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The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

.NET Gadgeteer Stirs Excitement in British Schools

.NET Gadgeteer Stirs Excitement in British Schools

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Youngsters love gadgets. So wouldn’t it be great if they could build their own, and at school? This is exactly what more than 70 British students, ages 13 to 16, are doing by using .NET Gadgeteer. On January 30, they gathered at the Microsoft Research Cambridge Lab to present their final projects and celebrate the end of the first .NET Gadgeteer school pilot project in the United Kingdom (UK).

Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer is a platform that allows you to rapidly create prototypes of small electronic gadgets and embedded hardware devices. It combines the advantages of object-oriented programming, solderless assembly of electronics using a kit of hardware modules, and the quick fabrication of a physical enclosure using computer-aided design. The fact that .NET Gadgeteer covers a variety of sophisticated computer science and engineering skills, but requires minimal prior knowledge, makes it especially suitable for school education.

The UK school pilot involved eight secondary schools from the counties of Cambridgeshire and Essex. It was launched with an initial training workshop for teachers on October 6, 2011. After initial training, the schools used .NET Gadgeteer GHI FEZ Spider Starter Kits and worked through eight lesson plans created by Dr. Sue Sentance of Anglia Ruskin University. Lessons included construction of a digital camera, a stopwatch, and a game. The course was taught during lunch or after school over a 10-week period. The final weeks of the course were spent on individual and group .NET Gadgeteer projects that were then presented at the celebratory January 30 event at Microsoft Research.

Some of the student inventions from the .NET Gadgeteer pilot projectSome of the student inventions from the .NET Gadgeteer pilot project

The celebration included talks by Christopher Bishop on “Secrets of the Web” and Andrew Fitzgibbon on “Kinect: Solving an Impossible Problem.” It also featured a lunchtime demo session, consisting of .NET Gadgeteer school and research demos as well as demos of cutting-edge Microsoft Research technologies such as KinectFusion, HoloDesk and SecondLight, and a show-and-tell of each school’s projects.

Students from Comberton Village College present their group project.Students from Comberton Village College present their group project.

Also attending the celebration was a team of students from The Greneway School, the winners of The Think Computer Science Great Gadgimagining! competition. Their winning entry, the Greneway Super Walking Stick, a cane “designed with elderly people in mind, helping them to keep their independence,” is intended to sense when the user may have fallen and notify an emergency contact. The walking stick was prototyped during the event by Greneway students, together with .NET Gadgeteer inventor Nicolas Villar, and presented at the end of the celebration.

The Greneway School team celebrates their winning entry, the Greneway Super Walking Stick.The Greneway School team celebrates their winning entry,
the Greneway Super Walking Stick.

The enthusiasm and dedication shown by the youngsters and teachers during the school pilot demonstrate the hunger for hands-on computer science in schools. The high level of student engagement is perhaps best captured in this message posted by one of the teachers in the pilot’s Edmodo group:

“First day back at school, the building is cold and miserable but 7 kids have turned up after school to start designing and making their own gadgets ready for 30th Jan! The atmosphere is amazing—two groups, one either side of a mobile whiteboard, planning and drawing their gadgets and code on either side. One group using polystyrene (and hair slides!) to construct the physical object ready for their code. Loving it!”

The .NET Gadgeteer pilot project aligns with the UK’s commitment to prioritize computer science education in schools, as spelled out by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in his speech at the BETT Show (see School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme).

We look forward to more schools, colleges, and universities utilizing .NET Gadgeteer to unleash their students’ creativity and enthusiasm in technology—in the UK, and beyond.

Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA, and Steve Hodges, Principal Hardware Engineer, Microsoft Research Cambridge

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