TTU ECE students design circuits of fun for Capshaw Elementary students

About 80 college freshmen boarded a big yellow school bus to go back to elementary school recently and help fourth graders get excited about engineering.

The entire freshman class of Tennessee Tech University's electrical and computer engineering program spent three weeks designing projects using Snap Circuit kits to help about 100 Capshaw Elementary School children build fun devices.

"What was obvious was that our part was to be patient, show them the design, give them the parts and let them figure it out on their own," said Ian Youel, a freshman from Brentwood, whose group showed students how to use circuits to turn a green light and a fan on and then turn the fan off while turning on a red light.

Michelle Hale, one of the five fourth-grade teachers whose students participated, said this activity reinforced current chapters in the science textbook and curriculum.

"Our students loved it!" says Hale. "Many of our students expressed wanting to do more with this, asking for a snap circuit kit for Christmas or saying 'It would be cool to get to play for a job' and 'I wanna do this when I grow up.'"

Students had access to equipment such as sound chips, voice recording chips, speakers and motors. One group tuned in a local radio station on their AM/FM radio. Others launched helicopter propellers and produced Star Wars sounds with their devices.

"We knew we had made a real difference when we heard one girl ask, 'Teacher, can we skip social studies for science again next week?'" said Stephen Parke, chairperson of TTU's ECE department.

Sherrie Cannon, who owns the Discovery Depot with her husband, volunteers to help local elementary schools with science education and helped coordinate TTU's efforts with Capshaw.

This Snap Circuits community service project is part of the new ENGR1020 Connections to Engineering course that all freshmen take during their first semester on campus.   It provides a fun, hands-on introduction to the various fields of electrical and computer engineering.   Students get to work in small groups soldering electronic kits in the McDearman Circuits Lab, tracing integrated circuit chips under microscopes in the BOND Lab, controlling a simulated industrial plant in Controls Lab, and touring the new TTU Nursing Building construction project.

"Next time, we're going to do Mythbusters projects based on the popular television show that many budding engineers love to watch," said Parke.