#STEM club were mesmerised by the @raspberry_pi @CambridgeJam EduKit 2 this afternoon

The High School STEM club have been meeting since early October. To begin with we built the Kano kits. This was an easy, but impressive starting task which allowed students with little to no experience in computer hardware to create their own microcomputer.

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I was always keen to show the students how to create simple electronic circuits but had barely moved beyond LEDs and screaming jelly babies myself. Then I spotted the CamJam EduKits and purchased enough to allow each Kano computer its own set of LEDs, buzzer and sensors.

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Today the students began working toward building an alarm system. We know this is going to take a little while but this afternoon managed to create the first section of the breadboard – the flashing LEDs and the buzzer! The students were extremely pleased when they managed to get the circuit working with their Python program (quick tip – the + / – wiring diagram for the buzzer appears to be wrong).

I’m already looking forward to next week and seeing how they cope with temperature and PIR sensors.

Vector Graphics using Google Drawings

I’ve been experimenting with Google Drawings over the past few weeks to see what is possible in the app. I’ve been impressed with the range of features this simple application has and, while it won’t replace Illustrator any time soon as your one-stop vector graphic package, it is fantastic for introducing students to the idea of vector graphics, layering objects and editing points on a path.

I’ve included two YouTube videos I created for my classes for reference. In the first the students are shown how to create a vector super hero (and then challenged to create their own). In the latest video students are shown how to create a complex vector shape using the polyline tool. The shape is then used to create their own interpretation of a stylish book cover that only uses a small number of colours and shapes.

Any comments on either video much appreciated. Do you teach vector graphics to your students? Do you jump straight to the industry standard packages or keep it simple? I’d love to hear from you in the comments…

#PayItForward Creative Commons and Digital Citizenship

My year 9 students have been learning about copyright, public domain and creative commons in recent weeks and I wanted to give them a task that had value.

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by Ludovica PB (BY-NC-ND)

I asked them to create images – photographs or drawings – that they would like to share freely on the Internet under a Creative Commons licence.

Their work is below. Please feel free to use any of the images for non-commercial purposes as long as due credit is given.

https://flic.kr/s/aHskpat2c3

Please let me know in the comments below if you have a similar initiative at your school!

Hour of Code Around the World (Event) #edchat #ukedchat #aussieED

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After some discussion with a friend and former colleague (and some thinking over a few coffees) I was inspired to post a short tweet yesterday:

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My aim is to get a small number of schools involved in a Google Hangout on Friday 11th December, code together and learn a little about how Computer Science is taught in schools in different parts of the world.

Even if timezones prevent schools from taking part in the Google Hangout there is still a chance to take part.

Interested in finding out more? Send me a tweet @familysimpson.

Investigating Arduino #Gemma – Adapting Blink code to control 2 LEDs #STEAM

After a reader suggestion (thanks Kathleen!) I’ve also included the adapted blink code below and on my GitHub:

Getting started with Arduino #Gemma #STEAM

Getting started with Arduino #Gemma #STEAM

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Tonight I found time to finally open the Arduino Gemma that arrived just before the October break.

It comes with no instructions, but Adafruit have plenty of guides on their website. However depending on where you start, you may waste a bit of time. More on that below.

The first guide I read told me nothing about how to use the Gemma, just what it was, and offered no links to follow up guides. Thanks.

The second guide I found recommended the codebender.cc website as a way to program the Gemma to do what I wanted. I figured that this would be a good place to start and that I could learn from other users on the site. It started quite promisingly, with a Getting Started Guide that took me through the process of installing the Chrome extension, Arduino drivers and then… well then it wouldn’t let me get any further because… the Adafruit Gemma programmers aren’t yet supported for the codebender app! There was no explanation behind the error message (what exactly ARE programmers in the context of Arduinos?) and I imagine that other beginning Arduino users like myself would have been bemused by the lack of user assistance.

Back to the adafruit website where I find some information about drivers. They confirm I have the Arduino Gemma because it’s teal not black. This is useful information and it means that my time on the Adafruit website has been wasted. I’m also still bemused at why codebender only offered Adafruit Gemma as an option earlier.

Right. Off to the Arduino website to see if they can be any more help. I now ignore all Adafruit guides in my Google search results.

I install the Arduino IDE and connect the mini USB cable to my Gemma. Red and green LEDs flicker and then there is a steady green LED.

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I find and copy the Blink code into the Arduino IDE, following the instructions in the comments (good work, see above). However the IDE is obviously now different and “Upload using Programmer” is now in the Sketch menu. By the time I’d found the correct menu the 10 seconds of red LED blinking had passed and I had to press the reset button a few times on the Gemma to get it blinking again. Second time around the code transferred successfully.

I looked for a way to run the code, but then realised that the steady blinking red LED was the code running!

I’m off to investigate some more code now but thought I should summarise with my steps to getting the first program running on my Arduino Gemma:

  1. Download the Arduino IDE
  2. Connect the Arduino Gemma to Macbook via mini USB cable, make sure LEDs are lit
  3. (Windows users have to download drivers)

  4. Copy the Blink code into the code window on the Arduino IDE, replacing ALL text that is there
  5. Select Arduino Gemma from the Tools > Board menu
  6. Select Arduino Gemma from the Tools > Programmer
  7. Press the small button on the Gemma between the red and green LEDs. The red LED will glow dimly then begin to pulse. This means it is ready to receive data
  8. In the Arduino IDE select Sketch > Upload Using Programmer while the red LED is pulsing (you have 10 seconds to comply)
  9. Check the Arduino IDE output message. If there is an error message I suggest you repeat steps 6 and 7.

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At this point – perhaps after a short wait – the red LED on the Gemma board should begin to blink slowly. This is confirmation of the program running!