Helping build the engineers of tomorrow

By Stew Edmondson. Posted

Students working with the Logic and Arithmetic Kit Credit: University of Southampton

Stew Edmondson explains how Electronics Everywhere is helping students develop the computing skills required for future careers

The UK has a great heritage of technological innovation and a world-class electronics sector. However, there is now a shortage of electronics engineers, meaning that there are too few engineers and designers to develop the next generation of products and help produce creative technological solutions needed by society. The UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF) wants to encourage more young people to consider engineering as a career, and to be aware of the opportunities available in the electronics sector, for the benefit of the UK and wider society.

We know that computing is an increasingly popular A-level subject with 10,000 students nationwide sitting the exam in 2018; this was up 23 per cent on 2017. Despite this, there are few hands-on teaching resources available to schools to teach fundamental computer engineering. Therefore, working closely with academics from the University of Southampton’s prestigious School of Electronics and Computer Science, the UKESF has developed a Logic and Arithmetic Kit. The kit features hands-on activities with a circuit board that teach core electronics concepts to A-level Computer Science students. 

The Logic and Arithmetic Kit circuit board. Image credit: University of Southampton

Along with the Music Mixer Kit, aimed at A-level Physics students, the Logic and Arithmetic Kit is part of the Electronics Everywhere project, which aims to show young people how engaging electronics can be and the exciting career opportunities that are available within the sector. Importantly, the project also provides professional development for teachers to increase their knowledge about electronics and so inspire more young people to take up related careers.  

Electronics Everywhere has received formal endorsement and support from the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng). The UKESF is now working with RAEng to promote the project via their Connecting STEM Teachers programme and using their teacher coordinators to improve the learning resources. 

Resources for teachers

The Electronics Everywhere boards have been professionally manufactured and supporting resources, including video tutorials, have been produced. Kits have already been distributed to over 170 schools and one teacher from each school has received face-to-face training at the University of Southampton. 

A Computer Science teacher running a session with the Logic and Arithmetic Kit. Image credit: University of Southampton.

The Logic and Arithmetic Kit’s bare printed circuit board exposes all the components, creating a link between electronics and applications in many consumer products. This allows students to pursue their curiosity, showing that electronics is not a mysterious black box. The kit is reusable and covers aspects of Boolean operations, logic gates, and base 2 (binary) number systems. These topics are most often taught through simulation or PowerPoint. The board is split into two sections: Logic and Arithmetic. 

The Logic section can be used to explore Boolean operations, truth tables, and logic gates, and to implement simple logic functions and circuits. The board has three switchable logic inputs, a range of different logic gates (AND, OR, NAND, NOR, XOR, NOT), and three logic outputs. Orange LEDs indicate the state (logic 0 or 1) of the individual inputs and outputs of every gate.

The Arithmetic section provides an 8-bit two’s complement circuit for adding/subtracting, offering the ability to perform A+B or A-B (where A and B are 8-bit binary numbers). This can be used to experiment with unsigned and signed binary arithmetic, as well as offering a different way to observe and understand binary number systems. As an extension, a 9-bit adder circuit can be created, by combining both section of the circuit board.  

The kits have been used by over 700 students so far; 70 per cent reacted ‘very positively’ and were more enthusiastic about electronics as a result. Of the teachers using the resources, 57 per cent said they were an ‘excellent’ teaching aid. Comments included, ‘The kits made a real difference to the engagement of the students and a quite tricky topic was made much more accessible’; ‘Students have a much better appreciation of data representation, memory, storage and decision making as a result of using these’; with further comments noting that ‘They are great bits of kit that bring alive the concepts of logic’.

How to get involved

Electronics Everywhere is a high-impact project. We are investing in and supporting teachers and schools at a local level right across the UK. The project provides reusable classroom resources and trains teachers in their use. This allows teachers to deliver the A-level curriculum for computing in an engaging and interesting way and so improves the learning experience for their pupils. Each school involved in the project:

  • Receives a classroom set of circuit board kits; these resources are fully packaged and are reusable 

  • Has a teacher complete a comprehensive training session to familiarise themselves with all aspects of the teaching resource (a video tutorial is available for teachers unable to travel to Southampton)

  • Gains access to online teaching resources, lesson plans, guides, and additional information

  • Is covered by a comprehensive support package, including a replacement/repair service.

The ultimate aim of Electronics Everywhere is for every school and college in the UK which offers A-level Physics and/or Computer Science to have a classroom set of the kit, supplied free of charge to those in the state sector. If you would like to get involved, please visit ecs.soton.ac.uk/outreach/kits where you can sign up to the mailing list or email Southampton directly with specific queries about the project.

Electronics Everywhere is also linked to a broader campaign from the UKESF called #TurnOnToElectronics. This multiplatform campaign is fronted by The Gadget Show presenter Georgie Barrat and aims to encourage more young people to study and pursue careers in electronics. Georgie said, “I’m delighted to be involved in the UKESF’s #TurnOnToElectronics campaign, which is shining a welcome spotlight on careers in Electronic Engineering… studying electronics can lead to an exciting and creative career, which enables students to make a real difference in the world.”

To find out more, visit turnontoelectronics.org, where you can watch the campaign video, download the manifesto, and access a wealth of information targeted to young people — from what it is like to be an electronics engineer in the UK to where to go to develop an interest in electronics. Follow @TOTElectronics to keep up to date with the campaign.

University of Southampton supports Electronics Everywhere

Encouraging A-level students in computing and electronics can be a challenge. When young people visit our university on open days, we really need to pull it out of the bag to ensure they have the best possible experience. Programmes of events can consist of a sample lecture, a practical session, a tour of the campus and a curriculum targeted activity. As an electronics and computer science department we were concerned about the lack of electronics and computing outreach and resources aimed at A-level pupils. This is especially as there is now a shortage of electronics engineers (especially graduates), meaning that there are too few engineers and designers to develop the next generation of products and help produce creative technological solutions needed by society. 

The UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF) and the Electronics and Computer Science Outreach Department at the University of Southampton want to encourage more young people to consider engineering as a career and to be aware of the opportunities available in the electronics sector for the benefit of the UK and wider society.  

One fantastic aspect of the project is that it provides outreach in the form of professional development to teachers. It empowers them with the resources to teach aspects of A-level Computing they may have not enjoyed doing previously. 

Reena Pau, University of Southampton


https://www.twitter.com/theUKESF

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