Two weeks ago STEAMLabs founder Andy Forest ran the first workshop for editors based on our IoT–Internet of Things–curriculum. A group of 15 educators–teachers, librarians and more–gathered to discover how they can bring robotics to the young people they work with. Several had experimented with one form of code or another and some were completely new to the world of programming. All of them showed up excited to learn.

The Method Behind The Madness

DSC_0074We started by discussing potential applications for The Internet of Things. Where can you use the IoT teaching kit? Anywhere you can find people who want to learn. Within a matter of moments we came up with several uses for the IoT kit, ranging from permanent Makerspaces to one off workshops.

Then we introduced participants to what STEAMLabs calls “21st Century Learning”. This process consists of the following steps: 1. Making — with real tools, of course 2. Interest Driven — learning with purpose 3. Peer Collaboration — because everyone has something to bring to the table 4. Networked — utilizing the power of resources found either in the community or online and 5. Authentic Audience — creating with a real purpose.

Diving Into Robotics

The IoT robot building kit.

Once we established the 21st century learning process we divided participants into smaller groups, pairing them up according to their experience levels. Each group got their very own IoT robotics kit for the day.

Our brave participants started with a deceptively simple task: to set up a single LED light bulb.

It turns out this process requires more than simply sticking the wires in the right places, as a couple groups quickly learned with burnt out LEDs. We talked about the nature of electrical currents, the different power requirements for different LEDs, and where you can find out how much power your LED bulbs need–before you burn one out.

The Programming

DSC_0021With all the LEDs in place it was time to start programming. Andy Forest directed participants to Particle Build, software that allows you to program your Particle(formerly Spark) Core Board, the Arduino board used in STEAMLabs IoT kits, using your browser. This makes it an excellent tool for educators who might not be able to download software on the computers in their work space.

Participants managed to get their LEDs blinking in about an hour, wearing big grins on their faces as they admired their handiwork. Some decided to spend their break experimenting with other commands, others chose to spend the time chatting with different participants about where the IoT kit would be used. The pride and energy created by their small programming success was a tangible feeling in the room. When you’re completely new to programming, even a small success feels like a big deal, and many of these participants had never touched an Arduino board before.

The Internet

DSC_0065Once participants configured their Arduino boards it was time to connect to the internet. They used Mozilla Thimble, an in-browser website designer, to create a basic web interface with buttons controlling the LEDs attached to their Arduino boards.

Using Mozilla Thimble allowed them to do everything in browser, learn basic HTML, and create a web interface they could easily share with the public. Thimble even makes it easy to make your web interface accessible to the public, allowing educators to easily build a real audience into their projects. Thimble is also a great program because it builds in the initial HTML you need for a good looking web page.

Within half an hour most groups had successfully connected their Arduino board to the web interface and created their very first button. The excitement was tangible as these educators realized that you don’t have to be a genius to understand code.

The Results

DSC_0064All right, so we didn’t build any epic flying machines, but we did accomplish something pretty major. We took a room full of ordinary people and started them on the path to becoming inventors. More importantly, we empowered these educators to help their students become creators instead of consumers. Not to mention the amount of fun we had and the friendships formed during the workshop.

Of course, we’re not going to stop there. In fact, there’s already a waiting list for the next IoT educator workshop. We plan to run a couple of these workshops this fall and more next year, so stay tuned to find out more!