Programmable Plant Pots

My 5th graders just completed their culminating computer programming and engineering challenge this week – to make smart plant pots that share soil moisture and light data. Teachers often forget to water their plants at our school and our Science teacher asked if we could do something to help. I tasked students to apply their new skills in programing with sensors to transform their Sparkfun Digital Sandbox into an electronic plant monitor that could warn people when the plant needs water or better sunlight. After three days of trial and iteration, we had a number of successful prototypes ready to employ at our school.

Many teams were even able to mock-up of cases, mounts and covers with LEGOs, paper labels and designs to make the devices easy for us adults to read and understand. Kids wrote their own programs in Ardublock, a visual drag-and-drop language extension for Arduino’s IDE. We plan to install their prototypes into plant pots around the school next week.

If you’re new to the tool, the Digital Sandbox is a great way to explore Arduino microcontroller projects with beginners. It’s basically an Arduino Uno board that comes pre-set with sensor inputs and LED outputs already installed. This way you can focus on teaching the computer programing before you later graduate to building your own circuits and breadboarding. It comes with a great little curriculum guide to get you started and even can take a few extensions like external outputs like servos and inputs like the soil sensor you see attached here.


My Spin Turntable [v1]

I love Tiffany Tseng’s new DIY documentation tool, the Spin turntable. It’s a photography turntable system for capturing how DIY projects progress over time. It uses a simple turntable that is synchronized to an iOS app that simply creates 360 degree animated GIFs of projects. I highly recommend that you check it out!

I am now asking myself not just how could my elementary students utilize such a tool for documenting their own work, but also how could they make their own version of this tool with materials that they have mastered. Here’s my first stab at a proof of concept. It’s cobbled together with LEGO WeDo parts and a free GIF making app for iOS (There are many out there).

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My 4th and 5th graders have years of experience with LEGO robotics and iOS tools so I think that it’s a great task to tackle independently.

It is a lesser design than the Spin of course. It’s not synchronized, so it requires the user to activate both the turntable’s motor and the GIF making app simultaneously and independently. The issue of how to share the GIF files to the users is also an issue, but I’m excited to posit the challenge to the students. I think that they would love the chance to make an animated GIF machine. Here are the initial images I shot. Any comments or words of wisdom?





Simple Machines & Mechanisms

4th graders are using LEGOs to explore a wide range of simple machines and mechanisms. Each class activity is centered on a specific machine or concept. Students must build in partnerships to then answer questions or reflect on observations of certain mechanical phenomena. You can see some of the activities on my grade level technology site.

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Model Elevator w/LEGO Robotics

Three 4th Graders describe a model elevator that they made with LEGO NXT, cardboard, and toy parts. Built as part of an Engineering and Robotics study done with one of our many amazing Science teachers, Mrs. Uribe. I was really impressed with the outcome.