If you are like me as a science teacher, you simultaneously live the acronym "STEM" and are exhausted by its overuse in nearly every blog, set of state standards, or professional development seminar that comes to town (Full disclosure: I often facilitate those seminars).
That being said, the more I dive into the world of Robotics (second year as an FRC Mentor and long time Summer Science Camp facilitator), the more potential I see in leveraging that which we often write off as "trendy, and that which we hold dear.
Tools common to enrichment programs (MakeyMakey, Arduino, MicroBit etc.) can potentially be powerful tools in my/our Biology and Chemistry classes during the school year, while also engaging students in a disciplines they would not normally see embedded in traditional physical and life science courses.
Below are links 5 activities I have done, or plan to do, that merge coding/electronics and biology/chemistry. Enjoy!
#1: MakeyMakey Interactive Eukaryotic Cell
#2: Lego Mindstorm Natural Selection Simulation
#3: Modeling States of Matter with the MicroBit
#4: Drop Counter Hack with MakeyMakey
#5: Arduino Conductivity Probe
* Click here if your are not familiar with the MakeyMakey
#1: Assistive Technology Development
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As a science teacher I struggle with the tension between being "innovative" and the benefits of practical, simple, efficient system. This dichotomy is amplified when, for me, choosing between more advanced sensors (temperature, conductivity, etc.) such as those provided companies like Vernier and Pasco.
Anecdotally have found that, rather than leveraging the types of interfaces described above, when I have students design and built their own interfaces they learn more about not only the data they are measuring, but in building the equipment, they develop an appreciate and knowledge of the intricacies involved in capturing the data. This became clear to me when I had students create their own Titration Drop Counter last school year.
Albeit not as specific nor aesthetic, the mere act of going this process, I argue, is more meaningful for high school students where the risks associated with inaccurate data collection is low, but the risks of information gaps or underdeveloped conceptual understanding of content, is high. To this end, I have chosen one piece of equipment for each of the 6 units in my 10th grade chemistry class, for students to build and leverage in their laboratory investigations. Below is a list of each piece of equipment, and an associated link that students will use for construction information and hints.
Central to the PBL Cycle (see Buck Institute for Education for more info), is the "Public Product" as a final showcase of learning. See image below:
Transcending PBL, I have been tinkering with the concept of a "Public Product" and how to authentically do this in my class beyond a blog post, google document, or the myriad ways I have had students showcase their products to real audiences beyond the walls of our school. All efforts felt/feel forced.
To tackle this in problem, in my Introduction to Robotics Class this year, in addition to our final showcase for teachers and parents where students presented a table (museum style) of their final invention, I showed students various "pitch" videos from the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, and challenged them to imagine that they were doing the same, and to create a video for their invention as if they were going to build a campaign around it. Click here for the simple instructions I gave to my students.
Albeit a hypothetical scenario, by starting with actual videos that contain real dollar amounts raised visible next them, the reality and power of showing your work in beautiful an meaningful ways online was evident. See a sample screenshot from a sample Kickstarter project below. Click here for the pitch video.
To be honest, 5 minutes showing my students pitch videos from Kickstarter empowered them to produce amazing public products more than any rubric, speech or guest lecture I have prepared for them. The final showcase was amazing and their pitch videos, although rough drafts done on via their phone cameras in one class period, embodied and relayed a feeling of potential.
Below are images from one students final project (an Arduino ultrasonic cane for the visually impaired).
It's absolutely no secret that I'm a huge fan of leveraging the MakeyMakey circuit (http://makeymakey.com/) as an instructional device. While there is an obvious connection with such things ha as inventions during a youth science camp, or more creative solutions such as challenging high school chemistry students to create titration "drop counters", the ease of entry and almost limitless potential of this device is incredible.
That being said, the simplicity coupled with power of the MakeyMakey can at times make it seem often, especially for younger learners, as a toy rather than what it is: a modified Arduino Leonardo microprocessor. Keeping this in mind, I have been on a journey over the past two weeks to try and leverage the Arduino Leonardo as a MakeyMakey to create a much better flow in my high school robotics class between programming with the Arduino UNO, and transitioning into using the MakeyMakey as a remote control device.
For example, beginning the year with the Arduino UNO grounds students really well in basic line coding and also input-output microprocessing. From there we transition into using the mBOT, given it's integration with the Arduino language. The integration with the Arduino IDE provides a fabulous flow for high school robotics students. Moreover, with the introduction of the 2.4 GHZ wireless connection between the mBOT and a computer (does not work well with chromebooks) students can easily use Arduino to create their own computer based remote control for the robot.
An obvious connection at this point would be to then leverage the MakeyMakey to create their own remote control repurposed from every day objects such as aluminum foil and Play-Doh. In past years this is been very successful and I say things like "all your long we've been using the Arduino and now you're using a modified Arduino to control an Arduino robot!" Students love this but because the MakeyMakey is so simple to use it's hard for students to make a connection between a raw Arduino interface and the modified appearance of the very aesthetic and simple MakeyMakey.
Back to my point. I am happy to say that I have successfully been able to re-create a MakeyMakey from an Arduino Leonardo and I am very excited to use this in the last phase of robotics class this fall! I am hopeful that the raw look of the Arduino Leonardo with the exact same functionality of a MakeyMakey will create a sense of connectedness in the course for students beginning with simple Arduino UNO programming, ending with leveraging the Arduino Leonardo to create a MakeyMakey mBOT controller. At the conclusion of the year I will show them then the modified Arduino Leonardo "MakeyMakey" as a way of emphasizing invention and accessibility for all.
Below is the instructional video I used as a guide in the creation of the Arduino Leonardo based MakeyMakey Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and expect future blog post on the efficacy of this integration.