This post shares the motivation for VGKits.org and the Vanguard Series of project kits.
I am an inventor and prototyping specialist who uses microcontrollers in my everyday work. Every day I am more amazed how accessible python-programmable microcontroller modules available on the open market have become.
VGKits.org is intended as a resource to support educators adopting these devices in the classroom.
About the computers
The ESP modules we use…
- …are incredibly cheap
- we source our ESP modules wholesale for $2.50 ea. before shipping and taxes. Retail prices are also very reasonable
- …provide a gateway to the physical world, gadget inventions and ‘products’
- activities combining STEM and D&T are made trivial
- breaking away from the screen can make computing activities more engaging and relevant
- physical computing can enliven the transition from blocks programming to text programming
- Micropython is indistinguishable from desktop Python3
Wifi and Networking
The builtin Wifi capabilities of ESP modules can have a huge impact in terms of…
- Accessing the module; python programming is available to learners at home, just with wifi and a browser, without needing mum or dad to have a free laptop and the skills of a school technician.
- Integrations; you can access twitter, synchronize your clock with GMT, predict the weather, the tides, the traffic, by accessing web APIs
- Learning objectives; exercises with a networked device cover key national curriculum topics, such as protocols, networking and security
Comparison with Circuit Playground
@ShrimpingIt started looking into using these boards in education some time ago. Since then, boards like the amazing Circuit Playground have been released, also running Python, (although without Wifi support). Nevertheless, there is still a role for VGKits.org to document how to source your own kits, bringing together modules available through wholesale electronics suppliers.
Adafruit’s all-inclusive £30 kit is suitable for immediate adoption in the classroom, and includes many inputs and outputs built-in. However, if you source your own…
- Classroom project kits controlling a single input or output (including cables and batteries) can be sourced in bulk for approximately £5. This is a significant difference for educators. We hope it means schools can afford to gift learners their own computing platform to take home.
- Composing your own kits allows be smaller, lighter or more powerful than a given all-in-one module
- An ESP01 is the most radical example of this. Smaller than some postage stamps, it runs our full python environment, (but only has two GPIO input/output pins).
- An ESP32 with a built-in screen is the other extreme, faster, more pins, capacitive touch and having up to 4Meg of RAM but it would provide essentially the same familiar environment to learners.
- Extra inputs or outputs, (sensors or actuators) can be added for a very small outlay according to the needs of your project or curriculum
Who are we?
As the instigator and maintainer of the @ShrimpingIt project, I have experience launching and delivering resources of this kind to support educators. The guides at www.shrimping.it helped educators using breadboard-prototyping in the classroom, using microcontrollers programmed in C using the Arduino ecosystem. Although learning to wire to breadboards and code in C is an important skill for industry and advanced learners, given my recent experiences I would now recommend school computing teachers to adopt python-programmable IO boards for entry-level learning.
Invitation to Educators
I hope teachers and learners will join me on this journey. I will need your perspectives, critique and insights which reflect your unique experiences in the classroom to make these free resources as good as they can possibly be. We will focus on the adoption of these modules in UK high-school education, but I believe the same outcomes will be just as relevant to other geographies and age groups. As with the @ShrimpingIt initiative, we aim to support this work through retail-priced kits delivered rapidly from UK stock for those who wish to avoid self-sourcing for any reason. For example if you are…
- purchasing on a small scale
- don’t have the free time to place orders
- want to avoid mistakes in purchasing
- in a rush
…then you may benefit from us shipping pre-bagged kits matching our build guides. This provides financial support for more resources to be produced. Please browse our resources and comment here on the website or follow us and comment at twitter.com/vgkits, facebook.com/vgkits or instagram.com/vgkits. To begin, find out more about the Vanguard Series, and the first Vanguard project, the Vanguard Rainbow kit.