Building a weather station

Open Data Durban in partnership with The MakerSpace Foundation hosted International Open Data Day in a dual-charged effort to ignite openness and participation in the Durban community. Together with environmentalists, ecologists, data wranglers, techies and active citizens we built an Arduino weather station. According to Arduino.cc “Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software.”

20170304_101306

How did we promote diversity in the day?

On arrival participants had to select different coloured stickers of what they thought represented their interest and skill set, choosing either a data wrangler; a maker; an environmentalist; techie and more importantly learners.  The latter being an obvious choice to Mondli, Nolwazi and Nosipho three learners from Umkhumbane Secondary School, located in Chesterville, a township on the periphery of Durban CBD. We invited the learners as part of our data club’s programme, where learners will also be building an Arduino weather station which will be rolling out soon.

It was essential that the teams were made up of each of the skill sets above to: ensure the project speaks to the broader theme of informed decision-making through the micro-weather station data; assisting participants assemble electronics; make sure the IoT device is programmed through code; to gain critical environmental insights towards practical use of the tool and more importantly to enable and create a guild of new-age active citizens and evangelists of open knowledge.

IMG_20170309_110315

 

Each team was provided with an Arduino weather kit consisting of dust, gas, temperature and rainfall sensors and all other relevant components to build the weather station. We did not provide the teams with step by step instructions for the build. Instead, we challenged them to google search the build instructions and figure out the steps. Within minutes, the teams were busy scouring the instructions from various websites such as Instructables. This emphasised the openness of sharing knowledge and introduced the learners to open knowledge and how someone from another place in the world can share their expertises with you.

What were some of the insights from the environmentalists?

Bruce and Lee, both retired ecologist and environmentalist respectively were charming in their approach to problem-solving and tinkering with the electronic parts. Although not well-versed in the Arduino toolkit their gallant efforts saw them learning and later tutoring the learners on building the weather station.

Their insights into the environmental status of Durban was unmatched and painted a grim picture of the Durban community’s awareness of the problems that exist.

What were some of the insights from the techies?

Often at our events, we have a number of techies come in who are brilliant at coding but have no concept of data science or how coding can be used to address various issues such as economic, social and environmental. This event helped to introduce techies to how coding Arduino boards and sensors can be used to gather weather condition data and further use to data to monitor the weather conditions in a given area. This data then allows the public to be aware of their weather conditions such as the concentrations of harmful gases in the air. The city can also map out pollution hotspots and identify trends which aid in decision making to eliminate or manage the air quality.

IMG_20170309_110549

How did the learners participate in the session? What were some of their learnings?

There were many different languages spoken by the participants which made communication across all groups a challenge however the confidence and enthusiastic wanting to learn prompted the learners to ask some captivating questions for the group members more notably in their pursuit of understanding how things work in the space.

All the attendees were attempting to build the Arduino weather for the first time. The adult attendees were quite hesitant at first to share what they were doing with the learners because they were not certain if what they were doing was correct or not and did not want to confuse the learners. Once the adult attendees were confident with the method of building, they then began to communicate more with the learners.

Outcomes of the day

We eventually saw one complete weather station built by Sphe Shandu who stayed behind after some team members tinkered with other goods in the MakerSpace, minus the LCD component (no team figured this out).

Learnings

  1. Lend an extra hand to students that engage with maker spaces for the first time in an urban setting, they have a natural innate understanding of the moving parts (3D printers, laser cutter, electronics etc) in the MakerSpace and not necessarily the context of new-age manufacturing, practicality and potential outputs.
  2. After lunch, the teams became quite weary. Progress dived down but the teams managed to pull through and complete as much as they could. Long events tend to be vigorous at the beginning and hit a stall towards the end. A possible lesson learnt is to host much shorter events.
  3. Teachers need to be incentivised to attend the programme outside formal school learning.
  4. Parents prove to be the most difficult stakeholders to engage – although involved in their children’s learning they need to be engaged to attend such functions.
  5. Attendance for community events on Saturday are most difficult to rally large numbers.