May 2021

The Social Network of Soils

Our recent work on creating a classroom resource for high school students has taken us deep into the world of soils and helped us get to know some of the extraordinary lifeforms beneath our feet.

The research in a box scheme is designed for schools to encourage students to engage in creative, real-world computing projects. The resources are aimed at teachers and students of computing at GCSE and A-level, and all link to university-level research.

The Social Network of Soils is a series of activities that help students create a network of micro:bit computers to collect sensor data, display status updates and send messages to other computers. This network can then be used to reveal the hidden life in the soil.

The activities draw on research in computing, environmental science, science communication and design, providing insights into how real-world interdisciplinary teams are working in universities to address environmental challenges.

Microbit with inkybit screen showing Nemmy the Nematode and status updates, which reads: Watch out bacteria I'm coming to eat you all!
A micro:bit and inky:bit showing a soil creature status update

 

The resource builds up through stages and requires micro:bits, low-energy e-paper inky:bit screens, and external sensors. The initial activity involves students learning about soil life and creating and uploading their own pixel art soil creature.

Extension activities include:

  • adding text to the screen with soil life social network status updates
  • setting up radio communication between micro:bits to change status updates and form the beginnings of a network
  • using the micro:bits’ in-built light sensors to gather data from the environment and send a status update for soil creatures based on changing conditions
  • connecting external sensors to measure soil temperature and humidity and using the data to inform status updates
  • and setting up a networked garden outdoors to help show others what might be going on in the soil beneath them

The full resource is available here: https://www.researchbox.org.uk/project2-soils.

 

Screenshot of programming in MakeCode environment
Programming the micro:bit in the MakeCode environment

 

This work forms part of Ensemble’s wider exploration of the use of digital technologies in place-based education to develop a pedagogy for environmental care.

We are also currently working on a related, story-world inspired computing resource for primary schools called The Fungi Tell the Tales. If you’d like to find out more about either of these projects, please do get in touch with us.

Liz Edwards will be presenting insights from this ongoing research at ACM Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference 2021, which is being held on June 26-30.

 

Claire Dean (c.dean3@lancaster.ac.uk) and Liz Edwards (liz.edwards@lancaster.ac.uk)
May 2021