Toy Hacking: Stripping a $20 RC Helicopter (Syma S107) down in weight to carry payloads around the office.

General, How-Tos
Toy hacked stripped Syma S107 RC helicopter

Stripped in weight Syma S107 RC helicopter

Payload paper clip added to Syma s107 rc helicopter

Payload paper clip added to Syma s107 rc helicopter.

Payload paper clip carrying a Post-It "airmail" message on a Syma s107 rc helicopter

Payload paper clip carrying a Post-It “airmail” message on a Syma s107 rc helicopter

Can now carry an emergency packet to office friends via "airmail"

Can now carry an emergency packet to office friends via “airmail”


Parts I took off of the Syma S107G RC helicopter

Parts taken off of the Syma S107G RC helicopter to reduced weight and enable more payload carrying capacity.

Toy hacking Christmas presents time! I got my first inexpensive indoor Radio Controlled (RC) helicopter, a Syma S107/S107G R/C brand one, this holiday season. I’ve only flown a MOTA brand UFO ball around the office for a while before this, but it used the same prevelant four blade weighted rig that are on so many rigs for sale now. I wonder who got that patent!

Anyway, that UFO ball was very hard to control due to the plastic cage, and my newbieness, so when I found out regular helicopters had dropped to amazingly low prices of around $20, I pounced.

Syma S107 RC helicopter as shown on Amazon, Jan 10th, 2014.

Syma S107 RC helicopter as shown on Amazon, Jan 10th, 2014.

I got the Syma helicopter from Amazon Prime, for about $20. This is for a metal bodied, metal screwed together, helicopter, with a controller. Amazing. I don’t have much experience, but it flies pretty well in all directions I’ve found. The key of course, is practice. And careful slow practice. Also, like roller blades, if you just keep moving forward and steering you learn to trust the control, vs trying stop in a straight line if there’s trouble. This model does go rather slowly forward, but I don’t mind since I use it in an office and use it during breaks to flex and move around bothering people.

My first thought after flying it for about 15 minutes a day for two days, was that there was an awful lot of plastic on it that might be able to be taken off. Lighter weight might also improve battery time, responsiveness, and forward movement – but even if it didn’t, I like toy hacking!

Over the next 4 days of flying it a few minutes a day, I took more and more parts off, testing it each time. Now it’s much lighter, a little less stable, but still able to be finely controlled. Now I’m going to stop taking off parts before I break it. We’ll save that for an upcoming crash.

Here’s the results in two videos.


Debrief: Vermont Fest 2013 EdTech Conference, Killington, VT

General, lessons learned, Reports
Mike Beardsley presenting a basic math lesson in MindcraftEDU

Mike Beardsley presenting a basic math lesson in MindcraftEDU to about 70, standing room only, attendees. 

Just back from the Vermont Fest conference up at the Killington Grand Lodge. Here’s a breif report.

  • Our own graduate students Michael Beardsley, Sally Bisaccio, and core faculty Jane Wilde, had the most popular, standing room only, session with about 70 folks! They presented on the stunning effectiveness and potential of MindcraftEDU in the classroom. Here’s the Presentation materials.
  • Attendance was down a little bit, no readily apparent reason why. As a VITA-Learn board member, I can report that we’re excited to revitalize the next VITA-LEarn conference, Dynamic Landscapes (DL), with a Maker room (Rasberry Pi, Arduino, etc), and more workshop type presentations vs. stand and deliver. There’s also a possibility of housing at DL this year, we’ll see. Make sure to come up to Burlington this May 15 and 16 for DL! Also, keep your eye on the upcoming 1:1 Conference. See VITA-Learn events.
  • The VITA-Learn party was fun, great food, went late, and had a sauna. The heated outdoor pool is salt water now and a great break after a long day of sessions.
  •, the software company started by teachers in New Zealand to organize Google Docs for Education was the most exciting vendor for me. Our own Elizabeth MacCarthy showed it off to me. It’s excellent, as I had heard. We’re to the point with Putney Central School’s Google Apps for Education that we need it. I think we’ll have it installed soon! I’m excited to set it up, and manage the change management that will come with it.
  • The tools I ran into around the conference that keep getting better are: GoAnimate, Toontastic, Story Arc, Shelfari, Voice Thread, MindcraftEDU, and using Chromebooks for 1:1 programs that need  to have prioritize low IT support time and offline editing.

How I bought a small used daysailer sailboat for our family.

General, How-Tos
As delivered

As delivered

Months of obsessive research and fantasizing about sailing has ended – mostly. A 12 foot long 1979 AMF Puffer sits in my yard. It’s been painted, varnished, and good sails, and a new centerboard, rudder, motor mount and lines. Cost = $1200.00. It holds 450 lbs, and has a main sail and jib. The trailer is a 1970s rig reconditioned with springs, shocks, and a winch that holds the front down, making tying it down for travel very easy.

Lots more coming, lessons learned, pics and vids. For now here’s other folks media on the Puffer via a Google search for “AMF Puffer” and here’s the Puffer’s specifications.

My platform If I Was President


If I was running for president, this would be my platform:

  • Our future strength depends on mastering change. Keep what has worked well, add what works better. Ground our values in freedom, work, community, respect, learning and leading. We face a fast and intense future, our minds must be open to new things, however strange they may be, as long they are positive additions to our society.
  • Training, education, and R&D are the foundation of a strong workforce, military and economy.
  • Security and foreign policy need to focus on modernizing, cyberizing, and social engineering.
  • The free market should be supported and also referred on a level playing field by clear and simple regulation.
  • Basic health care and education belong in the same area as police and fire. Basic service doctors need stable pay so they are tempted by pay by service. Elective surgery and procedures should be in the free market, and for cash.
  • Public schools need our help to focus on teaching and learning. Discipline needs to be elsewhere, and funded by society as a separate line item. But you can always come to your local public school if you do not keep others from teaching and learning.
  • Low interest school loans and IBR rock.

Vote for my Cloud Folio presentation at SXSWedu


I have entered a session idea in SXSWedu’s Panel Picker for March 4-7, 2013 in Austin, Texas. If it sounds interesting and you’re going, vote for me!


Cloud Folios

Cloud based academic portfolios (we call them Cloud Folios) are working for us in higher education and K-12. But they are hard to start! I’ll go over our lessons learning and ask you to share your own experiences and questions.

Marlboro College Graduate School has found that the cloud’s improved collaboration, publication, and privacy tools increase the teaching possibilities of an e-portfolio, both throughout a program, and after a student graduates.

We’re using them for:
– A new TESOL program, during studies to reflect and document, after to get a job.
– All Capstone Thesis reflection and documentation in several graduate programs.
– Teacher training portfolio for licensure with the State of Vermont
– Professional portfolios to aid graduates job searches.
– An Undergraduate “u online” class about personal portfolios for graduate applications and jobs.
– K-12 technology integration in two middle schools of student’s academic portfolios.

Questions Answered

  1. What’s the hardest part about implementing an e-portfolio?
  2. Best practices for control, ownership, achieving, and sharing of e-portfolios and templates.
  3. Where can I get open source e-portfolio templates for Google Sites.


Additional Supporting Materials

Bald Eagle, Schoharie Reservoir

Schoharie Reservoir Eagle Sighting

Bald Eagle, Schoharie Reservoir. (Taken with low-res phone camera)

Bald Eagle, Schoharie Reservoir. (Taken with low-res phone camera)

(text by Laura, photo, Caleb) Kayaking today in the Schoharie Reservoir, a glimpse of the mountains in the distance through the clear air, two days after a bright blue moon night, reminds me of eternity. I pause paddling to let it sink in, think about people of ages past, of the future of this flooded valley. Try to ponder how different it must have looked before settlement, what creatures of the dim moist woods lurked beneath the tree canopy. The flood doesn’t show through above the forest. A bright-headed bald eagle perches and watches us approach in our neon boats. His beak parts, pink inside, perhaps releasing heat. The dark body shows scalloped feathers, lighter along the edges. I think ahead to a future moment when the babe will see such a creature and stare in wonder as we are doing.

Curiosity Lands on Mars.


Looks like it landed! (BBC story and FB page). The amazing thing to me about this rover is its landing technique; it parachuted, which is normal, but then hovered using rockets and lowered the rover down to the ground with a line.

Here’s the tricky landing part from the NASA Simulation video: