Teaching my younger sister electronics and programming basics with The Genuino Starter Kit.
To begin with this seemed a little strange as it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was first introduced to electronics and programming via The Arduino Starter kit, and then wrote about this in A Novice's Introduction to Arduino. To say I’m now in turn introducing my 12 year old sister to the basics of electronics seems pretty scary.
To begin with I threw her in at the deep end and let her jump straight in with the Genuino Starter Kit which she was bought for Christmas from [uncle] Andrew.
I showed her the Arduino IDE and how to navigate around the important parts so she could begin working her way through the introduction and the Project 01 – Getting to Know Your Tools. The only thing we asked her to do was to get either myself or Andrew to check her breadboard circuit before plugging the Arduino Uno into the laptop.
To get started she built an LED circuit, which didn’t require programming and this simply connected between 5V and GND on the Arduino with an appropriate sized resistor in place and when the Arduino was powered the LED illuminated.
Explaining Resistance, Current and Voltage
When I tried to explain what a resistor was she interjected and said “so like a canal and lock gate” — I thought this was a really good analogy. Here we then tried to explain the relationship between voltage, resistance and current in terms of water.
Resistance – This would be where a river or canal got narrower, the smaller width of the river restricts the amount of water which can flow.
Current – The water flowing in the river represents the electrical current in a circuit, the more pressure there is (voltage) the more current you get.
Voltage - This is the amount of pressure in the water forcing the water to move downstream.
Image Source: learn.sparkfun.com
As the LED circuit worked and she now had a better understanding of resistance, current and voltage, she next followed the Project Book and added a push button to the LED circuit. I explained that the LED wouldn’t illuminate unless the switch in the circuit was pushed and only when the switch was pressed would it make a connection to the rest of the circuit so that power could flow through and illuminate the LED.
A second switch was then added to the circuit, first in series and then in parallel; I explained why that in series we needed to push both switches to get the LED to turn on — and why in parallel we could push either switch to get the LED to illuminate, due to the power being able to take either route to complete the circuit.
Building a Colour Mixing lamp
Since rapid progress was being made I got her to have a look through the project book and see which project she really wanted to have a go at. As her first project she chose to build Project 04 – Colour Mixing Lamp, and once she had constructed the breadboard circuit I sat down with her and began to explain what the code meant.
It took a couple of attempts at explaining this code, but with some rephrasing eventually she started to pick up on it. Here I explained what a library was, as this sketch included LiquidCrystal.h to control the LCD – by no means did she understand it thoroughly, but at this stage I wouldn’t expect her to.
We uploaded this sketch to the Arduino and she began to play around with the ambient lighting conditions using a torch and the room lights to see the effect this had on the colour mixing lamp. I was also able to show her the different values displayed in the serial monitor as lighting conditions changed.
Creating a Crystal Ball
The next project she wanted to have a go at making was Project 11 – Crystal ball. Once I had checked the breadboard circuit we once again sat down and ran through what each part of the code did. This time I could see that she was gaining a better understanding as was able to relay what sections of the code did back to me.
As she now had a slightly better understanding of the sketch I next showed her how this could be customised. I showed her that anything inside the quotation marks of
lcd.print(“”) could be changed to anything she wanted. We decided we would change the text appearing on the screen from:
“the ball says:”
We also changed the existing replies from the crystal ball to names of people. So she could ask the crystal ball things like:
Who smells the most?
Who is the nicest person
Who is the prettiest? Etc.
And the ball would reply with names of people.
Favourite Parts of the Day
Overall she said her favourite part of the day was learning how to assemble circuits on breadboard. Initially she was trying to follow the exact pin mapping in the project book for the Genuino Starter Kit, but after a couple of components were misplaced I was able to explain how they needed to be connected together in the same rows to form a connection in order for the circuit she had built to work. Once I had explained this she got the hang of breadboarding circuits quite quickly.
Her favourite project was the colour mixing lamp as this was interactive and you could add different gels to the phototransistors and use a torch to increase the amount of light.
The next project she really wants to give a go is the Love-O-Meter project, as she thinks that it is cool being able to turn on different numbers of LEDs with temperature.
I asked her if she could build a project of her own what sort of components would it include and she said she would really like to build a project with buzzers, temperature sensors and more LEDs – perhaps a temperature alarm?
Given this was her first go at understanding code and working with a microcontroller platform I’m really impressed with how much she has picked up. It’s lovely to know that my younger sister would love to come in and visit us at work again to learn lots more cool and interesting things!
Could we possibly have another electronics engineer in the making in the family?