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Old February 21st, 2018, 02:44 PM   #1
RonJohn
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OT: STEM presentation to kids

A friend of mine is an elementary school teacher. The school is having a STEM Day in a couple of months and she invited me to give a presentation to the kids regarding a career in engineering.

I'll have roughly an hour to interact with 8-10 year olds, tell them what an engineer does and hopefully stimulate some interest in a field that I absolutely love. My initial thought is to do more showing than telling, as kids this age will probably pay closer attention to stuff they can see, touch, etc.

I'm thinking I could scape up a little PLC/HMI system with a simple program (traffic light, elevator, etc.) but I'd also like some other ideas for simple examples of where engineers make a difference. It would be good to give a taste of what all engineering disciplines experience, not just electrical/controls.

Any thoughts on what I could share with these future engineers would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.
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Old February 21st, 2018, 07:26 PM   #2
James Mcquade
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I had several things when I did an electrical class for boyscouts and the cubscouts

overall print of a conveyor system / assembly line, how much wire was used, how to design it.
photos of control panels.
talked to them about the projects I did - I have machines that build tires, water pumps. pool filters. car seats, test equipment, paint systems for lawn mowers, glass manufacturers, and.......

I showed the kids my plant in operation, I remoted into the plant and showed them several operations.

went pretty well, 2 of the scouts are in the IS/IT program and one of them wants to be an electrical engineer like me.

regards,
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Old February 21st, 2018, 08:51 PM   #3
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How about something interactive? I have thought of using an infrared photo sensor setup to run a counter, and having students walk thru an "invisible beam" and be counted.
Could you have a short video of an automated machine?
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 03:15 AM   #4
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Although the elevator and traffic lights are nice ideas, a few weeks ago I saw a game of whack-a-mole done with a PLC and HMI (and a couple of buttons) which I though was pretty cool, albeit expensive.

Coming up with something built for them to play is interesting, but taking those same parts and turning them into something else will most likely leave them with the right impression about engineers (solving problems with what is available).
Say that you get there with a set up that controls the elevator and then you go in, download a new software or adapt it and the system does different things... that could be interesting too.
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 06:18 AM   #5
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An hr is an awful long time for 8-10 yr olds!!!
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 08:52 AM   #6
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Thanks folks for the responses - keep them coming!

James, I would love to show them my plant in operation if I were able. The "big picture" idea, not just the programming aspect, is what I hope to convey.

Jaden, interaction is great idea.

Cardosocea, "solving problems with what is available" is key to what an engineer does! It's that kind of example which differentiates engineers from "scientists" IMHO.

Greatly appreciated,
Ron

Last edited by RonJohn; February 22nd, 2018 at 08:53 AM. Reason: semantics
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 09:28 AM   #7
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How about setting up a wireless router. Have them use an android app and communicate to the PLC directly. (Modbus TCP)
http://www.suppanel.com/index.php/en/
You can discuss IOT.
How about showing Factory IO in a training session.
https://factoryio.com/

Just a couple of thoughts...
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 11:32 AM   #8
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If you want to keep 8-10 year olds engaged for an hour, you won't do it well by talking and showing. They need to touch. They need to think. They need to do. Break up your talking into shorter clips with interaction between.

The traffic light and elevator may be good for them to see and somewhat understand what you do, but that doesn't get them interacting and I don't know that it shows them what you do - just what you produce - which isn't the same.

If you really want to get them engaged, find a way to make it a contest. It could include your stuff or it could default back to physics class - making a tower out of limited supplies, making a bridge, launching/throwing something etc. Have a timer to create some pressure and keep it on schedule. Back to a previous comment, engineers solve problems - challenge them to solve some problems.

Along the lines of programming, you probably can't let more than a couple individuals do much. However, you might be able to program some sort of sequence(s) and have the class experiment and try to decipher the logic that you used. ... pressing PB1 three times turns on the green light, pressing PB2 twice makes it blink it, but only if it was already on, PB#3 turns the light off if it's blinking, holding PB#3 turns off the light if it is on but not blinking. etc. You can have the whole class come up with possible tests (pressing buttons multiple times, holding buttons, etc. Write some of the tests on the board. As they think they've found a pattern, write it on the board. See if the class can lay out the logic of your program. Ultimately, you can show them that you used logic to make the program.
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 12:14 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jaden View Post
How about something interactive? I have thought of using an infrared photo sensor setup to run a counter, and having students walk thru an "invisible beam" and be counted.
Could you have a short video of an automated machine?
I like this, and agree that it has to be interactive for kids to have fun. Elevators and Traffic lights are not relatable to them.

In addition to jaden, make it a game? Redlight/green light. Instead of kids yelling "red light" "green light", program buttons and lights. Kids get to push the red/green light buttons, kids who make it to the photo eye during a green light get counted, if it was red they get rejected. You could see how many times the lights change and display on a small HMI display? You could then program a sequence to the lights so they could all try.
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 12:25 PM   #10
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TheLearningPit on a big screen..Most schools have those things now.

http://www.thelearningpit.com/lp/logixpro.html
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 12:37 PM   #11
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Keep it Fast, Cool and Interesting

As dowthebow mentioned, the attention span of 8 to 10 year olds is short as I can attest to after 25 years as a scout leader, you need to have it fast paced and have lots of interaction to keep them on track. Kids love to talk to interested/ interesting adults. I’m working with an engineering society this week encouraging STEM during Professional Engineer’s Week among selected eighth graders (math and science geeks for the most part).

What seems to work is:
A brief slideshow/ discussion on “What is engineering?” and getting the audience to realize everything they physically use was the product of engineering (The alarm clock that woke them or their parents up this morning, the food they ate for breakfast was handled and cooked by engineered products, the desks they are sitting in, the clothes they wear, etc.) Let them come up with the list, write them on a board. If it goes slow, ask what is there favorite thing to do/ play with and bring it back around to how engineer’s made it possible, it would be a boring world if we didn’t have engineers.

Lead them into the common thread of what engineers do: They solve problems. Doing so makes money for a companies which is why engineers are well paid. Sometimes, they solve a problem that you didn’t even know you had such as personal computers and cell phone and they create a device that launches new industries.

In the slide show, print out a line on one of the slides that states, “Engineers see things differently” (In flipped/mirrored text or at least backwards for a visual affect) then use the following:
A typical pro basketball player shoots 75% free throws and the coach is happy, if he shoots 90% he’s one of the best in the league and the coach is ecstatic. How would you feel if when you turned on your favorite toy, TV, etc. it only worked 9 out of 10 times? Engineers work to make thing work each and every time, almost 100% of the time. Sometime they can’t accept any failures such as in space flights, water systems that recycle water that may have come from the sewer before you turn on the faucet, etc.

Explain the different types of engineers. Not just Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, Biomedical, etc. but what functions they perform: Design, Manufacturing, Testing, R&D, Sales, Service, Project, and of course Computer/ PLC hardware and software. Ask “Does anyone know an engineer?” and I’m betting a few hands will come up. And then ask them “What do they do?” This will make the other students aware that engineers are closer to them than they know and are everywhere. If no hands go up, point to yourself and say, “You now know one!” And many engineers don’t just stay engineers, they spring board after the bachelor’s degree and then go on to become lawyers (Patent especially, who better than an engineer to do this?), doctors, business leaders and other professions (if you can handle getting an engineering degree, you probably can succeed at anything you try). 60% of the fortune 500 CEOs started with an engineering degree that usually lead to a MBA.

Add in a hands on project or demonstration and you may hook some of them to become engineers. I remember an engineer father of a 6th grade classmate who cobbled up a Rube Goldberg machine that used potential, kinetic, chemical and thermal energy to cause a flash bulb to go off (Yep, it was back in the mid ‘60s: the finale was a weight falling off a table attached to a string wrapped around the shaft of a DC motor that then became a generator and made light). He then explained the changes in energy that occurred and you could hear a pin drop when he was talking.

You can also look at http://discovere.org/ for more ideas and give the student the url so they can look it up later.
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 01:17 PM   #12
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Hook one of these up to your PLC, have it do some programmed pick ups and drops.

Then let the kids use the HMI to control the robotic arm directly, or change the step sequence.

https://www.amazon.com/OWI-OWI-535-R.../dp/B0017OFRCY



It's all plastic, a bit slow, and not a strong grip. But it works well with a PLC.
If you want to spend more $$$ and time, then buy & build a metal robotic arm.
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 03:40 PM   #13
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You never know the impression you may have...

Just finished up with today's group of 8th grade geeks(see post #11) and was surprised when one of the young ladies exclaimed "You are the same guy I had at last year's program and are the reason I wanted to do this again and am very interested in pursuing engineering".

Last year we had the students write a "computer program" (wrote down a list of steps on paper) on how a "robot" (me) was to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They quickly learned to be very explicit or else the robot may not do what they had intended. As I remember, the initial command was to "Drop the jellied slice of bread onto the plate that held the peanut butter slice" and I did this at an elevation of about a 3' with the jellied side initially up. They wished they had an estop to stop the mess as I started the motion and they could see what was going to happen. They were thinking 1" above the other slice and jellied side down aligned with all the edges within 0.25" which is how they updated the instructions for the next sandwich. I guess it's understandable how I made an impression on her.

This year's program was similar "programming exercize" but involved building a Lego car. It took a lot more steps and was a lot less messy. Same lessons were learned that include time management, communicating well, and working as a team to a common goal.
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 03:56 PM   #14
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I also showed them a light switch and light bulb and explained it to them.
we then made a human switch and the last person was the light bulb.
when they were touched, they yelled light on.

james
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Old February 22nd, 2018, 04:09 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeW View Post
A typical pro basketball player shoots 75% free throws and the coach is happy, if he shoots 90% he’s one of the best in the league and the coach is ecstatic. How would you feel if when you turned on your favorite toy, TV, etc. it only worked 9 out of 10 times? Engineers work to make thing work each and every time, almost 100% of the time. Sometime they can’t accept any failures such as in space flights, water systems that recycle water that may have come from the sewer before you turn on the faucet, etc.
If only the paychecks matched the hit percentage at work...

Good analogy though.
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