.NET Gadgeteer sparks school students’ creativity in the UK Schools pilot
.NET Gadgeteer has great potential in schools due to the fact that it can be used to teach students computer programming, simple electronics and also some computer-aided design. It’s also very motivating for young people to be able to build their own gadgets. A digital camera can be built in about half an hour!
The first .NET Gadgeteer pilot in UK Schools took place from October 2011 to January 2012. There were eight schools involved in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Bedfordshire. The pilot was launched via a Teachers’ workshop in October, held at Microsoft Research, Cambridge. The teachers spent the afternoon building gadgets using .NET Gadgeteer and had the opportunity to talk to the Cambridge team about the programming skills they would need and how to use this with their students.
The teachers then introduced .NET Gadgeteer to their schools in the form of after-school or lunchtime clubs. Each club was visited and the educational social networking tool Edmodo was used to share experiences. Lesson plans were developed for eight sessions to enable students to build a digital camera, a stop watch and a game. The students were then invited to develop a gadget of their choice to present at a final “show-and-tell” event at the end of January.
The students attending the club mostly ranged from 11 to 15 years old, with one school choosing to use .NET Gadgeteer with an older group of 17 year-olds. The students worked in groups of three to one kit - .NET Gadgeteer is great for facilitating collaborative working!
At the final show-and-tell event, students presented and demonstrated the gadgets that they had built during the pilot project. A competition was held and the winning school was presented with a prize.
Gadgesketch is a remake of the classic children’s toy “Etch a Sketch”, made by a group of Year 13 students (17 year-olds). The students programmed the device by reading potentiometer values and translating them to onscreen graphics. The housing was designed in Pro/Desktop, and then vacuum formed out of acrylic. The modules were mounted inside using engineering materials. The students are now planning to revise the housing and add a tilt switch via the extender module allowing the iconic “Shake to erase” feature.
This project is a game that involves four LED lights, four buttons and a display. The game is played by pressing the button that corresponds to each light shown as quickly as possible. If you are too slow the game is over! The housing for the game is made from polystyrene and demonstrates the ingenuity of the students in packaging their “gadget” in a visually effective way without needing expensive tools and resources.
This is a gadget that allows you to add features to a picture of a face that you have taken using the camera. It works by displaying the image on the screen and allowing the user to click where the eyes, nose and mouth should be using the touch screen. For the show-and-tell event this was packaged in an attractive cardboard housing.
Both the above projects were built and designed by Year 9 and 10 students (aged 13 and 14).
Other devices built by the students included a burglar alarm with security camera, a cue card presenter, an alien invasion game and a reaction timer game. Some of these are shown in the picture below.
This 10 week pilot was short, so its intention was to spark an interest in computer programming. The teachers on the pilot project were very enthusiastic and could see the potential of .NET Gadgeteer with their computing clubs in the future. Some students had programmed before and were able to transfer their knowledge to the Visual C# .NET Gadgeteer environment. However, for most of the students this was the first exposure that they had had to programming (some had used Scratch in school) and thus they were able to learn a few basic programming concepts as well as developing a curiosity about everyday gadgets and how they were developed. Given changes recently announced in the UK curriculum, there is now increased potential for .NET Gadgeteer to be used as a unit of work within the curriculum as well as in extra-curricular clubs.
A second pilot is currently underway with another set of schools, and this will focus on enhancing the teaching materials and developing resources that involve further use of sensors.
(Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK)