Starting Points & Ideas for your Arduino STEM Curriculum

Arduino Starter Kits can be assembled from $10 to $100 per seat depending on the complexity of your course. We generally order parts about a month beforehand and then spend a day pulling it all together into “ready to go” lab kits at the start of term.

Over the last decade the open source Arduino platform has been embraced by STEM educators, and there are a growing number of pay-per-use resources available with pre-made lesson plans, etc. (eg: becauselearning.com While most welcome viable business models in the sector, it struggles against the problem of ever shrinking education budgets. Where the rubber meets the road you are faced with the stark reality that many teachers now have to pay for teaching materials with their own money:

“Classroom teachers spent an average of $468 out of pocket on classroom supplies and equipment in the last year — amounting to nearly 1 percent of an average teacher’s salary in the United States. Nearly eight in 10 teachers — 77 percent — spent “at least” $200, with some as high as $5,000, according to the latest results of an annual survey.”


With that in mind, I’ve started this list of links to STEM learning resources, curriculum, and activities for Arduino.  Unlike more formalized lists of this type, the focus here will be on creative IDEAS and resources that teachers can access for FREE ( eg: WeTeachNYC’s Gr9 lesson plans , textbooks online, etc.)

This page will grow over time as I find more material:


Arduino project IDEAS:

Any teacher worth their salt already knows how to make lesson plans, so the tough part is really finding a theme that really motivates your students.  If you are looking for science project ideas, it wouldn’t hurt to browse through a few commercial data logger websites sites to see how people use loggers in the real world. Then search through the Arduino sensors forum and see if someone has already posted helpful information about the application you think your students might find interesting.  However even though the Cave Pearl Project is focused on environmental monitoring, don’t overlook the other cool things that people do with Arduinos for info on how to integrate sensors when building tools like the TC1 slinky seismometer.  Browsing through the Arduino project hub gives you some sense of the range.  A number of artists create interactive pieces by adding motion, sensing, LEDs & sound. Wear-able projects are also pretty groovy.  Others create simple robots with their Arduinos, and there are plenty of body/wheel/motor kits to get you rolling. Drones get all the media attention, but I think underwater ROV’s are also interesting.

There are lots of great maker resources to search through if can appreciate their sense of humor (though you might want to avoid clock projects 🙂  Intructables is heaving with Arduino projects which you can find simply by searching for “Arduino” + “subject”.  If you find an Arduino book that sounds interesting, there is a good chance that there are sample projects on the web from the book that you can review.  GPS tracking opens up interesting possibilities and the folks over at the RIFFLE project have been pulling that location data out of digital camera photos, with their data logger hanging from a kite.  So really, the sky is the limit . . . or maybe not even that . . . commander Sparkles.


Most ” Discovering Arduino ” resources follow a pattern something like this:

Introduction of the Arduino board. (hardware)
Introduction of the Arduino programming environment and the structure of a script. (software)
Introduction of the breadboard. (hardware)
Blinking the internal LED at pin 13. (software)
Connecting a LED to Arduino using a breadboard. (hardware)
Using a digital output pin to blink the LED. Using multiple digital output pins & leds (software)
Pulse-width modulation for fading LEDs. (software)
Connecting a button to the Arduino, with de-bouncing cap/resistor combination. (hardware)
Programming  to support the button input , if/then/else conditional behavior. (software)
Introducing the serial monitor for text output of events (software)
Connecting analog sensors to the Arduino with voltage dividers. (hardware)
Capturing sensor readings with the ADC and storing them in a variable. (software)
Using the serial plotter for live display of sensor output (software)
Advanced programming concepts (e.g., for/while loops, counters, switch/case). (software)
Connecting digital bus sensors with pull-up resistors (usually I2C or OneWire ) (hardware)
Including code libraries to so you can read data from those digital sensors (software)

As you can see, learning the Arduino platform is like climbing a ladder, where each step you take toward understanding the electronics is matched by one learning how to write code.

Where To begin:
The instructables beginners guide is a good place to start, as is Udemy’s free Learn the Basics Arduino Tutorial. Actually instructables has been busy building a range of free beginners classes on subjects from the internet of things to 3D printingetc.  There are plenty of other “Getting started” videos available with  another free video course offered at the Programming Electronics Academy (also see their other Youtube videos). Many of these courses require some kind of registration, and given the nature of their business you can expect a fair amount of self promotion messages to be peppered throughout. And finally, don’t overlook the official Arduino example tutorials that come built into the IDE. There are some great learning examples in there like the Tone Pitch follower with tutorials by Massimo Banzi himself.

Special Mention:
Be sure to check out Jeremy Blum’s Arduino Tutorials which are essentially a complete course on the Arduino;  all the more impressive because he did the entire thing as a one-man-band while he was still a student.  In my opinion,  the best quality videos available for Arduino are the ones created by Jeff Feddersen & Tom Igoe for the ITP program at NYU, though there’s a lot to wade through, and some of those tutorials might be pitched at too high a level for beginners. Paul McWhorter also has an extensive tutorial series on youtube.

And don’t forget to search for the many new videos that people have posted. Youtube has grown into a universal self-teaching tool and we’ve entered the game with clips from our fieldwork, and build tutorials.

Arduino in a Nutshell is a free e-book resource worth looking into, as is the Programming Guide from instesre.org. And though I’m not sure if they are still a going concern, the old Earthshine Starter kit manual PDF can still be found floating around the internet. If e-books like that are your thing, and you are willing to shell out a few bucks, there are sometimes good Humblebundle deals, though those are often in weird combinations of topics, and the individual books also available the Make website.

Sparkfun is also a great place to look for teacher resources.

It’s a lot to wade through, but the Adafruit tutorial list  is another one of the best resources out there. Just be aware that they have developed their own library “system”, so sometimes their tutorials are tailored to that.

Tronixstuff has a large number of  specific hardware tutorials when you are ready to go further with your Arduino projects, and there are a host of cool Arduino projects to dig through at instructables site. I really believe that you can improve engagement and understanding by providing hands-on experience with real data, but there are plenty of other practical things you can do with the same basic setup.

If you google around, you can find curriculum documents, individual lesson plans, and other resources all over the place, like for example this conductivity lab over at teachengineering.org or this beginners set from Arduino 101.  The challenge is that most of the sites were developed for a different curriculum than yours, so first figure out what you want to tackle, then go sifting through the tutorial sites for material that matches your learning outcomes. Otherwise you will just get buried in the shear volume of it all.

If you want to abstract away the entire IDE interface for younger students, there are a few visual programming tools out there for the Arduino like Visuino, or MIT’s Scratch, for which there are plenty of tutorials on youtube.

Going further:
There is also a long set of more detailed videos at Makecourse.com. Though it’s a bit dry, All About Circuits has a complete textbook online [see: Vol. I – Direct Current (DC) ] And if you really want to dig deep, several universities like Stanford, MIT & Berkeley have made full electronics courses available, though that goes well beyond the Arduino landscape. There is a good walk through the sub-components that make up an UNO at Rheingold Heavy’s build an Arduino From Scratch series.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mini-notebook series that that Forest Mims wrote back in the 70’s.


Using Social Media to find resources:
Like Pinterest, Reddit has grown into one of the most useful social media sites for leveraging other peoples knowledge to help you find useful resources.  I’ve compiled a short list of places that might be good starting points.  You can also find material with the right hashtags on twitter such as #DIYscience.  But social media like Twitter/Facebook/etc can easily waste as much of your time as it saves, so finding good material is directly related to how particular you are about following people who actually contribute resources to the community (as opposed to those who are merely talking about it)

A few Teacher & Maker sub-reddits:

Teaching & Education
/r/ScienceTeachers/ – Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Astronomy, and General Science for K-12
r/matheducation
r/education -news articles about America’s education system, from Pre-K through PhD
r/teaching

Electronics:
/r/arduino – Arduino and compatibles. Lots of projects posted, discussion leans more towards programming with dabbling in circuit design

/r/electronics – About electronic circuit design and occasionally embedded systems
/r/raspberry_pi – Discussion about the Raspberry Pi & /r/raspberrypi
/r/embedded – Similar to /r/arduino and /r/raspberrypi but not platform specific
/r/3Dprinting – 3D printers

Others that instructors may find interesting:
/r/diy – The granddaddy of them all. Largely focused on home improvement but has content from just about everything.
/r/crafts – Sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, kids crafts, etc. and /r/craftit – Smaller version of /r/crafts
/r/somethingimade – Largely arts & crafts related, occasional woodworking or self made website posted
/r/maker – For people who make things. Doesn’t seem to be very active.
/r/woodworking – 50/50 between using power tools and hand tools. Wide variety of projects posted from simple to “they must be professionals”
/r/metalworking – Stuff you can do with metal
/r/welding – Welders, machinists and all other enthusiasts of joining two things together
/r/outstruments – Musical instrument making
/r/lego – Lego is made of ABS plastic and you can use a tiny dab of ABS plumbing solvent (nasty stuff!) to weld it together into a custom bullet-proof housing for your Arduino project. Great for internal scaffolding too.  also see /r/AFOL – Custom designed LEGO creations.


YouTubers on Science & Technology:

Like the other flavors of social media, YouTube can give a boost to your STEM lessons, provided you don’t go down that rabbit hole until after you already have clear lesson outcomes in mind.  It’s hard to pick a favorite, but Ben Krasnow @ Applied Science might take the title because he does incredible things without the over-the-top wow-yuck factor that the media seems to feel is the only way to make science interesting.  When Ben wants an electron microscope – he builds one.  Super Conductor? ditto. Plasma tube? easy-peasy.

Life, the universe, & everything:
Veritasium – An element of truth – videos about science, education, and anything else
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell – finding a new way to end the human race with every video
SciShow – delves into popular scientific subjects with lots of flash for younger audiences
Physics Girl – Physics videos for every atom and eve
Vsauce – Michael Stevens combines discussions of science and philosophy
BrainCraft – Vanessa Hill explains why we humans act the way that we do
ASAPscience  -explains topics in science with their trademark kinetic typography and drawings
minutephysics -physicist Henry Reich explains physics concepts simply  in a few minutes

People who put Arduino-things together:
Kevin Darrah
Julian Ilett – the Bob Ross of makers
Electronic Basics by GreatScott

People who take things apart:
bigclivedotcom – random take apart videos from expensive toys to cheap junk from China

People who explain how things work:
Engineerguy
Real Engineering
Practical Engineering
3Blue1Brown:  Brilliant animated introductions to complex math subjects

The Do-ers:
Smarter Every Day-engineer Destin Sandlin films himself doing his own experiments
Mark Rober
Cody’sLab
The Slow Mo Guys
Mike Boyd

The Story Tellers:
Curious Droid (Paul Shillito)
LindyBeige

The incomparable Colinfurze.  Close tie for the #1 spot because Colin is kind of like Ben Krasnow’s unhinged alter-ego from some parallel dimension where humans have very short lifespans.  Like ArduinovsEvil , and the site-which-must-not-be-named, this highly inappropriate material is best viewed at 1am when you’ve already killed off any high-function brain cells with a 10-hour exam marking marathon. (ie: Don’t show Colin’s videos to impressionable young minds unless you want to be fired, and never show content from AvE, and IFLS without serious vetting)


Other inspiring links:

What’s the Maker Movement and Why Should I Care?

The Maker Movement in K-12 Education: A Guide to Emerging Research

Progressive Education and The Maker Movement

TED Talk – Massimo Banzi (the primary founder of Arduino) – How Arduino is Open-Sourcing Imagination

Hans Rosling as an advocate for a “fact-based worldview” with his amazing bubble charts.

4 thoughts on “Starting Points & Ideas for your Arduino STEM Curriculum

  1. Jan

    Hi Edward, that’s a really nice write-up of the top learning resources! You should include your own website in there 🙂
    I really don’t know your clicks/reach on such a nice article but I have the impression all your general/not datalogging only articles should stand out a bit, e.g. have their own page to get more clicks. What I mean is: It’s super valuable information for beginners/tinkerers/advanced builders which should not be hidden in a blog about datalogging. It screams “give me a new home like arduinoresources.com” or something IMHO.

    All the best, Jan!

    Reply
    1. edmallon Post author

      Anythings possible in the future. But for now the reason this content is embedded in our site is that we also use it reference material for for Dr. Beddows students. We update that page on Arduino Starter kits every year because that’s the stuff we actually order. And they may be college students but most of them have never held a soldering iron before in their lives: Basically everyone gets started with Arduinos in the same place no matter what level that eventually reach.

      Reply
  2. Brian Davis

    And with regard to the comment above… I’ll be honest, this (and the *extensive* list along the side) is one of my go-to sources anyway. sometimes you need to host it elsewhere to get visibility… and sometimes your content is so good it generates visibility 🙂

    This is another great list I’m going to have to dig through (stopping useful work yet again? Lol!), but I appreciated you including such a diversity of sources. I came late to the game of Arduino because I started with AFoL (LEGO robotics, mostly; did enough that LEGO started contacting us, which was a hoot). One of the things that I admire about your resource list is it’s ability to cross-fertilize. Caves? LEGO? Home hydroponics? Weather stations? The list goes on and on…

    Reply
    1. edmallon Post author

      Actually I’ve been struggling with the fate of those sidebar lists too, which grew over time out of my own need to keep those links “somewhere”. The challenge is that those widgets work fine on a PC browser, but don’t translate well for people accessing the site via a mobile screen. At this point 50% of all internet traffic is via cell phones….

      Reply

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