Intro to Arduino & My First Time TA-ing a TechShop

Written by Becca Nock, serial TechGirlz volunteer

TechGirlz Arduino

Matt Fritch, from the Philadelphia Water Department, led an amazing Intro to Arduino TechShop for a large group of TechGirlz in January at Moore College of Art. He started the TechShop by showing the girls a picture of gross, disgusting sewers. When it rains, the water overflows sewers, and there is nowhere for a lot of the water to go!

But there is a green, environmentally friendly solution – we can keep rainwater out of our sewers by using plants to soak up the water. We can plant plants where there used to be pavement and make plants do all the work! That is only half of the solution, and the Internet of Things (IoT) provides the other half. There are sensors everywhere, and they are now connected to the web. Arduinos can control sensors, include both hardware and software, are open source, and only cost $25! Soil and light sensors can be connected to an Arduino to measure how plants are doing, and the girls got a chance to test out a light sensor.

They then learned more about Arduinos by completing two exercises using Codebender and the Arduino Uno. In the first exercise, the TechGirlz build a circuit and wrote a program to blink an LED (light emitting diode). They used a breadboard, LED, resistor, and jumper wires to create the circuit with the Arduino. The girls then changed their code to blink the LED at different intervals; they could make the LED blink faster or slower.

The second exercise involved programming a multi-colored LED matrix sign. To do this, the girls had to design their picture for the LED display on paper using colored pencils and grid pattern paper. Then the girls translated their designs into code. They had to use different commands for lines, rectangles, pixels, etc. and color codes.

Here are a couple of the girls’ paper and pencil drawings next to the LED matrix sign that they programmed:

TechGirlz Arduino
TechGirlz Arduino
TechGirlz Arduino

This was my first time being a teaching assistant for a TechShop, and I had a phenomenal experience! I only started learning about Arduinos in November through a class at NextFab (a makerspace in Philadelphia). I had no prior experience with hardware or the coding language used with the Arduino. I learned how to blink LEDs only weeks before helping with this TechShop, and it was exciting for me to be able to answer the girls’ questions and to assist them when they ran into challenges programming the Arduino. You really don’t need to be an expert in technology or coding to help with a TechShop or #Teach 15 girls!

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