Neophyte creating high school Arduino curriculum

I have no experience with microcontrollers, but am a decent programmer. I need some advice on how/what to teach myself, then others.

I work at a science museum where we run day and week long camps for supplementary science education from pre-kindergarten to 9th grade. Currently I teach Lego Mindstorms robotics (including 24 First Lego League competition teams), a 3d modeling class, and a series of camps on video game programming. Excluding the FLL teams, all of the classes I currently teach are 5 days long, 3 hours a day. Class duration can be tailored as appropriate though (ie, to fit in on a single Saturday)

I am trying to expand our curriculum to include High School students. Id like to do that by guiding them the design and creation of something that can fuse the abstract world of programming with the real world. Arduino/microcontrollers seem perfect for this task, however I know very little about them (and what I do know is informally self taught).

For example, I can draw a full-adder from memory, but don't know what about the physical structure of an AND gate gives it it's properties.

A further consideration is that as part of our institution's mission, students who attend our programs always leave with something tactile from the class. Preferably, Id like each student to leave with a project they made using (and including) an Arduino-based microcontroller.

I looked around to determine if the cost was feasible. The Ardweeny caught my eye at $10 ( board wont let me post link ).

At this point, I am looking to the community for ideas on what I can make, in what period of time, for how much, and how to do it. Also, if you have a science-oriented thing you wish you were taught in high school - please let me know!.

LEDs are nice, but something moving is even better.
Servos are easy to control, so fit the bill well.

A small hexapod would be nice, can be made from just 3 servos.. and sensors like probing antennae can be made by hand.
http://www.clockworkrobot.com/hexapod/
Something like that should be doable if you manage to source the parts, and do a bit of circuit design so the atmega can be put on the little bot after being programmed (atmega chips are only a couple dollars a piece).

Another project that could be made with 'just' 3 servos is an arm that holds a pen, able to draw on a piece of paper.

Hope this helps.

As far as cost goes, you can get a Really Bare Bones Board for $12.50 from Moderndevice.

You can get an FTDI cable for everyone to share. If they fry the chip, you don't have to replace the whole wire.

I've already spoke to a teacher who taught me this because this post is what he is doing.

For 4.30 you can get a Launchpad which is a TI MSP430 which includes a cable.

A starter kit (depending on how many) come with some cool stuff to play with. You could have them make a remote and be able to turn off tvs (like a tv be gone sold at adafruit) but that'd get you in trouble. I used to be in a robot building project in high school 10 years ago where we had to design a robot with certain requirements. They held the competions at a mall in Oklahoma city. Might be something to get into. Or have them go to a maker fair.

I think it's a great idea and seems very feasible to me. Not sure I can give perfect project ideas off the top of my head, but I think good projects would try and show some of the following attributes:

Show the basic digital concept of on and off as it applies to real world examples using a microcontroller. Even something as simple as using a push button switch to turn on and off a buzzer and show that even that simple project then could be used to learn Morse code.

Show how microcontrollers can also interface with simple analog electronics such as wiring a simple pot to a analog input and then controlling the brightness of a led via pwm output signal.

Even just showing the direct relationship of the simple sketch statements used in the blink example, I thinks opens up a better understanding and appreciation of the more direct software/hardware relationship one has with microcontrollers Vs personal computers where the complexity of a large operating system has to mastered to some degree to even begin and always isolates the user from the hardware.

Good luck with your idea and I hope you are successful in your endeavor.

I am totally new to this culture, so each of your posts had mention of something I had to look up (launchpad, pwm, maker faire, atmega). Ive looked up those terms though, and have also read 450/600 pages of a textbook on Logic Design. While I can now look at circuit diagrams with a lot better intuition, I am still lost on many of the specifics relating to my endeavors here.

I have decided students must program the robot themselves, that the robot will feature motors and sensors. To this end, I plan to make a wall-avoiding car.

Antenna like in the wall avoiding robot that was linked are perfect. However, a wheeled approach seems superior, as it requires one less motor and is a lot easier to program.

I will also include the pwm controlled LED, because if nothing else it grants me a great segue into talking about derivatives and thus easing them into the culture shock of Cal A.

The TI MSP430 sounds great, but I think I remember reading about it being crippled by its extra-cost development tools and low amounts of RAM.

It is crucial to me that I be able to get as many of my students as possible to continue learning / creating / skill-building at home, independently. Pursuant to that, what is my best approach? From my ignorant perspective, Arduino's open source (and thus the semiofficial RBBB) seems to be a clear winner. Is this an accurate opinion?

Could some kind soul please point me in the direction of a 'microcontrollers for dummies' book/website, and/or give me links to what parts Id need to buy to make a simple, low coast wall-avoiding car? Having a teacher's salary, I am loathe to spend money on anything without being certain of my need (and I am hesitant on these matters, still).

I think the best Arduino-related beginner text is the one from Eathshine Electronics, which complements their starter kits. You can download it from their website.

If you want to look at something non-Arduino, see the "Stamps in Class" curriculum from Parallax. The manuals can be downloaded from their website.