Scrambling to Learn about Micro-Controllers

A new perspective is always interesting… It wasn’t nearly as busy as in Tokyo or at Toronto’s “scramble” crossings, but as I walked to the conference hotel this morning for the Pre-Conference Session at Constructing Modern Learning (CMK) in Manchester, New Hampshire I noticed that at each intersection pedestrians would cross in all directions (including kitty corner) despite no signage allowing or encouraging this behaviour.Ants

While this might just support New Hampshire’s motto: Live Free or Die, it also reminded me that even without specific instructions, people learn to use tools to suit their purpose.

At the conference venue, after a very short introduction, our task was to:

get to know Micro:bit, Hummingbird and Trinket and get each to do a basic blink

It was a good plan… but my group was so engaged and explored so much more deeply than required that by the end of the day we had “only” explored 2 out of the 3! However, we taught ourselves to programme them, troubleshoot issues and use the multiple sensors and add-ons.

Balancing Time In and Outside the Box

I was glad that I already had a basic level of comfort with Scratch since it let me devote most of my time to trouble-shooting the processes for working with the electronics. As we discussed over lunch, creating opportunities for students to develop specific skills builds confidence but needs to be tempered with stepping back and providing opportunities for adventurous inquiry and playful exploration.

As a jazz musician, Daniel Kölsch always says that “in order to play outside the box you need to know where the box is”. Similarly, when learning something new, I find a completely open-ended task can be overwhelming since I don’t know any of the parameters. Having either explicit instructions like “Try this” or a video/ demo of the possibilities helps me get my bearings. Given this, I tend to spend too much time at school showing kids the options available to them and I want to get better at finding a balance between helping them know the possibilities and having time to experiment with how to make things happen on their own. Brian C Smith and Tracy Rodzitis modelled this balance beautifully today! Maybe this a format for my introductory sessions with lower elementary students could be :

  1. Start with a free exploration – including a choice of using simple tutorials, watching a video or just exploring
  2. Pause and share capabilities no one has yet discovered
  3. Continue exploring

Thank You, Experts

Maybe because I have used ScratchJr more than Scratch, I have never been comfortable with the use of variables and should probably spend some time learning more about when they can be used. Using them today deepened my understanding but it certainly wasn’t intuitive for me to do the following. I was grateful for the tips from others that led us to do this:

Working with someone today who was at approximately my same level of understanding was extremely helpful. Rich and I could muddle through most things and seek help when necessary. I feel like I learned a lot more than if I had worked with someone who was at a more beginner level but also didn’t hold a more advanced user back. Because today was more about learning specific tools rather than designing solutions for others, this pairing worked well. I suspect that for the rest of the week more varied experiences within our group will probably be more helpful as we focus more on creatively making our designs a reality.

Were There Instructions?

It may have been because I had just enough knowledge to be dangerous but I wanted to test everything and understand the capabilities of the various micro-controllers and didn’t stick to the task of just making each micro-controller do a basic blink. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t have enough time to explore the Trinket at all. Based on the expertise of Tobias who felt that Hummingbird would be better-suited to lower elementary, we started there. Fortunately, I feel like I now have a good enough understanding of 2 micro-controllers that we did explore and assume that the Trinket is very similar.

I wish that I had taken more photos of what we did. Luckily, Gary took some photos of us working!

Documenting to Remember:

Tomorrow I want to try setting a timer that tells me to take photos once an hour so that I can better document our process.

Coupled with my first-time hands-on experience with Makey Makeys at MakerEdTO last week, I am rather surprised with how much I have learned about micro-controllers in jus a couple of days! Because we were given a chance at both events to actually use them at our own pace, rather than overwhelmed, I am feeling motivated to spend time exploring the websites for different micro-controllers to see what their different capabilities are and determine if/ how any can be of use to me at school.

Even without specific instructions, people learn to use tools to suit their purpose…

Looking forward to #CMK18 for the rest of this week!

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