If You Give a Student an Arduino…


Over the past year we have been supporting an awesome nonprofit called Innovate Oregon in the more rural towns of the Willamette Valley outside of Portland. We’ve been collaborating around what we have started calling Make-A-Thons.


Innovate OregonInnovate Oregon is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating grassroots, disruptive change when it comes to technical skill, problem solving and innovation in schools throughout Oregon. Their main goal is to bring the agile business model into the classroom and empower students and teachers to learn within the context of community-based problems in small groups that are managed through short sprints. All of this to make a major push to encourage students to own their technology and use it as a tool for problem solving.

 Innovate Oregon Make a Thon

SparkFun Education has been supporting these schools through running Make-A-Thons, which are an all-day affair that has a focus on bringing high-tech skills to teachers, students and the community. When people participate in a Make-A-Thon, they are placed in groups of three to four: one student, one teacher and one community member. These teams are then given a SparkFun Tinker Kit and a Chromebook. The first half of the day is all about cooperative learning. A SparkFun instructor leads the larger group through a series of circuit building and programming exercises using a Chrome app for Johnny-Five, a JavaScript-based programming library for hardware.

 

The second half of the day is dedicated to a project challenge. Something interesting happens during these three hours: the small groups are no longer made up of adults and kids; they truly become teams learning together. Adults and kids alike are laughing together, teaching one another and being frustrated together.

The challenge is an option of three to four different projects for the groups to choose from. Our most recent Make-A-Thon challenge offered the following options:

  • Pump House Freeze Alarm
  • Automated Chicken Coop
  • The Next “Robot Pet”

The groups are then given a pile of recycled materials, craft supplies and tools and set loose to build their projects in three hours. They are supported by a few sources of documentation: the Johnny-Five website, a guide we created that is still a work in progress and the most important resource, which is one another. A Make-A-Thon is not a competition; it is a celebration of learning something new and applying that knowledge as a community. There are no winners, no losers – just a group of people building cool things.

This morning I woke up early after running the most recent Make-A-Thon and had the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” stuck in my head. (I am the father of two young boys, and this happens a lot.) Then I thought to myself…

If you give a student an Arduino…

They are going to plug it in. Once they plug it in…

They are going to want to blink an LED. Once they blink an LED...

They will want to add more LEDs. Once they add more LEDs…

They will want to add a motor. Once they build the motor circuit…

They will ask for some cardboard. Once they have their craft supplies…

They will blow your mind. Once they blow your mind…

They will do it all over again!

 

Now it's your turn. Take this knowledge and start planning a Make-A-Thon in your community. Use the time to learn how to build circuits, program them to do something and then solve local problems together with your newfound skills. If you need any help with how to get started, project ideas or which electronics to use, we're always here to help.

Have you organized or participated in something similar to a Make-A-Thon? Have a great idea? Please share in the comments below.