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Makey Makey, Micro:bit and Arduino cards to learn the basics of electricity, electronics and FP programming

In vocational training, some programs include teaching and learning about electricity, electronics and programming, concepts that may seem abstract to learners. To make them more concrete, why not use simple and playful electronic cards! Let's go further.

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By Nancy Berger, Pedagogical Advisor, RÉCIT National Service in Professional Education.

In vocational training, some programs include teaching and learning about electricity, electronics and programming, concepts that may seem abstract to learners. To make them more concrete, why not use simple and playful electronic cards! Let's go further. 

In vocational training, some programs include the teaching and learning of electricity, electronics and programming. One need only think of the programs in electricity, electromechanics of automated systems, cable and circuit assembly, audio-video electronic equipment repair or electronics repair and service. The concepts to be mastered may seem abstract to students. 

Here are some components to gradually introduce learners to these topics. We start with the Makey Makey card, which is a simple electronic circuit that allows an intuitive discovery of circuits. Then, we move on to Micro:bit, which is a microprocessor that must be programmed. Its programming is simple and is done by blocks. Finally, we finish with the Arduino board, which contains two microcontrollers and which must be programmed on its interface in C++ language. Each board brings an additional degree of complexity to master the basics of electricity, electronics and programming. Let's take a closer look.

The Makey Makey card

The Makey Makey card allows you to learn the basics of electricity by testing the conductivity of materials used in circuits. It can be used in combination with the Micro:bit card to add a programming component.

Figure 1: Front side of a Makey Makey card

Figure 2: Back of a Makey Makey card

From the projects made with Makey Makey, it is possible to verify the operation of electrical or electronic circuits and to draw the corresponding electrical diagrams, two skills of the electrical and electromechanical programs of automated systems.

Makey Makey cards provide an introduction to simple electrical circuit testing and repair, two skills from the Cable and Circuit Assembly and Electronics Repair and Service programs. Since it can be used in combination with Micro:bit, a microprocessor, it also provides an introduction to this type of component to accommodate students in the Audio-Video Electronics Repair program.

To better understand, here is a first video in which we see a piano whose keys are activated by direct contact with fruit. In this example, students can be asked about the principles of inductance and conductivity. The learner should then ask why contact with a piece of fruit activates a branch of the circuit, what type of circuit it is, how the current flows through the fruit, etc. Students can also be asked to think about the makeup of the circuit itself. The learner should then try to understand why a link to a conductive material (copper ring) is important for the activation of a branch of the circuit or how the keys can be activated independently. The concept of grounding and parallel circuits is then introduced.

The Micro:bit card

The Micro:bit microprocessor allows you to learn the basics of electronics and programming by using the card in combination with the Microsoft Make Code application. It is recommended to use this tool after having mastered the Makey Makey card for a faster appropriation.

Figure 1: Front side of a Micro:bit card
Figure 2: Back of a Micro:bit card

In the Electromechanics of Automated Systems program, students must learn to program. The use of the Micro:bit card provides an introduction to this skill. In the Electronics Repair and Service and Audio-Video Electronic Repair programs, students must learn to work with microprocessors. The Micro:bit card is one of them. It therefore provides a good introduction to this type of component.

In this second videoIn this section, we see a playful use of the Micro:bit card, that is, the reproduction of a virtual playing dice. This allows us to introduce the notions of random commands, conditional instructions and variables, which are the bases of programming. The language used is JavaScript, a simple and efficient language. It is a nice way to introduce learners to programming, because everything can be done in French and the different programming elements are blocks of different colors, depending on their type.

In this third videoIn this lesson, we see a more practical use of the Micro:bit board, namely the development of a soil moisture sensor called a hygrometer. With this exercise, learners can practice basic programming, but also the assembly of a simple circuit, a skill that must be mastered by students in electricity and electromechanics of automated systems. They need to understand the concept of electron transport to be able to set up their sensor.

The Makey Makey and Micro:bit combination

Once the Makey Makey and Micro:bit cards are well mastered, it is possible to combine them. It is then necessary to program in Scratch, in the C language. This language is now used to program some modern automatons that are studied in the electromechanical program of automated systems.

In this fourth videoThe interaction between the two cards is shown. For this demonstration, the two cards must be connected to the computer on which we have programmed. The conductive tape is used to electrify the fingers of a glove. When you bend your fingers, you touch a piece of conductive tape placed on the palm of your hand, which closes a branch of the circuit and allows the current to flow. Depending on which finger is bent and the position of the Micro:bit card, a different sound is heard, a different display is seen on the Micro:bit card, and the background behind the character in the Scratch interface changes. This project allows to deepen the knowledge of the learners on the formation of electrical circuits and on the programming in C. It is therefore connected with the skills of the electrical, electronic repair and service and electromechanical programs of automated systems.

The Arduino board 

The Arduino board allows to deepen the basics of electronics and programming, this time in C++ language. It provides an interesting introduction to electronic components and, eventually, to programmable controllers in C. Indeed, the Arduino board includes two microcontrollers and a microprocessor, components that are also found in PLCs. The handling of this board is therefore related to the interests of electromechanical programs for automated systems, electricity and electronics repair and service.

Figure 1: Front side of an Arduino Mega board

Figure 2: Back side of an Arduino Mega board

The projects that can be done with the Arduino board are almost unlimited. We can associate different components such as LEDs, motors, sensors, etc. In this fifth videoIn the second video, the Virtual Playing Dice project is presented. This is the same exercise as the one presented in the second video, but using this new tool. First, the card must be programmed using the Arduino IDE interfaceavailable free online. Then, you have to wire all the components on the Arduino Mega board respecting the previously established code and the specificities of each. For example, an LED must be protected by a resistor. The die will be controlled by a push button switch; it will display a new pattern each time the button is pressed.

In the sixth videoIn this case, the operation of a car parking barrier is modeled. To do so, we use a push button switch and a servomotor. It should be noted that the switch could be replaced by a pressure sensor. In this case, when the button is pressed, the motor propeller will turn 90° upwards. When the button is released, the propeller will return to its original position. This must be programmed once again in the Arduino IDE interface and wired on the board respecting the code and the specificities of the components. For example, a capacitor must be used with the servomotors.

The last word 

In order to prepare students for work in electricity, electronics and programming, teachers need to use innovative strategies to teach the basic principles of these disciplines, despite their abstract nature. Makey Makey, Micro:bit, and Arduino cards can be used as primers for understanding electrical and electronic circuits and for gradual introduction to programming. These cards have a playful aspect that motivates students in their progress.

Each map progresses to a higher level of challenge, providing a thorough understanding of circuit operation. As a result, learners will be better equipped to do a variety of installations and diagnose potential problems in existing systems.

If you have any questions about the use of these cards, please contact your RÉCIT FPwho can assist you in setting up activities related to your program.

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