumble. We are finding that whilst the Crumble is well established in England and Wales, it seems that most of Scotland haven’t heard of us! It definitely made sense to exhibit.

We had a great couple of days at the exhibition, and we had a great number of interesting conversations, with some fantastic people. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy to use the Crumble is, and how it’s a perfect first step into the world of Physical Computing.

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I’ve got a Crumble Starter Kit – now what?

note: some links in this post go direct the the home of the Crumble, Redfern Electronics.

You’ve been lucky enough to get your hands on a Crumble starter kit, you’ve connected bits together and managed to get a Sparkle shining red, but now what? What else can you do with it apart from make a red light?

We’ve decided to collate a list of inspiration and ideas for projects that you can make using only the contents – and container – of the starter kit.

We’ll start with the simpler projects, before looking at a couple of more advanced ones. First up we have a simple timer. This can be made as simple or advanced as you like, but the main premise behind it is that a timer for 30 seconds will start when you press the button.

The program is simple. Wait until the button is pressed, turn on the Sparkle white, then after 30 seconds, turn it off. The program then repeats, waiting for the user to press the button to start the timer again. This could easily be extended by adding in a nice pulsing effect every second, getting faster near the end of the time limit.

Next up we have the classic ‘police lights’ project. You can start off by making only the lights, which you can then ’embed’ into a model police car. If you are feeling particularly creative, you could use the starter kit box to make a chassis, which you can then turn into your own ‘moving’ vehicle! As a starting point, we want to make the two sparkles alternate between red and blue. This could then be elaborated on, to create extravagant flashing patterns, or even use the switch to cycle between various styles!

This is one of the simplest, yet most satisfying programs! To represent police lights, we turn the Sparkles on red and blue, then after a short time, we switch their colour.

Now we have an example of a simple project, with a bit more ‘making’ involved. The lightbox is made using either the starter kit box, or another box, and a piece of paper. We then can light up the message using the supplied sparkles. To make the programming more difficult, we can control the lights via the switch, make them change colour or even fade through the RGB values.

The programming for this project is surprisingly simple, once you know how. We are going to wait for the button to be pressed, and A to become HI. Then we’ll turn on the Sparkle(s) white (you can use as many as you like with this code!). Then, each time the button is pressed, the Sparkle(s) changes to another colour, or off. The wait statement allows us time to remove our finger from the button, setting A LO. If we didn’t have it, the program would skip through repeatedly, as it runs faster than we can move!

For our final basic project, we have our very own model Zebra crossing, complete with flashing Belisha beacons! Using most of the starter kit box as the ‘crossing’, we’ve made two beacons out of  some of the lid from the box. Programmatically, this isn’t too taxing – its an infinite loop, alternating each light.

This code is nice and simple – set one Sparkle to Orange, and the other one off. After one second, switch them around so that the orange one turns off, and the one that’s off turns on orange. Wait another second before repeating. This will then give us the effect of them flashing alternately.

Now we move onto some projects for those of you who are more experienced. First up, we are going to look at a simple reaction time gamer. One Sparkle will light up after x milliseconds, then you have to press the button as quickly as you can. Within a set amount of time, and you get a green on the other Sparkle, but too slow and you’ll get red.

Now that we have moved onto something more complicated, the code has gotten longer, however, it is just as easy to understand! This program waits a random amount of time (0.5 – 3.5 seconds) before turning on the Sparkle white. It then ‘times’ us by adding 10 to our ‘Time’ variable, every 10ms, until the switch is pressed. If we took less than 350ms, we get a green flashing Sparkle, but if we took longer, it goes red! If you have a Sparkle Baton, check out this project.

On the theme of reaction-based games, we have our ‘Sparkle Snap’ game – The two Sparkles light up a random colour (from a predefined list), if they match you must press the button as quickly as you can. Succeed, and you’ll be rewarded with flashing green Sparkles. Get it wrong, and you’ll get red.

We’re starting off by lighting each Sparkle one of three colours. We’ve assigned ‘ColourOne’ and ‘ColourTwo’ a random number between 0 and 2, and then using selection (if statements), we’ve lit the Sparkles depending on the variable values. It’s worth noting that this section could be far longer, if you want a wider range of colours. The Sparkles are then on for either 500ms or until the button is pressed. If the time elapses, the game just continues, whereas if the button was pressed, we check to see whether the two colours (variables) are the same. If they are, then we flash green for 2.5s, if they weren’t, then we flash red for 2.5s. This game could be taken a lot further if you wanted too – making it get faster after each correct guess, adding in a penalty if you miss a pair etc.

Next up we have a slightly simpler project to the previous two – morse code. Using a Sparkle, it is possible to flash an array of messages, using morse code. This one is fairly self-explanatory, and using a variety of wait statements and repeat loops, it is easily achieved.

This is the less efficient way of making this program, but it works nonetheless! Put simply, we have flashed our Sparkle based on something in Morse Code. This is achieved by using the wait statements, to correctly display a dot, dash, the gap between letters and the gap between words. If you want another starter kit, ‘code’ based Sparkle project, check out our Lighthouse.

Finally, we have another ‘maker’ based project, using the starter kit box (or other). By colouring the box in black, and poking some carefully placed holes, we can easily make a ‘constellation’. We can then add some realistic twinkling, by randomly choosing shades of bluey-yellowy-white. Although simple to make, it is a nice programming exercise using repeat loops and variables.

Our last code segment is actually quite simple. By defining the range of various random number blocks, and placing them in the RGB sections of the Sparkle variables, we can define a random set of colours. Then, by waiting a random amount of time for changing them, we can get a realistic twinkling effect!

There are numerous possibilities when it comes to deciding ‘what to make’ using the starter kit – many more than we’ve listed here. Hopefully you’re now feeling more inspired, and have some fantastic ideas of what to make at home, or with your class. If you have other Crumbs and components laying around, don’t forget to head over to our Projects to see what else you can make.

Have a cool idea that we’ve not listed here? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a message on our contact us page, or Twitter!

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Mindsets and Machine Realm have launched a Kickstarter

UPDATE: You can find the ISO-CUBE web-shop and tutorials at:

Meet the ISO-CUBE. This 3D drawing tool has been meticulously designed and developed to enable anybody to create astonishing 3D isometric drawings in minutes, and excitingly, you are now able to back it on Kickstarter.

By using the ISO-CUBE and the ‘Drawing-Block’ method, you can build up an isometric shell, which you can then ‘sculpt’ using ‘isometric addition and subtraction’ techniques. This aid makes light work of what can be difficult for the most experienced of designers – making 2D drawings look truly 3-Dimensional.

Neal Turner (Machine Realm and full-time Teacher) and Joseph Birks (MD, Mindsets) have had a longstanding relationship. Neal has a great eye for detail – he’s gone to Joseph a few times in the past with amazing designs and kits. But nothing had piqued Joseph’s interest more than the simplistic beauty of the ISO-CUBE. Being a teacher, Neal originally designed the ISO-CUBE to be more cost-effective and simpler to use than other drawing stencils on the market. Joseph wanted to help Neal get the ISO-CUBE ‘out-there’ – so what better place than Kickstarter.

Although originally designed for assisting the teaching of 3D design and isometric drawing (GCSE and A-Level), the ISO-CUBE is for anyone and everyone. Whether you are creative or not, the ISO-CUBE helps you to unlock your potential.

Neal Turner using the Giant ISO-CUBE

If you want to find out more about this exciting project, then you can read more and pledge to get yours over on Kickstarter.

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A Crumble-Powered Automatic RGB Nightlight

Sometimes inspiration can be hard to come by. We have known for a while that we’ve wanted to make a nightlight, but didn’t know how to make it different from all the rest.

We stumbled across an interesting video on YouTube which peaked our interest and gave us the inspiration we needed. How awesome would this nightlight look if we added a whole heap of Sparkles (a Matrix display) and gave it a Crumble kick?!

The Crumble-powered RGB nightlight was born.

Although this post will be a whistle-stop tour of the process, when we have our finished Sparkle Matrix display, we will definitely work on some in-depth instructions and teaching resources.

We started off by preparing a cardboard box, by removing all of the sellotape. We then glued it back together, to make sure that it was sturdy.

We then cut the faces of the box off, leaving a border. This would give us the frame for our light.

After this, we drew some straight lines on a word document and printed off 5 copies. We then trimmed each sheet so that it could be glued inside the 5 faces of the frame.

When we had finished our light, we decided that we didn’t like the bare cardboard, so we used a silver permanent marker to give it a metallic look.

Wiring up the Crumble was simple enough.  After connecting the Sparkles (inside the shade), we connected a light-dependent resistor (LDR). One end connected to a + output, in this case from the batteries, and the other end connects to an input (A, B, C or D). We used A.

It’s really easy to use an LDR with the Crumble. Take a look at the following program. When the analogue value of the LDR (we’ve renamed it to be helpful) is above 90, turn all of the Sparkles off,  if it isn’t above 90, and therefore less than it,  then turn the Sparkles on.

To get the nice RGB effect, we have cycled through the red, green and blue values.  This graph shows how increasing or decreasing the different values gives us different colours. Doing it in this particular order gives us a lovely rainbow effect!

We have created variables called Red, Green and Blue. We then set the corresponding red, green and blue Sparkle values to our variables. We have cycled up/down the RGB values to give us our transition of colours. Each time the colour changes, we check to see the value of the LDR, and whether or not to turn the lights on/off.

And here is our RGB nightlight, in all of its glory! When the Sparkle Matrix gets finalised, we will create some more in-depth teaching resources for this project, as it’s easy to make and really satisfying.

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Getting to grips with the Crumble line follower

We often get asked questions about how to use the line follower with the Crumble, so we thought that we’d provide some updated examples on how to use it.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, the ‘Crumble Line Follower Widget‘ is a small board with two infra-red sensors in. Their resistance changes depending on the colour/ amount of light they sense. This means we can use the analogue values on the Crumble, along with some motors, to make a buggy follow a line!

There are many different ways to program a line-following buggy, and we are going to have a look at these. It is worth noting before we go any further, that there are many factors that can influence how successful your line-following adventure will be. Everything from how white your surface is, how reflective it is (for infra-red), how close the line follower is to the surface, to how charged your batteries are.

First of all, we need to wire up our Crumble and line follower. If you look at the back of your buggy, the right motor needs to connect to the motor two pads (red + and black -). The left motor connects to the motor 1 pads, but because the motor is flipped, we need to reverse the wiring so that the ‘forwards’ block still makes the motor move forwards. So we will connect the black to + and the red to – . The line follower then needs connecting. The power (+ and -) connects to the corresponding pads on the Crumble or battery box and then the ‘left’ and ‘right’ pads need connecting to two of the I/O pads e.g. A and B.

Note: This may be different depending on your motor configuration/set up. If you are in doubt, have a play and find out!  

Method One: The Simple One

We will first look at the shortest and simplest way of getting the line follower to work. This method links the analogue values with the corresponding motor speeds.

There are occasions when this technique doesn’t work so well – it will depend on the materials you are using and how tight the ‘track’ you are following is!

Method Two: Treating Them Digitally

The next method treats the inputs digitally – so that the readings are either HI or LO. If the left or right are reading low, we only want the opposite motor running. Or when a side is on white, we want that motor to keep running.

Method Three: Analogue Alternative

When the digital method doesn’t work correctly, whether it is the surfaces you are using, or the height of the line follower from the floor, we can use analogue values instead, to achieve exactly the same effect.

Method Four: Comparing Left & Right

The other methods we are going to look at rely on comparing the left and right values to one another. This one works as follows: If the left analogue value is less than the right one,  gradually turn left- else gradually turn right. The motor speeds can be adjusted depending on the complexity of your course.

Method Five: Joseph’s Brainchild

The other comparison method we are going to look at is the brain-child of Joseph, the Crumble’s creator. It involves finding the difference between the left and right values, and then adding/subtracting from the relevant motors.

These five different programs are just a snapshot of the vast number of ways you can program a line follower. If you wanted to use a white line on a dark surface then it is just a case of inverting the motors, or the comparisons.

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Mindsets head to the Education Show

Last week, a few of us travelled up to the NEC, Birmingham for the Education Show. We were there mainly to exhibit the Crumble Controller as the show tends to be geared towards Primary and Home Educators – and the Crumble is perfect for Primary Computing and Design and Technology. Loads of people had a go with the Crumble and there was a real excitement surrounding the stand.

We were sharing our stand with Mike and Beckie from UK STEM – they were launching their fantastic new initiative called ‘The Global Stem Award’ which you can find out about here.

When the show had quietened down, we even found time to set each other some Crumble challenges!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the show and it was great to meet so many new and familiar people, all of whom share our excitement and passion for education. We look forward to the next one.

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Updated: USB Memory Stick Case-off

Now 16GB - only £3.50 ex. VAT

Price correct at 30/7/19

As a part of a new feature, we have decided that every few months we will hold an in-house design competition. To kick things off, we are starting with our Uncased USB Memory Stick. We have set ourselves the task of designing and then making a case for the memory stick. We haven’t given ourselves a particular medium to work with, but I can guarantee that there will be at least a 3D printer and a laser cutter involved!

At the end of the month, when everybody has finished, we will hold an online poll to allow the internet to decide the winner!

Any updates on the task will be posted here, or on social media.

19/1/18 – We have an update. At approximately 13:37 an email was sent by one of the competitors, hinting at the progress they had made. We think he was feeling brave as it was his birthday…

2/3/18- After what seems to have been a very long and busy start to the year, everyone involved in the competition has finally had the time to work on their memory stick masterpieces.

In between staying warm, and all of our usual tasks, we have managed to find time to design and make our entries to the USB Case-off challenge.  It was a tougher process than any of us imagined, and there was definitely a lot of trial and error involved! Measuring accurately was one of the most important aspects of this challenge, with most of us having to work to the nearest 100μm (micrometer or 1/10mm)!


Here is Mike’s entry to the competition. He has designed a snail-like 3d printed case. He has also embedded a piece of fibre optic on the memory stick’s LED, so that it glows when in use.

Here is Dan’s entry. He glued together layers of laser-cut plywood, which he then sanded and oiled to create this wooden case.

Glyn also opted for the use of a laser cutter with his entry. He has glued layers of acrylic together , with two memory sticks, to create this practical set of spanners.

Here is Sonia’s entry to the competition. She has designed and laser cut an MDF ice-cream! And like the other laser cut entries, she has utilised layers and glue to create the case.

and the winner is...

It was close, but with 40% of the votes, Dan has been crowned the winner!

If you want to have a go at your own memory stick case, then check these out:

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Make a 7-Segment Display with the Crumble

Here is our latest Crumble project, hot off the press!

Once again it all started with an idea. We wanted a better way of displaying numbers (and some letters) with the Crumble – and that got us thinking. In essence a 7-segment display is made of seven bars, which get lit up. So we decided to give it a go.

We started out with all of our resources. Along with this we used a glue gun and a pen.

After cutting out our templates, we stuck down borders around each segment and the whole display.

This is the basic ‘shell’ of the 7-segment display. It just needs Sparkles, and a paper covering to diffuse the light.

We then wired up the display, Starting with 0 at the top and working in an anti-clockwise spiral shape, connected them all together, gluing a card support to hold the Sparkles in place.

After wiring it up, connecting to the Crumble and programming it, we have our very own 9 second timer – using real numbers!

If you would like more information about this project and others, most of which include  free lesson plans, PowerPoints and worksheets, head on over to Redfern Electronics, our partner site and home of the Crumble.

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Getting musical with the Crumble

A Crumble powered instrument that can play a tune? You must be mad!

Don’t worry, we thought we were too, but after having this idea in our head for a long time, we finally bought a glockenspiel to try it out-  and lo and behold our Crumble powered glockenspiel is alive.

Surprisingly, you don’t need many parts to make the instrument work. A glockenspiel with a beater, two servos, some cable ties and a sticky pad or two. We placed it on a spare piece of corriflute so that we could keep the servos and the glockenspiel aligned.

We needed two servos for this. One servo with the “cross” attachment, and the other with the “double arm”. These were then wired into the Crumble, one on A and the other on B.

The two servos were then connected with sticky pads and cable ties. The bottom servo moves along the X axis (left to right), and the top servo along the Y axis (up and down).

To allow us to easily play the given notes, we created a variable for each one and worked out, through trial and error, which notes were at which angle.

We then moved onto setting out variables for a crotchet, a minim, and then the angles at which the top servo needs to be to hit the glockenspiel, and where it should rest at.

This is the block of code to hit the ‘F’ key, for one crotchet (same as the beat). The total of the wait statements is 750 milliseconds, which equals 80 beats per minute.

And there you have it, one Crumble-powered Glockenspiel! Our instrument came with some free music, so we decided to use one of those pieces. After piecing together many snippets of code, here is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – well the first line, in all of its Crumble-y glory.

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Testing a hypothesis with the Mini-dataloggers

If you have already seen our ‘Datalogging: The cooling effect of evaporation‘ post, you may remember that we had stumbled across something interesting, that we wanted to investigate further. The temperature inside the cups increased when we turned the fan on.

We came up with a hypothesis. We believe that the fan caused the air to circulate around the room, mixing the warmer air from the top of the room, with the cooler air, towards the bottom. The cups were placed on a shelf in the lower half of the room, so this may explain what was going on.

To test our theory, we placed two dataloggers in the room. One on the top shelf of the unit, and the other in the middle, where the other investigations took place. We decided to leave the dataloggers recording for a while in the room before turning the fan on.

Our results turned out wonderfully. The temperature inside the room was gradually increasing, and the datalogger on the top shelf increased more than the other one. This is due to the fact that it was placed around 30cm away from a light, which will warm up the air around it.

Not long after the fan was turned on at 12:30, the temperatures began to change. The top shelf datalogger cooled down, and the datalogger on the middle shelf warmed up. The fan both warmed and cooled areas of the room simultaneously!

This result perfectly supported our hypothesis.