Being a Maker is a bit like being a decathlete. A decathlete is an athlete who competes in ten different track and field events.
Imagine you are preparing for the Olympics or your regional athletics competition, and instead of just training and drilling in High Jump, you prepare for the 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, 110 meters hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and the 1500 meters. Typically, all this takes place in two days of competition.
There is also the one-hour decathlon, where all 10 events take place within one hour.
Being a Maker is not that different in regards to the number of different skills that we need to have. Similarly to the decathlete, those skills are complementary to each other and influence each other. Makers are not specialized in a single skill, just like decathletes don’t specialize in a single event. Makers become competent in some “hard” skills, like electronics, programming, mechanical design, woodworking, and metalworking, to name a few. However, they also need to be competent in some “soft” skills, like user interface design and aesthetics, communication, planning, and problem analysis.
At Tech Explorations we recognize that is not enough to produce courses, make them available, and hope for the best. We want to offer a path for Makers and aspiring Makers that can lead to them gradually but reliably towards improving their core skills.
Our course progression plan for Makers is a suggestion for a linear study of our courses that you can see in the graphic on the side (click on it to see the full-size version).
Starting with the very basics, if you follow this plan, you will learn about the Arduino micro-controller, basic electronics, and programming. People that complete this course will have earned their first experiences of making something new, by hand, and the appetite to learn more.
At this point, we have seen many new makers coming up with questions around electronics. They ask things like “why to use this resistor instead of that,” or “should this LED go here or there?” and “what is the difference between a transistor and a relay in controlling an LED strip?”. All these are good questions produced by an enquiring mind, and the answers are in the next course in the plan, which is about basic electronics.
Once these new skills are in place, the new maker has a much better understanding of electronics, so they can move on to the next level in creating things with the Arduino. They are ready to create things that contain more sensors, moving parts, and that talk to other things. Their creations become much more individual.
They are not content with following someone else’s design; they have their own designs to make. This is where Arduino Step by Step Getting Serious comes in. It is a cookbook of solutions to techniques and technologies that the new maker can integrate with their own designs. This is not a course that people typically consume front to back (although many do). It is a reference course that Makers use as they work on their own designs.
With a reference cookbook available, the new Maker can turn to projects. One of the common questions we get from new Makers is “how can I combine all the different components into a single gadget?” When we take our first steps in learning anything, we narrow down the scope of each learning session to a single topic. One day one may learn about the photoresistor and the next about the potentiometer. However, how do we combine the photoresistor and the potentiometer in a single project? That is where guided projects come in. Project help people train their problem analysis and synthesis skills.
Drawing from their “arsenal” of knowledge and resources, a project is the best way to put everything together. This results in something that is bigger than the sum of its parts, the actual skill, and know-how of creating something novel. This is why at Tech Explorations we offer several project courses. You can build a simple yet expandable Arduino Robot, an Internet of Things environment monitor, or a drone, and in the process learn about the peculiarities of creating things that work.
Even at this level, there’s more to learn and practice. Having a project working on a breadboard is just the first step in building something new. More work has to be done to end up with a completed project. This is where computer-aided design comes in. Our progression plan recognizes that the abilities to create custom printed circuit boards and 3D printable objects are essential for Makers. We offer two courses that specifically address PCB and 3D object design (with more coming, such as wood and metalworking).
This course progression plan is a suggestion.
It’s not Law.
Everyone is different, so it is perfectly fine to create your own plan. However, it is essential to have a plan. You can use our suggested plan as a start, especially if you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what is available and possible to do. As you start to learn and discover, adjust it and customize it based on your specific needs and objectives.