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Integrating Assembly Language Programming into High School STEM Education (work in progress)

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.768.1 - 24.768.12



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Paper Authors


Joseph Foy L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools

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Joseph Foy holds two degrees in Electrical Engineering; BSEE 1976, U.S. Naval Academy and MSEE 1988, University Of Tennessee. His twenty-four year engineering career included responsibilities of programming, gate array design, hardware design, field service, and manufacturing support. For the last seven years, Mr. Foy has been a high school teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is licensed to teach all high school math and physics courses. In 2011 and 2012, he was selected for the CURENT RET (Research Experience for Teachers) program, and in 2013 for an REV (Research Experience for Veterans) program. At CURENT, Mr. Foy developed curriculum materials which assist him in explaining power generation and transmission to high school math, physics, and programming courses.

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Chien-fei Chen University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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Chien-fei Chen received the B.S. degree in English Language and Literature from National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, in 1992, and the M.S. in Communication, and Ph.D. in Sociology degrees from Washington State University in 1995 and 2009, respectively. Her current research interests include public acceptance of smart grid, renewable energy and energy conservation, and engineering education (K-12 and university). She is a research professor and co-director of education and diversity program at NSF-DOE engineering research center, CURENT and an adjunct faculty in the Department of Sociology at UTK. Prior to her academic career, she worked in the media industry including KSPS -Spokane Public Station, KCTS-Seattle Public Television, Seattle Chinese Television Station, Public Television Service, Taipei, Vision Communication Public Relation Company, Taipei. She was also a research scientist at Virginia Tech and lab manager at Washington State University.

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Erin James Wills University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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Erin Wills received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University and a M.S. in Theory and Practice in Teacher Education from the University of Tennessee. He currently works as the education coordinator for the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), a NSF/DOE engineering research center. His role at CURENT involves developing K-12 curriculum related to electricity, renewable energy, and the electric grid for the center’s pre-college outreach programs. In addition, Mr. Wills serves the undergraduate and graduate electrical engineering program at the University of Tennessee by arranging research and industry specific training for the students. Prior to joining CURENT, he worked as an operations engineer and automation engineer in the chemical industry.

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Integrating Assembly Language Programming into High School STEM EducationEarly exposure to assembly language is beneficial to high school students prior to learning higherlevel languages so that the operations of hardware are more intricately understood. Assemblylanguage programming is a core skill that allows students to explore principles of computerarchitecture, functional logic, design, and computer arithmetic. We designed a step-by-stepSTEM education class for high school students by providing young students hands-onopportunities to use and understand assembly language. By focusing on the mechanics ofinformation transfer and control within a microcontroller, the content of this curriculum was ableto include software design, symbolic programming techniques, microcontroller architecture,embedded control, and interaction with circuit boards. During this course, students also learnaddressing modes and their relation to arrays, subprograms, parameters, linkage to high levellanguages, and the assembly process. Most importantly, students obtain hands on experiencedeveloping assembly language.This assembly programming course is offered at an East Tennessee public high school where aformer engineer teaches approximately 20 sophomores programming skills by using industrymicrocontrollers. The initial curriculum was designed with increasing complexity that would besupported by lectures and hands-on labs. A progression of labs that build the students’ learningprocess was necessary, instead of two or three labs that thoroughly exercise and demonstrate thefeatures of a microcontroller. Despite several initial basic labs, several introductory lectureswere necessary. These lectures covered decimal-to-hexadecimal conversion, microcontrollerfunctionality (timers, analog/digital conversions, inputs, outputs) and a basic description of theintegrated development environment (IDE). During the first lab, the instructor discovered thatstudents needed to learn initialization routine, interrupt routine, main routine, and static variabledeclarations. Although a reduced instruction set computing (RISC) device was used, initiallectures did not explain the entire instruction set. Instead, initial labs used only a basic subset ofthe entire instruction set, and this was expanded in support of more complex labs.Students have the background of abstracting and defining sequences of steps to solve a mathproblem through their second or third high school math classes. These sequences have exactparallels in computing. Concepts such as interrupts, declaration of variables, and matchingsingle algebraic statements with a series of assembly statements are new to students. Theinstructor has defined lab programs such that they have large initialization, interrupt handlers,and then a very small “main” code segment. In the future, this will provide a foundation for highlevel language concepts such as functions, methods, events, handlers, and initialization ofvariables. It is obvious that the creative appeal that programming offers to engineers will inspirehigh school students. When LEDs turn on, when a message is sent and received, or when anLCD displays the correct output, students showed their excitement and satisfaction. A pre-andpost-measurement on learning outcome was assessed.

Foy, J., & Chen, C., & Wills, E. J. (2014, June), Integrating Assembly Language Programming into High School STEM Education (work in progress) Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20660

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