Thursday, 18 December 2014

CodeClub: TechWillSaveUs DIY Gamer Final Thoughts

I thought I just knock out a few final thoughts regarding the TechnologyWillSaveUs DIY Gamer project I ran at my Codeclub this term. More to get my own thoughts together, but also as an overview for anyone thinking about something similar.

What was really good
  1. The whole hands-on soldering part of the project was brilliant. It was great to see everyone's confidence growing over the three weeks when we did the construction. In terms of learning about physical computing, this kind of activity is hard to beat. Even making mistakes - soldering the led in wrong way round - was a learning process.
  2. The DIY Gamers themselves are very well designed and engineered. They all worked reliably and had no problem coping with the odd drop or knock.
  3. The children became really familiar with attaching devices to their PCs and programming them through the Arduino interface. The first time we download something to the Gamer they found the various steps in the process quite daunting, but by the end of the term it had become second nature. 
  4. Exposure to basic electronic components was very useful and the children retained a lot of knowledge about what the various parts did and how they could be controlled or provide feedback to a computer. 
  5. The children loved designing their own arrows for the Simon Says game, and the repetitive nature of this task really helped them get to grips with how the led matrix was addressed through the code. 
  6. The project as a whole provide lots of opportunities to talk about and discuss areas of computing and computational thinking that don't crop up with the Scratch and Python syllabuses (e.g, robotics, sensors etc). 

What could be improved

  1. The soldering irons seemed to be quite low quality. Only one of the three I with which I was supplied still works, and I wouldn't personally like to use it on any serious soldering.  I understand the need to keep costs down but suspect these were a false economy. 
  2. The overall design of the course materials as a whole seemed disjointed in places. There were a few weeks where the activity seemed very isolated from the rest of the project. The children spent quite a lot of time getting to grips with the LDR but then never used it again. I think activities where each session builds on the last are much more effective.
  3. The quality of the worksheets was also variable in places. The last few session instructions felt quite rushed to me and I think a lot more thought needs to go into what the children will learn from each section. 
  4. There was a lot of functionality in the Gamer that was never used. Kids love noisy things, and it seemed a shame not to have the Simon says game make any use of the buzzer. 
  5. I think that not being able to keep the DIY Gamer at the end of the project is a real limiting factor. The children who attend Codeclubs are used to being able to work on their Scratch or Python projects at home and show their friends and parents what they've been up to. I realise there are pretty significant cost implications but some form of subsidy might be something worth exploring if you're thinking about this kind of project. 
  6. I think the Simon Says game is a little dull. When they were allowed free play with the Gamers, they always downloaded snake or flappy bird. Nobody wanted to play the Simon Says game. I don't think it was inspiring enough and this didn't help motivate the children through the tougher sections. 
  7. There wasn't a lot of opportunity to customise the game as they went along and some of the later session were easy to complete by following the instructions but without really learning anything or understanding what was going on. 


  1. What should schools/clubs do with the Gamers at the end of the projects? As the children have been working in pairs, letting them keep the units could be tricky. Options for re-use seem fairly limited though. De-soldering the components and starting the whole project from scratch just really isn't viable in my opinion. You could re-run the sessions  starting with a completed Gamer but without that initial hands-on element, I think the overall impact would be greatly diminished. If there were some more follow-on projects for the Gamer, then that would be great.  Alternatively I might use these Arduino's for other activities that I've been thinking about, although I'm aware that not everyone will have the knowledge or time to do this.
In summary, would I recommend the DIY Gamer project to another club/school?

Absolutely. It was a great experience for both me and the children, and everyone learned a lot.

If I had to give one piece of advice to anyone running a similar project it would be to not worry about the children understanding every single aspect of the code they encounter. This is real programming!

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