A colleague of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of Arduino. These simple microcontrollers allow you to program, build and create simple inventions using inexpensive microcontrollers. There is a vast online community that offers sample code and ideas. From this humble introduction we currently have middle school students. . ..
Arduino starter kits cost around $35.00 via Amazon. You will need a computer to use Arduino IDE, the programming language. There are online versions and ones you can download to the computer. It seems that most of the online versions charge a small fee, while the downloadable versions ask for a donation (not required). I used Donorschoose.org to fund my latest project and it took about a week. There are many companies and individuals looking to support STEM based teaching ideas.
So instead of asking your students to make a model, or an imaginary invention. Take the next step and ask them to create the real thing using Arduino controllers! I will be writing more on the topic in upcoming articles. If you do get started, I would suggest trying the Blink program. It turns a light on and off on the control board and introduces you to the basics of coding.
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