In engineering education and STEM education more generally, the use of microcontrollers is increasing common across a wide range of creative design projects found in robotics, programming, makerspaces, e-textiles, and more. Exemplified by the Arduino Uno, microcontrollers make it possible to connect digital and physical worlds, and help teach a wide range of computational concepts, like inputs, outputs, loops, sensors, and pulse width. Recent microcontrollers, like the Micro:Bit and HummingBird have tailored design for educational settings and lowered costs considerably. However, for many learners and educators microcontrollers are still costly, making it difficult to allow students to bring work home and to take risks with circuits and objects they are building.
In the context of computationally-enabled papercrafts, Paper Mechatronics, which emphasize familiar materials, transparency, low-cost, and relatively light ecological footprint, we have developed open-source designs and instructional resources that enable learners and educators to build their own microcontrollers for use with servomotors, sensors and switches. The “Card-Board” can be assembled using a very low-cost chip that can be programmed with the Arduino IDE and powered using a 5 volt phone charger or USB cord. The board is congruous with the look and feel of playful papercrafts and prototyping, and can be produced for under $8, making it possible to bring design activities to resource-constrained classrooms, and for learners to share their efforts, stories and expertise across settings. Board design is robust enough for novices to achieve early success, yet open enough to scaffold learning about computational concepts and physical computing hardware through prototyping, building, iterating, programming, and troubleshooting. In these ways, the design helps expand both the range of creative possibilities and depth of engineering education.
Grade level: 8th-12th grade
Learning goals: Expand design and engineering in resource-constrained settings; Deepen understanding of circuits and microcontrollers; Facilitate sharing of projects and learning across setting
Materials: Cardboard, ATtiny85, and circuit components
Colin Dixon holds a Ph.D. in Learning & Mind Sciences from the University of California, Davis. He researches the development of STEM practices and agency among young people creating things to use and share with the world. He writes about equity and identity in making and engineering, the role of community in science learning, and how youth leverage interests and experiences within STEM education.
Corey Schimpf is a Learning Analytics Scientist with interest in design research, learning analytics, research
methods and under-representation in engineering, A major strand of his work focuses on developing
and analyzing learning analytics that model students’ cognitive states or strategies through fine-grained
computer-logged data from open-ended technology-centered science and engineering projects. His dissertation
research explored the use of Minecraft to teach early engineering college students about the design
Dr. Sherry Hsi is the Executive Vice President of the Concord Consortium. She leads the strategic development, design, and research of learning technologies using her background in engineering, science education, and the learning sciences to improve learning and engagement in STEM. Her work incorporates sensor technologies, computationally-enhanced papercraft, and augmented reality among other technologies. She is the Co-PI of Paper Mechatronics project and the PI of an NSF STEM+C project on computational thinking in high school biology.
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