Everybody talks about the weather. So, when two Grade 11 students from Argyle Secondary were challenged by their teacher to make a creative tech project that would appeal to the “real world,” they came up with a design for a weather station.
Devam Sisodraker and Ethan Wilson designed and built a machine that could detect wind speed, temperature and humidity as a classroom project at Argyle’s Digital Media Academy. They wanted to measure the humidity of the soil as well, but the sensor kept jamming when it was wet.
The project involved more than sticking together a few sensors ordered from Alibaba.
The Grade 11 students used 3D software to design the components, the wind speed impellers and the storage box, built them on a 3D printer and connected the sensors to the open-source program Arduino, the sensor controller. They then wrote the code to turn the analog data (voltages) into readable numbers, temperature and wind speed, which was then sent to a small computer, a Raspberry Pi, about six centimetres by two centimetres in size. The Raspberry Pi then uploaded the information onto a website where the weather information could be viewed in real time.
It was not a straightforward project, and Devam and Ethan had to troubleshoot to overcome challenges in their code, choose the best sensors for their weather station and create prototypes for their 3D models.
“The amazing thing, besides all of this planning and problem solving, was the level of persistence they put into their work,” said their teacher, Murray Bulger, who heads the Digital Media Academy. “I love that they were able to come up with a project that allowed them to use all their programming and technical abilities to create something that would be meaningful to their community.”
“We’re not programmers, we’re innovators,” Devam explained.
Technology is nothing without the soft skills to go with it, Bulger said, and in the class, they make more than “eye candy” – their projects need to appeal to a larger audience and use critical thinking and creativity. Bulger encourages his students to be “unicorns” – in other words, be unique and have a skill set that people want and need.
Part of the process in the Digital Media Academy is making mistakes and analyzing those mistakes, learning by trial and error and recording this analysis in learning journals.
“I facilitate their learning instead of getting in the way of their learning,” Bulger said, referring to himself as a “gardener,” allowing growth of learning to happen in his classroom.
Devam has been building websites and coding before he got into double digits, and he hopes to get into neural networking algorithms – that is, artificial intelligence – as a career.
Ethan has been tinkering with technology for years with the aim of getting into bio-engineering, robotics or mechatronics – “any place where I can get humans and robotics together.”
Both students were able to write programming code when they came to the program, so their teacher didn’t need to teach them to code, but working on their projects taught them to work within a timeline and learn how to code more efficiently.
“When you work alone, if you find a problem, it’s hard to find how to go around it,” Ethan said.
The students in the Digital Media Academy at Argyle are learning a wide variety of skills, but Devam and Ethan took their project in a more technical and engineering direction than most.
Other student projects this past school year include creating a hyper-realistic model of a face whose resolution was so high it could be 3D printed at four feet by eight feet.
Some of the students do work for clients, making creative designs like information videos, websites or logos. Some students post their work on YouTube – one student has 21,000 followers on her YouTube channel, and another one got 190,000 hits in two months for one of her animations.