Pioneer students put coding, electronics know-how to the test with final projects – The Recorder


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NORTHFIELD — Students in Pioneer Valley Regional School’s engineering design class showcased their final coding and electronics projects last week, which included everything from a miniature LED baseball scoreboard to computer-controlled LED strip lights and games.

Innovation Center teacher Dr. John Heffernan, who instructs engineering and digital arts classes, said the only requirement for students was to use the provided Arduino LED circuit kits. From there, they were able to choose their own application, following the engineering design process to bring them to life.

Ninth-grade student and JV baseball player Ryan Guertin used his Arduino kit and software program to build a remote-controlled baseball scoreboard. Using a cardboard box to house the wiring and an Arduino circuit board, he drew the away and home team sides complete with balls, strikes and outs marked by LED lights, as well as a baseball diamond with LED lights to mark the players on base.

“We were joking around with the (athletic director) because they’re looking for a new scoreboard,” Heffernan said.

Students learned to use the Arduino software to program remote-controlled actions. Guertin explained that if you press a button on the remote, an associated code will appear in the computer software. Students then use this code to program a certain function for the remote buttons, allowing them to turn individual LED bulbs on and off or trigger light sequences across a strip of bulbs.

“The hardest part was probably the coding, just because I didn’t really have any experience with that,” Guertin said.

Pioneer Technology Director Tyler Pless helped students set up their software. He said he used similar kits when he was a student at the University of Massachusetts. Heffernan noted he has been teaching coding to high school students throughout the year, so they can have the introductory knowledge if they decide to take engineering. A couple of seniors said they plan to take more engineering courses, and are considering majoring in engineering in college.

“They say a lot of professionals now need to learn coding, especially in (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields,” Heffernan explained.

Pioneer senior Lily Faille, who plans to attend Suffolk University to study marketing, programmed her own version of the game “Simon.” She programmed four colored LED lights to flash in random sequences and, using a joystick to control the lights, a “player” attempts to repeat the pattern.

Tenth-grader Ryan Wyngowski shared a design for an LED maze. The design sees a path of green lights within a maze of red lights. Using a joystick, a player can travel through the maze with the green lights illuminating as they move along the path.

While he hit some hurdles in bringing his design to life, Wyngowski said he was “going to work through it to get to the finish,” prompting Heffernan to reply, “That is engineering.”

Senior Manny Little programmed LED lights to “travel” along a strip at different speeds and in different patterns. He said there was a fair amount of coding involved to program the infrared sensor and remote. Heffernan called Little the class’ “ace programmer,” noting he had helped other students with aspects of coding. Little said he enjoys seeing coded programs translate to actions in real life. He has taken previous engineering classes and Arduino coding lessons at Pioneer, and plans to further his engineering education at Greenfield Community College.

Fellow seniors Max Saviano and Nolan Carmody programmed and built a tic-tac-toe game using their kit. They placed a sensor on either side of the box that housed the wiring, so that each player had their own remote. Each square on the board had a green and red bulb, indicating which player holds the space. They said the most difficult aspect was coding, as they programmed each LED bulb to be able to turn on and off individually. Ultimately, they said they are pleased with how smoothly the system worked.

“Basically, it’s one through nine on the remote, simple as that, like a tic-tac-toe board,” Carmody explained. “Press 1, it corresponds to square No. 1 on the board. … You press it once to go on, and twice to shut off.”

Carmody said he plans to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he will major in aeronautical engineering. Saviano said he will be attending the University of Vermont, and is considering a major in psychology.

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