This weekend I was in the lovely Edinburgh informatics building off george square. Working with teachers interested in digital making. The event was conceived and brought together by Nesta Scotland and brought together a ensemble of digital makers. There was 3D printing with MakLab, Web making with Mozilla, CodeDojo and RunRev were also offering some hands on making.
I delivered a session on Arduino (materials here) and Processing (materials here). My interest in these technologies is driven by what they offer the learner (and teacher for that matter). They are both open source projects driven by a vast community with different interest, abilities and motives. I believe this offers a superb environment to nurture and motivate aspiring digital makers. In short there is no shortage of simple examples, BUT also things to be inspired by and to run at .
The sessions were both two hours with small groups. I had anticipated breaking half way through but there was no let up, or natural pause presented so we danced through quite a bit of the material. In both sessions the interest built as we move past static hard coded examples and introduce some interactivity. Its not surprising; we learn instinctively through exploring cause and effect. By creating simple playful interactions both physical and screen based we had people working well.
Arduino is very much in the consciousness of teachers in Scotland. The previous week I was at a CPD day which had an Arduino taster on the bill. Processing seems to be a far better kept secret. Taking both these technologies forward to support a range of teachers deliver Curriculum for Excellence and cross subject learning experiences, presents fabulous opportunities and some challenges.
For Arduino to happen in school we need to convince people that the investment in kit is a valuable necessary resource for teaching the challenging task of computer programming. As I walked into a crisp new school last week I looked into music rooms with class sets of mandolins, violins, electric pianos etc (and smiled). Traditionally we needed computers to teach computing but as the domain changes we must respond. More than this it isn’t just programming: its electronics, logic, physics, aesthetics, design and many more subjects. The aspect of a given build that a teacher chooses to focus on and have a conversation about is up to them. One object could be touched upon in several subject areas (pop-goes-the-weasle staff notation, ultrasonic ranging, CDT, project planing, stage craft 🙂 ).
Processing doesn’t have the advantage of people knowing what it is, so there is some work to be done. The largest things I have worked on have been written in java. It took me a wee while for the penny to drop with Processing, as most of what I was doing I could do in java. I realised on a train journey ( heading home and tired ) where I found my self hacking around with Processing, that this is what makes it work. It is light, provisional and enables speculation and creativity with a very tight investment and reward cycle. There is an efficiency in this, as most of my effort goes into the task in hand not the underpinning. I appreciate industry doesn’t want people that hack and lack knowledge of software engineering principles an practice. But I recon in the same way Jooles Holland was drawn to Piano playing by an unquenchable passion for playing what he loved we too should look to inspire and ignite interest in our learners. When his lack of theoretical underpinning became a barrier to progression he understood the value of the knowledge he needed, and acquired it.
There are many fantastic opportunities to support the teaching of a range of subjects with processing and Arduino. We live in the age of data and physical computing, and need people that can use this as a resource to generate insight, understanding and improve our relationship with technology.