Friday, February 7, 2020

Four Tips for Facilitating Classroom Arduino Projects

This year I have been doing a lot of Arduino projects with students in my Intro to Computer Science Principles course. Some of the projects have gone quite well and some not so well. I've talked about these in a couple of podcast episodes, but I haven't written anything about Arduino until now. If you're thinking about trying an Arduino project or you have tried one and it didn't go as well as you would have liked, here are four tips that I have to share based on my experience this year.

1. Start small and build slowly!
The first group of students that I had do Arduino projects got really excited. That excitement motivated them to start Googling for ideas for bigger projects than what I had anticipated. That's not a bad thing at all and I wanted to capitalize on their excitement so I let them run with it. Problems started to arise when they got into those bigger/advanced projects without having done all of the basic/beginner exercises first. They were missing some key concepts and had to go back before they could go forward. In the end, it all worked out okay but we took a very round about route to "okay."

The group of students that I have doing Arduino projects right now are going through each of the basic/ beginner projects that are built into the Arduino IDE and are available online right here. Because we're getting the basics covered early, I think that my current group will be able to complete advanced projects much more quickly than my first group did.

2. Make Printouts!
Unless you have an abundance of computers or monitors to the point that every student can have two to use, use printouts. My students seem to forget which windows they need open and toggling between the IDE and the sample code or directions on the same screen seems to cause more confusion than it does speed or clarity. I printed tutorials and sample code for my current students and it has gone quite well.

3. Work in pairs. 
Not only does working in pairs cut down on the amount of material that you need to purchase, it also introduces students to the concept of pair programming. Another benefit is that you have half as many hands going up when students do get stuck on a problem with their projects.

4. Assign cabinets or bins. 
Nothing will slow students' Arduino project progress like having to rebuild every at the beginning of every class. I'm fortunate to have a lot of cabinet space in my classroom so I can give pair of students their own shelf for their project materials. If I didn't have those cabinets I'd use shoe boxes or something similar for students to keep all of their project materials in. And I have students tape small, easily lost pieces like resistors that aren't currently in use to pieces of paper or to plastic boxes in their assigned cabinets. (I started the year with a bunch of pre-packaged Arduino kits, but over the course of the year the pieces got mixed around as needed).

Want to learn more about using Arduino in your classroom or makerspace? Come to the Practical Ed Virtual Tech Summer Camp

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