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Discussion on: Is Uncle Bob serious?

mrbandit profile image
mr-bandit

I would like to see a reasonably complex project either at the last part of Jr year or the beginning of the senior year, where it is combines FW/EE/MechE. Maybe a robotics competition between several teams. Something that is relatively close to the kind of project they will do professionally. Judging would be about the entire process (requirements, project plan, schematics, code, hardware plans, etc). Some sort of cash prize. If you want marketing (shudder :^) involved, then maybe the goal is a kit that could be sold for other robotics competitions.
Part of real projects are the restrictions. For example, the materials used, size of PCB, small microprocessor (I would suggest an Arduino Pro-Mini or similar), total amount under $100, number of students on a team (1 FW, 1 HW, 1 MechE) etc. Most makerspaces have the resources if the college does not have them. I can see this growing to several colleges being involved.

Comments? Ideas?

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bosepchuk profile image
Blaine Osepchuk Author

I'm in favor of anything that helps schools produce more successful graduates. How exactly that is best achieved is not my area of expertise. I have friends who are teachers and when they start talking about how teaching and learning actually work I am reminded that they have specialized knowledge too.

I've heard many different ideas for how to turn out better grads.

One grad had a senior level class where they had to contribute to an open source project and add a significant feature as a small team. Then the next term the following class had to do the same so people got experience maintaining and extending working code, submitting pull requests to "real" programmers, and writing code that has to actually work in production for longer than a three month school term.

I like that idea. Very little industry time is actually devoted to greenfield projects, especially for new grads. And even new projects aren't new for very long. Writing a few thousand lines of code to make an Arduino do something cool is one thing but a more realistic scenario for a new grad is squashing bugs and adding small features in a poorly written 100+ KLOC code base. And those are very different skills.

I don't love robotics as a school project because of the cost and effort required to make anything remotely impressive and because it's very embedded-focused, which isn't where most grads in North America will work. I realize how hypocritical I sound considering I was the one who mentioned cubesats but interacting with the real world is very hard. Simple appliances and consumer electronics might work if you want to promote embedded. I've built a few gizmos for my house over the years and I've always enjoyed working on them.

But, like I said, not my area of expertise. Robots definitely have a wow factor.

Cheers.

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mrbandit profile image
mr-bandit

I have seen first hand how robots get kids interested in STEM. Checkout roborave.org/ as a good example. Robots are this generation's "drug vector of choice" into STEM. You gotta get them hooked on engineering and science. Roborave starts at 4th grade through college. One of the cool things is it's truly international. It got so big, they had to branch South America off as a completely separate entity.

Different competitions need different resources. Roborave teams might spend $200 on a robot. The big ones can be fairly costly. The tag line is "Today's play, tomorrow's pay"

The big hook is robots are fun. Robots have a unique characteristic: there are a lot of problems that each take 3..5 days to solve. This gives the kids a lot of problems - increases their problem-solving skills, and they keep at it. These two aspects are critical, because it keeps them going.

A friend is a teacher of robotics at the Jr High and Sr High level. He enters his kids in 5..6 competitions per year. The kids are so into it he has to go to the robotics lab at midnight every day and tell the kids to GO HOME.

You mentioned open source projects. Google Summer Of Code (GSoC) is exactly that. An applicant submits a proposal to fix some part of open source projects. The proposals must be realistic - the work is done over a summer. The winners are pairs with mentors in industry - Google puts up $6K for a successful project. My son did it one summer and had a blast. It gave him a real taste of the real world. His mentor was very impressed.

The problem with GSoC is the number of slots. It is world-wide, but the USA has 125 slots.

Would I like to see High school kids participate in something like that? Yes. Make it a class in the last period, so they are not forced to stop at the end of the class. The biggest problem I can see is finding teachers that are tech-savvy enough for it. A robot is fairly constrained. Finding holes in open-source code && aiding the students in fixing them is a more focused skill set. Not impossible, just harder. Might need to find retired engineers (who have been programming for decades) to come in as mentors.

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bosepchuk profile image
Blaine Osepchuk Author

Yeah, I think you've unintentionally found the problem: robots get people interested in STEM and then all those bright, excited people get to university and don't learn the right things to be successful in industry when they graduate (and probably waste a lot of time in completely useless classes along the way).

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mrbandit profile image
mr-bandit

My college CS program (late 70's) gave me the useful tools for learning new things. The most useful are OS theory, data structures, and state machines. It took being in industry to learn the basics of systems engineering (SE) . So I basically agree with you. The basic problem is time. The entire CS program would need to be engineered around making SE an integral part of the program. Meaning every class with a project starts with the SE process and carries it through the entire project, and the grades also depends on the SE process. Given what I know of academic departments, this is non trivial.