The role of physical computing
As the Development Distributor, Premier Farnell is committed to supporting the development of the next generation of engineering and, in turn, the future of the industry, but we believe this requires far more than creating a generation of coders. We believe that a crucial piece of the computational thinking jigsaw is physical computing – allowing interaction with systems or objects from the physical world using programming. We want to see powerful, yet easy to use, tools placed into the hands of students from very early ages to teach them key skills and open their minds to the potential opportunities of a career not just in electronics but crucial for all jobs in the future, thus ensuring that a generation of school-leavers are armed with the digital skillsets that will be essential for survival in the modern world.
Experience has shown that physical computing creates a link to the ‘real world’ and makes teaching far more relevant. The ‘magic’ of physical computing can be seen when groups of schoolchildren are tasked with solving a problem. The combination of making something real, in teams, and using physical computing to facilitate the process produces staggering results not only in terms of effective learning but also in skills development. When this philosophy is applied using physical computing platforms such as the BBC micro:bit, Raspberry Pi and Arduino, it provides students with a way to develop these competencies in a highly creative and collaborative way. In short, physical computing allows children and students to venture into the real world with complex problem solving based around technology, also helping to break the cycle of ‘ready-made’ technology’ and taking them from being mere consumers of technology to becoming creative thinkers capable of developing brand new dynamic solutions.
With physical computing students learn that not all solutions to problems are readily available and that they must and can develop something unique themselves. Physical computing provides a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of problem solving – others pieces could be to physically create a working model or create a business case for a particular solution – but physical computing is key to allowing children to solve problems related to their own environments. It also allows teachers to engage students with real world solutions, enhancing a range of key skills.