Intro Workshop for Maitland School Campers

Techspace Learning has always been open to new and exciting ways to offer our robotics workshops to the general public to introduce people of all ages to the world of robotics. We love the opportunities for creativity, learning beyond the school curriculum, collaboration and having fun with like-minded people, no matter what their age or background.

We were recently approached by a teacher from the Maitland Area School in the York Peninsula, who had attended one of our workshops at the SA Museum early this year. She was so impressed and excited about what we do, she asked if we could incorporate an “Introductory Workshop” to a whole classroom of students, as part of an Adelaide school camp program.

Of course, we were happy to oblige, and through the associations we have with many community centres, libraries and halls, we utilised the space at the Fulham Community Centre to run this private introductory session. With so many students, we needed two support staff to provide enough assistance for all the participants, along with the facilitator, to manage and teach the session.

School teaching staff took a much-needed break at the back of the room, while the students were engaged in learning how to build a traffic light out of Lego bricks and specially created led lights, that plug straight into an Arduino microprocessor board. Some students were making disco lights as well, and some learnt the basics of how “On/Off” switches interact with the Arduino.

These year 5-6 Students from the York Peninsula had an absolute blast, and we struggled to get them to leave the hall. Back at their camp at West Beach Caravan park, they informed their teachers that this had been the best activity from the whole camp! The teachers were also happy to see their students so engaged and enthusiastic about learning something new.

There was some feedback about using touchscreens rather than a computer mouse, to make the programming a little easier. In this introductory phase, we use easy to understand, drag and drop coding, and certainly using a touch screen may seem like a good idea and much easier than a mouse. However, as we are teaching coding from an introductory level, right up to an advanced level, we feel it best to teach mouse and keyboard skills right from the start. To quote Don, the director of Techspace Learning,

“Tablets and touchscreens are for playing, while Computers and keyboards are for Programming!”

For many years, we always thought that the Arduino microprocessor board could be improved upon, as many a workshop would highlight the limitations of the original design. “If only…” was often the start of the sentence when yet another burnt microprocessor ended up in the bin!

From these discussions and frustrations, the DonDuino was born. “Necessity is the Mother of All Invention” is it not? We realised that no-one had ever challenged the original manufacturer of the Arduino, and it has never been upgraded much beyond its original design. So Don, along with other staff at Techspace Learning, went about redesigning the board, the layout, the size and its ability to be used easily with Lego Bricks. It was designed in such a way to make it safer, and more able to deal with incorrect wiring and higher voltages. It’s smaller, more compact design has the things that you want to use, and none of the things you don’t. With Don in his shed, hand-making each one, the end result has been somewhat ground-breaking and extremely exciting.

Just the other week, a student from the Mt Barker Home Schoolers group had brought in some of his Arduino projects that he had been working on at home. Now at an Intermediate level, and extremely keen to create, build and code new things, his enthusiasm is quite infectious. However, one of the many Arduino boards that he had purchased, had burnt out due to being plugged into a voltage that was just beyond its capabilities, and unfortunately the board was beyond repair. If he had used a DonDuino however, his project may not have functioned, but the board would still be okay.

So dedicated to teaching are we, we have moved our city-based classes to the WEA Learning Centre, a location set-up for learning anything and everything. When we had to vacate our beloved space at Aztronics in Sturt Street, this location seemed the logical space to transfer to, and everyone has embraced the change.

We continue to enjoy sharing our creations at science displays and embrace new opportunities to share the fun that we have with robotics. Onward and upward to new and exciting times ahead!

Intro Workshop for Maitland School Campers