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The Arduino Inventor's Guide Review by Sheila Chairvolotti and Jennifer King

Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects
Brian Huang and Derek Runberg
No Starch Press
245 8th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103 USA

How do you feel about electronics? I don’t mean just using electronic devices, but actually creating them. Do you feel like you have maybe somehow missed the boat on this whole tinker/maker movement and Arduino thing, or maybe you (like a friend I was talking to the other day) read this sentence and ask, “Arduino? What’s that?”

Do you have a child who you would like to usher into this world of microcontrollers and building/creating/programming electronics? Are you looking for a great tool to help you both?

Well, I’m not going to go into detail to explain to you what Arduino is, other than to say that it is kind of a system of electronics and microcontrollers that you can easily learn to build and program to do all kinds of cool tasks! You want to learn more? Well, good! This book, The Arduino Inventor’s Guide by Brian Huang and Derek Runberg is just the place to begin!

The pre-introductory sections of the book give you a feel for how the book came to be, blending an engineer and a middle school teacher’s styles to bring a book which will “make learning electronics and programming accessible for anyone” and “…help unleash your inner inventor!”

So, what, does that sound intimidating to you? Don’t worry! This book begins with a great first chapter, an electronics primer, which acquaints the reader with how electricity works, what types of equipment are used, what microcontrollers are, and more. If you already know this information, you can just jump ahead, choose a project, and begin!

The rest of the book is ten separate projects, increasing in complexity and adding steps and functions as you go. The first project is a basic introduction to the Arduino program and boards. The learner installs the Arduino IDE and uses a sample program (called a “sketch”) to turn an LED off and on, and then is encouraged to change variables to get a different output. This sample sketch is used to teach the different parts of the code used to run these microcontrollers and components.

As you delve further into the book, the projects build upon the skills you have learned in the previous chapters. Projects include things such as a reaction timer, a nightlight, a stoplight, a drag race timer, a tiny greenhouse, and more! Each project chapter follows the same pattern, first telling readers what materials they will need and then explaining what the new components are and how they are used. Following that, readers are instructed on building the project and programming it (with great samples of code to copy or add on to the previous program). The last section of each chapter is an encouragement to Hack (change up the code to allow it to run a bit differently) and Modify (change up the design to suit you).

I thought that this book would be a valuable tool in our homeschool, as I have a daughter who is very interested in computers and electronics, and yes, indeed, it is. I really surprised myself, however, by enjoying it as a book for me as well! I found the instructions to be very well-written, nice and clear—interesting to read, easy to follow, and encouraging. I felt empowered to use the materials and do the coding with my daughter on these projects, understanding what we were doing and how it was working.

Understand that this book but is meant to be accompanied by electronics parts. These parts vary in price, but the basic building block, the RedBoard, is about $20 and many other components need to be purchased as well. You could learn if you just read the book, but the true learning by doing comes as you assemble and code along with the text. Understand, also, that the book is put out from No Starch in conjunction with SparkFun, a company that sells these microcontrollers and components, and it is a book meant to be used with these electronics parts. It is not necessary to purchase them from the SparkFun company, they can be purchased from other sources as well. Though they give the item number at their company, the book does not read as a giant advertisement and the reader does not feel pressured to purchase the components from the SparkFun company.

It’s hard to go wrong as you follow along, the explanations and the wonderful pictures, diagrams, charts, and other illustrations clarify it even more. The authors did a great job bringing this topic to an easily usable level. It has really enlightened me, it has given my daughter some wonderful projects to extend her electronics experiences with, and it is encouraging us to do more and more with microcontrollers!

- Product review by Sheila Chairvolotti, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October, 2017

Another Reviewers Perspective:

The Arduino Inventor’s Guide
Learn Electronics By Making 10 Awesome Projects
Brian Huang and Derek Runberg
No Starch Press

My kids and I love to go to this place called American Science and Surplus now and then. It is an amazing place full of this and that. Things that make stuff go; materials for building and creating and mixing and learning. It is an amazing place for stuff that inspires kids to learn new things. The Arduino Inventor’s Guide was a very helpful tool in figuring out what some of things were and what we could do with them. Our shopping list just got bigger!

I was a bit nervous about a book that is designed to teach our kids via projects, electronics and programming. But I was also excited too about a book that is designed to encourage our children as they develop things that are interesting and practical (my younger son loves to create things so long as they have a purpose). Even more, this is meant to explain why. Learning sure means so much more when we know why we are doing something.

It all begins with the electronics primer which helps us to understand electricity and electronics. My husband is an electrical engineer; he got really excited when he saw this book! These pages cover schematics and circuits, types of electricity and components/breakout boards. Once these key concepts have been learned it’s time to move on to the fun stuff.

At the beginning of every project there is a list of materials that are needed. There are also highly detailed diagrams throughout the pages of this book explaining the various parts that make up the boards being used.

Once you get your Arduino up and running, there is so much fun to be had and learning to be done!As complicated as this all seems, it is amazingly, clearly laid out, one step at a time within this book. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t totally overwhelmed at times but I was able to see the light. the Stoplight that is (its the first project to be made).

But they don’t stop there. Build a Nine-Pixel Animation Machine, a Reaction Timer, a nightlight and a Drawbot. These are just a few of the awesome, fun projects that can be created with this book. And you can go further too if you like. At the end of every project there is an opportunity to take the project you just completed, even further.

This is an area that our family really believes is important when it comes to our children’s education. There are so many great things that can be learned, and are better learned, when we can just do it. We are so very grateful for books like this that help our kids to see the things that can be.  Let’s get our kids inventing. 🙂

-Product review by Jennifer King, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October, 2017