|Sept - Dec 2016|
|Global Digital Innovation|
Educators are beginning to recognize the importance of bringing engineering and technology into the classroom by introducing circuitry, programming, and robotics as a way to meet NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards are), K–12 science content standards requirements. The biggest issue for teachers is where to begin and how to afford the resources. With so many robotics kits on the market and software and microprocessors, how do teachers choose and where do they find the knowledge to learn and teach engineering? One alternative is to teach engineering with soft circuits, squishy circuits and my favorite, paper circuitry. What I like so much about paper circuits is they are so easy to learn, fast to make, and inexpensive for most teachers. More importantly kids love making an LED light up, which creates that high interest and high engagement that may inspire them to think of a career that relies on STEM knowledge.
The impact of teaching engineering with alternative ways for children to learn circuitry and programming is significant, though only now beginning to be widely researched in K12 Education. I am going to be bold and say paper circuitry is the very foundation of how to start an engineering program for an after-school, in school, or library MakerSpace because of the benefits. Engineering has not always been accessible because of the expense and the perception it is too difficult to learn, which creates an equity barrier. Paper circuits level the playing field and lowers the equity barrier.
Something else I want to speak on is I would like to suggest that it is not enough to give children a robotic kit and teach them simple coding exercises from online websites and voila! they want to be future computer scientists or engineers. I am afraid this what we are seeing happen in our schools, an over reliance on kits. Robotics kits and free coding websites do serve a purpose, that is to expose children to critical thinking about the logic or logical steps to program a robot to move. I feel very strongly the next step after learning logic is for children to learn how things work. From this experiential learning once children master these basic engineering skills, they can be tasked with developing technology to solve real world problems such as designing and programming a plant water monitoring system, or creating a solution to providing clean energy. These are all engineered projects. Engineering is all around us. Everything man has made has been engineered, which is fascinating when children realize this.
Robots are a really fun way to get started but that is not the only thing engineers do. They invent things and solve problems. Engineers cannot go and buy a kit when they have an engineering problem to solve. They have to design and construct all the parts from scratch and this means they have to know what the parts do, how to solder, how to make calculations, and how to program. Engineering kits are made of the same separate parts engineers use but they take a lot of the thinking away from students. We limit childrens’ knowledge to kits when we do this.
If we are going to help our children perhaps choose a future STEM career after experiencing the fun of learning engineering then we have to take the next step and help them understand how kits work. Yes, we can hook them with a cute kit, and there is nothing wrong with that but there needs to be the next step in complexity. I have to say I love LEGO’s, Little Bits, Hummingbird Kits, Squishy Circuits, Makey Makey, and Arduino, but most teachers cannot afford even one of them.
That next step is understanding how to program using simple microprocessors like the ATtiny85. Then children can learn how to make their own simple robots from using parts from an engineering kit they made from scratch. It is not that hard to do and it is inexpensive. Many many teachers and students have learned to do this themselves and it is liberating. This is knowledge they can build complexity upon. The best, affordable, and fastest way to learn engineering in my opinion is through paper circuits because they are immediately accessible and filled with immeasurable opportunities for creativity and artistic self-expression.
Jeannine Huffman- 13 November, 2016
Jeannine Huffman, is Adjunct Faculty, Teachers College of San Joaquin