Over the weekend as a small project I built myself a tweeting motion detector. If someone moves inside the house an Arduino UNO is triggered to send an alarm message to my @mrgarduino twitter account. What would be even better would be to get a Raspberry Pi to send a photo as well from a webcam- will try to do this in the future. To make this project you need an Arduino, Ethernet shield and a motion sensor connected to PIN 4 of the Arduino. I also used an LED (set on PIN 6) to check when the motion sensor was triggered – it flashes every two seconds for 200ms but when an event triggers the sensor it stays on longer.You will also need the PString Library (Google is your friend) and check the network settings.
I run an extra-mural electronics club and we were lucky enough to get hold of some Arduinos – credit card sized computers that can be programmed from a PC and used in just about any project you can think of. The Students and myself basically get to tinker away with electronics which is awesome – watch this space for project updates. I also work with Sumbandila, a non-profit organisation in the field of secondary education which provides an educational outreach programme to impoverished rural children in Limpopo. Sumbandila ran a holiday school a few weeks ago and we got the students programing the Arduinos too! It was fantastic. We built a little traffic light LED shield (a circuit that mounts on top of the Arduino) and the students could program it themselves. It was very impressive to see these kids going from having a very limited knowledge of programming to getting all the LED traffic lights flashing in order – with minimal input from myself. Arduino is an open source system I would recommend to any ICT or Science department. Give it a go!
A few weeks ago, after an assembly I got all the staff and students in the school to write down four words that they felt described the ethos of our school. They did so anonymously and I compiled a list of all the words, ranking them for the amount of times that they re-occurred. Of course some of the students couldn’t resist. “Money grabbing” came up, as did oddly “have a nice day” but luckily those jokers where few and far between. The top word from the staff was “individuality” whilst the top word from the students was “respect”. Using a web-based program called tagxedo.com you can wrap the words around a shape and change their size to correlate to the number of times the students wrote the word down. Here are the results.
I’ve been running an electronics club as an extra mural activity for students at my school for several years now. We started off building simple kits such as Velleman, Kemo and RSE who are based in JHB (rse.apexmedia.co.za) but we have now started to branch out and build our own circuits. Students have built LED signs, radios and recently started to use Arduinos (www.robotics.org.za) to build more complex projects such as a tweeting weather station (www.twitter.com/ridgewayweather). One circuit I really want to get the new students to build is the joule thief. I’d never heard of it before I came across it on hackaday.com. The joule thief works in a very simple way. Basically take a used battery and the joule thief will build up a store of electrical energy in its toroid and release it as a pulse at a much higher voltage than the dead battery could – perfect for lighting up LEDs. At 40,000 times a second your eye can’t see the pulses, you simply see a working LED. I built a messy working version to test it out and have ordered all the parts of ebay. Let’s see if the students can build it – watch this space…
I HATE exams! I probably despise them even more than my students. They are probably the worst kind of assessment going and yet we rely on them so much. There is no situation in the employment world where you have to work individually and secretively, you’d be fired pretty quickly if you did! In the world of work you have to collaborate and be innovative, using key skills and knowledge to solve unique problems – how could we re-invent what is going on in the classroom to reflect this?
When it comes to revision time I have a flock of students around my desk asking for past papers. They know there is a chance that what has been covered in the past might well come up again, which of course it does. We run Cambridge international examinations here at my school and of all the exam boards I have worked with they do seem to push the key skills element of examinations and test if the student can apply the knowledge they have learnt to a different scenario but is this still enough? People have bad days, (I should know) and is it fair to test someone for one hour on about 200 hours’ worth of material? I don’t know if it but I can’t think of an alternative. I wish there was some kind of practical examination where the students get dropped in a room with some basic supplies and they have to use their physics knowledge to build a Rube Goldberg machine to get out! I guess the closest I’d ever seen to this is the physics game www.fantasticcontraption.com – which I strongly recommend. Can you imagine getting an IGCSE for your ability to play physics computer games, that’s the kind of syllabus I want!
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I’ve always loved taking things apart. I remember being about 6 years old and re-wiring the bike shed with wires swinging from overhead – luckily there was no electricity applied! Later in my teens I took apart my dad’s PC and unfortunately couldn’t remember the order in which I had dismantled it. I always remember that my dad didn’t seem to mind too much and in fact commented that he had done exactly the same with my grandmothers TV when he was younger. I guess tinkering has been in my blood since birth. Maybe be that’s where my love of Physics came from. With Physics you can take apart the universe and have a look at how it works, and so far without breaking it!
I’m very lucky that I have a job that I enjoy rather than endure. I’m not saying that teaching doesn’t come with its grinds, it can be frustrating at times but when you have all your students around you in the laboratory and you are demonstrating something exciting, the “oohs” and “arrrs” come out. You can see the students “getting it” and the light bulbs in their minds are switching on. It’s a very privileged position to be the first person to show someone how something works. I’m lucky that here in Africa I am teaching in a school that understands the importance of practical laboratory time. I have seen so many schools here that do not have a laboratory or even any real practical equipment. No simulation or reading from a textbook can beat actual tangible experience of experiments. An educational sales rep came to the school the other day to try to sell a 3D projector to us. She commented that “with this there would be no further use for the laboratory and that we would save so much money from not having to buy chemicals”. I love ICT in the classroom, it saves me a whole lot of time but replacing experiments it will never do!
Where is education going? I’ve been teaching for seven years now and I have noticed some big changes even in my short time in the profession. I started teaching in the UK in 2006 but moved to South Africa in 2011. In South Africa many people seem to be interested in home schooling. They feel the state system has let them down and that even private schools do not give them what they need. With the plethora of apps, past papers and YouTube videos that are widely available online there is the feeling that they can go it alone. Is that wise? Nothing can really replace the experience of a professional teacher who is trained in pedagogy, knows their subject and knows how students tick.
Technology has really changed teaching. A lot of the time I am facilitating learning rather than doing the teaching myself. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. Students need to go at their own pace, to be independent learners and need to gain the key skills that will set them up for life. I recently discovered www.khanacademy.org which is a fantastic site that can guide students through a multitude of problems in Mathematics and Science. They are set at the students individual level and I would strongly recommend any parents to push their children to give it a go, it’s sure to help.
What I do love about teaching with modern technology is the collaborative effort that you get when working with other teachers online. I joined www.tes.co.uk when I started my teaching career. To begin with I was simply grabbing as many resources I could in order to keep my head above the water as a newly qualified teacher but I soon started uploading my own worksheets and Powerpoints – some have been downloaded over 50,000 times!! Amazing to think that my resources are being used in so many different classrooms. It even started to get a bit addictive.. The feedback from other teachers around the globe was very positive and this spurred me on to do more…