This is the third post in a series about ideas for learning in a Makerspace.
Learning Idea #3: Circuits made with cheap or reconfigurable components
Electronics is a large part of Maker culture, but it can also be a very difficult subject to learn.
The $5 Cracker Box Amplifier from MAKE magazine can serve as an example:
- The schematic in the article was taken unmodified from another source.
- Someone from the community created a perfboard view.
- Someone else made a breadboard view.
Based on the comments, these alternatives were very helpful for people who had difficulty with the original schematic. This is a good example of how the community helps itself.
This kind of translation can be even more considerate of educational goals. Circuits by Stewart Dunn show complete circuits, with all ground connections made explicit, and are also arranged based on a systems layout — input on left, then process, then output, then power on the far right, as shown in the image at left. In Dunn’s “SolderiT” approach, students solder components directly onto thumb tacks pressed through a copy of the schematic into wood. The circuits match the schematics in a one-to-one relationship.
More generally, the idea of adapting existing materials towards more educational goals is worth exploring in multiple areas of Makerspace.
Another interesting example which requires more investment than the cheap circuits above, but that is worth looking at is the Systems Approach tried in the UK for electronics. The “System Alpha” set of subsystem blocks can be connected together for easy prototyping, some of which are pictured below.
A book, The Alpha Resource, provides data sheets for each of the subsystems. And once a system is prototyped, software can be used for creating a full circuit construction. Kits with similar input/output functionality are appearing, such as Grove and TinkerKit for Arduino, and the picXplorer for PICAXE.
This subsystems approach to electronics should be replicable using “cheap circuits that match schematics” ideas. The main idea is to have subsystems that can be used in a Makerspace, where those subsystems can also be incorporated into student creations in a cost-effective way. So Grove prototypes translated to schematics then assembled using the SolderiT approach could be a big success.
The approach should also be portable to other physical systems such as mechanisms and structures: learn how the subsystem options work alone and together, then integrate full systems into working, take-home prototypes.