posts tagged with the keyword ‘edu’



Somehow the folks at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts convinced me to become an Adjunct Lecturer and teach a Physical Computing course titled “Electronics and Sculpture”. Okay, I’m being a coy, I jumped at the chance, and I’m pretty excited about it!

I’ve been playing around working with Arduino microcontrollers for a little over five years now, building all sorts of strange projects, and truth be told, I did a lot of weird electronics projects when I was a kid, and even took electronics classes in high school. As for the sculpture part, I think a bunch of these projects qualify as sculptures.

Potentiometer LED

I’m still designing the course as I go, so this semester is extra hard. (I taught a digital art lab class last semester, but the material was all provided for me.) Developing curriculum is hard! Luckily I’ve got a great group of students are we’re figuring it all out together. I’m also trying to bring in bits and pieces from the world I’m used to; un-conferences, open-source, hackerspaces, maker culture, DIY, etc. So far it seems to be working.

Photocell LED

As for these diagrams, I did them all with Fritzing. I also recently used Fritzing to design and fab a circuit board. Since it’s proven so useful to me, and using it has somehow become part of my job(s) I wanted to contribute. I donated some euros to the project. I wish I could do more, but perhaps in the future I can contribute more than just cash. Still, it’s a start!


Arduino EDU

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of the Arduino microcontroller… Why? Well, for one thing, it’s fun. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering and building things, and when I was in school I did take electronics classes, and liked them. I’ve also been programming “things” forever, and while programming can be mundane, it can also be fun.

So fun is great, but where does the learning come in? Well, the Arduino can (and should) have a place in education. In fact, the Arduino started in the education world, so to me, it makes sense to see it there.

Steve Dickie is a teacher who is incorporating the Arduino into his teachings, and you can check out some of his work at Pre-Engineering: Electronics with Micro-controllers and the Arduino Education Blog.

Besides being fun, I think the Arduino is a good choice because it’s open source hardware, supported by open source software, and it’s got a supportive community and ecosystem. I think open source should play a role in our schools for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the cost associated with many proprietary systems. I’ve seen schools implement solutions that are too costly, or over-engineered, or that get abandoned, or whatever… Open source could be a solution to some of these issues.

Steve’s also got an "Open Source Microcontroller in Education" Kickstarter project going to take his project to a higher level. The project may or may not get funded, and Steve may or may not complete the project, but either way, I’m glad to see someone promoting (and using) open source in schools.



Being involved with technology may have tainted my opinions for the past 30+ years, but it seems like now more than ever, there’s this push to make thing easier to use… maybe it’s always been this way, but the last few years (perhaps fueled by the iPhone/iPod) it’s been all about making things easier, and I find it slightly annoying.

Matt recently talked about ease of installation explaining that there may be (gasp!) 4 steps involved in installing an application. How does anyone even succeed at such a Herculean task? 4 steps! It’s a wonder we all don’t just stick our heads in the oven and turn on the gas. (There’s probably too many steps involved.)

For people that just want to “use” software, I suppose they do want it easier, I mean, who wants to spend the time to learn something when there’s cat pictures to look at.

My point is, while it’s good to simplify things, and make things easier, you may still need to do some work… and that’s OK. In fact, it’s a good thing, and should be encouraged. I wonder if brain surgeons bitch about “how hard” brain surgery is, and wish that it were easier, and someone would come up with a better way to do it that just required pushing one button or performing less than 5 steps.

I had to learn to use a lawnmower, and a screen press, and how to drive a car, and gift wrap a box (I’m still learning that one) but the point is, you still have to learn things, and if you have to learn how to use an iPhone, or an iPad, or a computer, or any piece of technology, I think that’s fine. Things will advance, but we still have to learn. Compare programming a VCR to programming a DVR. We are making progress, but yes, you still need to learn.

By the way, do schools teach kids how to learn yet?

(See Also: The Dumbing Down)


Infinite Fail

So far I’m not impressed with Infinite Campus…

I know, the school year hasn’t even started, and there probably isn’t much data in it yet, and the fact that they misplaced my daughter, and had someone completely unrelated to my family associated with my account (somehow living in my house, with my mobile phone number) is all probably the fault of some human rather than the system itself…

I’m interested to know how much Infinite Campus costs. From my preliminary research, it looks to be expensive. Really expensive. REALLY REALLY expensive. Aren’t there open source alternatives to these things? I mean, it’s not like there’s a need for software like this… it’s only the educational market, how big can that be? I probably wouldn’t mind having my tax dollars used for the development of open source software that pretty much every school district could have the option to use to manage things…

Obviously I’ve not seen the back end of this thing… If it makes life easier for the teachers and administration, that’s a good thing… My opinion is only that of a user. A user who has about 15 minutes of using it. So far… I’m not impressed, but I’ll keep an eye on it. It seems to work for other schools. Maybe it’ll just take time. Hopefully I won’t have to fix things myself like I did with WebGrader.


When I was a kid, you went to school, and the only time you had to worry about your parents knowing about your grades was when reports cards came, or when progress reports came (not good) or when there was a phone call made (really not good.)

But today there are things like WebGrader, which is an online system that schools and teachers use to let not just the students, but the parents know exactly what is going on. I mean exactly. (Hello Big Brother!)


So the parent in me who cares about my child’s grades and wants to keep tabs on things thinks this is a good thing. (Even more so as I don’t get to talk with my child each day about school.) On the other hand, the parent in me who wants to see my child be responsible for themself without me having to keep a close watch wonders what damage this close monitoring might do. (Honestly, I’m pretty lucky, as my child is quite responsible, in school and in life.)

The open-source, sharing, collaborating, and hacking parent in me wishes they provided an API or at least RSS feeds to make it easier to use. Like most apps in this genre, it suffers from poor usability issues. They do allow you to receive Inbox messages via email, so that’s a start, but honestly, I don’t know if they plan to innovate from there. (I did send them feedback about some UI issues, and they were very receptive, so that’s a plus.)

In the end, I think it’s a good thing, and here’s why: People make mistakes. My daughter is a good student, but she was a bit overwhelmed by middle school, so the first time I logged into WebGrader, I saw an F, and there was a note from a teacher about a missing assignment. I asked my daughter about it and she said she turned it in. I sent the teacher a message asking her to discuss it with my daughter, and it turns out it was turned in, but with no name on it. Simple mistake. The next week I saw another F and when questioned, my daughter said she handed it in, and got it back – with an A on it. A simple message to the teacher revealed that the grade was entered wrong, and was indeed an A. Again, a simple mistake, but one I am glad I could catch.


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