One of the greatest joys in teaching is when the students “get it”. Last night, one of my artist students suddenly understood the relationship between the computer code, LED’s, wiring schemes, and how to make things work. And when he managed to add another LED successfully to the mix, there was a shout “I DID IT ALL BY MYSELF”. Later, he carefully put the whole breadboard / LED mix into his box so he could show his wife.
This class has been has been an incredible learning experience for me. Some of the things I’ve learned include:
But maybe the most important thing is how to teach really hard electronics and programming tasks to a group of people who didn’t think they could do this. It’s breaking things down into a very hands-on-approach. Instead of writing the code; we read the code and modify it. I do the hard programming; but they are learning how to do things because there is an incentive. A for loop isn’t scary when it lets you change the colors of lights. And defining the hardware interface is much easier if you call the port “RED, BLUE, or GREEN”. That lets them tap into their knowledge of color theory and bring something back into the program.
For the next couple of weeks, we are going to focus on their projects. Everyone is limited to 49 LED’s maximum. Of course the first question was “what if I want more LED’s”. The answer is yes we can handle more; a couple of ways are using shift registers or multiple boards. But it’s really complicated and no one is ready for that. It may take a second class. Let’s get the first project done. The second question was can I put this on top of my bronze statue. And the answer is “Of course yes, but make that your second project”. It’s going to be amazing to see what artists can do with the light shows. We are opening up a whole new branch of art combining technology and classical bronze sculptures.
One advantage artists have of engineers is that they can easily visualize how to turn 3D structures into 2D drawings and vice versa. So when I told them that we were going to create 3D sculptures, but they were limited to a matrix of 7×7 which could be in any shape; no one had any problems. They fully grasped how a 3x3x3 cube of 27 LED’s translated into a matrix of 3×9 and how the patterns drawn on graph paper translated back into the 3D structure. That is a very hard skill for engineers. We are going to put the electronics together on a piece of posterboard with extra long wires. We’ll convert the code for the 3x3x3 into rows by columns and modify for their own sizes. Each person adds one new pattern. Then they can build their structure separately and later combine the two. That way, they walk out with a finished art project and skills to build a small LED light show. HURRAHHHHH!!!!