Digital systems store, process and transmit information in digital form. A computer, notebook, tablet and smartphone are all examples of digital systems. Connecting other digital components (peripherals) to a digital system enables different functions; for example, a simple circuit board can be used as an input device, replacing keystrokes on a keyboard. This opens up the possibility of using a range of materials for input, allowing creativity in design.
A programming board enables the use of different inputs; for example, a push button to initiate an action; or a sensor to gather data such as temperature or light levels. Similarly, a snap-together circuit can have components such as a power supply, motor (servos), sensors, lights, buzzers, switches, and Bluetooth connectivity – enabling remote control. The device can often be programmed using a visual programming language, which allows students to integrate understandings of inputs and outputs of digital systems with programming a digital solution.
The circuit board, programming board and snap-together circuits suggested in this sequence are examples generally used by schools. It is envisaged that rather than incorporate all three devices or invention kits that schools focus on one and explore its functionality and then incorporate student design and implementation of a digital solution. There is no requirement to explore all three; rather, the intention is to cater for what resources schools may have or decide to purchase.
Flow of Activities
Makey Makey is an invention kit available for purchase that allows you to interact with a computer, using everyday objects as a replacement for inputs such as a keyboard or computer mouse.
The Makey Makey board will plug directly into the computer’s USB peripheral port and essentially behave like an input device. When specific keys are pressed the Makey Makey board can mimic those keystrokes.
Activating a key means creating a closed circuit. For the circuit to work, electrons have to be able to flow from the Makey Makey input key to Makey Makey’s ground. So materials chosen as the input must conduct some level of electrical energy; that includes such things as aluminium foil, a banana and even a circuit drawn in grey lead pencil.
Electronic kits that use snap-together components such as LittleBits enable students to explore simple circuitry that can be incorporated into a digital system.
The LittleBits kit, for example, has a number of inputs such as buttons, dimmers and sensors. These send signals to the circuit. The kit also has outputs such as a buzzer, motor and light. The Bluetooth bit enables students to remotely control elements such as sliders. Other similar kits may vary in components and capabilities.
A programming board, such as a Micro:bit or Codebug, can have different inputs. For example, a push button can initiate an action. Different sensors can gather data such as temperature or light levels; or can detect movement of the device using an accelerometer.
The different actions or events can be programmed via easy-to-use software provided on the relevant website.
INPUT on ‘button A pressed’ select an output such as BASIC Show LEDs.
However, you need to first add a VARIABLE block ‘set item to’ and change item to Light level. Then replace Show number to Light level.
Makey Makey, together with a visual programming language such as Scratch, Snap or similar, is a useful combination of tools that can be used to create digital solutions, as well as teach the basics of circuity, conductive materials and algorithms.
The Makey Makey board will plug directly into the computer’s USB peripheral port and essentially behave like an input device.
You can program Makey Makey in Scratch to respond in certain ways when specific keys are pressed; Makey Makey will then mimic those keystrokes.
The Micro:bit, Codebug or LittleBits electronics kit provide students with the opportunity to design a digital solution for their own project.