February 5, 2015

First Arduino Project

Before school started this year I got my hands on a few Arduino kits. I have been eager to introduce them to my students but really haven’t had the time. This last week I was finally able to get it into the hands of one of my students.

I picked up a copy of Sylvia’s Super Awesome Project Book Vol. 2  and that really made the difference.  The book is written by a young girl and the projects are perfect for my students. She defines an Arduino as;

The Arduino is an awesome programmable prototyping platform. It’s a little computer that acts like a brain for robots, sensors, or other machines that connect to the real world. It’s pretty inexpensive, too! For less than the cost of a tank of gas, you can get yourself this little blue open-source brain board and start creating something incredible. With just a little bit of code (that you don’t even have to write), it can do almost any crazy thing you want.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to get started with Arduinos.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to get started with Arduinos.

All I had to do was give the book to one of my talented students and ask her to pick a project. She chose a project that Sylvia titled R.I.F.F. (Randomly Influenced Finger Flute). All my student needed was a speaker, which she had at home and she was on her way.

This particular student has had some experience programming with Scratch, so I wasn’t too surprised at how well she adapted to the Arduino programming language. I think my favorite part was watching her code the Arduino. Every now and then I would look up and she would be at my computer with her head down. Sylvia’s book on her lap, the Arduino programming software open on my computer, and the Arduino board plugged in.

I didn’t get involved until she had the Arduino board and speaker wired and the code written and downloaded. At that point she ran into a bit of trouble and couldn’t figure out why the speaker didn’t make any sound. That’s where much of the rich learning took place.

We discussed possible reasons. 1. The program wasn’t correct. 2. The speaker, which was taken out of an old toy, was broken. Or 3. Something wasn’t wired correctly. We decided to start with the programming. We compared checked her work and the book. There were one or two things that we tried to change, but it didn’t work. We checked the settings. Still didn’t work. When we were pretty sure that it was all correct we moved onto the wiring. Again we checked the book and her work. It all looked right, but we changed some things we thought it could be. Still nothing. Then we swapped out the speaker. I found some in some of the school’s science kits and still nothing.

At this point I had to move on. Other students needed me. About 3 minutes later I heard the tone go off. By this point she had a few other students helping her out and they were incredibly excited. I think the final issue ended up being with the wiring. She was able to go back to the wiring, try out a few different things and it work. She was very satisfied and I can tell that she will do an excellent job the next time she gets a project to work on.

I’m not sure if other techie teachers have experienced this or not, but it always seems like I have a project/idea/lesson that gets stuck and doesn’t go anywhere for a long time. A piece of technology doesn’t work right, other projects take priority, or the students haven’t developed a critical skill needed to move forward. Then something falls into place and the project/idea/lesson comes together. I see this pattern frequently.

This Arduino project was no different. I have tried to get students interested in it in the past but it really took this project for them to get interested in doing more. Another one of my students picked up his own Arduino kit a while back but hadn’t completed a project yet. The day after the RIFF was complete he brought in his kit and started wiring and programming away. In no time, he had made a count down timer.

He too ran into some issues along the way. His first problem was that he couldn’t download his code. We figured out that he was using a different kind of Arduino board and we needed to change a setting for that. Then I noticed that he was missing a few things in his code. This student is not usually detail oriented so it was fantastic for him to see a direct correlation between paying attention to detail and getting a job done. Once that was sorted out he was able to download the code to his Arduino and getting going.

There was another glitch after that and his countdown had an extra 8 in it somewhere, but he was able to go back to the code, find the error, and fix it. I’m having both of these students capture their process so they can use it in a portfolio down the road. It’s really exciting what kids can do these days. In the upcomming weeks I am going to introduce the class to our electricity unit. They are going to have a lot of fun with it, but I can’t help but think how far beyond the textbook standards they are going to go.

My student made this video so I could share it. I think it’s hilarious how it ends right after “0” so you don’t really know what happened next.

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