Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sensors from (and for) Scratch

Last week, I had the chance to visit the OLPC offices in Cambridge for a sensors workshop. I was there to represent this project and meet Tiffany, a fellow member of the Digital Literacy Project.

Claudia Urrea, Education Director of OLPC Latin America, showed us how to make sensors and integrate them into lessons. The XO laptop comes with Scratch, a programming language for kids, and the engineers at OLPC and SugarLabs have programmed it to work with sensors. Connecting to Scratch makes it possible for kids to have the microphone or other sensors trigger sounds and animations, or use a program to count and calculate the sensors' input.

I had no experience with Scratch before this workshop, so I modified Measure to put a step between the students and the untamed sensor data. Using Scratch lets students decide how to measure and respond to the sensors on a fundamental level, so in the long run it's the right activity for schools and class projects. But the moment I break out Scratch, it becomes a programming class. We are using real-world sensors so that the class can be hands-on and working with the real world - would programming make it too abstract and esoteric? Hmmm...

Claudia Urrea also told us about some homemade sensors, like making the pressure pads from Dance Dance Revolution with paper plates and aluminum foil. Tiffany suggested that the mesh network could be used to let students play a game together or compete using their sensors. This DDR/game idea, and a technical concept, kept me thinking the whole way home. The students should definitely make some different sensors in the class (LEDs will work, too). And if they like connecting their inventions to the laptops, this would definitely be something to add to Measure and/or Scratch.

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