Monday, August 7, 2017

#MakerMonday Featuring @SparkFunEDU micro:bit Kits

I’ve been seeing micro:bit on the Internets for months now and I even own a few, but I have not found the time to really dive in and see what I can do with it. Sometimes, I like to just dive in with a device and see what I can hack together, but other times, I like to use a kit first so I can get an idea of what is possible and go from there. SparkFunEDU has the perfect kits for learning all about micro:bit and they are the feature of this week’s #MakerMonday.


I spent time playing with the SparkFun micro:arcade kit, micro:bot kit, and the micro:climate kit and I loved them. I am going to focus my thoughts on the micro:climate kit for the purpose of this #MakerMonday, but here are some quick thoughts on the other kits I played with from SparkFun.


Feratured: SparkFun


Focus: Electronics


Grade: All Ages


What is SparkFun:


“We’re here to help you start something.”


I love this line on their About Us page. It says so much about the Maker Mentality as I see it and how companies can support students and educators looking to open up to Making. They are here to help us get started and that is exactly what the micro:bit kits do.


Personal Thoughts:


Quick Thoughts on the micro:bot and arcade:bot kits:


The micro:bot kit was a fun build, but a little more complex than I expected out of the box. I have a good feeling it was my own fault because I tend to rush and can skip a part of the directions because of that. Once I got everything together and uploaded the coded provided, everything was awesome. It was cool to watch the bot roll around and change directions when it hit an obstacle. Following a black line is fun for a bit, but it is just a start to more complex coding fun anyone can have with a bot.


The micro:arcade kit is great for those looking to get started with gaming projects. I have already built varied projects that involved joysticks and found this to be very easy to assemble and use with an online game. Connecting this to a Raspberry Pi and playing RetroPie games is a fun starter project for those that are looking into starting small for their gaming projects.

Deeper Thoughts on the micro:climate kit:


Out of the box, the micro:climate kit has everything you need to assemble a weather station to get tons of data. When I was opening the package, there was a weather system moving through in 30 minutes and I wanted to get this put together and on my deck as soon as I could.


Here is what I was able to assemble and code in that window.



Here is another video I posted on Instagram. 


A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on


I was able to assemble the entire kit and mount it in place before the first drop hit. Once the sky opened up, I was able to see the the data on the bit LED matrix. The wires are long enough to come into the house so I could keep it dry for a longer period of time, but a simple plastic bag worked just fine. Long term, I see myself building a case for it to stay outside. More 3D design in my future.


I was connecting the micro:bit to my computer and changing the code, but that is not a very practical option if the bit is going to stay outside and is in a case of some sort. So, it made sense to me to hook it up to a Raspberry Pi 3 that I could VNC into and upload the new code as needed. (Note: I tried using a Zero W, but it was just too slow to do the things I wanted.)





I was able to combine some code that was provided by SparkFun and have the bit provide me with Temp and Wind Speed. It took some tweaking to convert the C to F, but I was pretty stoked when I was able to code it and get it to work. Sometimes it is the little success that really drive me forward, not just the big ones all can see.


The SparkFun website has a great manual and really guides the user though the creation of each possible project that can be made using the kit. They have direct links to the code that can be downloaded and added to the bit. This made using the Pi remotely so much easier. I just downloaded and uploaded in under 30 seconds and the bit was working.


Extras:


SparkFun is filled with amazing kits and pieces of Maker goodness for all interests. It is worth checking them out when you are in need of conductive thread, alligator clips, or any other supplies to help you get started with your project.


Final Thoughts:


I loved the kits and see exactly how they can fit in a Makerspace, but also how they can fit directly into any STEAM program. Almost all grade levels have some type of climate unit that the micro:climate kit can be used. The level of data collected will be dependent on the skill level of the students, but the teacher can modify as needed with this kit.


The micro SD board in the micro:climate kit that allows the user to store collected data directly to the bit is great for research. Students just need to grab the card and insert into a computer to get the data they need. SparkFun walks the user through the process as well.


The soil temp sensor and the moisture sensor are great add-ons to the bit that will continue to provide information to the user. Connected to a Raspberry Pi, I can see the camera module set to video or time lapse used along with the micro:climate kit to pull in a host a data that would fit perfectly in a multimedia presentation sharing important data points with class.


If you are looking for a diverse set of kits for your classroom, library, or Makerspace, I highly recommend checking out the micro:bot, micro:arcade, and micro:climate kits. Their diversity of application makes them perfect for K-12 STEAM exploration in and out of the classroom.