Thursday, 9 October 2014

CodeClub: TWSU DIY Gamer Week 4

It works! Shouts of glee this week from a couple of the pairs as they connected up their soldered circuit board to the Arduino, uploaded a game and got to play it!

Everyone got to work straight away, eager to get stuck in to the soldering. It is great to see just how much their confidence and competence with the soldering iron has grown over the last few weeks.

I also explained that anyone waiting for a soldering iron should get out their Arduino and start on Lesson 3. Although a few seemed a little daunted by the wordiness of the first couple of pages, most quickly worked out what they needed to be doing (especially those who'd had a taster of Python last term). This was also where working in pairs helped as they were able to figure it out together.

I'd wondered if making a green led flash would be a bit underwhelming but when it worked they were really pleased and everyone else crowded around to marvel at the first pair's success.

Three groups finished all their soldering today. I think everyone struggled with fitting the ICs into the sockets - primarily because they were nervous about breaking the legs - and I had to do it for them. Fair enough - I'd rather that than have to try to get replacements.

Two groups got everyone done and then were able to connect their circuit board to the Arduino, Because it was now loaded with the "led flash" program, the chunky red led on the top of the Gamer immediately began to blink when powered up.  A nice first test.

Once I'd shown them where the Gamer library was to be found on the PCs, they were quickly able to select a game and try it out too. Although we didn't have time for exhaustive testing both groups' Gamers seemed to operate perfectly.

This was a real cause for celebration and there were plenty of high-fives.

Knowing that the children always liked the CodeClub certificates from the Scratch projects I knocked up a similar one which I'll hand out next week in recognition of their great work.  

I expect all the other groups will have finished their Gamer next week. 

Things to do differently next time?

Having children working on several different parts of the project simultaneously (soldering, assembly and 1st Arduino coding) was quite chaotic for a while. Fortunately once I'd helped sort out a couple of issues once they were all able to help debug each others' work. It also meant they those who finished assembly were able to reach a really satisfying point. So on reflection I'd probably do it this way again given the choice. 

There were a couple of very minor burns this week. Nobody seemed to mind though and claimed it wasn't hurting enough to warrant a trip to the bathroom to run it under the tap.  

As is usually the case when children become more confident at something, the potential for silliness increases. A couple of the girls discovered that melting the foam pieces used to protect the board  pins produced a nasty (and probably toxic) smell.  I had to quickly make it clear that further investigation of what other materials could produce interesting effects when put in contact with the soldering iron was not part of the project even if it possibly could be considered a valid scientific experiment. 

The DIY Gamer is much more involved than the normal CodeClub projects.  Simply the amount of physical preparation of the classroom and subsequent tidying up afterwards means there is a lot more work for me than just turning up with a bunch of photocopied worksheets. There's not much that can be done about that as it is the nature of the activity, but it definitely requires a lot more work on behalf of the volunteer. I also think I wouldn't want to run this as a first project with a group that I didn't already know. 

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