Class 1

This first class was tremendous and I hope I can convey a small taste of the effort, excitement, and consequent joy that we all shared. The tasks were to start relationships, build trust and deliver the technical content. This was facilitated by a gentle humor and by dropping big expectations.

In Class 1 we taught simple circuits, switches and introduced the Arduino itself. In one of those delicious moments of unexpected insight it dawned on me last night that the Arduino was nothing more than a switch. Wow. It can’t get much simpler. OK, it’s a very complex switch, but a switch none-the-less. A switch that can be programmed to close under conditions that we choose. This actually seemed to make sense and be digestable and help to structure the class. Explaining things in simple terms is always a good challenge.

Here’s what the Arduino looks like so that you can see the complexity that these folks are facing:

the Arduino Uno

The class had to start with some paperwork as we had to get approvals for photos but also to establish some baselines regarding familiarity and use of technology for each participant. Dr. Elaine Yuen from Thomas Jefferson University is helping with the research.

Elaine completing a survey with Michael

We started with a bit of discussion about the objectives of this class.

Class discussion

We then went on to circuits. The simplest circuit is a battery with an LED. Just handling these components was so special and amazing that the participants started photographing it!. I knew they were engaged which goes a long way to overcoming obstacles.

Mitchell with a simple LED circuit, Marsha and Branden photographing

Marsha and Branden absorbed and enthralled

We then used jumpers with alligator clips to create an extended circuit that ran all the way around the table pushing the definition of a circuit.

Glenda, Branden and Marsha building a large circuit

This very easily led into switches. Manual switches. Opening and closing the circuit via the alligator clips

Marsha using alligator clips as a switch

Branden watches the Frankenstein switch closely.

And we also did some circuit diagramming. Joe, a student in the Multi-Media program at UArts, was my assistant teacher for the day and he made the diagrams.

Joe at the board

Then everyone was asked to use a breadboard and build a circuit of their own – this is when the teams started to congeal. The UArts students aided where needed.

Branden and Kevin immediately bonded!

Joe and Michael

Michael had a stroke a very years back and so the right side of his body doesn’t work so well. His excitement was overwhelming though at times. We were all shocked when he would blurt out something beyond what had been taught such as “is this like using a variable resistor to control the voltage”? He would immediately look puzzled and say “woah – where did that come from”? It was as though this class was stimulating some parts of his memory that he did not recognize. This was obviously a very smart man with a lot of technical knowledge some of which must be inaccessible to him. This exciting moment was also tinged with the sad awareness that we as a society marginalize capable and intelligent people like Michael everyday. I wonder – if this is just Class 1 how much more I have yet to learn from these folks in the course of this project …

Mitchell and Christine

It took them a while to find each other ... but this is Chia-Ying and Marsha.

Ben and Glenda

By the close of class everyone had used a breadboard and wired a circuit. Teams were formed and each team opened Arduino and ran a very simple program (Blinky). They then modified the program and saw their own results.

We don’t expect anyone to be able to repeat all this but it was simply a first exposure. To calm the nerves I asked each of them to just watch and not expect themselves to remember anything. “Just let it pass thru you. Some little tiny part will stick without trying”. Then we’ll build on that. Fear can be such an obstacle to learning, and there is so much fear around technology and math. These are very brave souls and it will be interesting to see at the next class how much actually did stick …

Oh, Branden was just soooo excited that I have to include a shot showing his boyish joy over today’s accomplishments:

Yo Branden!

And Chia-Ying will hate me for including this, but here is “the timid one” expressing her deepest emotions:

"Say cheese and smile"

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