The SparkFun Inventor Kit (via SparkFun)
It is no surprise that kids are among the people most enthralled by electronics. Sometimes, I still think they are magical. Although their function can appear mystical to uneducated, they work because they are founded on science. Since the preferred toy for toddlers and kids are full of moving electrons, flashing lights and transmitting signals, it’s only natural to suppose kids will love to learn about them. That is one of the goals of a nationwide tour being organized by SparkFun, an electronics supplier, happening this year and stopping at all 50 states. But, kids are not the only ones taken by electronics, adults and educators must also learn in order to teach kids, which presents the other goal of the tour. SparkFun emphasizes they are doing this as a mission to educate not profit, and they themselves will be donating $1,000 of electronics to the first 50 people that book stops on the tour.
The first stop has already been scheduled at Union College in New York. Assistant Professor David Hodgson said the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. He says, “I think physical computing and electronics have the potential to spark an interest in science and math. There is great satisfaction in using your brain and hands to create something that you can interact with.”
So, what will these classes entail, you ask? Simple, at every stop, highly trained and knowledgeable staff will meet with kids of all ages and different types of educators to teach them about one of three SparkFun Lab Packs; The SparkFun Inventor’s Kit, the ProtoSnap Lilypad Lab Pack and their PicoBoard Lab Pack. Focusing on just one of these at each stop, educators will learn how to teach about the hardware once the experts have left. Of course, the SparkFun pros will also teach the kids, building on fundamentals throughout the 6 to 8 hour event. Kids will learn with hands on projects, using the materials in the kits, which include is enough material for 20-40 students and 3 instructors.
With regards to using a hands on approach to teach electronics to kids and adults, Lindsay Levkoff, SparkFun Director of Education says, “ I think the most important aspect of this technology and model of learning is that it gives students a chance to have more lasting memories of the information they’re being taught.”
Education Outreach Coordinator, Jeff Branson adds, “There’s a whole different experience that seems to go on when kids see that LED blink for the first time. It’s not just a flat screen anymore, it’s something that’s really happening in the real world. It’s made the material come alive for the kids. And for teachers, it renews their enthusiasm about tackling some pretty thick topics.”
If you want to book an event in a location near you, you can do so at https://learn.sparkfun.com/tour. The cost for the first 50 stops will be $1,500, which covers the choice of lab pack along with the SparkFun experts and educators. SparkFun is subsidizing the first 50 stops by giving $1,000 to each. After these stops, each booking will cost $2,500. After the SparkFun team leaves, the hardware, manuals and all the learning stay with the host and students to continue learning on their own.
Hosts can chose from the Lab Packs mentioned above for their class. The SparkFun Inventor’s Kit guides the user through 14 circuits of varying complexity and difficulty. The complete lab pack includes 10 complete SparkFun Inventor’s Kits, 10 Arduino Uno Boards, 10 baseplates, 10 circuit overlays, 10 breadboards, 10 USB cables along with 10 guides for teachers and students. Documentation of all this hardware is open source so students and teachers can explore after learning the basics.
The ProtoSnap Lilypad Lab Pack is geared towards learning about wearable electronics (e-textiles). This lab pack includes 10 ProtoSnap LilyPad development boards, 20 needle sets, 20 USB cables and 40 bobbins of conductive thread necessary to sow and put together a smart outfit or any other e-textile.
Finally, the last pack being offered is the PicoBoard Lab Pack. This one is meant to teach kids to use the Scratch freeware that teaches the basics of programming by using drag and drop blocks of code. Kids as young as 5 years old can do this, and after practice, students can learn how to use sensors and even make their own to implement in their projects. Students will also learn about what electrons do inside sensors. This kit includes 20 PicoBoards, 20 USB cables, 20 needle sets and 40 bobbins of conductive thread.
SparkFun has taught thousands of students about different electronic systems like Arduino and wireless communication. The company wants to focus on teaching educators like librarians and others about current and relevant technology and programming concepts along with how to teach about electronics to students. This effort is meant as a goal to influence students and teachers a-like to join the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) community and learn to do-it-themselves. Learn more about the SparkFun tour and other topics like programming, soldering and circuit building at www.sparkfun.com. As they say, “electronics is a vital part of education.”