I purchased an arduino about two years ago in hopes of working on a project with my brother to modify my central air system. I work from home so during the day it would pump all the hot air downstairs and during the night direct the air flow to the upstairs sleeping quarters. As projects and priorities go this one didn't happen.
This past summer my nephew Ethan called and asked, "hey would you help me with my 4-H project". 4-H is an organization with various clubs targeted to youth development through experiential learning programs and a positive youth development approach. During the summer fair in Janesville Wisconsin they have various events such as baking, food preservation, knitting, farm equipment and the list goes on. Ethan was tasked with building something with an arduino and I was all in. What better way to give back and get a kid interested in technology. If interested you can read all the rules on page 60 under the computer section.
Prep & Lesson plans
Ethan got fired up scanning the internet for arduino projects finding how to tie your shoe with ardunio, creating a LCD clock and a turn signal biking jacket. To real in his creativity just a little and put some scope around it I suggested buying a starter kit which we could walk through the exercises. There is a few of them out there and ended up purchasing the Arduino Uno Ultimate Starter Kit and was pretty happy with it. The kit contained a book with 10 exercises, jumper wires, LEDs, buzzer, a bread board and small relay so it fit exactly what we needed.
Once we got the kit we scheduled time to work on it. The teacher in me didn't want to just hand over a project and he present it so we had a few lessons and of course a whiteboard was involved. We talked through the following high level concepts:
- How the arduino acts as the hardware and programmers do the real work installing software to make it run.
- The concept of open source contributing time to make software
- What are inputs and outputs?
- What is an IDE and how would we write a program?
- Circuits and switches
The power of open source
We worked through 3 of the exercises and he got the hang of the development cycle making small incremental changes and testing so I asked him, "What do you want to submit as your final project?" He thought for a moment and out of the blue said, "lets play the super mario brothers theme song!". My brain instantly was thinking "OH CRAP", I am dealing with an unrealistic project manager here! We were already under a tight deadline to deliver before he left for vacation so it looks like I will be up late all week programming this thing. How do I back him down so I wouldn't crush his idea?
Taking him back to an earlier lesson on open source, we googled for "arduino and mario brothers" and BOOM someone already written the code - WHEW! We pulled in the code making small modifications based on the positions of our buzzers and lights we had an arduino playing mario brothers - he was stoked! We scooted over to walgreens where we purchased a 9 volt battery plugged it into the arudio and he practiced his presentation to the clerk. She was impressed.
Ruling on the field
Ethan went on to present and scored a red ribbon. For those non fair folks including myself that is a second place. From how it was described he was docked points for having the ardunio running off of a battery source vs connected to a computer. This didn't make much sense to me because one of the primary uses of the arduino is to run it disconnected. At any rate it looks like we will have to pay more attention to the rules or I might have to get active in judging the projects.