A new Innovation Generation grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation will help Array of Things expand its educational curriculum to additional Chicago Public Schools classrooms in 2018. Building upon two successful years of workshops with over 300 students at Lane Tech High School, the program will train teachers and package materials for a hands-on experience with the Internet of Things, coding, data science, and other key computer science and technology concepts.

The Array of Things (AoT) is an urban sensing project led by the Urban Center for Computation and Data (UrbanCCD) and designed to act as a “fitness tracker for the city,” measuring data on infrastructure, environment, and activity in Chicago and other urban areas. In addition to its science and community engagement goals, the AoT project prioritizes education, introducing students to valuable tech skills through the creation and deployment of their own sensor experiments.

Since early 2016, team members from the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have worked with teachers at Chicago's Lane Tech High School to develop the “Lane of Things” workshop, with support from the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

“The stars aligned on this endeavor for both the educators and the students,” said Jeff Solin, teacher of Lane Tech’s Innovation and Creation Lab course. “Due to the dynamic nature of the curriculum, students are the ones generating their own data science questions where each project yields different sensor and programming needs. The creative ideas of the students became catalysts for engaging discussions on ethics, civic engagement, community needs, and more.”

Over 8 weeks, students learned about AoT and other sensing projects, generated their own research questions, designed and constructed a sensor “node,” installed the equipment, collected data, and analyzed the results. More than 100 projects have been completed so far, investigating hallway traffic, greenhouse soil conditions, indoor and outdoor air quality, classroom sound levels, and many more data-driven questions.

“With Lane of Things, students develop an understanding of the applicability of computer science, data science, and engineering in their everyday lives,” said Charlie Catlett, director of UrbanCCD, Computation Institute Senior Fellow, and Argonne Senior Computer Scientist. “Encountering hands-on programming, design, and engineering grounded in experiences that were less abstract and more relevant to the students increased their appreciation of the impact and importance of science and technology.”

Under the new grant, the Lane of Things team will create a week-long professional development workshop for 20 Chicago Public Schools computer science teachers, to be held in Summer 2018. These teachers will learn about the Lane of Things curriculum, constructing their own sensor node and adapting the workshop to fit their own classroom environment. Additional weekend workshops will be held four times during the following school year to provide further discussion and support to teachers implementing the curriculum.

To further disseminate the curriculum, the Lane of Things team will also organize sharable lesson plans, instructions, videos, presentations, and a sensor code directory. Modules will include an overview of the Array of Things project, microcontroller basics, sensor wiring and coding, sensor enclosure prototyping, deployment, and data analytics/visualization. Teaching materials will be based on the 2016 and 2017 Lane of Things workshops, as well as a third year of the program in winter 2018.

“Our students have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with the entire curriculum and all of the team members involved,” Solin said. “What we're most excited about with this recent grant award is that we can finally appropriately package the curriculum and develop and deliver thoughtful, engaging professional development so that many more teachers and students can share our experiences.”

In addition to Catlett and Solin, partners on the Lane of Things project include Lane Tech computer science teacher Dan Law; Douglas Pancoast and Robb Drinkwater from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Satya Basu of Perkins+Will; and Kate Kusiak Galvin from UrbanCCD. Devices for the workshop were provided by Particle, and Microsoft is developing an educational data dashboard for the curriculum using their Azure service.

This year, Motorola Solutions Foundation grants will support programs that help over 2 million students, teachers, first responders, and community members across the United States. Each participant will receive an average of 186 programming hours from its partner non-profit organizations and institutions. Programs will support special populations including: females, underrepresented minorities, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, people with disabilities, and veterans.

“Motorola Solutions Foundation is proud to support the work of the Urban Center for Computation and Data.  As a leading technology company that supports the safety of communities worldwide, we know how important it is to educate tomorrow’s technology professionals as well as enlighten civilians and first responders on today’s safety needs,” said Matt Blakely, executive director of the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

To read about Lane of Things and student projects from the 2016 and 2017 workshops, visit the new Array of Things blog.