Internet of Things devices are cropping up in schools everywhere. IT is taking note — and so are students

After being introduced to the Internet of Things (IoT) by a local software company, Tiffany Davis’ first instinct was to consider what the concept would look like in the K-12 setting. “It was appealing to me because [IoT] is the direction that most products are taking in the business world,” said Davis, who is the instructional technology specialist at John R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham, Mass.

Davis’ re-imagining of IoT for a new context is nothing new. In recent years, the IoT has touched nearly every piece of technology we interact with.

Defined by Gartner as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment,” IoT is a somewhat nebulous concept that promises to change the way we use objects, products, and technology in general. In A Simple Explanation Of ‘The Internet Of Things,” Forbes’ Jacob Morgan defines IoT as the act of connecting any device with an on and off switch to the internet (and/or to each other). In the consumer world, these devices include mobile phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices like Fitbits, and even heavy equipment like jet engines.

“I’m always trying to make connections between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s taking place in the ‘real world,’” said Davis, who later participated in an IoT Institute for Teachers program. “When students can see how what they’re learning in school applies to the outside world, they’re more motivated to learn.”

Students create

Students at Davis’ school regularly learn about sensors and how these components detect, measure, and/or respond to physical properties. These days, however, they’re learning it with an IoT-meets-maker movement twist.

“We focus on getting pupils to look at sensor inputs and outputs, and just understand the basics of how these components work,” Davis explained. “Then, we have them take an everyday object like a lunchbox and try to turn it into a smart, connected product.”

That’s not a hypothetical example. One group of students actually did design a lunchbox that could be monitored using a mobile app. This simple example of IoT in action would allow parents to monitor and control lunchbox temperatures (i.e., to keep yogurt or other perishables fresh) and determine whether their children were eating their lunches.

In another example, fourth-graders are currently designing pots that first-graders will use for plant experiments. “They’re coming up with ideas like incorporated LED lights into the pots,” said Davis. “That way, if a bean plant needs water or more sunlight, the light on the front of the pot will go on. We start with some really basic concepts and then try to apply that knowledge to designing actual products.”

Next page: What IT thinks about the IoT revolution