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Hands-On Science Activity in Digital Circuits for High School Students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 11

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Steven P. Jacobs University of Pittsburgh

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Steven P. Jacobs received the B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1987, the M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1990, and the D. Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1996, all from Washington University in St. Louis.
He is an Associate Professor (NTS) in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. His teaching and research interests include analog and digital communications, digital signal processing, electronic circuit design, digital systems design, signal detection and parameter estimation, radar systems, and automated detection of disease in medical images. His teaching and administrative activities include development of laboratory experiments and courses, and ABET accreditation.
Prof. Jacobs is a senior member of IEEE and a member of ASEE.

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Alaine M. Allen University of Pittsburgh

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Alaine M. Allen is the director of the Swanson School of Engineering pre-college and undergraduate diversity initiatives - INVESTING NOW and Pitt EXCEL. Her work includes providing oversight to these two programs, developing partnerships with professionals from key educational and non-profit communities, maintaining relationships with administrators, faculty and staff within the University of Pittsburgh, interacting with colleagues from other universities, managing summer enrichment sessions and interacting with student organizations within the Swanson School of Engineering.

In addition to her work with INVESTING NOW and Pitt EXCEL, Ms. Allen serves as the staff advisor to the University of Pittsburgh chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Ms. Allen is the national secretary of the National Association for Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates (NAMEPA). She is also a member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Ms. Allen has a Bachelor of Science degree in physics education from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Education degree in policy, planning and evaluation from the University of Pittsburgh. She is also completing her doctoral work in higher education management at the University of Pittsburgh in the School of Education. Her research interests are the academic performance of underrepresented students, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and inclusive excellence in the STEM environment.

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Linda W. Demoise University of Pittsburgh

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Linda W. Demoise, MSCE
Academic Support Coordinator
Pre-College and Undergraduate Diversity Programs
Swanson School of Engineering
University of Pittsburgh

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Many students do not consider an undergraduate degree in engineering because they don’t know what engineers do, they have little knowledge about engineering coursework, or they don’t believe they have the requisite skills to pursue this pathway. In electrical and computer engineering programs, this is especially true for female students and students from historically under-represented groups. An outreach program at our university encourages the development of hands-on science activities for area high school students from these groups as a way to increase their participation in STEM education. We describe an activity conducted by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The goals are to expose participants to the field of ECE, have them complete an activity similar to a sophomore-level digital circuits laboratory, and use that success to demonstrate that they possess the skills necessary to pursue an engineering degree.

The activity begins with a brief introduction to fundamental concepts in digital circuits (voltage, current, binary representations), after which the participants use an oscilloscope to measure the calibration waveform, and consider it as a model for a computer clock signal. The majority of the time is spent constructing and troubleshooting a simple model for a traffic light controller, consisting of a 1 Hz oscillator, a two-bit counter, and a binary decoder to produce a four-state machine. Red, yellow and green LEDs are connected to appropriate outputs so that the LEDs flash in the sequence produced by a two-way traffic signal. This project provides a way to connect the abstract ideas of digital circuits and multi-state systems with an example from everyday life.

This project has been conducted on an annual basis for over ten years. Key to the success of this activity is the support provided by faculty and students in the ECE department. Undergraduate and graduate students assist in construction and troubleshooting of the circuits, with at least one ECE student for each two participants. The participants benefit from the exposure to the technical content as well as the social interaction with the ECE students. The ECE students also benefit, reinforcing their own mastery of circuit construction and testing by explaining it to others. Participants complete surveys indicating what they learned from and enjoyed about the program, and responses support that this exercise is both interesting and useful, with over 80% reporting that they learned a lot and recommending that it be continued.

We prefer a regular session presentation.

Jacobs, S. P., & Allen, A. M., & Demoise, L. W. (2017, June), Hands-On Science Activity in Digital Circuits for High School Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28429

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