Arduino Hackathon - Middle School Makers
Returning to teach a third maker-themed course at East Bay Innovation Academy in Oakland, I had some fears. 6 days with middle schoolers, AM & PM classes. I’ve worked with these kids a lot, would some of them continue to choose my session? Would we be able to do what I’m planning for us to do? Previously I’ve taught a strictly wearable tech sewing class and an Art Bots / wearable tech / total-chaos maker class! This February installment was going to be to program Arduino Unos on Chromebooks using Codebender. I had never done this before!
Monday, I have a super fun power point prepared for the students and I delve into the seriousness of Arduino and electrical engineering, with my easy progression through what we need to know. After I’ve prepped them, we jump into my curriculum for Light projects. We barely got blinking when we realized a problem…though we could view code and share links, we could not “Run” the Codebender to our Arduinos because the overall software update on the Chromebooks was old! The school immediately helped me and had their software I.T. specialist specifically push an update to my students’ Chrome books…to work on Tuesday!
Tuesday, we were on a roll with magical updates and restarts, Codebender now worked on everyone’s Chromebooks! Whew! The students were able to play with the Light curriculum, yet we had another major failures. I have given the students the Love-O-Meter project and made it very clear to have the temperature sensor correctly in the circuit to avoid short circuiting. I learned that even if the student has the component “with the flat side facing you,” other wires can be backwards and thus still short circuit! This means that the component I’m asking my students to touch - actually gets hot. Some don’t know what’s going on and don’t cut the power to their circuit, thus further injuring themselves by trying to touch it again - and probably frying the component (I have to check them all before the next workshop!!) This is the only circuit with any danger to my knowledge, and I’ve decided to change my core curriculum and move this component to another day. They can’t handle it later in the week!
Wednesday, going strong, most students who didn’t already start the Sound curriculum got to it and we had Mario, Star Wars, and original compositions filling the airwaves. Some of my lady makers were ready for the final curriculum about Action. They really impressed me, innovating variations of the Arc Bot with chopsticks and binder clips. It was interesting to me that they often had one potentiometer controlling both motors, or one that just wasn’t working! This is also why I love this project because there are 2 of something and when one works, and the other doesn't, you can compare or swap parts, or test different things. The lady engineers in both my classes were the most patient and really spent the whole class trying different ideas.
Thursday, we now had 3 days still ahead of us to make something for our final presentation night of Monday. My goal was to have the students master the functions that the Arduino can do, and if they made a final project, excellent. Some students started working towards a bigger circuit, others started searching for circuits that you can do with the HC-SR04. I was completely impressed that everyone found circuits to try with the components we had. They used the resources of websites I recommended that feature projects that you can replicate and it really worked out well. I like the burglar alarm! Also, 2 boys found out how to use an Arduino Esplora like a mouse on the their computer. The young ones, they’re so fast!
Friday, most of the students were ready to work. I started to lose a few though. One table of 4 just became obsessed with drumming. They were either using their hands on the table or pencils. It was good drumming, but just totally annoying to everyone else! I thought I had a pretty awesome suggestion that they could drum all they want, but had to make the Arduino do it! Very easily with the servo project in the Action curriculum, you can make the servo hit the table with the chopstick, use each servo like a drummers’ hands to beat a rhythm with chopsticks! But they just weren’t going for it. I started to lose a few others too. I can’t keep my eyes on all the Chromebooks, but it’s obvious that they’re not playing Arduino if they don’t have their breadboard out. Many of the boys got distracted by playing computer games - which somehow work on their Chromebooks! So I would keep encouraging them to make a game with the HC-SR04, make more cool songs and add them into the game, triggered by different sensors, but playing a game that already exists is technically easier.
Monday, I realized that even though I couldn’t do too much about it now, I have to change how I teach for what those boys want to do. They want to hit things, and they want to play games. This is very valuable information. I have to make Arduino curriculum with projects that involve building games and if possible, involve physically hitting something. Ironically, the project that I thought I designed with boys in mind, girls had the most fun with! Also, very important feedback. In addition to this revelation, I had the students fill out a feedback form for me and got some great information from them.
What inspires you about Arduino?
“You can do a lot of cool stuff with it.”
“You can make things that are very big and very small.”
“You can make whatever you want.”
“It's cool to see something you made, work.”
“I can make stuff happen and I only have to wire it.”
“I want to be able to create something with Arduinos that will help save nature.”
“You can make a lot of friends building circuits.”
“LED shades inspire me.”
It was great to meet some of the students’ parents at our show & tell on Monday night, I do indeed like the students of EBIA and they did impress me. They were very brave to use Codebender and push themselves to search the internet for more projects to try. Thank you for helping me to improve my curriculum that I continue to create. Students need a solid foundation of beginner circuits to learn the code and breadboard designs. Best to feature lots of different code techniques so they can try to create their own by combining inputs and outputs on their own.