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Connecting Hardware and Software in a Middle School Engineering Outreach Effort-RTP

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Research to Practice: K-12 Engineering Resources: Best Practices in Curriculum Design (Part 1)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Noah Salzman Boise State University

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Noah Salzman is an Assistant Professor at Boise State University, where he is a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and IDoTeach, a pre-service STEM teacher preparation program. His work focuses on the transition from pre-college to university engineering programs, how exposure to engineering prior to matriculation affects the experiences of engineering students, and engineering in the K-12 classroom. He has worked as a high school science, mathematics, and engineering and technology teacher, as well as several years of electrical and mechanical engineering design experience as a practicing engineer. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Swarthmore College, his Master's of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts, and a Master's of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Doctorate in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Sin Ming Loo Boise State University

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Recent years have seen tremendous growth in outreach programs aimed at bringing computer programming to children and young adults via in-class and extracurricular coding activities. Programs such as the Hour of Code and Girls who Code have introduced millions of young people to programming around the world. For this study, we explored how combining programming with interactive electronics hardware can create a more engaging and dynamic learning environment for some students that programming alone can achieve.

In this paper, we describe an electrical engineering outreach effort in collaboration with the technology and engineering teacher at a local middle school. Beginning with an introduction to programming via the Hour of Code, we progressed to lessons utilizing the Sparkfun Electronics Digital Sandbox, an Arduino-compatible microcontroller board with numerous built-in sensors and outputs. Under the guidance of both a professor of electrical and computer engineering and their own technology teacher, the students learned about the relationship between electronics hardware and software via a series of hands-on activities that culminated in a final design project.

To understand the experiences of the students who participated in these activities and develop insights into the relationship between hardware and software and students’ learning outcomes, we administered a survey and conducted a focus group with the students. The students described an overall positive experience, and also appreciated the ability to connect coding with the interactivity provided by the microcontroller board. The students described deriving significant satisfaction out of relatively simple tasks like programming an LED light to blink or change color. The students also overwhelmingly felt that learning about the interconnections between hardware and software gave them an understanding and better appreciation of the complexity of the electronics and computer software they interact with on a daily basis. The students generally found the programming to be the most challenging part of the activity, but also rewarding and were roughly evenly split between indicating hardware or software as the most engaging activity they encountered.

Overall, the results of this study suggest that combined hardware and software educational activities can engage a wide number of students, help students understand the interconnectedness of these areas, and create a positive learning environment.

Salzman, N., & Loo, S. M. (2016, June), Connecting Hardware and Software in a Middle School Engineering Outreach Effort-RTP Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26570

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