Celebrating Shark Week & Learning Programming

In the first few weeks of Engineering Design Club, I polled the kids on what they wanted me to teach before the class ended. They requested programming, specifically JavaScript and Python.

I decided to tackle the programming lesson alongside a Shark Week Celebration. Shark Week originally premiered on July 17, 1988. Featured annually, it was originally devoted to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks. Over time, it grew in popularity and became a hit on the Discovery Channel. Shark Week 2019 started Sunday July 28th and will end on the 4th of August.

I recommend that you view this blog on a tablet or desktop.


I was going to teach programming via Arduino IDE, which is what I use to program the robot that the kids will be getting at the end of the class (Every Kid Gets a Robot). The Arduino integrated development environment is a cross-platform application that is written in the programming language Java. It is used to write and upload programs to Arduino compatible boards, but also, with the help of 3rd party cores, other vendor development boards. However, given our time constraints and that this is most of the students first time programming, I decided to take it back to the basics and focus on block coding and JavaScript in relation to robotics and electronics.

I personally program the most in Visual Basic and Java. At work, I develop control systems in the metal stamping industry. We use Visual Basic to code the programs that we sell to customers. Personally, I use Java for most of my electronics projects.

Station 1: Electronics & JavaScript

For this activity, we used the Circuit Playground Express from Adafruit. The Circuit Playground Express is a round family of small microcontroller boards with LEDs, buttons, and sensors built in. It is a perfect introduction to electronics and programming and can be used from everything to a capacitive touch project to controlling a robot with sound! I bought this board for instructional purposes and got to use it at the Detroit Maker Faire this past weekend. You can get your own from Adafruit for $24.95, which I wholeheartedly recommend!

In class, we started out with programming with Blocks on Makecode so that we could have a visual idea of how code works (loops, inputs, etc). Each student developed a pattern for the board and downloaded it to the Circuit Playground Express.

Makecode for the Circuit Playground Express

Then, we switched over to JavaScript to show the relation between the images in Block coding and then written out. Each group made an edit to the code and downloaded it to see what happened.

Makecode for the Circuit Playground Express

Makecode is a great way of understanding the basics of programming and to see the results right away on the development board. There is an option to play the code on the Circuit Playground Express before downloading it to see the results which helps alleviate errors and produce the results that you want.

To help the students further understand programming in relation to the Circuit Playground Express, I preprogrammed the board with capacitive touch. This is what it looked like before I added the alligator clips and copper tape:

The project was extremely simple and was a great way to teach about conductivity especially, and how you could clip the alligator clips onto even fruit and it would work. In a fruit circuit, the fruit acts as a battery. ... In a normal battery, be it of any size, two metals are used to generate electrons, and a conductive chemical eases the flow of these electrons through the circuit. When the fruit acts as a battery, the acid and water contained in it act as the conductive chemical.

For this project, all I needed was a Circuit Playground Express (and it's battery pack), short alligator clips, and conductive tape. I programmed it in JavaScript to best exemplify our lesson today.

Here are some of the projects that the students did on Makecode:

Student's tried to outdo each other with the loudest board, and it resulted in some unique code with lots of music added.

The code: (assorted projects)

Station 2: Shark Week Celebration

We used Shark Week as a gateway to introduce the importance of ocean conservation and environmental care and to think of ideas and solutions to help our environment.

Did you know that only 9% of recyclable plastic is actually recycled? Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, according to figures published in the journal Science in 2015, plastic can enter the ocean as large, identifiable items or as microplastics - pieces under five millimeters in length. The likelihood that you're eating plastic in the fish that you consume is extremely high. According the The Economist, only 0.1 tons of recycled plastic is still in use and the rest has been discarded... often directly into the ocean.

As a class, we thought of ways that we could help improve these statistics and help our environment. Here are some solutions that the kids came up with:

  • Use metal straws instead of plastic ones

  • Turn off lights when they are not needed

  • Buy products made of clear or white plastic instead of colored plastic (colored plastic is recycled at a far lower rate than clear or white plastic because companies want to buy plastic that they can redye)

  • Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags (plastic bags are single use plastic)

  • Plant a garden

  • Email instead of mail and shift advertising to online

  • Buy bags made out of old billboards (durable, recycled, and reusable)

Students also got their own 3D printed shark puppet, printed on my Sindoh 3DWOX DP200 in blue PLA. The sharks were made out of recycled plastic.

Download your own shark finger puppet here.

In other news, we (The STEAM Connection) went to the Detroit Maker Faire at the Henry Ford Museum last weekend to do a showcase and a couple of robotics workshops.

We were honored to showcase the projects from Engineering Design Club! Below are designs by Jaesung and Irene. We had more prints scattered around our table. Not only did we get to introduce hundreds of people to the SOLIDWORKS App for Kids, we also got to introduce others to the Engineering Design Club and the amazing work that the students produce! Good job everyone!

Read about our experience at the Detroit Maker Faire here.

The 2019 Detroit Maker Faire The STEAM Connection Booth


Contact Us

Our workshop and classroom is located at 330 E Maple Rd, Suite B, Troy MI USA, 48083. We are not open to the public. Thank you for this donated space, InVanse Technologies.


  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Spotify
  • RSS

 COPYRIGHT © 2021 by THE STEAM CONNECTION. All Rights Reserved. All art is illustrated and the property of Danielle Boyer.