Posted by & filed under ConnectED, electronics, hardware, kids, learning, programming, Safari Flow.


David, Theo, Me, Josh, Kazu, Roberta & Archer

Recently, my infatuation with Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Physical Computing coincided nicely with Safari Books Online’s dedication to ongoing education and involvement with ConnectEd. Having volunteered at Seabury Hall in Makawao, Hawaii (Maui) in the past, I was given the opportunity to submit an idea for a “Winterim” 4-day workshop on the topic of my choice. If enough students signed up, I would spend a week in Maui teaching the workshop (and have a few days on the beach, of course).

Bill is busy turning his workshop into a free Arduino Bootcamp, which will be featured here on the Flow blog. If you’d like to be notified when it starts, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

Realizing that Raspberry Pi may be a little too finicky for middle schoolers, I shifted my attention to Arduino. I turned to Safari Flow to learn Arduino myself, and then used it to build a syllabus that matched my own educational journey and discovery curve. After submitting my proposal to the school, I anxiously waited to hear how many students I would get. The fact that alternative workshops were on topics such as sailing, canoeing, hiking, and windsurfing didn’t help my anxiety! I was pleased when I learned that 6 students had signed up. Almost immediately, I started receiving questions from the enthusiastic students, such as “Can I bring in my box of junk electronics to make a robot?” and “Can we hack my remote control car?” Once I saw those questions, I knew we were going to have a great week.

With the books and videos that I had in Flow and a few rather large orders from Maker Media and Adafruit, I was able to gather enough course material to ensure that we eased into programming and electronics while laying a strong foundation for tinkering, setting up the students for continued learning beyond the 4-day workshop.

An overview of my workshop is below, and in the near future I’m planning to share specific chapters and videos that were useful to me. I’m hoping that our story and pictures below will inspire you to use the material to support students of your own.

Day 1: Basic Circuits and Blinking LEDs

Kazu sets up

Kazu had the most complex breadboards, but somehow always knew exactly which wire went where, and what it did!

On the morning of the first day, we built some basic circuits without a microcontroller to get a feel for prototyping circuits using tactile buttons, potentiometers, force sensitive resistors, and ambient light sensors. In the afternoon we went over to the lab to demonstrate how a microcontroller can do many things with the same basic circuits, using code to modify blink patterns, blink durations, and multiple LEDs. After some more light coding, we were able to play a melody using a piezo-buzzer via pulse-width modulation.

Day 2: More Inputs and Outputs


Josh prepares to upload a sketch

On day two, we used a third-party library and switch statements to decode signals via an infrared receiver, which listened for commands from universal remotes to control various outputs. We were able to switch on LEDs, control servos, and change colors of an RGB LED. We learned to read and sketch schematics and dug into basic programming concepts like switch and if/else statements and for loops. We also got a lot of practice mashing up code samples from books with our own code and modifying them to achieve our desired functionality.

Day 3: Field Trip

Drones in the courtyard

Drones in the courtyard

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures from the field trip (the exact location is “classified,” sort of), but we saw a web-controllable telescope, which was part of the DoD telescope array for tracking US and foreign satellites. We also got to check out the Boeing electrical systems integration room, where there were “real live” electrical engineers designing and soldering circuits to create custom, rack-mounted motor controllers for various telescopes. In the afternoon, we built “brush bots” from a toothbrush, vibration motor, coin-cell batteries, and LEDs. We then let the bots fight it out. We also took turns flying a Parrot AR drone!

Day 4: Show and Tell

Archer demonstrates arming and disarming his intruder alarm with a universal remote

Archer demonstrates arming and disarming his intruder alarm with a universal remote

On the final day, each student combined what he or she had learned to build a personal project. Here are some examples of what they came up with. It was amazing to see what they were able to design in a 5-hour day after only 2.5 days of instruction:
  • A temperature probe that turns on an LED when the temperature exceeds 23° Celsius
  • A game that challenges you to press a button as many times as you can (counted on a 7-segment display) until your toast pops up, as detected by a PIR motion sensor
  • A fortune-telling “magic” 8-ball: Ask it a question and push a button on the remote, which triggers a servo pointer to randomly move back and forth before stopping at a response on the dial
  • A motion-activated intruder alarm that can be armed/disarmed via remote control
  • A motion-activated intruder alarm that plays a threatening melody with a buzzer when motion is detected

Special Thanks to Jaqueline Peterka and Roberta Hodara at Seabury Hall in Makawao, Hawaii, for making this happen!

Tags: Arduino, Learning, programming, robots,


  1.  Teaching Arduino in paradise (Maui)

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