A number of Rice Electrical and Computer Engineering students are setting out to teach kids computer engineering skills, with the help of Texas Instruments and an activity kit called Snap Circuits. Snap Circuits are color-coded parts that snap together to make a variety of electronic devices – from AM radios, burglar alarms, doorbells and more. The kit helps students develop a fundamental understanding of electrical engineering.
“I first heard about Snap Circuits last year,” said Jorge Quintero, senior in ECE. “Texas Instruments spearheads some of this, and they got in touch to ask if Rice ECE students wanted to participate again this year, and we said yes.”
A mix of Rice students and Texas Instruments volunteers visit local elementary, middle and high schools to guide students through an engineering-related activity. The students are put in teams of 5-6 people, working with one or two Snap Circuits kits and a volunteer.
“The first thing we usually teach is digital logic – we guide them to set up the kit to turn an LED light off and on. It’s an easy, intuitive and highly observable activity, so it works well,” said Chance Tarver, graduate student in ECE.
The students also learn to make truth tables, plots that explain the output of a circuit in terms of possible inputs to that circuit. “They learn that the way they put together the kit is representative of binary values,” Tarver added.
“From a scientific perspective, we show them that we have models for how we expect systems to behave, so we can make a prediction and then measure to see how close we were,” Tarver said. “We also demonstrate that we can verify the models and use our predictions to make more sophisticated designs. We teach them the basics of electrical engineering, as well - we talk about Ohm’s Law, what the job of the resistor is, what the job of the capacitor is, relevant units and so on.”
Quintero is grateful for the experience. “I think it is really important for Rice students to be involved in community service. For undergrads, campus can be a bubble. I think it’s important to get exposure to special issues that we may not experience on campus. It’s also a good opportunity to explain something to a group of students that might not know what Ohm’s law is or what resistors are,” he said. “I really like giving back.”
Tarver agrees. “Teachers are excited that we give these lessons. One teacher we spoke with stressed that most jobs in the future will be in STEM, and was glad to start kids on these kinds of activities at an early age,” he said. “We’ve also gotten some very enthused student groups. We worked with a science club where the students asked questions about every part of the process and were excited and curious about what we were discussing.”