The Texas Instruments TI-Innovator Hub: A Magic Box to Code

The TI-Innovator Hub is essentially a micro controller system offering plug-and-play interaction with some TI graphing calculators. Using a coding language entered on the keypad of Ti-84 Plus CE and better calculators, the TI-Innovator Hub will respond accordingly. While maybe not the most exciting description in a world of Lego Robotics and iPad Apps, the TI-Innovator Hub offers a practical coding interface that does not hide behind a layer of graphics or charming drag-and-drop commands. Instead the TI-Innovator Hub is a realistic introduction to coding because it is command line coding at its best.

While there are some shortcuts and menus with the TI-Innovator Hub, the experience is much closer to numerical value coding rather than sliding switches and Likert-selections. Using the TI-Innovator Hub gives students a soft landing (but not too soft) into the programing experience by using the Ti calculator to command the TI-Innovator™ Hub’s actions. The commands in the code can make the TI-Innovator™ Hub react in a hopefully predictable manner. And it is within that predictability that students learn to write and read computer code.

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10 Minutes of Code All Week Long

This very week marks Computer Science Education Week, and Texas Instruments is kicking off the week with a excellent 16 minute video about their 10 Minutes of Code. Here is a link to Ti’s Facebook page for their calculators including the Code Promotions.

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Gateway Gadget

The TI-Innovator Hub is also a gateway gadget into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. While STEM is hardly four distinct subject matter areas, but instead four different corners of the same square. You cannot separate the STEM components from each other, and cannot move far from one without more deeply entering the general territory of another.

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The input/output (I/O) options on the TI-Innovator™ Hub include three inputs, three outputs, 10 breadboard ports, one red/green/blue LED light, a light brightness sensor, and a speaker for sound output. Build-quality of the TI-Innovator Hub is exceptional with the solid plastic housing capped with a transparent shell over the circuit board allowing complete visibility of the transistors and connections. Or in Ti-parlance, “To look under the hood.” Compatible interfaces include the TI-84 Plus CE, the TI-Nspire CX and CX CAS all running the necessary software.

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Take 10, They’re Small

The concept of 10 Minutes of Code is a good one. The timeframe is a bite-sized piece of effort that neither patronizes the process, nor scares away the code timid. But depending on a student’s familiarity with the alpha-numeric layout and operation of the Ti graphing calculators, the first rodeo with the TI-Innovator Hub might run into overtime as a particular button is located. But once the repetition of input has run its course, the students will be tapping away with more excitement and less searching.

Ti provides some excellent resources for their 10 Minutes of Code that offer just enough of a push to keep going but not so much as to lead the students blindly into data entry without understanding. And the icing on the cake is that once a successful directed outcome is achieved, the instructions encourage the student to change things in order to experience the degree and placement of control (number variables), as well as to better understand the physics of the output whether light, sound or sensitivity.

To tell the truth, in a world of instant media, iPads and the Home Depot aisles filled with Internet-of-Things things, the TI-Innovator Hub at a mere 190 cubic centimeters and a density around 0.7 gm/cm^3 made me a little skeptical that this plastic box could really deliver the coding excitement that would attract and keep the attention of the average STEM student. In reality, the TI-Innovator Hub delivered a surprisingly effective program that showed off both a clean pathway to learning to code, as well as a dramatic display of professional grade educational tool. Like the family of Ti Graphing Calculators, they quickly become indispensable learning object that far exceed the sum of its parts.

The entry-level coding exercise was a simple challenge (to coin an oxymoron) that had just the right amount of coding difficulty and rewarding interaction. I mean just how exciting could something really be today that blinks and beeps after a generous 10 minutes of sequential button pushing? Actually quite a bit given the feelings of accomplishment as each successful and sequentially more advanced coding task is rewarded with the desired output. There’s just something primitively satisfying about entering code in command line fashion compared to drag-and-drop. And even better, once the initial task is successful, the TI-Innovator Hub invites the student to tweak the variables becoming even more intimate with the coding process.

As a student’s prowess with coding and STEM increases, the virtually unlimited connectivity of the TI-Innovator Hub drops the boundaries of capability directly upon the student’s imagination and curiosity.

One of the things that actual coding such as that required by the TI-Innovator Hub has over spiffy touch apps on a shiny tablet is a purity of language spoken though an undecorated interface. In some ways, coding the TI-Innovator Hub reminds me of learning ancient outdoor skills. Yes there can be extreme science while working with a transparent interface. I remember reading about the famed physicist Richard Feynman who describe being more impressed with a cobbled-together cyclotron, one with exposed wires and open circuit panels, much more than a highly polished one in a fancy lab. Feynman felt that the operators of the “open source” accelerator knew more of what they were doing because of their ability to manipulate the machine. Who knows if the folks running the shiny enclosed machine even knew how it worked? Well, that was Feynman’s reasoning at the time anyway.

From any perspective, the Texas Instruments TI-Innovator Hub is ready to take your students from never coded to coding confidence in just 10 magical minutes.

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