March 25th, 2011 by uptownmaker
Our GHC project actually has its roots in a class in the basement of the Hack Factory. Member Mike Hord (that’s me!) teaches semi-regular introduction to electronics courses, and the syllabus is daunting: take a complete neophyte and explain current, voltage, ohms, breadboards, and circuit diagrams well enough for them to build a simple circuit.
One of the bigger problems is making the leap from circuit diagram to breadboarded circuit. Those of us who’ve been working with electronics for a long time forget how what it’s like to not intrinsically understand the ins and outs of schematic representation of a circuit. It’s like reading- chances are, you can’t remember what it was like before you could read every word you saw (taking a trip in a country with a completely foreign alphabet- for instance, predominantly Arabic- can be a revelatory experience in this regard!).
Enter the 10x breadboard- a 2′x5′ scaled-up breadboard with similarly sized components (fully functional, of course!).
With a tool like this on the wall (or table), an instructor can easily and visibly demonstrate EXACTLY which connections the students are expected to make. The benefit of this is clear- it gives the students a jumpstart past the frustrating and awkward “why isn’t this working” phase straight into the “hey, a blinking LED!” phase.
The major benefit of it is that it can be constructed out of very cheap, very crude materials. The most expensive parts are the actual electronic components themselves, which get hidden away inside the scaled-up components- and even those are relatively cheap (the assortment of parts that I provide to my introductory students runs to about $10 if purchased in bulk). The breadboard itself can be constructed of plywood with holes drilled in it, pegboard, foamcore, disused cardboard scrap, or any other relatively flat and sturdy substrate, and the contacts can be aluminum foil, cut-down pop cans, bean and vegetable cans, or thin sheet steel. For wire, solid or stranded copper wire, baling wire, or even bent coat hangers with the paint scraped off the end can be put to the job.
The end result is a teaching aid that can bring electronics instruction ANYWHERE- mountaintop villages, inner city schools, refugee camps. Certainly there are other options for demonstrating these things to students but nothing that has the same tangible quality, or the same visual clarity. This can be used in places where a printer is unavailble, where the idea of a laptop and projector are laughable because there isn’t even electricity.
While it may seem trivial to think of instructing people in extreme poverty in electronics, the goal isn’t to create hobbyists in a Brazilian favela- it’s to plant the itch in those kids that says “I need to find out more about this”. Electronics is one of those things that, to the right person, becomes a mad, consuming passion. Hopefully, this project will provide a means to reach out to kids who would otherwise never get a chance to discover that passion and maybe, just maybe, that passion will lift a few of them out of poverty.