Connecting Coding and Circuits

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Participate and share : Interactive lecture

Samantha Lindgren  
Jana Sebestik  
Christina Tran  

This engineering challenge explores a connection between code and physical devices using a microcontroller. The activities offer an opportunity to edit and create CircuitPython code that interacts with sensors and lights. Participants build circuits, analyze sensor data, and use an engineering design process to create and perfect a physical model.

Audience: Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Mac, PC, Chromebook
Participant accounts, software and other materials: For laptop users the Mu Python code editor is available for download at no charge.

Chromebook users will need to use a text editor compatible with Python. Text App is available in the Chrome Webstore.

Topic: Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Computer science, Science
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
For Students:
Innovative Designer
  • Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Participants will receive a set of materials and an activity guide. During the session they will build circuits, write code, and upload it to a small microprocessor. They will edit their code and redesign their circuits as they create a cyber-physical model. The activities are designed to introduce and encourage conversation about aspects of the national power grid through hands-on experiences and familiar contexts.
Participants will leave with resources and experiences that encourage student engagement in hands-on exploration, coding, and awareness of electricity delivery systems. This material is based upon work supported by the Department of Energy under Award Number DE-OE0000780.


• Participants will be introduced to new technologies in the electricity delivery system and the importance of security and resiliency. Resources for further exploration will be provided. (5 minutes)
• Participants will build simple LED circuits and write code to blink the light. They will reconfigure their circuits to include additional LEDs and write additional code. (20 minutes)
• Participants will each add a photo sensor to their circuits and write code to analyze the sensor data and allow the sensor to control their LEDs. They will incorporate piezo buzzers. (25 minutes)
• Participants will adapt their circuits to provide power to components in a model neighborhood. They may design a system that lights neighborhood lights when darkness is detected or play music when there is sufficient light. Some may want to include a design for backup power when an outage is detected. (30 minutes)
• Participants will share final thoughts and comments. (10 minutes)

Supporting research

S. Cass. “Build an Illuminated Halloween Costume With the Wearable Gemma Mo Microcontroller,” IEEE Spectrum, October 2017.
S. L. Martinez and G. Stager. Invent to Learn. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, 2013.
S. L. Rosado Lausell, K. Pitts, J. Sebestik, G. C. Reese, and A. Poetzel. “Pre-College Science and Engineering for Inner-City Middle School Students,” 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, LA, June 2016.
S. Lindgren and J. Sebestik. “Using Stickers and Copper Tape to Prototype and Explore Electrical Circuits,” 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, LA, June 2016.
J. E. Tate, J. Sebestik, and T. Overbye. “Collaboration and Dissemination Efforts Related to Pre-University Power Lessons,” 2008 Power and Energy Society General Meeting, Pittsburg, PA, July 2008.
J. E. Tate, T. J. Overbye, J. Sebestik, and G. C. Reese. “Interactive Lessons for Pre-University Power Education,” IEEE Trans. Power Syst., vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 824 -830, Aug. 2008.
J. E. Tate and J. Sebestik. “Interactive Lessons Addressing Wind Integration and Time-of-use Pricing,” 2011 IEEE Power and Energy Society General Meeting, Detroit, MI, July 2011.

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Samantha Lindgren, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Jana Sebestik, University Of Illinois - MSTE
Christina Tran, University of Illinois @ Urbana Champain

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