SMART:Blox: Integrating Programming into S.T.E.M. Education

SMART:Blox is a groundbreaking educational tool designed by POLYTECH to advance S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education by incorporating computer programming skills into the curriculum. This intuitive play-and-train set leverages a block programming platform, Arduino-based controller, and a variety of electronic input and output devices to educate students in the basics of programming and computer science while exploring key S.T.E.M. principles through hands-on projects.

SMART:Blox offers an engaging, user-friendly system for young learners:

  • Building Block Design: Electronic components are designed as building blocks compatible with branded plastic building blocks, enabling easy and intelligent designs.
  • Simple Connections: All connections use RJ11 cables, eliminating the need for complex wiring.
  • Graphical User Interface: An intuitive block-based programming environment simplifies coding for students with no prior experience, fostering a step-by-step understanding from algorithmic thinking to real programming.

POLYTECH’s C-STEM (Computer coding-Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) methodology integrates computing and programming as central elements in the S.T.E.M. curriculum. This approach addresses the growing need for computing skills in global education and real-life applications, transforming traditional teaching methods into interactive, problem-solving learning experiences.

Goals of C-STEM Training with SMART:Blox

C-STEM training aims to:

  • Develop problem-solving skills and collaborative work.
  • Teach the relationship between hardware and software.
  • Introduce basic algorithmic problem-solving.
  • Enable students to construct and manipulate programs and understand programming logic.
  • Foster creativity and innovation in building and controlling tangible projects.

SMART:Blox is designed for comprehensive C-STEM training, suitable for students of all ages and levels. When combined with plastic building block modules and connected to the ARD:icon controller via the ARD:icon application, students can create and program various smart structures. The system introduces fundamental programming concepts such as iteration, conditional statements, and variables through practical S.T.E.M. projects.

  1. ARD:icon Hardware: A user-friendly Arduino controller with analog and digital ports, a power connector, reset switch, and USB port for PC or iOS/Android connection. Optional Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and battery pack.
  2. ARD:icon Software: A block-based coding environment compatible with MS Windows and Android. It includes control libraries of input and output devices.
  3. EB:Blocks (Electronic Building Blocks): Over 40 programmable electronic devices (digital circuits such as sensors, switches, LEDs etc.) that can be built as construction blocks (the I/O devices are housed within Lego-type compatible building blocks), enabling extensive experimentation and project development.
  4. C:STEM an educational process that guides students to experiment and practice algorithmic thinking through programming, seting up the ground to think about solutions to real-life problems, offering a variety of tested examples and methods.

Features of the ARD:icon Microcontroller

  • 4 Analog I/O Ports RJ11
  • 5 Digital I/O Ports RJ11
  • 1 Joystick Port/RJ11
  • 1 Serial COM Port
  • 1 SPI Serial Communication Port/RJ11
  • 1 I2C Communication Port for interfacing with other ADR:icon/RJ11
  • Connection to tablet or computer

Programming capabilities with block-based commands

  • Mathematical operations
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Functions
  • Variables and constants
  • Loops
  • Delays
  • Real-time functions
  • Loop programming
  • Robotic motion programming

Overview

ARD:icon, developed by Polytech, is a small computer designed to facilitate education in computer science and computational thinking. It is especially suitable for beginners, offering a robust introduction through a variety of sensors, interfaces, and a dedicated programming environment.

ARD:icon serves as an excellent tool for introducing students to programming and robotics. Its intuitive graphical interface, multilingual support, and comprehensive simulation capabilities make it a powerful educational platform.

Educational Capabilities

The set offers a comprehensive educational solution for learning basic and advanced principles of programming and robotics. The ARD:icon software includes:

  • Educational applications
  • Tutorials
  • Videos
  • Educational content

With this set, students can develop skills in programming and robotics while exploring the use of various sensors and actuators, contributing to their knowledge in STEM fields.

Key Features and Components

  1. Rich Sensor and Interface Set
    • Equipped with multiple sensors.
    • Interfaces for various devices, including motors and LEDs.
  2. Programming Environments
    • Comes with Polytech’s proprietary ARD:icon programming environment.
    • Compatible with multiple Arduino IDEs, allowing flexibility in programming choices.
  3. Tile Language Programming
    • Utilizes a graphical tile language to make programming intuitive and engaging.
    • Ideal for beginners, resembling a game-like experience.
    • Supports multiple languages including English, Greek, French, and Russian.
  4. Code Generation
    • Converts graphical programming into Arduino (C++) and C code.
    • Displays the generated code in pop-up windows for educational purposes.
  5. Open Source Libraries
    • Incorporates open source libraries.
    • Provides an accessible and powerful programming environment.
  6. Driver Libraries
    • Rich set of drivers for sensors and interface devices.
    • Each library is integrated into the ARD:icon application, corresponding to a specific icon.
  7. Simulation Capabilities
    • Includes a simulator to test and visualize code execution.
    • Displays all simulated devices to help students debug and refine their designs before physical implementation.

Specialized Features for Robotic Arm Programming

  • 3D Space Programming
    • Allows programming of robotic arm movements in a 3D space.
  • Monitoring and Visualization
    • Monitors arm movement in the X-Y-Z plane with 3D graphics.
    • Continuous tracking of the movement of the four arm motors.

Benefits

  • Engaging Learning Environment
    • The tile language and game-like interface make learning to code fun and accessible.
  • Comprehensive Teaching Solution
    • ARD:icon offers a complete package with educational content, software, and hardware integration.
  • Multilingual Support
    • Provides software and content in multiple languages to cater to a diverse student population.
  • Practical Learning
    • Students can simulate and visualize their projects, gaining hands-on experience in debugging and functional testing.

The ARD:icon© Software

The ARD:icon© software that accompanies every POLYTECH STEM set is a visual programming editor by Polytech that uses drag-and-drop blocks a powerful teaching and programming tool for:

  • the strengthening of computational and algorithmic thinking
  • developing skills for computer programming, robotics, automation and familiarity with programming code
  • the design of basic technical and scientific applications, mathematical calculations and other technological solutions with a view to the whole range of STEM applications

In addition, it offers a modern method for teaching these fundamental concepts to students through a variety of activities, exercises and group assignments based on STEM methodology.

ARD:icon© software offers an educational platform with teaching applications, aids, videos and content that make up an integrated solution. The software environment and the entire content is offered in English, Greek or Russian language. ARD:icon, using a block language environment with built-in real programming commands, offers a unique programming platform that automatically generates and exports the code defined by the student in Arduino language (the controller’s natural language based on C++) and simultaneously in C language in a split window.

The main teaching subsystems offered are:

  • ARD:icon© SB – Circuit programming and simulation software using the equipment and hardware offered per set.
  • ΑRD:icon© EB – An eBook format application which incorporates the curriculum and enables students through the software instructions (C.A.I.) to perform activities on their own outside of the teaching period (Self paced training) but also within the teaching period under the supervision of the teacher.
  • ARD:icon© CS – A subsystem of the platform based on Polytech software, Academus CRS – class interaction and management system – for interactive teaching activities with tools to assist the teacher in the presentation of lessons.
  • S1 A Kit: Extends the basic kit with more input and output devices for advanced programming.
  • S1 ECO Kit: Focuses on ecology-oriented projects.
  • S2 AUTO Kit: Targets motion and automation technology projects.
  • S3 PCB.P Kit: Dedicated to physics-oriented projects.
  • S3 PCB.CB Kit: Geared towards chemistry and biology projects.
  • S4 MATH Kit: Designed for mathematics-oriented projects.
  • S5 Green Energy Kits: Includes various subsets (Solar, Wind, Fuel Cells, Mechanical to Electrical, and Thermoelectric Generators) for alternative renewable energy training.

SMART:Blox by POLYTECH is a versatile, low-cost educational tool that bridges the gap between traditional S.T.E.M. education and modern computational thinking. It equips students with the skills needed to understand and create technology, fostering a deeper engagement with S.T.E.M. disciplines through interactive and hands-on learning experiences.

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