STEM Ambassador Jon Trinder teaches Hillhead High students the components of working with electronics

Issued: Wed, 11 Jan 2017 10:19:00 GMT

As Dr Jon Trinder travelled around different departments of the University of Glasgow attempting to find people interested in tutoring eight tech keen students from Hillhead High School he didn’t have high expectations of success.

“I didn’t think there would be much of an appetite to be honest. People around campus are just so busy. Turns out I was wrong, there was a very large appetite!”

He quickly realised that people inside and even outside of his faculty were excited about the prospect of helping in any way they could.

He managed to get several people from a selection of departments to help show 8 students over 8 weeks from Hillhead High how electronics work in practice.

The catalyst for the project was a BTech student, taught by Jon,who had been on placement at the school. The student, Cameron Eusebi, had been asked by a teacher if it would be possible to get the pupils experience of programming microcontrollers. The student contacted Jon and asked if they could perhaps get use of the electronics labs.

Jon, deciding that there might be scope for making this happen, and realising that in getting each of the pupils access to a portable programmable device which they could take home, might potentially demystify the idea of electronics to some parents also.

He said: “I grew up in an age where if you wanted to know how something worked then you could take it to pieces, things were big enough then that you could take them to bits. Unfortunately these days the bits are small, so small you can barely see it, never mind figure out what it does. People have got used to buying a bit of technology and using without ever giving any thought that someone else actually made it and made it do what it does.”

After careful consideration he plumped for an mbed microcontroller as it seemed the most robust and accessible option, and the model he chose could be plugged into a breadboard (a breadboard is a rapid prototyping platform used to connected electronic components), “I just got whatever I could get together."

The mbed and breadboard combination was indeed the most accessible choice as Gerry Barnett, who worked with the pupils, explains: “The workshops involved electronics construction on Breadboards with LEDs, buzzers and web based coding. The pupils constructed a pedestrian crossing and developed the initial code introducing more complexity and features. It was well received by all pupils with some excelling and others to a lesser degree, coding is not for everyone.

“There was a huge amount of effort put in by the university staff to make the workshops happen and support them, using the mBed microcontroller.The pupils went on to scratch build two working projects during the IET Faraday Challenge Day, the only team to achieve this, yet unfortunately they did not win the event on the day.

This collaboration between university, high school and STEM Ambassadors is a perfect example of what can be achieved when different education disciplines work toward the common aim of supporting schools within their local area. Professor Scott Roy, Head of Electronics & Electrical Engineering Discipline School of Engineering, said of the collaboration:

“Electronics & Electrical Engineering were extremely pleased to be visited by such a diverse group of enthusiastic and intelligent pupils from Hillhead High. We helped them as they wrote computer programs and interfaced all sorts of hardware (including LEDs, switches and scrolling displays) to ARM based ‘mbed’ microcontrollers provided by the School of Engineering. Our ‘mbed’ microcontrollers are the ‘big brother’ of the BBC’s micro:bit microcontroller development boards, which the pupils also used on their visits.

“I was particularly impressed by one incident. While most of the pupils were working out how to make arrays of LEDs flash on and off to create moving LED patterns, one young pupil noticed that the programming libraries included a ‘sound’ function and asked if it was possible to make sounds with the ‘mbed’. We dug out a small speaker from the electronics store and wired it up. Within a few minutes she was getting a pretty passable set of notes out of the micro-controller, and working towards the creation of a musical instrument. One of the great things about modern electronics is the ability to quickly prototype systems, if you are creative enough to ask ‘is it possible?’, and then have a go at making your idea work.”

READ: STEM Ambassador engineers confidence in a new generation

<< News