Introduction: Electronic Tiles - a Physical Environment for Classroom Electronic Experiments
Background and introduction to the project:
This project started last school year as I saw many of my 11th grade students struggling with basic concepts in simple electronics and circuit design in their robotics and mechatronic projects. Students struggled to understand why are some motors getting overheated, why do they sometimes burn electric parts and what are the meanings of teacher’s questions about voltage, current and resistance they met when trying to consult about these issues.
I intentionally avoided teaching basic electronics as a theoretical subject as not to interfere with the ‘hands on’ approach we usually focus on. However – this important knowledge was obviously missing.
I thought then I needed to create a learning environment that will allow teaching basic electronics principles in a simple and accessible way - as ‘hands on’ as possible. I took inspiration from Tinkercad’s circuit environment which helps constructing an electronic circuit in an easy and accessible way. I wanted to create a bridge between Tinkercad’s simulator and our workshop physical environment. Often our young students struggle with the small electronic parts and with the many connectivity issues they encounter when trying to fiddle with them. I wanted to create an environment in which students could construct basic circuits in a way it will be easy to create and easy to understand, test and change.
I adopted most ideas from Exploratorium ‘circuits boars’ and Elenco Snap circuits. Then made it into a laser manufactured DIY personalized version. My version makes use of electronic components I wanted to introduce and teach and use the same wires, connectors and electronic parts my students learn to use on this project and later on implement in their bigger projects. Hence our advantage in using our own specialized kit.
We now use this Learning Enviroment in the 10th-12th grades. It is easily suitable for students from 8th grade up.
The ‘Electronic tiles Game’ is made of two main physical parts:
- electronic tiles
- peg board
Using the electronic tile game in my classroom usually involves these steps:
- students assemble tiles according to ready made example (by doing so they learn about our electronic shop – where are tools and parts located, how to solder, strip wires etc.)
- students create and design a project in Tinkercad drawing circuits according to task given by teacher
- students build the Tinkercad designed circuits in real life using their electronic tiles and peg board
- students run tests and draw conclusions on different electronic principles based on the project they built.
Parts and materials:
- 40cmX40cm 3.8 mm poplar wood sheets for laser cutting
- ‘white cable connectors’ (we use these to avoid soldering and to easily create and modify the wiring involved in the project. It is really easy for our students to use and we really like it).
- electronic parts like: Hobby DC motor, resistors, different size AA battery packs, LED’s, Geared TT dc motor, potentiometers, E10 light bulbs E10 light bulb housing and more.
- Electric jumper wire
- 7.6 mm outed diameter plastic straw to be used as sticking pegs for the tiles (we use the straws from this kids construction game)
- Laser cutter
- Hot glue gun
- wire stripper
- box knife
Step 1: Laser Cutting the Tiles and Peg Boards
for this part you are going to need a laser cutter. If you don’t have one, you can have these parts cut for you elsewhere as the laser cutting is not an integral part of this project from this stage on. We only use laser cutting in this project to easily and affordably manufacture the parts that will be used later on. Feel free to make changes to my design. You might want to change the peg holes size as you might use other pegs than mine. For the manufacturing of the tiles and peg boards I used 3.8mm wood sheets for laser cutting. You can use any other material available to you.
All tiles and the peg board files are attached as DXF and SVG files.
Step 2: Assembly of the Tiles - Inserting the Pegs (plastic Straw):
The students are presented with a ready made example of the tiles. Their job is to create a kit for their team/class. You can cut only the tiles relevant for a specific group of students.
Insertion of the pegs (plastic straw):
Construction of the tiles starts with inserting the two plastic straw pegs that will allow the tile to be easily connected to the peg board panel later on.
We insert the plastic straw peg into the tile when placed on the peg board, inserting the straw through the hole in the peg board all the way to the table. That’s how you will be sure that your peg is sticking out the other side of the tile just the right length. Then cut the remaining peg sticking upwards with a knife, try and make as clean a cut as possible.
Step 3: Assembly of the Tiles – Reproduction of the Example Tile:
sticking the ‘white cable connectors':
Use the example tile as reference and start by picking the ‘white cable connectors’ needed. The connectors come in pairs and can be separated to single ones using a knife and some force.
Stick the ‘white cable connectors’ in the according positions.
connecting electronic bits:
some electronic bits need to have wires soldered to them, others, like this LED in the picture – do not. Keep in mind that some electronic parts are sensitive to the direction of the current flowing through them (like an LED). I choose to connect polarity sensitive parts with a black and red wires while connecting other ‘non polarity sensitive’ parts with a different color wires.
Step 4: Design of a Circuit in Tinkercad Circuits
Students are given a task to design different circuits according to the class goals that day. In this example we see circuits made by students that were given a task to design a circuit with a power supply and a load (motor/ lamp/ LED or others) that uses a potentiometer as a controller, controlling the performance of the load.
Step 5: Building of the Tinkercad Design Circuit Using the ‘Electronic Tiles Game’
Students assemble their designed circuits using the electronic tiles and the peg board. They can easily place components and connect them together in various ways using jumper wires. After they successfully build their designed circuit they are requested to perform various measurements of current, voltage and resistance, answer questions regarding their circuit in a work sheet and present their circuit to the class.
First Prize in the