Thursday, 16 October 2014

CodeClub: TWSU DIY Gamer Week 5

It was another hectic session today, with different groups working on the activities from the worksheets for lessons 2 (soldering/assembly), 3 (first Arduino programming) and 4 (animation).

Only two groups have yet to finish their assembly.  I noticed today that the soldering seemed to be going slowly and there were complaints that the irons weren't working. On investigation I noticed that the tips on all three had a significant build up of black crud and were not tinning properly.  This is quite disappointing given that they were brand new and have only been used for less than 3 hours each.

I've taken the irons home to clean off the crud - I've done one so far and it is now tinning OK.

We also had the first major soldering hiccup today - one pair soldered their resisters in the wrong way round and then managed to break the leg off one while trying to desolder. That Gamer has come home too so that I can remove the debris. The whole area around that hole is now quite messy so I'll probably solder in a replacement resistor myself.

Meanwhile the other groups were whizzing through the animation steps and enjoying coming up with some funky designs. I decided to let everyone work on their own but this did make it difficult when both partners wanted to test their work on the Gamer and had to swap the unit between their computers.

One thing I'd noticed with my own Gamer was that the code generated by the Image Painter software tool typically resulted in a noisy, flickering image as the refresh rate of the Arduino is just too fast for the led matrix.

Simply adding delay(1) after the gamer.printImage(image) in the loop is enough to keep the output stable and this was actually a good way to get the kids to focus on the code when showing them this fix.

My most capable pair who have been steadily pulling ahead on the others came up with a great little animation that flashed their initials on the screen. They're ready to start on the LDR section nest week.

The Image Painter and Animation Generator are nice little apps and the kids got to grips with them without any real explanation or demonstration from me. I think the functionality of the Animation generator is a bit strange: the "add blank frame" and "duplicate frame" controls only insert a new frame at the end of the whole sequence so you can never go back and add a missing frame part way through (at least I can't see a way of doing that). I also don't really understand what the 'save animation' control does. On OS X it brings up the same dialogue as the 'load animation' control, which means it doesn't allow you to actually type a filename. Obviously you can save the raw code but I'd suggest this is a bug rather than a feature.

I also remembered to give out the certificates I made last week. Everyone seemed pleased and immediately asked when they'd get the Level 2 one.

Things to do differently next time?

Check the soldering irons before each session and make sure I've got some sandpaper handy at school to clean up any manky tips. 

Remember to hand out the animation planner sheets. I forgot today and even though it didn't seem to matter too much I think it would help to get the kids more focussed on the process itself. 

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