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Going back to school with Arduino

Jim Town, a math teacher at West Sacramento Prep, began incorporating Arduino boards in his math lessons last year. He soon found that the Atmel-powered hardware helped facilitate a “different type” of learning with high levels of engagement.

“Pre-calculus is a class that has many opportunities for creative teaching. Since we are a smaller school, there isn’t enough interest in computer science to justify a full class so I try to embed some of these skills into my math classes to help students become ready for the computer heavy careers that may await them,” Town explained in a recent blog post published in Makezine. “One way I’ve found to do this is through Arduino. My students had heard of Arduino because we had a few students working on Arduino projects last year, but had never worked with them. They were excited at the opportunity to ‘play’ in math.”

In the above-mentioned project, students learned about exponents and counting in binary, but probably did not learn the rules for simplifying exponents or other ultra-specific standards. However, Town says he views math more as a way of thinking, rather than a specific set of skills.

“In conjunction with the unit on exponents, I challenged students to make a binary counter using either a dip switch or a momentary switch. A dip switch is a row of on/off switches conveniently labeled 1-8; they are like a bunch of little tiny light switches,” said Town. “For these students, when the switch labeled 6 was turned on, they needed to display a 6 in binary on the three LED’s they were given (on-on-off). A momentary switch is a single button that is ‘on’ when pushed and is ‘off’ when not pushed. The students had to keep track of how many times the button was pushed and display that number in binary on the LED’s. That is, if they button was pushed 4 times, the three LED’s would show on-off-off.”

In addition to the DIY Maker Movement, Arduino boards are wildly popular in the educational community, with science and computing teachers in secondary schools using the versatile platform to teach kids the principles of programming and computational thinking.

According to Brock Craft, author of Arduino Projects for Dummies, the Atmel-powered boards are also used in colleges and universities, where they are often found in design programs, particularly in product design.

“[This is] because Arduinos can quickly be used to prototype products that do physical things – like toasters or dispensers or remote controls, for example. It is also widely used in digital arts programs for making interactive artwork, music, and performances,” Craft told ItProPortal. “[Yes], there have been similar products on the market for many years and education curricula have used other alternatives. But what makes Arduino different – and is driving teachers to use them – is that Arduinos are easy to use. And if they need help, it’s easy for teachers and students to get it in the extensive online communities.”

In addition, Craft confirmed that Arduino boards are deployed throughout the corporate world, as the hardware is being used by designers, architects and engineers for prototyping purposes.

“It’s very easy to try out design by building a prototype so that they can see what solutions work and toss out those that don’t. This is much easier to do early in the design process before more money has been spent on bringing an idea to fruition; Arduino can play a key role here,” he added.

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