Bringing in local experts to supplement and boost engagement…nothing could be more fun that having an engineer come and work with students on learning how to code.

Not knowing much about coding or microcomputers, my students wanted to send a camera up in the High Altitude Balloon we are launching in mid-April.  This is part of the Global Balloon Challenge and my school could have never paid to participate.  Well, if the camera is going to take pictures, something has to tell it to keep snapping away for almost 2 hours.  We tried and tried to figure it out.

IEEE to the rescue.  This is a professional association of electrical engineers with a nearby chapter at a local engineering firm (Burns and McDonnell) The chapter is helping to cover the costs of the balloon and all the equipment.  Fortunately for me and for my students, a IEEE volunteer was able to come in for a day to work with students.  He brough several cameras and left us with a microprocessor to work with.  Students listened as he brought out all sorts of electronics and parts for circuit boards.  I will have to say he thought a 43 minute class period flew by and he hardly got started before the class was over!!!  Truer words have never been uttered.

Given the 8th grader sense of humor, would it surprise you that our first working program is called Pancakes…it takes 5 still photos and then a 10 second video….and then turns itself off for 10 seconds….and then repeats the cycle over and over for 2 hours.  We’re setting it up to run in the hallway on Monday…recording a day in the life of our school.

The simple act of letting them call it pancakes gave them a sense of control.  And that’s what it is all about with 8th graders.  So when the camera’s firmware calls the “Pancakes” routine, they were totally engaged.  The whole class worked to write the “DO” loops and by the end of class, we had a pretty solid routine.

Then if that works, we’ll be more confident that it will work in the payload box of the High Altitude Balloon. Follow our class as we figure out so many things @LMSBalloonProj where students are writing tweets and sharing with the whole world what a middle school science class can be!!!  I could have never led my 8th graders in this activity and I am thankful for the expertise that local engineering firms lend to our classrooms.

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