Hi everyone, I’ve been doing some research this year – due in June – with questions that involve Scratch and physical computing (e.g., Scratch with sensor boards). Meanwhile, in Scratch classes that I teach, I’ve increasingly had younger students enrolled, as young as age 6. Accordingly, for this reflection, I’m very narrowly focused on the space, feel, and utility of the PicoBoard.
The PicoBoard offers an almost overwhelming amount of information, and so many ways of interfacing with Scratch. This is great, but it requires children to clear a certain threshold of understanding before many of the available technologies “open up”. Some of the more readily available concepts may get lost until that threshold is reached. I also find that the device isn’t very comfortable to hold – and this is truer for younger children. So I’ve been working on adapting it to make it more suitable for younger ages.
One of the most basic, important, and foundational ideas that we can teach through Scratch, I think, is the difference between Boolean expressions (true/false, or yes/no, or 0/1) vs. numeric inputs that are part of a wide array of numbers. When the latter inputs are output by a dial, I believe they’re generally called “analog”, although perhaps we have digital interfaces acting as analogies of analog devices? (If any one can clarify this, please do!)
Here is one example of devices that I’ve made – by repurposing items from a Goodwill store – that isolate buttons and potentiometers. There’s a button mounted in a salad spoon and a dial mounted in a salad fork. Both are easy to hold, and they differentiate between the two kinds of outputs, while suggesting that the two are also closely related.
I shared these devices with a student recently, and asked “Which – the dial or the button – do you think the arrow keys on your keyboard are like?” The student, after some thought, answered that arrow keys are similar to the dial, “because they turn left and right, like a steering wheel”. This kind of dissonance is wonderful to identify and work through by more deeply studying the utilities afforded by the PicoBoard.
As a follow up to such a question, I would want to ask a child to make two games, one which involves steering using buttons, and one which involves steering using a dial.
Another example is this Reed switch & magnet combination, mounted inside a nutcracker. This allows a user to measure the angle of the nutcracker at the point at which the circuit opens/closes. You can also mount additional magnets and measure different results. Perhaps more importantly, it is a devices that would interface well with a game.
In an early childhood classroom I would like to imagine this equipment stored in something that is beautiful to look at, warm to touch, and easy to hold and carry.