Teen Hardware Course

One of the new courses offered this summer by Fire Tech Camp was a Hardware Course for Teens working with Arduinos. My name is Gordon, and I developed the curriculum as well as led the course. Jill Hodges, our camper-in-chief, asked me to write this blog post to explain a bit about what we created the course and what we got up to during it, as well as hopefully entice some new recruits!

It might seem like the world is becoming increasingly interconnected with a smorgasbord of sophisticated, brushed-aluminium clad consumer electronic products, but knowing the nuts and bolts of electrical circuits and computing is probably one of the most useful (and empowering) skills for the 21st century. The reason that these skills matter is that advances in mobile computing (driven by that urge we had for really small mobile phones in the 90s) have allowed us to build cheap and low-power computing devices that we can incorporate into almost anything for an affordable price. The potential for embedded computing is great, from smart grids that manage power demand across continents and cars that drive themselves to self-watering pot plants. Simply put, we can make all of the things in our world smarter. However its all very well to proclaim the age of smart-everything, but how do you get started on hacking your toaster? That’s why we decided to offer a crash course in Cyber-Physical Systems for teens.

Cyber Physical Systems is the electrical engineering buzzphrase used to describe this idea of computers embedded in the real world. Our curriculum is based on cutting-edge thinking on the topic, and draws heavily from this book by Edward Lee and Sanjit Seshia, two of the leading researchers in the field. On the practical side, we used a popular hobbyist mobile computing platform called Arduino (in particular we use the new Arduino Starter Kit, which comes with everything we need). We also played with a few Raspberry Pis, another popular low cost, educational computing platform.

The Summer Class hard at work – organised chaos at its best!

The course covers four topics: Programming, Digital Sensors and Actuators, Analogue Sensors and Actuators, and  Communication. Each day we cover one of the topics, and complete a set of learning activities which demonstrate the fundamental concepts required in terms of both programming and circuitry. After we’ve done the learning activities, there are a series of challenges which the campers undertake to apply what they’ve learnt to solve complex, real world problems.

One of our campers conquering the age-old mystery of resistor colour codes.

Nothing is quite as satisfying as having the LED turn on when it should.

One of our later learning activities is building a crystal ball – finally the future is certain, er, maybe not quite…

The final day of the course is my favourite – the campers get to propose and execute a project of their choice, based upon what they’ve learnt over the week. I’m always amazed at what the teens come up with: 3D wireless interface; New Email Indicator (an awesome combination of knowledge from the teen coding and hardware course); Minecraft Event LCD Log; A Room Intruder Security System. Follow this link to see our gallery of video demos.

I would like to conclude by saying that I’ve been bowled over by how quickly our inaugural teen digital engineers have taken to Cyber Physical Systems, so keep your eyes peeled for a smarter toaster in a kitchen near you!

From Fire Tech Camp: Thanks to Gordon for writing this blog post and for taking the lead in teaching the very exciting area of cyber-physical systems to teens!



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