Anyone who works with electronics, particularly at the component level, is familiar with the need to isolate the circuitry from its surroundings. When teaching young learners, this problem is compounded by the two-way need to protect fragile or sensitive electronics from the kids and simultaneously protect the kids from the electronics. In our workshops and classes, power levels are generally supplied by AA-cell batteries or the occasional 9V. For higher-power applications, power is supplied through 12V @ 2A USB connections and these scenarios require a bit more protection at the electronics/student interface.
The most common type of electronics board used in STEMulate Learning events is the popular Arduino, a programmable microprocessor based on the Atmel microprocessor family of chips. This family of boards has been developed around a robust open standard for interconnectivity and are widely used by educators, hobbyists and Makers around the world to bring automation to their creations.
3D printing allows the creation of custom housings to protect boards like the Arduino, which can also enclose other related components to make circuit fabrication and testing much easier.
Another nice aspect of these housings is that they can also be used to store the Arduino and any in-progress circuit designs until students return for a follow-up session or class. This affords each student with a small personal project kit they can configure and return to without fear of loss or disruption of their test circuits.
When we need more horsepower than an Arduino can provide, the next step up for our events is the delightful Raspberry Pi single-chip computer board. This credit-card sized board runs a Debian Linux operating system, provides HDMI video output and can use many standard USB devices like keyboard/mouse inputs and WiFi network connections. This inexpensive little computer was designed by University of Cambridge researchers who wanted to make sure students could learn computer science early enough to develop and interest before entering university.
As with the Arduino, a 3D Printed protective case wraps up each Raspberry Pi computer, complete with all necessary openings to handle cooling and the various device and network interface connections. We use Raspberry Pi computers to teach MIT’s Scratch visual programming, basic Linux system operation, and the particular system shown is being used to test its potential as a thin client workstation in a University setting.
3D Printing provides many forms of learning materials, as SOLID Learning is trying to make possible for educators around the world. Leveraging open-source hardware designs like the Arduino microprocessor together with inexpensive platforms like the UK’s Raspberry Pi, educators can provide a rich learning environment for the young men and ladies currently in classrooms around the world.
- Folding Arduino Lab ver 2.0 (Thing #32839): http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:32839
- Raspberry Pi Case 2 (RasPi) (Thing #46959): http://www.thingiverse.com/derivative:46059
Note: The designer of the Folding Arduino Lab has made things even easier for teachers without 3D printers by making his design not only available for free download to print but as an Etsy purchasable item in many wonderful colors to catch a kid’s fancy!