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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Physical Computing in Grade 2-- From analyzing primary sources to creating them!

I've been excited in the last year and a half to introduce primary-level students and teachers to programming and digital making with Scratch Jr., Scratch and, most recently, Raspberry Pi. My most recent project was with a grade 2 teacher interested in seeing how well her students would do with physical computing. She'd done some physical computing on Raspberry Pi for the first time over the summer at a workshop that I'd co-hosted, and she loved the idea of bringing some of the work we'd done together into the classroom, but wasn't sure what that might look like with 2nd graders. And so, we partnered up and brainstormed ways that we might integrate some physical computing and digital making into her class.


The result?

A 3-day project in which 2nd graders built push-button cameras with Raspberry Pi computers and programmed them using Scratch.

The project aligned with a grade 2 language arts and history unit on understanding how the past can influence the present. 2nd grade students began with a short analysis of two primary source artifacts (photographs from the March on Washington 1963, courtesy of PBS LearningMedia*), and a discussion on what we can learn from the artifacts that we analyzed.

Then, we asked students if they could design a modern-day camera to capture the best artifacts possible, what features would that camera have. Their responses ranged from making sure our camera had a lens and button to including a verbal and visual countdown so that people knew when to smile.

Once students had generated a significant list of features that they wanted our camera to have, I announced that I just happened to have some of the tools that we'd need to build our own cameras (wink, wink!), and we jumped right in to our project.

I started by introducing students to the Raspberry Pi computer, some of the parts of the computer that they'd need to know, and a couple of safety tips. I asked them what was missing from our computers & what we'd need in order to use our computers (the students did an excellent job of naming all of the peripherals that we'd need in order to communicate with, and receive information from, our computers!) Then we started passing out peripherals and put students in charge of arranging keyboards, monitors, mice and cords while I attached Pibrella hats onto the Raspberry Pis. (Pibrellas are a great alternative to connecting individual LEDs and buttons to the Raspberry Pi-- perfect for physical computing with young students.) Once teams thought that they had everything hooked up correctly, the classroom teacher and I checked their station set up before letting them power up their Pi.

From there, we walked through programming our devices whole class. A little lesson, a little programming, another mini-lesson, some more coding... and so on. Until every team had a functioning push-button camera!

(Prior to this unit, students had done some introductory lessons with their teacher on Code.org as well as a lesson with me on using Scratch.)

The excitement in the room was contagious as students learned about how a computer works; discovered how coding is used to make electronic devices function; explored math topics including algebra, algorithms, and fractions in order to program their cameras; and saw their creations some alive. The selfies were just too cute!

If we had had more time, I would have loved to integrate some of the additional features that students suggested-- i.e. adding an audio countdown to camera (easily programmed in Scratch), putting our camera on motorized wheels, creating cases for our cameras, etc. But with the limited time that we had, the 2nd graders impressed me immensely with what they were able to accomplish, and the knowledge of coding and computers that they demonstrated after just 3 days of learning.

*PBS LearningMedia is a fantastic free resource for videos, primary source artifacts, audio clips, lesson plans, educational games, interactive media, professional development, and more!


Lesson Materials:





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