Learn Modern Electronics with Arduino

How much do you know about electronics? I am not talking about using your Android phone or your Wii, I mean how much do you know about making electronics? Chances are not much. Most textbooks have very little about the subject, including Ohm's law and maybe some DC Circuits but with most Physics teachers strained to get through all of Newton's Physics it is difficult to spend more than a week or two at best on the topic.

Yet, do we see catapults and inclined planes prominent in our society? No, but everyone wants the phone with the most transistors. Will your students know a thing about electronics? Lightbulbs and switches are a great start but anything invented after 1980 has a brain inside it and is more complex than a battery and some wire.

I would love to see a spring cleaning of the physics standards in this country. Most of us are taught, and subsequently teach a physics curriculum centered around ancient to renaissance discoveries/inventions. I know it takes a while for education to catch up to society but 500 years? If we are to help students innovate and become interested in STEM then we need to teach them relevent materials.

So what do I do with my students? If you follow my blog, you know I spend a lot of time helping them to create visual models of math and time learning how to program software. This year, through fundraising I am able to provide a new opportunity for my students to learn 21st century skills and science, physical computing.

Physical computing, is the act of taking software and having it interact with the physical world. This can occur through sensors and data analysis, movement via motors, sound and light, etc. I love it because it blends heavily with my philosophy that math is art. Although there are many avenues by which one can explore physical computing, I have discovered the easiest and most enjoyable way for students and teachers is through the Arduino Microprocessor.

A microprocessor is the brain of any electronics and is vital to running todays applications and programs. A microprocessor for our computers or even the ones inside my robotics team's robots can run a couple hundred dollars. But the Arduino is Open Source Hardware/Software and eventually via economics and design reached a price of less than $30! This is about the price for a family of four and far cheaper than much of the education science equipment out there.

What can it do? It is cliche, but the better question is what can't it do. Depending on what you connect to it, you can light a led, take temperature readings of a chemical solution every minute, create a toy car driven by a Wii controller, sense changes in acceleration or light, and the list goes on. It is designed for learning but powerful enough to do pretty much anything you want.

I have created a few video tutorials using Patrick's newest video tutorial methods (which we are going to release soon). Here is the first two in which I teach you how to make the LED fade in and out (like a Macbook).

In order to do this you will need:

  1. Arduino - As of this writing, the newest was the "Uno" which you could purchase from Sparkfun or your favorite electronics supplier. Don't forget to download the software!
  2. LED - This is your basic LED that you can purchase from Radioshack or any where else (Sparkfun)
  3. A couple of pieces of wire (jumper cables, not the ones that go in your car)
  4. The A-B printer cable which connects your Arduino to the Computer
That's it enjoy the tutorials! Afterwards, I'll share some great resources for learning more about Arduino. (I recommend making them full screen so you can see the code and what is happening).

Part 1: Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)
Part 2: The LED and Arduino

There are great ways to learn more about Arduino:
  • The main Arduino Page has a lot of free books and resources as well as explanations for all of the built in examples.
  • The Arduino Cookbook is an essential resource for any one who is serious about Arduino.
  • Learn from the great Lady Ada (aka Limor Fried) Arduino, electronics and more.
  • Udemy has a good overview of the Arduino, its parts, and how to get started.
  • Another video about PWM via Make Magazine
  • The 2011 First Quarter Issue of Make Magazine is all about Arduino. If you don't get the free newsletter or subscribe, you really owe it to yourself to do so.
I hope you take advantage of the convergence of cheap software/hardware and a large volume of free resources. Your students and the future will thank you!

Subscribe to BrokenAirplane to get all of the news and resources delivered to you!