Microcontrollers

Microcontrollers let you control outputs like lights, servos, motors, and sounds with inputs like button presses, temperature, sound, light level, touch, and more. This is a fantastic time to be getting interested in this area because every few months new devices are released that are more and more friendly to novice makers and coders. Block-based programming environments like Microsoft's MakeCode and Snap! ease entry to using these fun and powerful tools. Those who are ready can take the next steps with JavaScript and Python. 

One of the great aspects of microcontrollers is that they facilitate multidisciplinary projects. A student might be drawn by the coding, the art, the mechanics, the overall concept, or the team dynamic. Whatever the initial draw, the student becomes invested in the other aspects. The artist wants his code to work. The coder needs her mechanism to function. The person who's invested in the concept wants to bring all elements together. Everyone is invited to broaden their interests and skills. 

Microcontrollers YouTube playlist: this playlist shows many of the projects my students and I have done using these four devices.

The Circuit Playground Express has built-in inputs including tilting, shaking, touching, sound, light, and button presses. These can trigger outputs like the 10 neopixel LEDs and sounds, and more lights and servos can be attached and controlled. They can also send each other infrared signals. Use MakeCode to program them, and toggle easily between blocks and JavaScript.  $24.95

The Micro:bit has built-in inputs including tilting, shaking, light, and button presses. These can trigger outputs like simple images or text on the 25 LED array.  Lights and servos can be attached, and the board's pins can be plugged into the many add-on boards that are being developed. These allow all kinds of things from creating weather stations to robots. They can also send each other blue tooth low energy signals. Use MakeCode to program them, and toggle easily between blocks and JavaScript.  $16.50

The Hummingbird Duo allows the user to connect input sensors like distance, heat, and sound. These can trigger motors, servos, single-color LEDs, and tri-color LEDs. The board also now can connect with a Micro:bit to allow unteathered use. $159 base kit.

Chibitronics' Chibi Chip

 

MakeCode for Chibitronics

Chibitronics

The Chibi Chip allows you to program sequences of connected LED light displays. These can be LED stickers on copper tape, or they can be connected via crocodile clip wires. The Chibi Chip can also control a servo. Use MakeCode to program them, and toggle easily between blocks and JavaScript.  $30