Engineering Success Through Projects

/, Phase 2, REU/Engineering Success Through Projects

Summer intern’s reflection and thoughts on teacher and student STEM computational making during our summer workshop. Learn more about the Phase 2 Summer Workshop on our About page.

by Chase Joyner

To start off this blog, let me say hello. My name is a Chase Joyner. I am currently a student at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering starting my sophomore year and I am majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I am a summer researcher at TERC and I am very happy to join the research team.

For this week, I was stationed in Cambridge, however there was a workshop in Malden that coincided with this. I was honestly excited to see what this week brought forth for the projects that were planned the week prior. We had three project teams in Cambridge: Open Minds, Tipping Point, and Hangout Space. Before, teams started generating ideas for a project that incorporate the idea of movement. Movement can be seen as physical as something that is walking or changing motion, or something like an ideological or social movement. The teams thought around this idea and came up with projects that can move and start a social movement. I thought day one of the week-long workshop would be a slow start because teams would not have a mental idea of what they actually want, but I was definitely proven wrong. The majority spent only one to two hours planning out what they wanted to get done by the end of the day or were ready to build while planning what they should be adding. I loved that everyone had their own ideas to bring to the project and what they wanted to see come out of it. For example, Tipping Point was a very unique project because it used micro:bits as its main source of movement but also used them to keep count of points and communicate with the other micro:bits on it. The entire team shows enthusiasm for using the micro:bit to make a scale, but more ideas kept coming such as adding a counter and containing the project in an acrylic frame. Although some did speak up more than others, there was a sense that everyone’s idea was put into the project and they were, to an extent, satisfied with what they had come up with in the beginning. The three teams came up with some creative ideas, some . While some had a harder time planning out what they wanted to do and how to execute it, they seemed to have a fun time bouncing ideas off each other and coming to compromises when something did not seem like it would work out.

The participants seemed really eager to go to the mini-workshops that were for the micro-bits, laser cutter, and Inkscape. The middle school students seemed to be more attracted to working in inkscape first and learning how to make laser cut files, while the teachers were more interested in coding and programming with the micro:bits. The workshops were lead by individuals on the research team that was experienced in using one of the three appliances: Ada with Inkscape to make designs and cut files, Amon with the micro:bit to code using blocks and java, and me with the laser cutter to cut files made on Inkscape. Some of the students and teachers thought this would not only be a great opportunity to make parts for assembling the main components of their project like making an acrylic case or support bases for poles, but it would be get for making aesthetic features for their display such as trees, tables, and benches. Those who were not interested at first did do their best to learn a little bit of the basics so they can have some experience with it. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the laser cutter training. I know that I ran the mini-workshop, however, I did feel that the students and teachers should have been able to do more that put their own materials in and work with the online layout. The laser cutter works by sending an online scalable vector graphics (SVG) file to an online application that functioned the laser. Users would be able to arrange the layout of the SVG online and put the material they wanted to use, like acrylic and hardwood, in the cutter. Once everything is set, one but will scan the material, adjust the settings, and begin cutting. However due to some technical limitations, such as the space we were working in and the ventilation, it inturned limited the use of the laser cutter and had to be under supervision of me. While I did give a tutorial of how to use it, it seem easier of the participants to come to me and have me cut the files while to made sure the laser cutter was working fine. I would have like to have less control of the laser cutter than I did and have them learn more about it hands on. I feel like they would have fun cutting it themselves than have someone cut it for them. Despite them not physically using the laser cutter, they all were able to get their cut files made and completed for the final touches of their projects.

By Friday, all the projects from Cambridge and Malden were complete, and they all worked and function how the teams wanted it too. Electric Avenue’s, a project created in the Malden workshop, was very innovative with how they wanted their project to function. This project was made with the idea of creating a new playground space that was powered using a direct current (DC) electric generator that was activated via force of children pushing it from the platform. The force and friction would result in electricity being produced and it would cause lights to turn on as it is being spun. ParQ U Play’s app-based storage locker concept was very creative and had a lot of potential. They made a prototype of the locker and had plans to continue the project by integrating micro:bit bluetooth capabilities to communicate between and a phone. Every single one had so much planning and effort put into it that reflected every team member’s hard work and dedication to the project. I was quite excited to see the different paths of iteration everyone would take in order to make their project, whether that be including the micro-bit to do count or control motors, creating turbines that can be moved and send a cultural message, or creating an interactive structure that integrates an electrical generator which requires rotational movement to produce electricity and power the lights of it.. All of these projects not only addressed physical movement, but the cultural movement as well, and the integration between the two worked out very well together. The projects did a great job addressing some of the social issues that are present in within the Cambridge and Malden areas that the groups found personal like cultural awareness and new socializing area and had wanted to make a project that demonstrated their passion of what they wanted to see in the area. Everyone including the Malden teams showcased their projects and it was amazing to see what ideas and similarities that the two locations had. All of these projects were successes and had a lot of work put into them to make them look great.

Overall, I enjoyed working with the teachers and the students, and I loved seeing them bring a lot of ideas for their projects. This is an experience will will look back and reflect on when I go back to college, since this project team work that was occuring in the sessions as similar to what I do for projects in my courses. Helping plan the days with the research team helped me improve my observation skills for keeping track to particular issues or patterns that may arise during a project, and have improved my note taking in a style that is more comfortable for me.