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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Future Meteorologists-- Building & Programming Digital Weather Stations in 5th Grade

Recently a 5th grade teacher asked if we could use the Raspberry Pi to have students build something for their weather unit in science. With all of the weather happening in California this year-- and damage due to flooding, mudslides, potholes, collapsing roads, and more-- weather is very much a relevant topic for us right now.

Using SH pinout map to connect
Excited about the idea of connecting our project to current issues in our community, I thought a digital weather station would be appropriate, built around the essential question, "Why is it helpful for a community to be able to predict coming weather?"

I worked with a small group of students who, after some whole group exposure to programming with Raspberry Pi, were some of the students most interested in doing more coding & physical computing work. We used the Sense HAT with its built in, and easy to program, sensors so it was just a matter of helping the 5th graders program the HAT to collect some atmospheric data, share that data on the LED matrix and then decide what other features to include.

At the start of our project, we hit one major set back-- trying to figure out how to connect the Sense HAT to the Pi without, 1-- sliding it directly onto the GPIOs (the heat of the Pi itself interferes with the temperature sensors on the Sense HAT) and 2-- without using up all of the GPIO pins (the students were using a really nice Raspberry Pi touch screen display, that needs two pins for power). I decided to have students use individual jumper cables to connect their Sense HAT to the Pi, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do this properly, and that set us back a week or so. Once I finally figured out how to set this up, I created a pinout map for the students to use and we were on our way again!

Students planning their LED pictures
I played around with the idea of having certain weather pictures show up on the LED matrix depending on the current air pressure-- a sort of weather prediction (not the most accurate, but we used the average San Jose air pressure as a benchmark and had certain pictures show up based on higher or lower air pressure readings). The students liked that idea, so we moved forward. To help students understand the way the LED matrix works, I created a planning doc that students used on their own time to "draw" their pictures ahead of time, plan their variables and record RGB codes so they were ready to write those into their code with me.

Students also wanted to include the Sense HAT joystick into their project somehow, to make it a bit more interactive, so we added a line of code to make a joystick press the event that would run the program (actually, this is only partially working the way that we want, so it's still a work in progress).

This being their 3rd Raspberry Pi/coding in Python project, I wanted students to be able to work more independently this time, with their teacher and I acting more as coaches. I put together a hyperdoc that students could use to try and walk through the project themselves, including both science resources about weather concepts (science images & media courtesy PBS & PBS LearningMedia site) and step-by-step directions for writing the code.

Next steps for this project-- we made sure to have all collected data print in the shell window in addition to the LED matrix so that students could collect the data at the end of each day in order to
organize, analyze and graph the information.

Their classroom teacher also wanted to make sure that students focused not just on their final project, but also on the learning process and reflecting on failures that finally led to their success. We asked students to keep track of the challenges they met along the way (which were numerous) and I included independent reflection opportunities within the hyperdoc.

As always, it was great to see the kids so excited about their completed project, once we got everything up and running. Next steps are preparing students to share their work and process at our district's upcoming STEAM showcase!

If you want to try this project with your students, below is a link to the hyperdoc that we used. Feel free to make a copy and edit it to meet your own needs.

(click link above to view/make copy of original document)

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