Zoey Ren, author and marketing team member at Particle is an avid IOT learner and was excited to share how Dr. Thomas Proffen, the president and instructor at Oak Ridge Computer Science Girls of East Tennessee (ORCSGirls), taught the topic to middle school girls on September 22, 2018. Dr. Proffen bought 25 Particle Photon Maker Kits from the Makerspace Empowerment Program and created original content to teach the girls “how to build a web controlled LED — covering everything from building the hardware to coding the firmware and creating their own web page for remote LED control.” With the help of Thomas,a member of the TechGirlz curriculum team, the organization is excited to add this content to their list of TechShop topics, soon! The full article was originally published October 30, 2018 on Particle.
*Editor’s note: Zoey’s interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Her questions are shown below in strong italics and Dr. Proffen’s responses are in plaintext.
ORCSGirls has been organizing coding and technology workshops for middle school girls in the Oak Ridge area and beyond since 2017, how did you get interested in founding the organization at the first place?
My daughter was on a robotics team in a science competition, and I was mentoring them. It was 50/50 boys and girls, but there was still struggle to prevent a natural separation where the boys hang around the robot, and the girls do the presentation. I realized that there were just not enough opportunities for the girls.
There is a manifestation that a guy would put a skill on a resume when he has mastered it at the 50% level whereas a woman would only do that if she has 110%. My daughter is like that. She doesn’t want to do anything she isn’t perfect at. The thing is, you’re not born perfect at anything. So she ultimately inspired this whole idea, out of seeing that first hand with your child and you want to do something about it.
How did you find the Makerspace Empowerment Program?
It was a coincidence. I was looking for something else on your website, and there was this little blog post snippet in the corner that caught my attention. I said, “Oh this is great. We’re not quite a Makerspace, but why don’t we just go and try it?” That’s how I came across the Makerspace Empowerment Program.
When and why did you figure it’s time to bring IoT to the class? Was it challenging to pull it off for middle school girls?
IoT was always something on my list, but many hardware was either expensive or requiring drivers on the computers. When I opened your Photon Maker Kit and saw this little electronic part and a breadboard, I went like, “This is it.” I later found your web IDE and firmware over Wi-Fi. No cables, no drivers, nothing that are usually difficult to do.
Many girls had never touched any electronic parts, and certainly, none of them had heard of firmware before, but it was easy for them to follow your examples. We also did a 10-second version of circuits because the Photon Maker Kit includes a breadboard with a circuit.
I was expecting all sorts of technical issues, and there wasn’t a single one. The girls loved the Particle stickers, and some put them on their phones because they were so proud of what they built.
What has been the most exciting moment about launching this class?
I think the most exciting thing to me is that every single one of them managed to have it working at the end. When the girls unpacked the Photon Maker Kits, I was amazed by how fascinated they were with things that look electronic or technical.
I was also extremely happy that this wasn’t something designed for kids. We can take an industrial scale product and use the developer’s documentation with very little change to get a group of middle school girls to follow the examples with very little guidance.
The Internet of Things curriculum is currently under development and will be published to the TechGirlz TechShopz in a BoxTM topics library in the near future.