The Future of Making:  When Teaching and Learning Microcontrollers Works for Everyone!

The Future of MakingWhen: Friday, October 14, 10am – 4pm 

Where: CERAS Building, room 308, 

Dr. Susan Klimczak (South End Tech Center @ Tent City, Boston, MA, USA)
Ed Baafi (Modkit, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Dr. Amon Millner (Olin College of Engineering, Needham, MA, USA)
Sharon De La Cruz (Digital Citizens Lab, Bronx, New York, NY, USA)


Microcontrollers are a powerful tool to combine with digital fabrication.  Yet, teaching and learning microcontrollers in a way that works for everyone has been notoriously difficult until now. Conventional approaches often attempt to teach too many things at once (sensors & motors, wiring, breadboards, idiosyncratic software, unfamiliar syntax & coding) with numerous pitfalls that make learning and troubleshooting cumbersome for beginners.  Because of the complexities, conventional approaches often force educators to take learning out of a constructionist and meaningful making context.

This 5 hour workshop is designed to expose participants to microcontroller learning that works for all.  Maker educators from all experience levels are encouraged to participate, from those new to microcontrollers to those who have years of experience.  Participants will be exposed to new approaches to teaching and learning, including a new programming language, developed through a 14-year participatory design process at the first community-based Fab Lab which serves a diverse audience, including participants of all ages, genders, cultural backgrounds and incomes.

Workshop Schedule:

  • When Programming Gets Physical (1 hour)
    Participants are introduced to the basic flow of  physical programs through a kinesthetic activity that relate how the body moves with music, to physical programming.  Then, participants are exposed to interactive electronic storytelling, as they quickly experience a range of sensor inputs and outputs including lights, sound and motors and express stories using littleBits modules.
  • Introduction to Coding Microcontrollers (1 hour)
    After a hands-on investigation of microcontroller boards using critical explorer techniques, participants will create their first programs to blink a light using Sparkfun RedBoards and Grove Kit shields and components. An experiential approach to learning syntax and grammar in microcontroller coding will be taught through a “Codebusters!” activity.
  • The Future of Microcontroller Coding: (1.25 hour)
    Participants will build complex multithreaded microcontroller  programs based on simple, manageable incremental steps.  The programming language will allow participants to simultaneously control  multiple LEDs, servos, buzzers while responding to multiple buttons, light and sound sensors.
  • Collaborative Storytelling with Microcontrollers & IoT (1.75 hours)
    In small groups, participants will imagine, design and build interactive stories using multiple inputs and outputs.   These individual teams will connect their stories and be exposed to IoT by triggering events across multiple microcontrollers.
  • Curriculum Design that Works for Everyone (1 hour)
    Participants will be introduced to the history of this microcontroller curriculum which was inspired and developed in the world’s first community-based Fab Lab at Boston’s South End Technology Center @ Tent City.  Discussion and reflection on the workshop will focus on how participants can apply what has been learned to make microcontroller teaching and learning work for everyone in their particular education environment.