Saturday, August 6, 2011

Quick and Fast Arduino Instruction

Gave another quick demonstration/instruction of the Arduino again.  This time the demonstration was to a junior high school age kid (roughly 6-8th grade).  His family was checking out the club.  The kid had experience with robotics camp and his parents bought him the Lego Mindstorms which he brought to the meeting.  Now there are lots of various reviews about different microcontrollers and kits available and one of the more recent ones given by Make Magazine cites that the Lego Mindstorms is fairly easy to begin and operate, but it is not cheap (Lego Mindstorms link).  All-in-all it is a fairly versatile platform with programming package. 

Although from speaking with the kid, he seemed to have hit a plateau and wanted to DO more but felt like he had to BUY more.  For instance he stated "line following" and he could do it but wanted to buy the line platform.  I might be over thinking our interaction, but my impression was that he needed to explore his set a little more which I encouraged him to do.  I state this based on my child's experience with Legos because in Legos there are two personality types: the set builder or the free-form builder.  Set builders (like my kid) build a set and dont like deviating from it; a firehouse or vehicle can never be anything else. Sometimes they have the tendacy to want to buy a new set or items versus using the versatility that Legos bring.  On the other hand, free-form builders use the Lego blocks to make elaborate designs from the child's imagination and will often recycle parts for something new.  I believe the kid I met at the meeting leaned toward the set building type.

Now there are different methods to curtailing the consumer impulse and keep buying more sets.  One is to join a competition to use your set in a new and interesting avenue to explore its capabilities which a Lego club (or robotics club) can help in.  Another method is to join a Lego club (in this case robotics club) and find a common interest with other people to maintain your enthusiasm for the sets you have or play with other people's toys/sets.  Unfortunately, this may also have the adverse effect that someone may be more compelled to buy the latest newest hotness. 

Anyways, I am hoping that he may be happy with the Mindstorms he has got and decides to explore it more.  I did show him my Arduino and explained some basic electronics.  So here is the basic formula that seems to work with showing the Arduino on a one-on-one setting with someone that may or may not know basic electronic symbols:

1. Show and describe the Arduino.  It's a versatile microcontroller with an easy to use interface and programming language.  Describe the parts of the Arduino (both analog and digital pins with PWM) and the solderless development board.
2. Draw a simple circuit and describe the symbols (in this case, I drew a + pin of Arduino going to a LED to a resistor to ground).
3. Describe the LED, its function, and which leg is Pos.
4. Describe the resistor and the meaning of the colors referencing the color wheel.
5. Have the beginner assemble Circuit 02 with a twist.  Note: Bend the pins so that they overlap the side.
6. Describe the Arduino IDE.
7. Copy and paste the sketch. 
8. Describe the parts of the sketch. the basic elements of the C# code (initialize the pins, define the pins, set defaults, begin loop action), and simple editting using copy and paste to change the direction of blinking lights (used // to ignore lines of code and copy-paste a line of code or variable).
9. Go through the process of loading the sketch.
10. Have the beginner edit and load the sketch.

So far this formula works, but it still takes me an hour to do it all.

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