I wanted to share with you my review of the Creation Crate Month 4, “Boom Box” project (from the Electronics 2.0 curriculum). Although this is the month 4 box, this actually is my very first time trying out Creation Crate.
First things first, just a quick intro about what Creation Crate is. It is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) oriented curriculum suitable for modern day education and careers. They have various curricula available:
- Electronics 1.0 – Consists of 18 projects aimed to teach circuitry, programming and high level problem solving. (Ages 12-adult).
- Electronics 2.0 – Consists of 12 projects teaching the same concepts as the previous curriculum but also includes multi-stage progression and display ready projects using the box it comes in. (Ages 12-Adult).
- Engineering (JR) – This curriculum teaches basic engineering concepts such as building structures and mechanisms using high quality card, axles, wheels, pulleys, etc. (Ages 8+).
- Wearables- This one teaches e-textiles, circuitry, sowing, programming, and high-level problem solving. (Ages 12-Adult).
Let’s get into the setup of this project…
One really cool thing about the projects in the Electronics 2.0 curriculum is that the box all your stuff comes in actually gets integrated into the project itself…it’s the vessel which holds all the components in a presentable manner appropriate for the project.
So the boom box project box contains visuals indicative of a boom box along with perforated areas which you will be required to punch out and put components in (i.e. a speaker, a button, LCD display, etc.).
Upon opening, on top was a card stating 3 steps that needed to be followed in order to access the Boom Box course within Creation Crate’s online classroom. The steps were easy enough and within minutes I was staring at my instructions online.
Sifting Through The Hardware
I was so excited when I opened the box and saw all the components I was going to get to work with. My past education required me to learn basic electronics but even after college my husband and I would dabble with Arduino boards and various small electrical projects for fun…yeah I know, we’re nerds. The point I’m getting at is, it’s been a while and I’m extremely excited for a refresher course.
The list of items include:
- Uno R3 Microcontroller
- Bluetooth module CT14 v 1.6
- 53mm Speaker
- Momentary switch
- 16×2 LCD w/ 12C backpack
- 5V 3A US adapter plug
- Two pin terminal blocks
- T1 channel relay module
- Micro USB breadboard 5V power supply
- Flat tip screwdriver
- Additional items included various jumper wires, double-sided tape squares, and nylon screws and nuts
*The only things not included that will be needed are a pencil, a hobby knife or scissors, and a cross tip screwdriver.
The objectives for this project are to teach you new electronics concepts as well as new programming commands. Specific to the Boombox Project the objectives are to educate you on various electronic devices that will be utilized during the assembly and testing process. Things such as Bluetooth, various types of switches, resistors, LCD display, and speakers.
The great thing about their online classroom is they don’t just list out instructions for how to assemble the box or the circuit, but they also provide you background on the hardware you are using. Basic history, theory, concept, and the scientific explanation of how it works, what it’s supposed to do and scenarios in which you would use it. The goo thing here is you don’t have to be an expert to understand what you are reading, not only do they give you the official terms to explain these things, but they also provide a simple and more basic explanation for those not very familiar with the scientific terms. This gives you an overall understanding of the circuit and how the hardware works together to communicate to give you the result expected.
They also go through and explain new programming concepts you will utilize within this course. They explain the reasoning behind the use as well as breakdown a string of data and how it’s manipulated by both the devices use and the programming for them.
Here We Go
Once I got through the introductory pages of the project it was time to jump in and start prepping my box for my hardware. This included punching out several perforated areas along with sectioning off areas within the box itself. Nothing too complicated here. The one aspect I did not like was having to tape the edges of the newly created sections within the box. While I understand the purpose for doing this, it was awkward and a pain to do especially when trying to keep it tidy in the process.
After that, it was just prepping each of the components by attaching the necessary wires to each. Prepping ahead of time helps to speed up the overall assembly process later on.
Next up was setting up the breadboard. This started off by connecting some wires across the power/ground rails to the specific rows on the breadboard as per my instructions (Step 1). I also connected the Arduino Uno board ground (GND)and voltage in (VIN) pins to the associated power/ground rail on the breadboard (Step 2). From there, I seated the USB board on column B which will allow power coming through USB port to pass through the connected wires and in turn provide power to our power rail. This allows me to plug up my other components anywhere along the power rails and draw voltage from it without having to connect directly to the source. In step 4 I followed basic instructions to connect my 4 pins on my LCD display GND (ground), VCC (voltage), SDA (data), SCL (clock) to the specified ports.
The next set of connections is where things can get a little messy. I tried my best to keep it somewhat organized but it was like playing a game of Twister with circuits and wires. Step 5 was a simple connecting of the button switch between the ground rail and Pin 13 on the Uno board. From there, I connected the speaker wires to the breadboard (Step 6) and then placed the terminal block with Lout+/Lout- wire harness (coming from Bluetooth module) in line with the speaker wires and the terminal block that was connected to the power wire harness on the Bluetooth module (only ground wire connected to terminal block) to the ground rail (Step 7).
The next series of instructions was around making the final connections to and from the relay module. To start, I connected the VCC and GND wires from the relay to the power/ground rail, the IN wire from the relay to pin 12 on the Uno board, and I connected the middle wire on opposite side of the relay to the power rail (Step 8). From there, I connected the loose power wire from the Bluetooth module to the top side of the relay (Step 9). The final step of the assembly was a simple one…plug in the USB to the USB board (Step 10).
Once the meticulous part was over the fun part was just beginning… applying power to my circuit! The moment of truth to see if I followed directions properly. I plugged in the adapter and flipped the switch and voila a fun noise from the speaker and all my devices lit up as they should. It was now time to move on to the programming aspect of the project.
On to the programming…so don’t worry you are not expected to have to write your own code. Creation Crate provides that for you in all it’s glory. You have the ability to see every command, instruction, library, etc. This allows you to manipulate it as you please. Maybe you have some experience with coding and want to write some of your own stuff to add on to what has already been provided. Or, maybe coding is completely new to you and this gives you a chance to visually step through it and really understand how the software is speaking to the hardware.
The intro to the programming section walks you though new commands, concepts, and libraries you will be utilizing in this lesson. Just as with the hardware lesson they give you a little background on the coding language concepts to help you better understand their purpose.
To start this off I had to download the Arduino IDE environment…this was done by just going to the Arduino site and downloading from there. Once that was done I just copied and pasted the provided code into my Arduino sketch. Now before I could even test I had to work through several problems to get my computer setup properly in order for the code to verify and upload to my board. I won’t focus on those here as I mention them in the “hiccups” section below. But once I worked through the issues I was facing I was finally able to verify my code. Once that was complete I connected my Arduino board to my computer and uploaded the code. Upon completion of the upload my LCD came to life displaying the “Boom Box Mode: Bluetooth” message. Just as instructed I was able to cycle through the various modes by pressing the button.
At this point I have confirmed the hardware works and the program has uploaded successfully. The next step is another mild annoyance, placing the components into the box. While I understand the necessity to set up the circuit and test prior to installing into the box…there,’s really just is no way to get the components in there, easily without having to disconnect things.
So I found myself having to revert back to the hardware assembly instructions just to remember what connected where and to what. So the first items in were the button and the speaker. Assembly was fairly straight forward and smooth.
After that, was the not so fun stuff. When it came time for the breadboard, LCD, Uno board, Bluetooth module, and relay to go in things started getting crowded and wires were getting crossed and messy. I stuck to the same layout they displayed in their instructions and it worked out that all wires had enough length to reach their connection points from end to end without much hassle.
Whew, so eventually everything was in and it was time to power that baby up on more time. With USB port connected I flipped the switch and watched my Boom Box come to life. Just as you would any other Bluetooth device, I went to my Bluetooth settings in my phone and found my Boom Box device listed. I connected to it and instantly my music was playing through the speaker. It worked like a charm!
After the initial test was done they present some exercises to tryout and challenge yourself on concepts learned as well as to push you some to try things on your own. In addition to some basic questions, they also presented you with some changes to make within the code:
- Change the messages on the screen
- Add another mode to the sequence called “Test Mode 4”
- There was even a monthly challenge to make the letters scroll.
These exercises are a good way to check your learning. It’s fun to be able to manipulate the code and watch your results on the LCD. This definitely helps you to understand the areas you are comfortable in and also areas that maybe aren’t so comfortable, or that you might want to put more time into researching and learning to help you grasp the concept better.
Time for my gripe section…because they consider their boxes somewhat of a curriculum, I was curious that since I was starting out with their Electronics 2.0, month 4 box, if it was going to be assumed that I already knew how to do certain things or that I would have things pre-setup from previous Creation Crate projects. I definitely recommend if you decide to try Creation Crate that you start from the beginning. Go through the Electronics 1.0 curriculum from start to finish before diving into the 2.0 curriculum. The reason I say this is there, appeared to be a lot of things “assumed” in this course. I got the feeling I was supposed to be picking up where I left off even though this was my very first box.
First off, in the initial project introduction points me to a link for the Creation Crate classroom to watch some of their getting started videos for anyone new to electronics. Now I’m not new to electronics but I did want to make sure I didn’t miss anything so I went to the link. This link brought m to their Creation Crate classroom homepage. Once there, I could not find any getting started videos, tutorials, etc. that they referenced in their project intro. I was quite disappointed with this as I really was hoping for a refresher to bring myself and my memory up to speed, but was unable to get that.
Fortunately, I did not run across any major problems with the hardware itself. I did notice I didn’t receive the flat jumper wires intended for the breadboard. Fortunately, I had some wires I could use for this from my own personal stock. Another thing that was a big annoyance was the terminal blocks. The project required that they be plugged into the breadboard however, the pins on the terminal block were too wide to plug in to two consecutive holes but too narrow to span it across three holes (skipping the one in the middle). So what I ended up with was terminal board that had the pins bent in order to plug it in to the breadboard. This also led to them getting squeezed back out at the slightest bit of movement so I had to re-secure them numerous times.
Another major setback I had was in the testing portion of the project. This again is likely because I was unable to find the videos referenced in the intro and also because I did not start from the beginning of the curriculum. Fortunately, I have experience with Arduino hardware and their website and IDE. However, that did not mean I was out of the woods yet. So I had to download the Arduino IDE in order to have an environment to verify and upload the code provided by Creation Crate. However, I spent a good day researching and googling to find answers to the problem I was facing. Long story short, I had serial/com port problems and was unable to get my board connected and recognized. I eventually found my solution in a forum thread. I had to download/update a Windows serial port driver. After that, i was finally able to get my Arduino board to be recognized on an available COM port. The next step was getting the code to verify.
The course instructions do state that you will be using a new library, LiquidCrystal_I2C (not included with the Arduino IDE download). However, that’s about all they tell you. Not where to get it, how to get it, where it goes once you do have it, etc. So again I had to spend some time researching in order to find the library files and to figure out where to place them. I personally am not a fan of having to reach out to random websites and/or forums to get these tools just to make this work. This is definitely an area of improvement that Creation Crate should focus on to make the experience that much more enjoyable for their customers by providing the needed files to them from the online classroom setting.
Overall, I really enjoyed this subscription box. I was very refreshing to find something that I can not only enjoy getting but also expand my knowledge base with. I have consolidated my pros and cons below.
|Great concept and use of packaging material to integrate into project||No indication if course requires starting from beginning with lesson 1|
|Very educational content and easy to understand instructions with pictures||Links to classroom videos don’t take you to any videos. No videos available after searching classroom|
|Their pricing seems very fair given the equipment you are receiving.||Had to source library files from Arduino site. Would have been better if they provide the specific files needed for the project within their classroom setting|
|The hardware parts don’t have a one-time use. They can be reused for any future project you may choose to make.||Depending on your computer and operating system it can be very difficult and frustrating setting up Arduino IDE and com port settings|
|Suitable for both beginners and experienced users alike.|
|Presented additional information on components to help you understand their purpose and how they work and/or interact with one another|
|Lots of projects available for all ages|
For anyone looking to dabble in electronics but maybe don’t know where to start, Creation Crate is the perfect solution. They provide very organized instructions with plenty of pictures along the way so it’s very easy to follow along. Also, because they use Arduino hardware and because Arduino website provides all open source code, projects, troubleshooting help, etc. there, really is plenty of help out there, to solve any issues that may arise…just like I had to. Plus, when it’s all said and done you can reuse all the parts in any way you wish for future projects.
I hope you enjoyed my review as much as I enjoyed building the project. You can check out Creation Crate by clicking the banner below!