Brian Rueckert

Paper Pumpkin - Sensors, LEDs, and Arduinos, Oh My!

Blog Post created by Brian Rueckert on Oct 23, 2015


We started revamping our science curriculum a couple years back as a part of a big STEM push as an institution (complete with a new building). Lovingly called STEM 1 initially, now Science 9: Chemical and Physical Systems, the course Freshman take comes in two flavors: standard, and accelerated/math intensive. Both include a healthy dose of instruction and projects involving programming, with a Springtime focus on programmable circuit boards in conjunction with a unit on electricity. Enter the tiny little circuit board that could: the Arduino.


I love Arduinos. If you’ve never witnessed what one of these can do, you need to get yourself on the InterGoogles and search for Arduino project examples and prepared to be wowed by the internet of things. Obviously, we weren’t expecting the students to create some of the complex examples you might find online; we were simply going for exposure initially, with a little application of their electric knowledge gained from the accompanying unit thrown in for good measure.


Canvas turned out to be an excellent platform to present the instructional content for the Arduinos. We introduced students to a series of Modules, the first being an overview of the circuit board as well the the development environment. We had them blink an LED (of course!), control an LED with a potentiometer, then had them modify the code to cause some type of change in the system. The second Module was a series of separate tutorials centered around a particular sensor or programming concept. For example, the RGB LED had an in-depth look at “for” loops, while the bank of LEDs looked at arrays. Each of the mini activities in the second Module contained Canvas Pages with an instructional video discussing the program sketch, an overview of how to construct the actual circuit on the breadboard, an Assignment that challenged them to expand on the example circuit, and a badge.


Arduino Badge.pngTempBadge.pngServoBadge.pngLEDArray.png

CanvaBadges was an interesting experimental piece to the project. I created a badge for the intro Module, and separate badges for completion of each of the mini activities in the second Module. Success and student interest in badges was directly related to how they were presented by the separate instructors. In one class, the teacher almost cheesily over emphasized them and the students followed suit; they had a fierce competition for who could collect them the fastest. Yet in another class, badges were more of an afterthought, so students really didn’t care. In hindsight, I should have prepared faculty better with strategies to get students excited about badges. It was mostly a bust that year, but showed potential.


The final piece of the project involved a student-designed Arduino circuit. Groups were challenged to build a circuit that collected some kind of data that would cause another component to respond in some way. They were given a small budget and were pointed to an online tech store to order parts. The default sketch that many of the less adventurous groups defaulted to was a temperature sensor that caused an LED to light up at a certain threshold. We had some absolutely awesome projects though. One group created a series of LEDs that flashed based on the beat of an audio track, while another created a laser-based attendance tracker that counted up whenever the beam was interrupted by someone walking by!


Canvas was an excellent tool to use for our STEM 1 Arduino Project. All of the instructional content rolled up into Modules provided a “home base” so to speak for students to get everything they needed to succeed - from remedial programming help, to inspiration for project design!


Has anyone else done engineering or tech project Modules in Canvas? Please share!