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April 2, 2012 AT 12:57 pm

ASK AN EDUCATOR! “What are the first things that students new to engineering should learn in the classroom?”

Hal asks:

What are the first things that students new to engineering should learn in the classroom, if the final goal is an Arduino project they can call their own? Do you start off with EE basics like Ohm’s law and Kirchhoff’s laws, or do you dive right into flashing an LED without explaining the purpose of the resistor? What do you think is the balance between “This is cool, but I don’t know what I’m doing!” and “”This is boring, when can I do something real?”

This has been a popular question, and certainly one that is fundamental to the inspiration of future engineers!

I have found that finding the appropriate balance between theory and application is the key to keeping the students excited about the topic at hand. Especially with electronics, it is very easy to get too bogged down in concepts that govern the operation of even simple circuits. When I teach an electronics course, primarily to high school students, I choose a handful of “fundamental” concepts that I feel will allow the students to better understand and utilize more complex components. To start we look at Ohm’s Law and calculating series and parallel resistor circuits. They are given worksheets where they can use pencils, much like the concept of Drawdio, to fill in boxes. These boxes are then connected in series and parallel and measured with a multimeter. We continue on with some more basics: capacitors, LEDs, polarity, multimeter use, etc. Each concept is accompanied with a lab that quickly demonstrates the theory. This whole process is completed in 2 to 3 class periods and then we move into breadboarding simple circuits.

You would be amazed when a student realized that they can actually explain how a simple LED flip-flop works and how the action can be replaced by a 555 timer.

So in short, theory is incredibly important, and finding the right balance between teaching theory and making it useful is where it gets hard. Obviously, all of the fun is in making a circuit, flashing an LED, driving a motor, or making an annoying sound machine, but if the student doesn’t know how to use the concepts that drive the circuit, then the whole lesson was in entertainment rather than education.

I have dug up a few links that might help:

Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics has a nice WIKI page
Making Things – Introduction to Electronics: Gives a nice overview of concepts including multimeter use.
Design & Technology: A pretty good site that stays in the middle/high school level. They seem to like fonts.

I hope this has helped and best of luck with your course!

Next up is Richard with a question about controlling the speed of a motor with Arduino!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.


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