Arduino Kits Developed for Physics 111A During Online Instruction

Arduino Kits Developed for Physics 111A During Online Instruction
May 20, 2020
Tuesday, May 5, 2020 to Wednesday, May 6, 2020

In April students in the Physics 111A Glaser Advanced Laboratory received packages from Berkeley Physics in the mail. These Arduino kits, used to build circuits for the course, allowed students to continue their hands-on learning at home to complement their online instruction. 

The kits were assembled by Professor Joel Fajans, the course instructor, who mailed them to students all over the United States, as well as Asia and Europe. The Arduinos kits arrived in small plastic-wrapped containers, containing the Arduinos themselves, a small stock of resistors, and a prototyping board.  Additional resistors, and capacitors, operational amplifiers, and battery clips were added to the kits. The battery clips needed to be modified by Professor Fajans so that they could be easily used with the prototyping boards. Sixty kits were made through this process and sent to students. The students will use the kits to build and test digital to analog (DAC) and analog to digital converters (ADC), as well as to measure the Boltzmann constant, one of the fundamental constants of nature. Students will be using LabView to communicate with the Arduino.

“Before the kits arrived, the first online labs since COVID-19 were simulations-based and the circuits were constructed through an online simulator and the students recorded the results. We were looking for a circuit kit that would be comprehensive enough and provide similar parts to what the students were using in the lab,” said Adrianne Zhong, a graduate student instructor of the course. 

The 111A Glaser Advanced Lab, which focuses on electronics and data acquisition, also emphasizes teaching students to acquire hands-on skills for debugging and running experiments. Gaining familiarity with how to control equipment was one of the motivations in creating the kits, which also come with demonstration programs that will guide students as they write analysis software for the kits and analyze the data collected.

“What we couldn’t continue to teach remotely without the kits is the fluency one develops in one’s fingers with actually working on pieces of equipment, debugging experiments, and so on...We decided that we would get these kits, so in the later weeks of the semester we could go back to doing some hands-on experiments,” said Professor Fajans.

The kits will be used for the final project for Physics 111A; meanwhile, the rest of the course adapted to online instruction with new LabView programs to help students in remote learning, video recordings about circuits, and interactive discussions through Zoom.

“I believe the course was adapted as quickly as possible, by replacing physical circuit work with simulations and in-person GSI/Tutor guidance with ample virtual meeting times,” said Cameron Chaffey, a tutor for the 111A Glaser Advanced Lab. He added, “The part kits are a means to attempt to simulate some of the exercises we would do in a ‘normal’ semester.”

Additionally, the Physics 5CL course has continued the semester with video recordings of the labs and data provided to students as they complete worksheets. Students were also asked to draft proposals for a capstone project that they later discussed with the course’s instructors, Waqas Khalid and Donez Joaquin Horton-Bailey.

Waqas Khalid, an instructor for Physics 5CL, reflected on the use of Zoom in online instruction: “It was a wonderful platform to continue pedagogy and an opportunity for students to continue learning. Students still got to learn and used their time in this crisis in a productive fashion.”

As students navigate the rest of the semester, both courses have adopted office hours in various time frames to accommodate students in other countries and offer support in answering questions and facilitating discussions.

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