make robot brains! introduction to the arduino and robotics


So you've always wanted to make a robot, or a responsive gadget, or some other type of interactive object, but electronics and programming have seemed too complicated. The Arduino is like a wee robot brain that can sense things and make things happen. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and small for easy transport. We'll learn about the Arduino as well as discuss the basics of analog and digital electronics, inputs/outputs, programming, and then get it to do simple fun stuff like blink lights and write messages.

learning objectives

Participants will leave the workshop with a basic understanding of the following:

  • Programming
  • The Arduino
  • Microcontrollers
  • Inputs and outputs
  • Analog and digital input/output


prerequisites/ needed supplies

Computers/ laptops for participants


1 – 2 workshops, 2 – 3 hours each with 10-minute breaks each hour. This workshop may lead to intermediate and advanced workshops.

setup & supplies

Student Station:

  • Paper – for drawing resistive lines
  • Pencils – for drawing resistive lines
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • BIC pen caps – for twisting wires
  • Containers – for parts, labeled
  • Tacks – for poking holes in synth cards
  • Cardboard – for poking holes in synth cards
  • Potentiometers – for adjusting resistance in the synth circuit
  • Photoresistors – for adjusting resistance in the synth circuit
  • Salt – for adjusting resistance in the synth circuit
  • Cup of water – for adjusting resistance in the synth circuit

Teacher Station:

  • Whiteboard
  • Colored markers
  • Eraser
  • Computer/ laptop with class sequence doc, NCH Tone Generator software running, folder with sample tone shortcuts open, music for downtime

considerations for host

  • Participant age 
  • Number of participants – at least 8 per workshop is preferred, no more than 15. 
  • Duration of class – the workshop needs at least 3 hours. 
  • Chaperones – the more the merrier, and they must be ACTIVE! 
  • Environment – relatively little noise.
  • Breaks! Water! Food! Shielding from sun when done outdoors! These are especially important with younger kids.  

presentation sequence

Who knows what?

Ask questions regarding knowledge of Arduinos, programming, electronics, etc. to better understand audience and tailor curriculum as appropriate.

What is an Arduino?

The Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software.

What can the Arduino do?

Demonstrate blinking light, light responding to switch, light responding to a pot & photoresistor, noisemaker, servo, sensor kit, etc.

How do we get the Arduino to work?

Install the Arduino FTDI drivers beforehand if possible, plug it in, and make sure that the power LED lights up.

Install the Arduino IDE before workshop if possible.

How do we make the Arduino blink a light?

Open the Blink sketch - File -> Examples -> Digital -> Blink. 

Begin general discussion of the code.

Upload to the board.

Watch it blink!

Test the reset button.

Play with the code.

Change blink rates.

Discuss the code including comments, variables, procedure, procedure calls, and special procedures such as void setup() and void loop().

How do we connect the Arduino to a breadboard? What is a breadboard?

Introduce breadboards, resistors and LEDs.

Wire up the breadboard with the Blinky sketch, but change pin 13 to pin 12.

Wire up some new pins with other LEDS.

How do we make the Arduino talk?

Introduce Serial including libraries, serial communication, printing text thru the Arduino, and printing variables.

How do we make it respond to inputs?

Discuss inputs versus outputs.

Introduce Digital Read including switch, making a switched circuit, reading from a pin, and pull up and pull down resistors.

If there is time...

Demonstrate Analog Read.

Wrap Up