Today I am heading to Boston for Scratch @MIT 2016 Conference. I’m super excited and will blog more about it later. Last month I had to choose which Thursday workshops to attend and sign up for 2 (when I really, really, wanted to go to 4 or more). One session that I decided not to go, unfortunately, to was a session about Beetle Blocks.
Instead I have spent the last 4 weeks investigating this 3d block-based browser-run software on my own to see what it is about.
Beetle Blocks is a graphical blocks-based programming environment for 3D design and fabrication.
Use code to control a beetle that can place 3D shapes and extrude its path as a tube. Then make a 3D print!
So Beetle Blocks is like the old Turtle Logo Turtle Paths except with three dimensions. Right-turn, Left-turn become “rotate z” and you can draw lines or extrude 3d tubes, etc.
It definitely had me making my hands into coordinates and thinking in yaw, pitch and roll. Almost had to break out the linear algebra, too. But mostly I was experimenting with the code and making interesting (sometimes weird) designs. I don’t claim to understand all of the geometry of how it works. I spent a long time trying to draw a tetrahedron. In Turtle logo one of first things to draw (after a square) is a triangle, so I thought 3-d triangle = tetrahedron. I struggled to get the triangles to match up. My husband helped me once he explained that I’d have to calculate the dihedral angle to draw it.
Then rotate and repeat (that part I know how to do).
That won’t be something 3rd or 4th graders will be doing. So what can they do with Beetle Blocks?
So I checked out the Pratt’s Young Scholar Institute to see what Duks Koshitz did with his students. They coded a letter of their name and made it a block and then did some designs. I could see that in math class when learning about translation, rotation, and proportion or scale of shapes. So I tried that out.
I played with scale as well and then 3-d printed it.
Now that may be a project that my students could do. Our school doesn’t have a 3-d printer yet, but I’m working on that.
This reminded me of the MathCats 15 word logo challenge from way back, so I went to see if I could recreate some of those logo codes to beetleblocks. I also wanted to try 2-d printing on the Watercolorbot which I saw they had experimented with in the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio post.
No “for loop” equivalent (that I saw) in beetleblocks but I created a size variable and decreased it in the outer loop. Beetleblocks does have trigonometry functions as in the example below. Again I used a count variable and incremented it in a while loop (“repeat until”) to mimic the Logo “for-loop”.
The Simple Flower design I was able to 3-d and 2-d print with good success. It worked better in pen than with the watercolor brush.
In conclusion, I like Beetleblocks. I want to show it to my math students. I want to collaborate with the art teacher and bring my watercolorbot to school and play with code and make designs and math art with students and see what happens.
I am hoping to meet up with Eric Rosenbaum, one of the creators of Beetleblocks, perhaps before or after his workshop or some time during the conference. I’m bringing my prints to share. Off I go.