Classes Taught in the VisLab
Matthew teaches two types of affordable classes in the VisLab that he created from scratch: classes for school groups and classes for the general public. School group classes are specifically designed to conform to state standards and are used by teachers to augment what they must teach to their students. What Matthew tries to do is introduce topics and technologies that are very important, but nonetheless rarely taught to school children. To that effort the following school classes are taught: Mapping Species (using GIS), Climate Change (using Virtual Reality), Computer Programming (using BASIC), and Electronics (using Arduino).
Classes for the general public include all of those listed above with the addition of robotics (using Arduino).
Climate Change (for beginners) is a lecture-style class about the science and research methods used by scientists to understand how and why the climate is changing and what that means for our world and our future. Much more than a PowerPoint-based lecture, students learn about climate change in an unusual and exciting way, using virtual/augmented reality goggles (similar to the Oculus Rift) that Matthew designed and created using Arduino and 3D printing. To the best of his knowledge there is no other class like it. Learn more about his headsets here.
ROBOT LAB is a class Matthew developed for the general public. In this class anyon can work together to build and program autonomous robots (of my design) from scratch using Arduino microcontrollers, sensors, and many other parts. By the end of the 1.5hr class kids have blinking, fast moving robots navigating all over the museum floor - it is quite a spectacle.
This beginners level programming course covers some of the most important functions in programming in a creative way. By the end of the class each child has created a unique adventure game that they coded themselves in BASIC. Note that Matthew does not use "drag-and-drop" interfaces (like Scratch) to teach programming, but rather believes that if a child is old enough to type, they are old enough to enter specific commands. This method demands considerable attention to detail but in the end the programmer feels a greater sense of satisfaction as they play and share the game they created from nothing.
Beginners Electronics was developed to teach basic circuitry and computer programming using a microcontroller (Arduino) and various discreet parts. This may be his favorite class because it introduces many types of children from many different backgrounds to the world of microcontrollers, of which have limitless possibilities. Few people ever get exposure to these sorts of technologies, which is shame considering how inexpensive they are.
Mapping Species using GIS was the first class Matthew developed for school children. After going over the basics of mapping and GIS he poses a real-world question (“Where are you most likely to find species X?”) and proceeds to walk the students through the process of answering that question using free GIS software and data. By the end they have successfully created a map with multiple layers and queries.