We gave students the skills and tools to build their own water explorer, the Pontoon Explorer, a small remote control surface boat that has a temperature sensor and LED temperature indicator. This platform was made of low cost electronics and hardware store parts and the BBC micro:bit, an approachable microcontroller that is affordable and available in many parts of the world. The goal was to inspire and enable students to continue to explore their local environment through their own engineering designs and prototypes long after the event.
We issued a challenge to each team: build and program the Pontoon Explorer and design a scientific cruise plan that would identify surface water plumes as either ambient temperature or hot, thermal plumes. Student teams constructed, programmed, tested, and iterated on their Pontoon Explorers at the MIT Sea Grant teaching lab and test tank. Our workshop exposed them to basic electrical and ocean engineering concepts such as circuitry, buoyancy and hydrodynamics. During this workshop they were introduced to block code programming using Microsoft MakeCode and experienced examples of sophisticated programming and applications that can be achieved with block code.