In engineering education and STEM education more generally, the use of microcontrollers is increasing common across a wide range of creative design projects found in robotics, programming, makerspaces, e-textiles, and more. Exemplified by the Arduino Uno, microcontrollers make it possible to connect digital and physical worlds, and help teach a wide range of computational concepts, like inputs, outputs, loops, sensors, and pulse width. Recent microcontrollers, like the Micro:Bit and HummingBird have tailored design for educational settings and lowered costs considerably. However, for many learners and educators microcontrollers are still costly, making it difficult to allow students to bring work home and to take risks with circuits and objects they are building.
In the context of computationally-enabled papercrafts, Paper Mechatronics, which emphasize familiar materials, transparency, low-cost, and relatively light ecological footprint, we have developed open-source designs and instructional resources that enable learners and educators to build their own microcontrollers for use with servomotors, sensors and switches. The “Card-Board” can be assembled using a very low-cost chip that can be programmed with the Arduino IDE and powered using a 5 volt phone charger or USB cord. The board is congruous with the look and feel of playful papercrafts and prototyping, and can be produced for under $8, making it possible to bring design activities to resource-constrained classrooms, and for learners to share their efforts, stories and expertise across settings. Board design is robust enough for novices to achieve early success, yet open enough to scaffold learning about computational concepts and physical computing hardware through prototyping, building, iterating, programming, and troubleshooting. In these ways, the design helps expand both the range of creative possibilities and depth of engineering education.
Grade level: 8th-12th grade
Learning goals: Expand design and engineering in resource-constrained settings; Deepen understanding of circuits and microcontrollers; Facilitate sharing of projects and learning across setting
Materials: Cardboard, ATtiny85, and circuit components
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