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EETE JANUARY 2013

academic antics Teacher’s corner; circuit building for kids By David Peins FINDING WAYS TO HELP young future engineers work with all Any instructional approach needs to present material in of this new, inexpensive, very cool technology has become a full a contextual way so that students develop understanding. time job and not always an easy one. Someone recently re-tweeted the old adage, ‘Knowing all of the Last week was a little distracting with all the destruction facts is not the same as understanding the principles…’ which in the wake of hurricane Sandy; delayed deliveries, disrupted illustrates the importance of relevant, contextual assessment to communications and some critical situations for family caused ensure understanding. by prolonged power outages, but the work goes on. Having a context for the concepts encourages the ef- While traveling to teach my PIC Robots class, I was rerouted fort required to learn the necessary material. Knowing which numerous times due to power outages and downed trees. See- information to present to arrive at an educational goal, setting ing neighbors out clearing huge branches from the roofs of their those goals and assessing students’ progress with some sort houses and piles of uprooted trees lining the streets confirmed of authentic (relevant) instrument are all essential to assure that, that the winds howling around my house had indeed been quite going forward, students will have the necessary intellectual high. Still, I was very lucky and a few inconveniences are noth- tools to develop understanding. ing compared to others’ misery. I found myself wishing that I had built a data logger to measure wind velocity – and realized that I could teach the kids how to develop code for their PIC controllers to do this. With that in mind, I ordered an Arduino Pro Mini 328 - 5V/16MHz from RobotShop to sit on top of our RAMB II (maybe we should start calling it a ‘Shield’). Of course, simply giving kids a really cool black box is not the same thing as teaching them how to apply it to a problem. That’s why working with 10, 11 and 12 year-olds is such a pleasure. They are more easily convinced than my college kids that they don’t actually know everything and they are genuine- ly excited when their code causes their circuit to behave as planned. I also invoke the ‘Magic Smoke’ leg- end to enlighten them further. For my readers who are not familiar with this principle, “All electronic devices have ‘Magic Smoke’ that makes them work and if you connect these Finally, what might be a teachers’ most important task is to devices incorrectly, they will lose their ‘Magic Smoke’ – you will inspire and to give learners the means of finding the tools to smell it and you may even see it. discover more. Once you have let out the ‘Magic Smoke’, you can never put I am encouraged by the suggestions in this Ericsson video it back…” I found online, (http://www.ericsson.com/thinkingahead/net- I am always amazed when kids imagine that there are dozens worked_ society/learning_education ) but the actual implemen- of ways to connect wires to devices, and just have to try them tation is quite another matter. all. Kids, if allowed to do so, will just start connecting wires There are so many great programs addressing the problem randomly to see what happens. though. I recently visited a Hackerspace known as FUBAR While plugging these strange new objects into receptacles Labs – (Fair Use Building and Research) at Rutgers University, that may accept them may be fun for a very short time, I always Livingston campus location. make sure to tell my students the risks; namely that it will not Rick Anderson has been bringing together technologies, like yield much useful information and could very well be danger- a 3-D printer, with engineering students who wanted to get their ous or deadly, not to mention wasteful. I am an empiricist so hands on these technologies. I will go back soon to learn more my methods generally endorse this kind of behavior but without about the program and possibly to help out. understanding, there are limits. Many engineering majors have never actually built a circuit on a breadboard or designed, etched, drilled, stuffed and sol- David Peins teaches children as young as eight years old to dered a PC board. I will continue to introduce students to these read schematics, create working circuits on breadboards, hands-on methods wherever I can, and I would appreciate your program embedded controllers with MikroBasic and to program comments and suggestions for helping technology seekers and their own autonomous mobile robots to play ‘Robot Sumo.’ for other programs worth working with. 4 Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JANUARY 2013
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