The Scratch programming language is a super way of introducing kids to programming concepts. It can be extended to do some amazingly sophisticated things, but it sometimes feels like a restrictively closed environment. The addition of a Picoboard into the mix can expand your programming horizons and the opportunity for fun extensively.
The Picoboard connects to your computer via the USB port and comes built-in with a light sensor, a sound sensor, a press-switch and a slider. It also has four ports that can measure resistance and it’s these that really open things up. We immediately tried out the sensors and there’s fun to be had with graphing sound levels and having your Scratch cat react to light levels. We used the resistance sensors to test for salty or clean water and set up a little program that determined whether the person holding the crocodile clips was human – based on their elctrical resistance.
The real beauty of the resistance sensors is that they will take intput from any analogue source. We tried connecting bits from an old Wise Hawk electronics kit and they worked perfectly. That means that the possibilities are, at least, very extensive.
There’s something about seeing your computer react to real-world input that makes the whole experience seem so much more engaging. And as a way of demonstrating the way sensors are used in the world at large you can’t go past this.
FYI: We bought our Picoboard from Little Bird Electronics here in Sydney for just over A$50. The kits comes with the board and four sets of crocodile-clips. There’s no building beyond sticking on some rubber feet to protect the bottom of the board.