Find all your DIY electronics in the MakerShed. 3D Printing, Kits, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Books & more!


Recently, I had an opportunity to get early access to a new hardware system from Microsoft. Last fall, I met Colin Miller at World Maker Faire, where he explained the system to me. Gadgeteer is a way for people to rapidly build devices, program them, and then even build enclosures around the projects they make. On Wednesday morning, almost none of my students had ever written a computer program, and by Friday afternoon, every one had the opportunity to write a program that would control output hardware based on the input of sensors that they had built.

Since this is such a new system, there isn’t a huge set of example projects, project rubrics, sample code, or other resources that many classroom teachers expect when using learning tools with students. Basically, we introduced students to the hardware, provided some sample code for a few starter projects, and gave everybody a chance to try it out. Some students took right to it, coded the examples, and had it working quickly so they could move on to adjusting and personalizing the programs and hardware. Other students needed more help finding the causes of errors in the code. Some students had significant trouble getting the programs to work.

Most of the troubles were the result of typing the code inaccurately. We chose to give students paper copies of the programs instead of digital versions because of the value of typing the program as you learn the language. Copy and paste would have been much quicker, but it would not have helped students learn what the code was doing and how it was doing it.

Mostly, in schools, people expect the information to be largely packaged and proven. There are lots of structures, both institutional and cultural, that reinforce having all the classroom content organized and predictably scaffolded. With a cutting edge tool like Gadgeteer, students really have to bring a lot of their own enthusiasm, persistence and independence. Some learners can handle that responsibility, some can’t. Some who can’t handle this responsibility also bristle at the traditional classroom structures. It’s tricky to put something together that meets everybody’s needs.

At the end of the three days of programming and experimentation, many students said that they had enjoyed working with physical computing. Each afternoon, there were students who stayed several hours after school let out, learning how to make their new gadgets work better through programming. These were students who had never written a program. The challenge now is to keep them writing and developing their own projects. This will be possible with microcontrollers in the room, and software that they can access on school and home computers.

You can read more about the project and view some photos from the series of workshops.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


Related

Comments

  1. Gregg says:

    And how do we get involved with it? Surely more people make use of the odd ball environment that dotNet lives in, say, then the other guy’s platform.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is in a pretty limited beta test at this point. You can download the software by clicking in to my notes in the last line of the post. That will get you set up with the programming environment. If you’re a teacher and want to help out, get in touch with them and see what they need.

    Every teacher should do what they can to join up with one of the many Maker Faires springing up around the world. You and your students will get great benefits from meeting with other makers and learning about their projects.

  3. Gregg says:

    And that is the interesting point. I’m not a teacher, although I sometimes end up teaching people how to understand why their computers dislike them in words of one bleep or less.

    Being fairly familiar with the Netdunio I understand why we need VS2010 on the hardware….. And I am downloading everything now. But to be honest I’m a hardware person. I’m interested in faster and better ways to make my hardware studies work best. I’ve got a blurb out to Colin so we’ll see what happens from there. I do agree with you sir that we’ve got hardware and stuff into the “limited beta test” mode. But where was this featured at the 2010 Maker Faire here in NYC at the Hall of Science?

  4. Gregg says:

    Has this project moved past beta?