Since last December, Sophie McDonald (usually of Mz-TEK) and I have been plotting a 3-day wearable technology bootcamp with Emma Posey and Hannah Dee (who’s also blogged here) of Technocamps for 11-19 year-old students in Aberystwyth.
Technocamps is a £6 million project led by Swansea University in partnership with the Universities of Bangor, Aberystwyth and Glamorgan to inspire young people aged 11-19 to attend workshops on computing-based subject such as wearable technology, robotics, game development, animation, digital forensics and more. Their long-term goal is to encourage young people to pursue careers in an area that will drive economic growth in Wales, which I’m all up for helping with.
Sophie and I put together a 3-day wearable technology schedule introducing electronics via the LilyPad Arduino sewable microcontroller environment, plus coding via C programming language sketches, which drive the inputs and outputs of the LilyPad Arduino.
The three-day bootcamp attended by approximately twenty-one 11-14 year-olds, with Sophie, Hannah & myself leading and helping the students through the workshops. I did a kick-off presentation to introduce some existing projects and aspects regarding the broad range and applications of wearable technology – plus the notion of only being limited by one’s imagination! Also some info on the ease of availability of suitable components and the supportive nature of the Maker community, tutorial sites and forums for young creators interested in finding out more after the workshops.
Day One: of the workshops began with a look at the LilyPad Arduino microcontroller, followed by the Arduino programming IDE (Integrated Development Environment). We moved on to getting an LED (Light Emitting Diode) to light up and blink from the LilyPad with a bit of coding. In the afternoon we played around with series and parallel LEDs on a breadboard with some more playing with code. We were delighted to see some of the students having fun with up to 14 blinking LEDs on their circuits!
Day Two: looked at creating an LDR (Light Dependent Resistor) circuit that would light an LED, a little more challenging, but by the end of the day, all the students had a working circuit that they then tweaked to become a light switch – by noting the serial data and reflecting it in their code.
Day Three: we leapt straight into designing our circuits for sewing onto fabric with the LilyPad Arduino, the students worked out their own designs for circuits and components, plus coded them accordingly. We had some fabulous compositions and designs. When parents and guardians came to inspect the fruits of the three-day bootcamp at the end of the day, they all seemed very pleased with the results, plus we gave out some certificates.
I feel that the wearable technology workshops using the LilyPad Arduino are a fantastic introduction into electronics and coding for young people. All the students were amazingly enthusiastic and persevered to grasp concepts new to them, plus they were able to have fun and incorporate their own design input into circuits, plus modifying and playing with code.
The students were all very keen and were so engrossed in their work they genuinely didn’t want the workshops to finish. They took their work home with them, plus a sheet of helpful links to help them carry on their own. Hannah also set up a group for Arduino in Aberystwyth (I’ll find the link and add later).
Eighty percent of the students were girls and I’m pleased to say that any preconceived ideas that have been banded about in the past of electronics / coding being more suitable pursuits for boys did not ring true at all – all the girls took to both disciplines of electronics and coding like ducks to proverbial water and there was no difference in the support needed for boys vs. girls for these workshops. Also on the other foot, the boys took to sewing and textiles without batting an eyelid – also dismissing more stereotypes around gender.
To summarise, I feel that wearable technology via LilyPad Arduino is a great way for students and people, whatever age and background, to enjoy an introduction to electronics and coding. I feel what may have been missing or miss-interpreted in the past is the real need to have a reason or fun pursuit for participating and personalising in the pursuit of electronics and coding – once people have a project or reason to make something they’ll enjoy using, they’re off!
For me it was very rewarding three days of workshops all round, we have a few tweaks to make to the workshops and slides which we’re going to do as soon as we have our breath back. Technocamps as well as Sophie and I want to repeat the workshops, plus eventually share the slides via Creative Commons license.