Adventures in Arduino
When I was a kid, I would dream of making my own robot, or an automated house. I longed for my computer programs in basic to do something more than print stuff on the screen, and instead bring a skeleton of steel to life. Sadly, I never really invested myself in either programming or robot construction enough to make that happen.
Recently, I’ve been playing with an Arduino Uno, which is a cheap microporocessor that you can program via USB. The possibilities for what you can do with Ardunio are truly limitless—Google just announced that Arduino will be the foundation of the Andriod Open Hardware standard, which means you’ll be able to use Arduino to create an automated coffeemaker, and then control it via your Android phone so that coffee will be waiting for you when you get into the office. Closer to home, Steve Dickie has been doing some awesome stuff to use Arduino to in education, including making your own probeware and even designing a whole engineering course in Electronics with Arduino.
This thing is super simple to use, and so far, one the of the things I’m most enjoying is the Getting Started with Arduino book, published by Make, which is unlike any other instruction book I’ve read. The book encourages a tinkering approach to learning that seems to be lost in today’s locked down/throw it away/don’t fix it culture. Here’s a an illustration and a few quotes from the book just to give you a sense of this philosophy.
A great philosophy of learning that I would love to bring into more of my teaching. Here are a few things to learn, now go try to something awesome with this.
A quote the book takes from the Exploratorium:
Tinkering is what happens when you try something you don’t quite know how to do, guided by whim, imagination, and curiosity. When you tinker, there are no instructions—but there are also no failures, no right or wrong ways of doing things. It’s about figuring out how things work and reworking them.
Contraptions, machines, wildly mismatched objects working in harmony—this is the stuff of tinkering.
Tinkering is, at is most basic, a process that marries play and inquiry.
One more quote from the book on the Arduino Way:
Classic engineering relies on a strict process for getting from A to B; the Arduino Way delights in the possibility of getting lost on the way and finding C instead.
I’m still not exactly sure how I’ll use Arduino in my classes—though I’d love to create a new class where we spend a full semester exploring electronics using Arduino, but I think this is going to be a very powerful tool for student-initiated projects.
And to illustrate this process of finding C on the way to B, just yesterday, Andy “SuperFly” Rundquist sent out this tweet about how he’d managed to get Mathematica to record live data from the Arduino.
Small pieces loosely joined leads to some great possiblities for learning.