Yes, yes, I know I’m a stuck record about this, but: you only have a couple of hours left to back Mirobot. The Kickstarter hit its last stretch goal last night, so the full package now includes the line-drawing robot, obstacle detection, line following and a speaker.
I’m delighted for Mirobot’s creator Ben Pirt, and looking forward to the production run later in the year.
In the previous post I wrote about the challenge of catching and holding peoples’ attention with electronics and programming activities – if you’ve seen DEMO: The Movie you’ll know I’m quite big on attention.
The Arduino microcontroller platform is a terrific tool, but it’s hard to present a project which is both immediately appealing and instructive. Projects tend to be fun but complex, or useful-but-dry tutorials. As with many fields of life, I suspect the answer is: robots.
Pick a random stall at Maker Faire UK and there’s a fair chance it’ll have flashing LEDs. And where there’s a flashing LED, there’s usually a little blue circuitboard driving it. The blue board is the famous Arduino, a family of open-source microcontrollers designed to allow easy interaction between code you write and real-world sensors and actuators.
There’s a complex and ever-expanding ecosystem of Arduino-compatible boards and interface units, and to a novice it’s all a bit overwhelming. I am that novice. Indeed, the list of Arduino projects I’ve completed looks like this:
[insert list of future projects here]
However, awareness of what’s possible expands one’s set of available tools, and Arduino feels like the sort of thing I might, at some point, find useful. So every now and then I tinker a little. My tentative, toe-in-the-water approach to Arduino goes like this:
I’ve just taught Boyle’s Law to my Year 13s and made use of the standard apparatus for demonstrating how volume changes with pressure… only I didn’t use it to do a demonstration. It was a small class, so I thought I’d try something different: I presented the class with the apparatus, told them nothing about it, and challenged them to have a play with it and a) work out what it did, then b) use it to tell me something interesting about how the world works.
The students told me later that they liked the activity because it “made them think” and they seemed to have enjoyed the process of being free to discuss ideas and work together to solve the problem I had set. I think it was a successful activity (although I suspect some students got more out of it than others), however, I wish I could have had more sets of the equipment so they could have worked in even smaller groups or even individually to explore Boyle’s Law. Next year, I might use this – a cheap, ingenious way to allow students to arrive at Boyle’s Law through experimentation:
UPDATE: Since writing this, Bob Worley has been in touch to tell me of a similar approach from CLEAPSS to allow students to explore Boyle’s Law and Charles Law with guidance available here.
I should talk to CLEAPSS about this sometime – Andrea’s comments on gloves make a lot of sense to me, but I’ve no idea what the standing advice for schools is. Ah, the simple life of not actually being a teacher.
This is an example of a demonstration where video doesn’t come close to capturing the awesomeness of seeing it for real. I love seeing students have the same reaction to it as I did when I first saw it – one of joyful wonder at seeing something which appears to defy the laws of physics, of seeing something impossible.
Pearls in air can be a tricky demonstration to set up and I have to confess that, until making this film, I’d never had to set it up myself as I’ve always worked in schools where the physics technician did it for me. The version shown in the video isn’t perfect – it’s possible to get a better looking stream of “pearls”, but I’m OK with that because it’s honest in its depiction of what can be achieved in a limited amount of time with limited resources.
I find this demo incredibly useful for teaching about projectile motion and it’s a nice companion to the monkey and hunter demo which I think was the first demo film Jonathan and I made together.
This film was produced for the Get Set Demonstrate project. Click through for teaching notes, and take the pledge to perform a demonstration to your students on Demo Day, 20th March 2014.