Saturday, February 2, 2008

Training young engineers

One of my original rules for this blog is "keep the personal to a minimum." I'm going to write a few lines about my sons, but I think this post also applies - in a broader context - to anyone who has kids (or nieces/nephews) with an interest in engineering.

I'm sure that thousands of pages has been written about the "science crisis" in America, and the shrinking number of children who become interested in science and pursue it as a career. I am not about to offer my two cents on why it is happening or even whether it is real. And I'm not the sort of father to push my kids into the same field as I. But I do have kids who are interested in science and, like other fathers, I want to encourage them to learn. So I'm going to write a few paragraphs about that.

TOYS
For Christmas both of my boys got electronics kits. They've been interested in opening up some of the toys they have to see how they work, and asking me lots of questions. The younger one got a Snap Circuits set. It's kind of a cross between legos and electronics. So far he really likes it.


My older son got an Electronics Learning Lab. He played with it some when he first got it, but the jury is still out on whether he likes it. The manual for it is written by Forrest Mims, and while I like his work and have a couple of the notebooks he has written, I'm not sure if his style is suitable for kids learning electronics.

On the flip side, I liked this kit when I first saw it - it reminded me of the breadboard setup when I had my first electronics class in college.



FLL
A couple of years ago my older son joined the Robotics club at his middle school. They participate in the First Lego League competitions. They use Lego Mindstorms robots to complete specific tasks in a set amount of time, they research a specific topic and present their results, and they learn. My son has enjoyed it a lot, plus he was actually excited when I showed him some of my LabVIEW code, since the Mindstorms use a simplified version of LV for their programming.



So, there's a few ideas for anyone who has kids that are interested in electronics and science. Hopefully they're useful for you.

1 comment:

Forrest Mims said...

Thanks for mentioning "Electronics Learning Lab." This product is not really aimed at very young children, but I am aware of home schoolers using it for their kids in stages as they advance through the years.

A tougher audience is liberal arts college majors who have zero interest in electronics. I teach a required course on science at a Christian college with students from around the world. This includes a few days with my lab kits (with students working in pairs). Most classes begin with great apprehension, but in every case the students quickly grasp the basics and are off on their own building both analog and digital circuits. The idea is not so much to teach the fundamentals but to simply show them how electronic circuits are organized. This approach works quite well, and student surveys rank the brief electronics sessions near the top of the course content.

When time permits, I'll add some circuits and projects to my web sites.

Thanks for mentioning "Electronics Learning Lab." This product is not really aimed at very young children, but I am aware of home schoolers using it for their kids in stages as they advance through the years.

A tougher audience is liberal arts college majors who have zero interest in electronics. I teach a required course on science at a Christian college with students from around the world. This includes a few days with my lab kits (with students working in pairs). Most classes begin with great apprehension, but in every case the students quickly grasp the basics and are off on their own building both analog and digital circuits. The idea is not so much to teach the fundamentals but to simply show them how electronic circuits are organized. This approach works quite well, and student surveys rank the brief electronics sessions near the top of the course content.

When time permits, I'll add some circuits and projects for kids to my web sites.

Forrest M. Mims III
www.forrestmims.org