Prototyping a Coding Class for All

We believe that all learners should be exposed to programming regardless of their professional aspirations. Programming develops skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and structured planning through the experience of creating something. In addition to cultivating these important life skills, programming assists in demystifying technology, allowing the learner to make sense of how electronics work in the world around them. As we move into an era of enchanted objectswearable technology, and the Internet of Things, we believe learning programming is vital.

Creative Coding
This semester marks the start of ASB offering Creative Coding in the High School for students in grades 9 to 12. Students will learn the core concepts of programming through personalized projects, explore different methods of interacting with computer programs (Xbox Kinect, mobile phones, etc), and produce creative solutions of their own. In addition, learners will apply the concepts they’ve learned in math, physics, and other subjects within their programs. The goal of the Creative Coding class is to empower every student with the essential skills that coding develops.One of the most important decisions that we agreed for Creative Coding was to use the Processing programming language. The Processing website describes its language as:“…a flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts. Since 2001, Processing has promoted software literacy within the visual arts and visual literacy within technology. There are tens of thousands of students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists who use Processing for learning and prototyping.” (Processing.org)

The power Processing offers over other languages is its’ ability to make programming available and engaging to learners that may not have ever tried programming. The code written in Processing creates a visual output that makes it easy for a learner to see what their code is doing. A drawing program can be made in less than 10 lines of code, something that would require a couple hundred lines of code in a language like C++ or Java.

This allows learners to engage in creating programs that are meaningful without have to include libraries, produce extra code, or any of the other hurdles that exist in traditional programming languages. It just works! Processing code looks very similar to and uses the same concepts as the popular computer science languages, making it easy to transition if the learner decides to study a computer science or related field.

We look forward to showing you some of the projects that come from the Creative Coding class in future blog posts.

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Maker Activity: Cardboard Automata

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

In this Maker Activity join me in creating your very own moving automata out of nothing but recycled materials. This is a great activity to introduce any age student to mechanical engineering concepts such as axles, gears and cams and can be scaled to show different forms of energy by adding a motor and a solar panel.

Supplies Needed:

  • Tape
  • Straws
  • Wooden Skewers
  • Cardboard (along with something to cut it)
  • Glue Gun or Tape
  • Markers (Or anything you want to use to decorate your display)
  • Something To Poke Holes With (I use a screwdriver)

Maker Activity: Interactive Display with MaKey MaKey

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Kick your project up to the next level by making it interactive! In this installment of our Maker Activity series, Linus teaches how to create a display that students can interact with using the MaKey MaKey.

Maker Activity: Recycled Robots

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Make your own motorized companion! In this installment of our Maker Activity series, Linus creates a simple robot and explains how you can create your own using only a motor and recycled materials.

  • Supplies Needed:
    • Alligator Clips
    • 9V Battery
    • DC Motor
    • Cardboard (along with something to cut it)
    • Glue Gun or Tape

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Exploring Possibilities with Coding

In my previous post about the Creative Coding class, I spoke about our unit on interactivity. In this unit, we explored different ways that students could interact with the programs they create. The goal was to show students that while most of the work is done sitting at a keyboard and monitor, programming is not restricted to this hardware. In addition, some interactions within programs can lead to interesting effects on the user.

With the knowledge and experience gained from the first unit, students were introduced to a variety of hardware and software they could explore using with their Processing code. This hardware included the Xbox 360 KinectLeapMotion Controller, MaKey MaKey, and Android phones. In addition, students were allowed to use a physics library called Box2D and were free to explore any other library they found that interested them.

The projects created ranged from interactive art installations with MaKey MaKey, planetary physics, collisions of 3D spheres, balancing games using the sensors of an Android phonel, and finger painting with the Kinect. One student, pictured below, used the MaKey MaKey to construct a prototype that would help her figure out the chances for a Astros win during baseball games. The “Astros Chair” contained buttons on the arm rest for various statistical record keeping such as buttons for adjusting runs for either team.

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Learning the words to type and how to create solutions to problems are important criteria for learning to code. Guiding students to explore different hardwares that interface with coding and create experiences with them helps demonstrate the huge impact programming has on the world. Now that they’ve had a chance to explore, we’ll be moving into a 3-week project-based learning unit. Stay tuned!

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Student R&D Workshops

As mentioned in a previous post, one of the goals of the Student R&D Maker Task Force is to create, test, and evaluate Maker activities. On that front, this semester’s group is focusing on diversifying the types of making done in the maker space, exposing new students to making, and demonstrating ways making can lead to greater understanding. With this in mind, Student R&D has planned a variety of workshops ranging from introductions to tools in the maker space to 3-hour project builds.

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In our first workshop, held last week, the students of our Student R&D: Maker Task force invited their peers to learn more about the 3D Pens using the newest version from 3Doodler. Our Student R&D members started the workshop by guiding students to choose from a variety of stencils, followed by explaining the different buttons of the 3Doodler as well as common troubleshooting techniques. Afterwards, an exploratory session of drawing, making mistakes, and rejoicing at final projects took place.

Student R&D had a few takeaways after this workshop. Students really love the hipster glasses and lunch is a good time to hold this type of tool introduction workshop. Most of the students that attended during 1st lunch came back the minute 2nd lunch started. In addition, a few students mentioned that the video we created about 3D pens made them excited. These sorts of videos show students what they can expect and what’s possible. It also may have contributed to the hipster glasses trend.

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Maker Activity: Circuit Games

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Add a little excitement to your day by making a circuit game! In this installment of our Maker Activity series, John teaches how to use a simple piezo buzzer circuit to create different types of games.

The Impacts of Exploring

Whenever I am learning a new tool or working with new materials, I usually start by looking up a tutorial. When working from a guide, I don’t have to worry so much about failing, figuring out where to start, or creating a final product. But sometimes, I find myself unknowingly relying on guides and forgetting about the possibilities that sometimes arise from just exploring.

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When we work on our maker projects, we often source our materials from different shops online and within a week or so it arrives in the maker space. I’d been told a place called Lamington Road was Mumbai’s #1 place to get electronics components. I’d always wanted to go but, it’s usually way easier and convenient to order online. It wasn’t until I had forgotten to order a component on my list that I actually visited.

When I arrived, I saw a street lined with every type of electronics component you could want, from LEDs to computer motherboards. I spent about 2 hours perusing the wares each storefront had, filling my Google Keep with project ideas and information on components I’d never even heard of!

From this, I was reminded that while It is undeniably easier and more convenient to order things from online or work from a tutorial, sometimes the biggest impacts come from discovering something through exploring. I learned of the many different types of LEDs which helped us improve our LED Constellations activity as well as inspired a new activity we’re running using LEDs in clothing.

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Learning through exploration is the main reason our school maker spaces provide access to a wide variety of tools and materials. This type of learning often leads to student projects like the robotic handsvideo games that interact with you in the physical world, and hanging ball pianos. Lastly, it helps show us in the R&D department what the impacts of our prototypes are and where they show room for improvement.

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Making It Matter

Maker Saturday was started with the goal of empowering students with making and tinkering. In an earlier post, we wrote how this year we are focusing specifically on developing a set of “maker skills and dispositions”. One thing we’ve noticed is that some families or children tend to develop an affinity for certain activities. As opposed to varying all of the activities each time, we’re seeing what happens when we use the same activities but alter the challenge.

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Lego Mindstorms
Building robots and tools using Lego Mindstorms is an activity both parents and students love. For the first Maker Saturday we ran an exploratory activity and encouraged free play. We noticed some new interest in Mindstorms and some experimental play from the students and parents that had used Mindstorms before. In addition, one little boy made a controller for his robot which inspired our next activity.

October’s Lego Mindstorms activity involved using prebuilt robots and instead focused on creating and programming ways to control the robot. This activity had very different results. While some focused on creating a controller for their robot, most decided to use a controller that was already built to get their robot through the track. While this developed some interest in robots, it missed the mark on making an impact on maker skill development.

Moving forward, we’re looking towards printing our own manuals and build guides to increase the amount of building that happens with Lego Mindstorms.

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Ozobots
Ozobots are another crowd favorite. September’s Maker Saturday was the first time we unveiled these awesome, line-following robots. We printed out sheets for the commands, covered a big table with white paper, and placed out bins of markers letting parents and students explore. There was a lot of doodling as well as some commands being successfully issued but it needed something.

The next time we held the Ozobots activity we printed out a lot more sheets. This time we not only provided  sheets with commands but examples of racetracks, mazes, and two laptops ready for those willing to code their bots using a Scratch-like programming language. The activity had many visitors with many attempts at different types of racetracks. In addition, a handful of students and parents teamed up to program their Ozobots to move and dance.

We’d like to stress the programming of the Ozobots a little more in future activities.

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Paper Circuits
The first Paper Circuits activity was again, very exploratory. Students and parents experimented with creating circuits using the Circuit Stickers Kit. Different types of circuits were created from greeting cards to glowing robot eyes. The engagement was there but some creations were very similar. With experience running the station and a love of stars,John Kilbane had a great idea for the next iteration.

LED Constellations directed students and parents to create their favorite Astronomic images. This activity was made to show a different way of using the circuits to create things. It inspired many constellations with some students experimenting in creating tiaras. There was even a student who was so engaged they spent their entire 2 hours at the activity.

This activity is becoming a lot more popular and we’re looking into how to incorporate it into activities that help students use these circuits in more novel ways. We also think this may help generate an interest in soldering.

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Keeping Some Variety
While we varied the ways we challenged our students and parents in our other activities we still feel it is important to add new activities. We’re keen on incorporating soldering into a Maker Saturday activity as well as different activities that promote robotics, programming, engineering and so on. In addition, this past Maker Saturday had an activity encouraging the use of creativity by building with cardboard as part of The Global Cardboard Challenge.

For more information about Maker Saturday, how it is organized, and the activities we run, check out our chapter in Future Forwards Vol 3.

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Maker Activity: LED Constellations

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Looking for some fun and easy maker activities that can be done at home or school? Maker doesn’t always need to be creating robots or vehicles. Learn how to make a constellation of LEDs with this simple guide.