The Array of Things isn’t just a city-scale scientific instrument, but an educational platform as well. Students working with AoT data and building their own sensor boxes can receive valuable hands-on experience with technology, programming, data analysis, and the scientific method. Since 2016, the Array of Things project has created and refined an educational curriculum called “Lane of Things” at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, introducing over 450 students to sensor and data science projects.

This coming year, with a fourth round of funding from the Motorola Solutions Foundation, Lane of Things will officially expand into a broader “School of Things” project, bringing the AoT-inspired curriculum to a larger group of teachers and schools. The new approach started this summer with a week-long professional development workshop for 11 Chicago middle and high school teachers, taught by the Lane of Things project team.

Teachers spend the week walking through the entire cycle of the curriculum, including time to build their own sensor mote to deploy and collect data for a day. The intention is not to instruct teachers on how to teach, but rather to have each teacher experience the curriculum and empower them to change it to best fit their own environment.

“I was excited because I love data and think helping students to answer questions through coding and data collection is really cool,” said Eleanor Flanagin, a teacher at Senn High School. “We’ve already implemented it through a physics/bio/computer science cross project that students plan and run. We got additional sensors and had the CS students learn to use the Photons [an IoT development kit] and use them to collect data in Millennium Park.”

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High school and middle school teachers from Chicago Public Schools learn about the School of Things curriculum at a professional development workshop in Summer 2018. (Photo by Dan Law/Lane Tech HS)

The School of Things curriculum builds upon lessons learned from three years of Lane of Things workshops, where students designed and constructed their own sensor boxes then deployed them in their school and, for 2018, at Wrigley Field. Over the course of eight weeks, students learn about using low-cost microcontrollers, environmental sensors, switches, triggers, events, cloud-based data collection, data analysis, large dataset visualization, digital design and fabrication, prototyping, client questioning and more.

Part of the power of the Lane of Things model is that it introduces these advanced STEM topics through applications relevant to student life. Students learn how to use these tools to design and build devices that can help them solve problems for themselves and for their communities, further touching upon civic engagement, social justice implications and ethics. Projects from the first three years have reflected that mixture, using sensors to ask questions about air quality and sound pollution in various parts of the Lane Tech campus, student and teacher emotional states, and whether the “Hawthorne Effect” influences hallway behavior.

Collaborating with the Chicago Cubs on designing sensors for Wrigley Field gave the students experience working with a client, balancing their own research interests with the constraints of the team and the high-traffic stadium environment. Student teams arrived at studying fan sentiment, environmental conditions such as wind, light, temperature, and humidity in the upper deck, and sound levels from the stadium out into the neighborhood.

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Lane of Things 2018 students and teachers pose at Wrigley Field on deployment day. (Photo by Rob Mitchum/University of Chicago)

The new Motorola Solutions Foundation grant will expand the School of Things professional development workshops for Chicago teachers, adding lessons geared more specifically to middle school students.

Middle school teachers in CPS teach a variety of subjects or work closely with a cohort of disciplinary teachers, creating an exciting opportunity for a truly interdisciplinary curriculum that would allow teachers to draw from math, science, and even the arts. This version of the course will be adjusted to use a more basic microcontroller that will make it age-appropriate for middle school students to implement a data collection project in a way that is particularly meaningful for that age group.

“The entire week was a great learning experience because I had never worked with mini-computer, circuits, or breadboards. I was afraid of damaging the cables and had no idea where to start,” said Yazmin Romo, who attended the first School of Things workshop and teaches computer science for pre-K to 8th-grade students at Dore Elementary School. “It was an eye opening experience on something I wanted to learn about but never had the time and experts to help. Little by little, I am going to get my students and myself to more complex technologies, and this was possible because now I feel more confident.”

Funding will also support the 2019 Lane of Things workshop as an ongoing testbed for improving the curriculum, and the creation of a published open source curriculum for use by additional classrooms.

To get involved with School of Things, e-mail katekusiak@uchicago.edu or visit the Array of Things education page.

About the Motorola Solutions Foundation