Cross-Curricular Connections: Exploring the "At the Pumpkin Patch" UnitSep 30, 2023
This month’s unit feature focuses on our “At the Pumpkin Patch” submodule under the “Seasonal Creations” Unit in Content Library Junior. This unit tackles 3D Design and simple circuits using the program Tinkercad. Students learn how to carve pumpkins and design a 3D pumpkin patch - drawing from the concept of The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.
The Blaze includes pumpkins carved and shaped into a variety of different designs, such as dinosaurs, sunflowers, bridges, and more. However, a key element to the Blaze is that the pumpkins are lit with LED lights. So, this unit also teaches students the basics of circuitry. In the “At the Pumpkin Patch” unit, students design a simple LED circuit, learn to operate an LED circuit with code, and further expand upon this knowledge by learning how to create a circuit that makes the LED lights blink.
Part 1: 3D Design
In the first portion of this activity, students are introduced to Tinkercad’s 3D Design platform and the various tools available in this program. We explore simple concepts, such as how to copy and paste objects, as well as how to navigate the Tinkercad workspace. All of these concepts taught in the first few lessons can be applied to any 3D design, but learning how to Align and Group objects, as well as how to Copy and Paste, can be translated to many different designing programs, helping to build student’s technological literacy.
Once we scratch the surface of basic 3D design tools, we move into the mathematical concepts of Length, Width, and Height. When working in 3D Design, the measurements for an object’s length, width and height can be changed both by typing the exact measurement into the boxes surrounding the object or manually adjusting these white boxes using your cursor.
Yet an important concept to understand when designing objects is how to create them to scale. Once we explore Length, Width and Height, students then learn how to calculate Scale and Proportion. Tinkercad operates in millimeters, so if a sketch is drawn using inches, meters, or another unit of measurement, students need to learn to convert to create an accurate representation of the object in their 3D workspace. Because Content Library Junior is intended for young learners and newer coders, these lessons teach these concepts at the basic level to set a foundation for our students so that they understand what it is they are changing and manipulating when they work in Tinkercad.
From here, we start 3D designing by learning how to digitally carve a pumpkin in Tinkercad. To carve out objects, students need to duplicate the object and change the duplicate to a transparent object. Then, the objects are grouped together. Recall that we mentioned some of the concepts in this unit can be applied to various programs. Another skill that translates across multiple programs is holding the Shift key to select multiple objects. This allows us to group the objects together. Holding the Shift key to select multiple objects also works for programs like Scratch, as well as graphic design programs like Canva, so while students are learning how to use 3D design, they are continuously building skills that can help them technologically across many platforms.
Once students understand how to carve a basic pumpkin, they can incorporate their own creativity to build a design of choice. We use the simple concept of carving houses into the pumpkins and combining them all together to create a pumpkin patch neighborhood. Yet students can choose to create designs similar to those of The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, as well as any design that comes to mind. This is an opportunity to exercise creativity and critical thinking skills, two of the 4 C’s of the 21st Century Skills that are so significant for student success. With a combination of general technological skills, 3D design skills, and mathematical concepts, there are a variety of cross-curricular connections occurring in the first part of this submodule alone.
Part 2: LED Circuits
Creating a Circuit with an LED
When we begin part two, students learn how to set up a simple circuit using an LED, a resistor, jumper wires, a breadboard, and an Arduino. Students learn that resistors are needed in order not to overload the LED light. The Arduino computer acts as the power source, which will operate the LED once code is written. Using the breadboard, the green wire is connected from the bent leg of the LED to pin 10 on the Arduino. The bent leg of the LED represents the anode, which indicates a positive charge. The color green suggests a power source. In contrast, a black jumper wire indicates ground, and is connected both to the bottom leg of the resistor and the GRND pin on the Arduino. Notice that the resistor is then placed on the side of the LED with the straight leg, or cathode, which indicates a negative charge. Ultimately, the jumper wires allow us to create a closed circuit, allowing electricity to flow in one direction.
Activating the LED with Code
From here, students write very basic block code to operate the Arduino and make the LED light up. Here, we explore the computer programming concept of loops. The forever instruction creates what is known as an infinite loop, meaning the code inside of it will run continuously. This makes it so the LED, which is attached to the Arduino using a jumper wire at pin 10, will always be turned on (indicated by the word HIGH). At this point in the program, students have utilized math, computer programming and 3D design skills, many of which can be used in various other activities and programs, as well.
Making the LED Light Blink
After students learn to write basic code to operate the circuit, we connect to how the displays at The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze not only include illuminated pumpkins, but blinking lights. In the first step of coding the circuit, students learn that the word HIGH tells the computer to activate the pin to turn on the LED in the circuit. Here, we build on this concept, explaining that LOW will turn the LED off. If we make it so that the instructions alternate between HIGH and LOW in the infinite loop, the LED will turn on and off continuously, making it blink. A key concept also discussed here is the need to add a wait instruction in between activating and deactivating the LED. Otherwise, the code will be carried out so quickly that we would not be able to see the LED blinking.
Alternating Blinking LED Lights
Finally, we discuss how displays at events such as The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze not only have blinking lights, but lights that alternate blinking. Here, we add another LED light to the circuit. This requires adding another jumper wire to connect the anode of the second LED to another pin on the Arduino.
Once the LED is connected, we continue to build students’ coding skills by adding onto the program. We are able to use the same code as with the first LED, as long as we ensure that we switch the pin to the correct pin at which the second LED is connected to the Arduino. Knowing this, students can also be challenged to add onto the code independently and then return to the video lessons to check their work. This is a great way to encourage more independent coding among our younger and newer learners, while not providing them a challenge that is too overwhelming.
When working in Tinkercad’s Circuits platform, there is the option to write code in block form, text form, or both. Arduino computers are operated using the C++ programming language. This submodule also explores what the circuit code looks like in C++. Being able to see the block code against the text code is a great way to scaffold teaching text coding. Students should be able to detect key words, such as the Arduino pins and numbers, the words HIGH and LOW, and the word “loop” to indicate the forever loop. Yet the syntax of text programming can be tricky to understand, so previewing the code in the C++ language gives students exposure to learning where parenthesis, semicolons and other forms of punctuation are placed in the code. While the syntax varies from language to language, this still provides students an opportunity to begin understanding what code looks like in text form.
Connecting It All
The “At the Pumpkin Patch” activity is a submodule in a larger module of activities. Even still, it is packed with a variety of concepts and skills. This unit contains general computer programming concepts, math skills, creativity and use of 21st century skills, connections to real-life experiences such as The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, and simple circuitry all in one submodule. By incorporating multiple skills simultaneously, students learn the importance of drawing from all areas of knowledge when solving problems, rather than compartmentalize their knowledge, as is often how standard curricula is set up. It is important for students to be creative with the knowledge they’re given and learn to utilize the skills they’ve built - no matter the subject area - to successfully solve any given challenge. This is what STEM education can do for our students, and it starts with working with simple projects like this one!
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