Learning about Arduino on Digital Learning Day

DonWilde_tnToday Don Wilde, former Intel engineer, and FLL robotics coach/judge, was here to show our students a different side of programming – the Arduino board.

Don talked about how programming has been invading almost every part of our lives, from cars (which house dozens of computers), and houses to businesses, and libraries. (This session was fittingly held in the library – and I mentioned how students today self-check in and check out their books with a scanner and software).

He also stressed the point of how engineers are needed to design robots, and for online stores, casinos and satellites to function. “Highly-paid work today, whether it is in entertainment or communication needs engineers and programmers, and you could be one of them,” he said.

Don then demonstrated one of the devices he had put together for this, using a off-the-shelf Arduino Uno board. He connected a series of light, touch and sound sensors to show how this plug-and-play device worked.


By way of comparison, he talked about the Lego NXT robot, itself a micro-controller, with which many students in both 5th and 6th grades are familiar. We have had a robotics program in the school for the past 6 years. Thanks to Don, I have become interested in introducing Arduino to my class. Perhaps someday, we will have programming as a regular class, rather than an add-on to the curriculum!


Inviting ‘Intel inside’ class

The ‘open’ classroom is often discussed as synonymous with online access. But I like to think of my class as being open in another way –bringing in professionals from the outside world.

Intel's Don WildeI’m particularly lucky, with two mentors who come in on a weekly basis to assist me in robotics: Don Wilde from Intel, and Bill Johnson from Scottsdale Community college. We have an open door policy, literally, in our school for getting experts like them.

I have been following Intel’s push to put science high on the agenda, especially for K-12 education. From former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett’s investment in talent and capital with the Basis charter schools, to its involvement in S-T-E-M-related work.

To get back to Don. Last evening, as this picture shows, he talked to them about programming, specifically the principle of  DRY — ‘Don’t Repeat Yourself‘! He showed them how to use the My Block to create loops and variables. Serious stuff. Some would think this is way above the heads of a 4th or 5th grader. To which I counter, it’s about time we stopped dumbing down our content in our curricula –a la Basis. (I happen to tutor two children from Basis, so I know a thing or two about their tough grading standards and how they challenge students.)

To wrap up the class, I asked my students to surprise Don with a project I had thrown at them. I divvied them up into two three teams and got them to build three complex bots: A Voice-controlled robot, a mini Rover, and a Spider.  I left him to judge the best presentation on how they problem solved the build-out and programming.

If science education is lacking one thing, it is making it relevant to real world problem solving. More on this  and the 3 bots in another post.