How to get youngsters interested in STEM? Borrow robots from local library?



  • Peter, the secret to the kids with the drive is no secret. Somewhere they determined for themselves that their interest in X was uhm, in their interest. They found value in X. Some find it on their own, some through peers or friends or family members. And yes, stem is important, but as an interest or hobby, a lot like work or school without high interest. I was an electronic geek in the sixties and was impressed by a couple classmates who had at 7th grade full on chem labs in the basements. How cool were those parents, one of whom was an apple farmer in Watsonville,Ca. We saw something we found of value to ourselves. That core interest is what creates the topshelf doers and oftentimes leaders in a field. Whether stem, arts or whatever doesn't matter. Trick is to encourage a budding interest. Provide the environment to grow and explore. You don't get fruit from a sappling. No need to push, it will grow in its own path, just encourage them to be the best in whatever that path is, the path of their choosing. Well, maybe not rapid unauthorized bank withdrawals or questionable pharmaceutical manufacturing.......
  • Peter JakackiPeter Jakacki Posts: 9,707
    edited 2020-09-21 - 02:07:59
    lol - well we know what drove us, although I didn't really get any help like that, I just read and read a lot of science books and "thunk" a lot, and then tried things out as best as I could. I do remember that when I was thirteen that I saved up enough money from my paper run to buy an electronics kit and then that was it, I was addicted. My schoolwork suffered but I learnt more than I ever could at school. I also had a neighbor's older son who had electronics magazines and ARRL handbooks and he even built a CRO from a kit, when CROs were cathode ray oscilloscopes, but tiny round screens!

    I'd pull apart any old radio, I eventually got a soldering iron, and then a 20kohm/v multimeter as a Christmas present, and scavenged disposal stores for SMS computer cards etc . Years later when I was working and when CPU eval kits started to be promoted in magazines I went and spent my whole holiday pay on ordering a "high-end" 2650 board with a whole 1k of RAM and 1k ROM. While I was waiting for that I had a bit left over to start playing with a cheaper SC/MP kit and built a display using surplus 7-segment led calculator chips on a bit of veroboard and some drivers in a rectangular down-pipe elbow as the box and a piece of red perspex as the filter. I Dalo'ed some bare pcb laminate and drew up a keyboard encoder and serializer for a surplus keyboard mechanism from Dick Smith Electronics, and of course etched and drilled this manually. With the 555 eventually set to the "adjusted baud" using the good old try&fail method, I could type machine code blindly into the serial monitor ROM and by checking an led on the serial output, I had a fair idea whether there was an error or not, in which case I had to start all over again from reset. Eventually I got the display to light up and then I worked out about multiplexing and ghosting and blanking periods and auto-scrolling so that I was able to redirect output to this primitive display. Just one error, and once again, I'd have to start over. Within a year I was designing not just my own CPU board but also other boards to build my own computer with programmable character "graphics" etc. Anyway, there's probably a whole volume I could talk about just from this period, but I was one of those with that drive and I guess it's also because I wasn't distracted by other things either.

    They say most engineers are Asperger's or have some kind of Autism :) You really need to have "The Knack"

  • I’ll share what worked for a group I shepherd: a “solenoid gun”.

    If you want to see their eyes light-up and the neurons fire, build one, do it imperfectly (by design) and leave it out for a year with the source code and hardware bits available. I did, and it totally rocked their brains. First they gravitated to it, then they bench-raced with it from afar. Then they got the nerve to pull it apart, recode it, then they attacked the hardware and made it better. They learned a lot in the process. At the end of the year the thing was hurling a 3/8 x 3 inch magnet over 500 fps. Snick-THWAPPP!!! No other noise or drama, just a really cool, nearly silent, disappearing act. It was AWESOME!

    We demo’d it for a parents/booster night and it got rave reviews. It also completely freaked-out the physics teacher when that magnet “disappeared”. (Note: the “barrel” was transparent acrylic for best visual impact, but it was designed such that the projectile could not escape the device. Everything was safely contained. Safety was always first).

    Note that a solenoid “gun” isnt a weapon. Its just a magnetic accelerator. (Google “coil gun”). But if you put the right “spin” on the presentation of the subject, you can sell it to the kids as a serious bad-assed machine. And honestly, it is! You put a magnetic “bullet” (a simple magnet) in one end, close the “breech”, and then you “fire” the magnetic solenoid coil(s) to propel it down the barrel. Timing and energy management is everything. Once you master a single coil, then you can add more. Results after the initial crude attempts are hard-won, demand patience, persistance, and require learning the bare-knuckle physics. You simply cant fake it. Optical sensors and magnetic feedback get explored in the quest for perfection. When they finally sink that magnet deep into several sheets of stacked drywall/balsa, then they can say they have “mastered the machine”. :)

    If you want to capture their minds and set the “hook” deeply, give them something visceral to play with. Make sure the immediacy factor is present, ie, coil guns, sumo bots, etc. The “nerds” in the bunch will come out of the woodwork if you just give them a little bait! :)
  • They say most engineers are Asperger's or have some kind of Autism.
    I took an online test once that was supposed to measure autistic tendencies. According to the results, I'm totally on the spectrum -- not just a little bit. Knowing that has explained a lot, and I'm completely fine with it.

  • frank freedmanfrank freedman Posts: 1,729
    edited 2020-09-21 - 04:53:45
    Oy, Peter, I probably should not tell you that in high school I asked Signetics rep for a 2650 sample and actually got one. Did a few things with it and gave it to a voc school friend when I started building my IMSAI. 265p was about $250USD per chip.

    As to spectrum, likely true. Thankfully, I avoided any diagnosis until long after the navy. Life would have been very different if they had ever found out. Official ADD, son autism and non-verbal. If I wanted to pay the shrinks I would have very high function ASD. (I actually participate in a research study on ASD and aging which requires an MRI every two years). Already done 2 of them, so I guess there is something brtween the ears...
  • Cluso99Cluso99 Posts: 16,658
    edited 2020-09-21 - 10:00:53
    I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s.
    Like Peter, i used to pull apart old valve radios, etc. I used to collect the big PMG 1.5V batteries that were discarded. I was 9 when i made my first soldering iron, a screw screwed into a piece of dowel, and then the head filed to a point. Fine wire from an old radio wrapped around the bolt and then connected to the 1v5 battery. Worked a dream :)
    Also about 9 when i received my first and second 240VAC jolt - sent me right across the room! Always respected 240V since then although i got stuck across my 400VDC 200mA DC-DC inverter on my transceiver at TAFE. Anyway luckily i never told my parents for decades after.
    I had the Philips Electronic Kits too. Great intro into electronics.
    Cannot say what drove me as no-one close was into electronics.
    Hated reading - never read a school novel, only a couple of cribs to get me past the exams. However, read every electronic magazine i could get my hands on.

    My two sons and daughter all excelled in electronics and computers at school, and had part time jobs working in our electronics assembly factory while at school. Not surprising since i had my own mini-computer at home from 1977 - you know the monster the length of the garage - yes it was in my airconditioned garage! So they grew up with computers at home before it was normal.
    Only my eldest son went into electronics, while my other son went via programming into project management. My daughter is a junior school teacher with a bent for computers.

    So perhaps my kids were into electronics and computers because it wasn’t normal. Nowadays electronics and computers are everywhere so it’s no longer a luxury. They don’t need to understand how it works to use it as a tool, to play games or communicate with friends.

    I tried to get my eldest grandkids into electronics but they aren’t interested. However my daughter wants to get her twin boys (6) interested so i am organising a simple line follower each for them to solder - the ~$7 fleabay variety to start with. Hopefully this will pique their interest and i can extend them - but they are in the UK so we won’t be visiting any time soon :(
  • They say most engineers are Asperger's or have some kind of Autism.
    I took an online test once that was supposed to measure autistic tendencies. According to the results, I'm totally on the spectrum -- not just a little bit. Knowing that has explained a lot, and I'm completely fine with it.

    In my case I've known for about fifty two years that I've got that. It's been a big help, and sometimes a big problem. It's the memory and gift for understanding things that are a part of it. As for electronics, I was taught it at nine. It stuck from there.
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