ASK AN EDUCATOR! – “What would you suggest for a Arduino workshop for 7-10yr. olds?”

Peter asks:

For a 1 day school holiday introductory Arduino workshop for beginner 7 – 10 year olds in our Museum, do you have a suggestion for a fun final activity project? We were thinking about something like an monster or robot, built out of strategically placed LED’s on a breadboard, who appears animated eg ‘walks’ or ‘jumps’. Love to know your thoughts…

This sounds like a blast! I like your idea about using the Arduino to illuminate a series of images…I am assuming like a NEON sign. You could even have the kids illustrate individual panels for a storyboard or comic strip, then have them take turns telling the story of their monster/robot while illuminating their animations.

I was also thinking that making a city would be fun. They could use their Arduino’s to light the stop lights, street lamps, billboards, shop fronts, etc. They could be in charge of constructing their block out of say, LEGOs, and use LEDs to light the different sections. You could even get tricky and have them use limit switches to detect a car at a light or someone entering a building or even photo-cells to detect day/night.

Another idea would be to have them use their Arduino’s ability to make music, through its PWM function. We had a lot of fun with our freshman when they get to this section of the curriculum. They are given a small speaker and instructed to recreate a piece of music. We actually had a kid who made his play the Tetris theme song with melody and accompaniment. You could even go a step further and have them use simple buttons on a breadboard and have them make a musical instrument.

Here is a good idea 3 kids had from Children’s Arduino Workshop on MAKE. It could tangent into a “invent your own” activity where you supply the kids with various materials and have them invent a project:

And a cool synth project from Sylvia’s Simple Arduino Projects:

I hope this has helped generate some ideas for your workshop and best of luck with the kids!

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  1. To play Devil’s Advocate, just as flash memory is falling to one dollar per gigabyte, there are some engineers who say that 32 bit chips will be cheaper than Arduino, have a real CPU, have more program memory, more working memory and have faster speeds.

    If you put a bootloader on some newer 32 bit chips like Basic or C, they will be just as easy.

    The Arduino is basically an AVR chip on a PCB with probably some GCC software wrapping to make it easy.

    I’ve been down this road before with Commodore. The Commodore 64 had Basic and was easy to program. They went bankrupt which is easy to do. Even Atmel has been in the red. Do the skills on the Arduino translate into skills today? Would you be able to program another microcontroller if Atmel went bankrupt? I learned certain languages that I can program in. I didn’t learn Assembly language. In other words, if you already have leanred C, you aren’t learning much new except how to adapt C to a microcontroller and how to wire stuff up. Unless it is more than cut and paste and unless you are learning more of the fundamentals of electronics, what are these goals going to translate into that can be used on a Cortex M0 or M4 microcontroller? Unless learning keeps you competitive, I don’t see the value for tomorrow. In other words, some will have to read the datasheet to advance but you will probably be able to follow some cute projects on the Arduino.

  2. @Chuckz
    Sometimes it’s good to just do things because it’s fun.
    When I started program my C64 I was not looking at it as building a career on programming. It was just fun and I did team myself assembly on it as well as Basic.
    From this my curiosity was raised and I kept learning.

    The great thing with the Arduino is that for a group of 7-10 year old kids the barrier to getting a result is very low. Wire up a few LEDs and create some easily understood code and you have a result. All done in less than an hour.

    I believe if you get kids excited their curiosity and natural wish to learn more will drive them to do more.

  3. @Chuckz: that is not the point of Arduino. Arduino was never designed to compete cycle-to-cycle with ARM or any other modern 32-bit architecture. The star of the Arduino project isn’t the hardware (and it never was), it’s the documentation.

    The reason Arduino is so popular, and has such a large and vibrant community, is because the Arduino team has spent years building a website that explains everything about the board in clear, non-specialized language. This firm foundation made it possible for other (non-specialized) people to build on that knowledge, and add their own contributions.

    As a model of project documentation, the Arduino website is very nearly peerless.

    It drives me crazy when people talk about Arduino on strictly hardware terms — the hardware was never the point. This is why all these "Arduino-killer" embedded platforms fail. They spend all their resources on hardware design, but their plain-language documentation is abysmal (or non-existent).

  4. @Johngineer,

    I guess the question is, “What skills or concepts does one learn from the Arduino that can be transferred to learning a more modern Microcontroller or other embedded system?”

    I learned on the Commodore 64. I learned BASIC. That gave me some programming skills. I learned Pascal but BASIC was a bridge to learning other languages and not a replacement for learning Pascal.

    Some people learned assembly on the Commodore 64 and others didn’t. Do those skills translate into learning something today? In other words, learning BASIC taught me how to program and machine code teaches you something about the internals but machines today are somewhat different.

    Learning something is better than nothing but how do we know we are learning what we need to know to go to the next level?

  5. @Chuck:

    “What skills or concepts does one learn from the Arduino that can be transferred to learning a more modern Microcontroller or other embedded system?”

    I would say the primary benefit of Arduino isn’t that you gain a specific skill set, but rather that you have a positive first experience with electronics and programming. This can mean the difference between giving up forever and moving further into more advanced territory, especially if you’re an impatient 7-year-old (as per Adam’s original article).

    Being able to think of doing something ("I want to make an LED blink") and then actually making it happen, all in the space of 20 minutes, can have a tremendous effect on self-confidence.

    "Learning something is better than nothing but how do we know we are learning what we need to know to go to the next level?"

    Maybe you don’t, but I think that’s ok. It’s easy to think of learning as a ‘track’, but it’s not. It’s more important to have the confidence in yourself that you can solve problems than it is to know exactly what those problems will be. Self-confidence is the flywheel that keeps the engine turning under varying loads.

    I realize this sounds very philosophical, but it’s so true. If you don’t know what you’re doing, but you believe you can do it, you’ll probably do it. And you’ll be more able to see mistakes as opportunities to improve, rather than frustrating setbacks.

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