Day 14- Problem Based Learning

Today we had a pedagogy session with representatives from the New England Board of Higher Education come make a presentation about Problem Based learning to our group of RET teachers here at Boston University.  Fenna Hanes and Nick Massa were the two representatives.

We talked at length about problem based learning, and creating meaningful experiences for students.  The New England Board of Higher Education has developed many different STEM problems, which enable students to work cooperatively and do some great learning.

Nick talked about how he uses PBL in his college classroom at Springfield Technical Community College, which was nice to hear.  It is very similar to the Bio 100 class I took at UMass Amherst with Professor Zane Barlow-Coleman.  It’s funny how sometimes things come full circle, and it makes you look back and realize how you’ve arrived at the present moment you are now living in.

Day 13- Frustration with Code!

Fjodor and I started out Day 13 by starting again on the lab, hoping to go through laboratories #2 and #5, the labs we will be running with our group of teachers next week.  We started our the day going to the laboratory and working on Laboratory #2. 

When we started Lab #2, our Temperature Sensor Lab, it ended up being that they had someone solder the MAX6675 to some breakout boards.  Fjodor and I hadn’t ever soldered, so we learned and tried to make our prototype.

Our board uses an Arduino to interface with the computer and give us a temperature output.  We started by using last year’s script, but because Arduino has since updated their library, that script wasn’t working.  In fact, it wouldn’t even compile.

We ended up finding another script online, which still wasn’t compiling.  It ends up that the script was using SCK, which is now an Arduino library.  We found and replaced SCK with CLK, and the script compiled.

We were, however, still receiving an interesting output- about 270 degrees Celsius.  We kept trying to figure out why it was so high, but we couldn’t figure out why it was so off. 

For the rest of the day, I recoded the script to get it to work.  Around 4:45 pm, I ended up realizing that it was reading off by a decimal point.  It should have been 27.0 degrees Celsius, not 270 degrees Celsius!  I quickly recoded the solution, and it worked!

Here is our script for the MAX6675 temperature sensor with K-type thermocouple

  Temperature Reading from a MAX6675

Modified By Jason DeFuria, BUSAT <> on 7/19/2012

Ryan McLaughlin <>

#define SO 12    // MISO
#define CLK 13   // Serial Clock

#define TC_0 11  // CS Pin of MAX6607
int TC_0_calib = 0;  // Calibration compensation value in digital counts (.25˚C)

void setup() {

pinMode(SO, INPUT);
pinMode(CLK, OUTPUT);

pinMode(TC_0, OUTPUT);
digitalWrite(TC_0,HIGH);  // Disable device


/* Create a function read_temp that returns an unsigned int
   with the temp from the specified pin (if multiple MAX6675).  The
   function will return 9999 if the TC is open.

   Usage: read_temp(int pin, int type, int error)
     pin: the CS pin of the MAX6675
     type: 0 for ˚F, 1 for ˚C
     error: error compensation in digital counts
     samples: number of measurement samples (max:10)
float read_temp(int pin, int type, int error, int samples) {
  float value = 0;
  int error_tc;
  float temp;
  float temp_out;

  for (int i=samples; i>0; i–){
    digitalWrite(pin,LOW); // Enable device

    /* Cycle the clock for dummy bit 15 */

    /* Read bits 14-3 from MAX6675 for the Temp
         Loop for each bit reading the value and
         storing the final value in ‘temp’
    for (int i=11; i>=0; i–){
        digitalWrite(CLK,HIGH);  // Set Clock to HIGH
        value += digitalRead(SO) << i;  // Read data and add it to our variable
        digitalWrite(CLK,LOW);  // Set Clock to LOW

    /* Read the TC Input inp to check for TC Errors */
    digitalWrite(CLK,HIGH); // Set Clock to HIGH
    error_tc = digitalRead(SO); // Read data
    digitalWrite(CLK,LOW);  // Set Clock to LOW

    digitalWrite(pin, HIGH); //Disable Device

  value = value/samples;  // Divide the value by the number of samples to get the average

     Keep in mind that the temp that was just read is on the digital scale
     from 0˚C to 1023.75˚C at a resolution of 2^12.  We now need to convert
     to an actual readable temperature (this drove me nuts until I figured
     this out!).  Now multiply by 0.25.  I tried to avoid float math but
     it is tough to do a good conversion to ˚F.  THe final value is converted
     to an int and returned at x10 power.


  value = value + error;  // Insert the calibration error value

  if(type == 0) {  // Request temp in ˚F
    temp = ((value*0.25) * (9.0/5.0)) + 32.0;  // Convert value to ˚F (ensure proper floats!)
  } else if(type == 1) {  // Request temp in ˚C
    temp = (value*0.25);  // Multiply the value by 25 to get temp in ˚C

  temp_out = temp;  // Send the float to an int (X10) for ease of printing.

  /* Output 9999 if there is a TC error, otherwise return ‘temp’ */
  if(error_tc != 0) { return 9999; } else { return temp_out; }

void loop() {

  // Read the temperature and print it to serial
  Serial.print(“Temp F: “);
  Serial.print(“\tTemp C: “);



Here are some pictures:


Our setup connected with an Arduino Uno



Running Arduino on my Mac

Day 12- Working in the lab!

Day 12 started out again with us finishing up the first revision of the laboratories.  Fjodor and I finally put them into a form that makes sense to us, and all we need to do now is edit them as we are completing the labs as a student would.  This took until lunch time, but it’s nice to know that we figured out many of the logistical necessities before trying to complete the labs.

We had a meeting after lunch with the Balloon Launch team.  We’re getting close to our August 1st launch date, so we’re working on what logistics need to be solved. We are still waiting on some supplies to arrive, and working out the purchase of local supplies.  We also need to solder some of the parts that came disassembled, which will take most of our Monday afternoon, working with Jean to also complete our protoprototype of the cutoff mechanism for environmental testing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the lab, working on completing Lab #1- Introduction to Electronics, as we had written it.  We ran into a few problems, but were able to get the laboratory working and completed.  It’s nice to have one completely finished laboratory- We’re not even halfway done yet!

Here is a picture of our first lab introductory activity supplies and our first setup!


Lab #1 Required Materials



Lab #1 LED Setup

Day 11- Clean Room Activities!

Day 11 started off like a typical day, where we edited some laboratories for a couple of hours.  The labs are now very close to being done their first revision; after we complete the labs for ourselves we will re-edit them!

We had a brown bag lunch, where Professor Thomas Bifano talked to us about adaptive optics, as well as being an entrepreneur.  Professor Bifano did a fantastic job explaining to us all about adaptive optics, and I had no idea that it was classified until very recently!

After our brown bag lunch, we went to the cleanroom on the 8th floor of the BU Photonics building.  We dressed in the required garments, and learned about the clean room.  Here’s one of the 100 or so pictures taken in the cleanroom. 


We did laser lithography in the cleanroom.  If you look at the mask that I created in the Day 10 post, that’s what the finished product should look like.  It was intense using so many different machines and learning the process of laser lithography.  This took basically the rest of the day.  I’ll hopefully post more pictures for you in the near future!

Day 10- Almost done labs!

Today started off pretty well- I drove in from Sunderland, like I do on Mondays.  It only took 2 hours and 20 minutes.  I should have left a little earlier, but it happens to the best of us on Mondays. 

Fjodor and I started working on our Mask templates, as we are going in the cleanroom tomorrow.  I have my camera charged and ready to go, because I know tomorrow is going to be a fantastic day for photo opportunities!  Here is a screenshot of my mask template!

2012-07-16 04.08.22 pm

After finishing the mask template, we went to work on the labs.  We are pretty well edited, at least every single one has been touched by both of us- twice.  Around noon, Nate stopped by and gave us our data logger for the high-altitude balloon launch, which had arrived from our first order.

At 12:45pm, we had a BUSAT brown bag lunch, where we watched about the newest Mars mission, and watched the press conference.  It was really cool to watch an interesting event with a lot of people interested in it.  That sounds like a vague statement, but I promise it’s not.

If you’d like to learn more about the Mars Rover, Curiosity, check it out on the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website:  There are all kinds of educational activities there.

We spent the rest of the day editing laboratories and coming up with an updated timeline of when we hope to accomplish each step.  I decided that I’m going to try to spend the end of each workday blogging, so that I don’t have to spend time outside of here doing so! 

Day 9- Typical day so far!

This week’s pedagogy session was more self-directed, so Fjodor and I have more time to edit laboratories after we finish that.  We spend the beginning of the morning reviewing the required pedagogy materials, and then started editing labs.  I do have some questions to answer for this weeks lab.

What is the hypothesis you are testing?

The hypotheses that we’re testing is as follows:

Near space conditions will not affect the electronics circuits in our homemade temperature sensors.

A modified cell phone with GPS is able to replace a full fledged GPS unit.

What kind of controls does the experiment have?

The controls we will have are manufactured and calibrated thermometers purchased from a local store.

A GPS locator will be placed on board to see how accurate our modified cell phone unit was.
How will you measure your results?

Results will be measured by an Adafruit data logger, which will be connected to our sensors.

How will the reliability of your data be ensured?

Reliability will be ensured with multiple controls, which will allow us to test for internal consistency.

For the rest of the day, Fjodor and I are planning on finishing the editing of a few laboratories, and working on our MASK template for next week’s clean room experiment.  I can’t wait to show you some of those pictures!

Day 8- Editing labs, rejoicing with BUSAT undergrads

Today was again pretty uneventful in our world; we’re making the laboratories better/ easier to understand for high school teachers/ high school students.  We’ve almost finished 2 labs right now, with work done to the other 3 (4 really, we’ve yet to start writing our test balloon lab). 

The cool thing that happened towards the end of today was that the undergraduates in our laboratory finally finished the project that they are working on, and are creating their final document.  They made an model of an optical sensor with a 3d printer, and have been spending countless hours making everything work.  Today, everything finally started to work, and they were able to see, through diffraction, different lights and how many bands there are.  It was really awesome to watch something that started off as a dream to them come to a reality.  While it isn’t groundbreaking research, it’s something that they should be very proud of!  Congrats Jonah and Pete!  I was certainly impressed by your work!

Day 7- Waiting for Supplies

We’ve been editing laboratories for our Near Space components without the materials; we’re still waiting on the shipment to come in.  It gets tedious editing laboratories all day long, so today I learned a few different skills.  The first of which will come in handy for when we take video of all of the laboratories: video editing.

We are going to be making videos of all of the laboratories, so I taught myself basic video editing skills in iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5.  It was interesting to learn these skills, as I’m planning on recording a weekly recap of my classroom next year, and posting it online so students may access it from anywhere to review topics discussed in class.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful; we edited laboratories.  They are taking a lot more time than we had anticipated, but there is little yet to do as we’re still waiting on our supplies to come in.

Day 6- Lab revision, being a good presenter

Today’s commute started out much better than the day before, 52 minutes door to door, which is probably my best time so far.  It’s crazy how sometimes the trains arrive much earlier, and sometimes they arrive much later.  My trip usually averages to about 63 minutes door to door. 

We started out revising labs again.  Fjodor is still working on the first lab, which I had thought was completed.  There’s always revision to be done, but I’d really like to get the laboratories all edited so that we can then do a test run and then revise them more based on the labs.

I’m doing a ton of review of physics, as I haven’t covered this material since my Physics 131/132 classes with Heath Hatch at UMass Amherst.  I really enjoyed circuits though, so it’s fun to play around with satellite parts and the such.

We had a Brown Bag lunch with the other RETs, in which Mike Ruane gave a presentation on how to give good presentations.  Mike talked about all kinds of aspects to think about, from PowerPoint themes to scientific posters, and eventually publishing research.  I’ve thought about some of this before,  but there were some new aspects to me.

In the afternoon, we went back to editing labs, and then Mike came and visited us.  We talked more about our project, heard what the other groups were doing, and talked about timing.  We should be all set, and we’re busy this summer, but it’s not impossible.

I then went to the Prudential center with Alex Schwartz (who’s looking for a teaching job…please hire him, he’s a great teacher) and caught up.  Man, I love living in the city.

Day 5- Revision, Revision, and More Revision

Monday started out very hectic, as I there was a huge accident on I90 near Framingham, and the usually 2 hour (with traffic) commute took me about 3 hours and 35 minutes.  Fjodor was also running late, as he had went home to Worcester for the weekend, and was also stuck in the traffic. 

When we finally did start work, we kept revising Lab 1 and Lab 2.  Our goals for this week are to make it through all of the labs, which is starting to seem very ambitious. 

We started revising the labs, and more revision leads to more ideas, and more ideas lead to more revisions, and so on. 

We had a BUSAT brown bag lunch, and updated the rest of BUSAT on our project.  It was exciting talking to and hearing from many different undergraduate and graduate students about what exactly they are doing on a week by week basis.

In the afternoon, we met with Jean, our new graduate student friend.  She is helping us to construct the cut down mechanism for our balloon.  This mechanism is required by the FAA, as the Balloon must have two methods of dropping its payload.  One is the balloon bursting, the other is the cut down mechanism. 

We went through and tallied up the supplies we would need for the cutoff mechanism and then ordered them.  We’re still waiting for our supplies, so until then, we are revising labs.

Here is the diagram of our cut down mechanism: