On 19th May 2015, we ran workshop for a group of schoolchildren at the TEN Centre, Worsley, introducing them to environmental sensing and creative computing.

Continuing our partnership with Smart Citizen, we’ve been working with RM Education to develop a pilot programme of workshops designed to introduce schoolchildren to concepts around sensors, data and computational thinking. Five local schools from around Salford are involved in the pilot, with thirty students aged 8 – 15. Following an initial workshop earlier in the month with teachers from each school, they each brought a group of students back to the TEN Centre last week to get to grips with environmental sensing, the Smart Citizen Kit and data visualisation.

We had a number of interactive sessions planned for the day, and began with a discussion about everyday sensors – from motion sensors to hands-free taps, they were encouraged to think about what they could do with sensors connected to the internet, or a larger network of sensors. They were soon able to name the various components of the Smart Citizen Kit, partly thanks to the TEN Centre’s Research & Play programme which already had them familiarised with Arduino and simple programming. They were also able to predict the effects of various atmospheric changes during a series of quick experiments, where they used artificial light, oxides, hot water and sound to influence the readings of each sensor.

We then went on a journey around the world through the Smart Citizen Platform, where students worked in smaller groups to investigate an assigned sensor. Using the latest readings and the information attached to their sensor, the students managed to make assumptions about its environment; one group found that their Caribbean-based sensor was reading no light, at 0 lux, so deduced that it must be kept in an enclosed space.

After lunch, we opened up the creative possibilities of data using simple visualisations and the brilliant Sonic Pi – a simple programming tool that allows users to make music with code. This saw the students working collaboratively to create music based on the sensor readings, using play and sleep commands. We’ll share some code with each school that will allow them to ‘play’ the data captured by their sensors, and we can’t wait to hear what they come up with.

Participants were now full of ideas; each school received a Smart Citizen Kit and will use it to form a project using these new concepts. Ellesmere Park High will surely give their sensor a weathering when they take it on a pair of expeditions for their Duke of Edinburgh award, while another school is planning to monitor their energy usage through light and temperature levels.

We’re looking forward to seeing the different uses the schools come up with and although the project sensors will be working offline for the time being, you’ll soon be able to see updates from Primrose Hill Primary, Ellesmere Park High, The Cathedral School of St Peter & St John, Irlam Endowed Primary and St Mark’s CE at smartcitizen.me (search for ‘Smart Schools’).

With huge thanks to Steven Flower who partnered in designing and facilitating the event, and Smart Citizen – all of this could not have been done without support from Tomas Diez, Guillem Camprodon and the team.