I had the chance to work with a number of young learners in the Boy Scouts of America program from Central Texas in a STEMulate Learning workshop session. These young men (and two of their sisters) spent the weekend working on their understanding of fundamental Electronics concepts as part of the Merit Badge requirements.
One of the requirements for this merit badge involves learning about at least three types of electronic test equipment in addition to circuit diagramming techniques, building example circuits, demonstrating proper soldering techniques, and discussing careers in Electronics..
For basic logic circuits, I was able to demonstrate the digital logic probe in its use to identify pulsing signals. Fortunately, the Arduino board is wonderful for experimentation because it is relatively resistant to careful exploration and carries no high voltage that would be a risk for the students.
Various versions of Arduino board can be used to generate different digital and analog signals and waveforms, which can be best demonstrated using an oscilloscope. This small solid state scope is an excellent addition to classrooms as it costs under $100 USD, fits into a small toolbox, and is very easy to use without extensive training.
Of course, additional testing of the student’s demonstration circuits could be accomplished using basic multimeters that can provide data on voltages, resistance and other meaningful measures to ensure that batteries are inserted in the correct orientation and to identify potential short circuits before anything was more than a little warm from improper connectivity. Teaching many STEM subjects can be challenging for both educators and learners if they lack the groundwork in these subjects to carry the excitement of their potential into their lessons. Real-world examples using inexpensive tools and common hardware can help bring meaning and usefulness into the classroom setting. Instead of a dry lecture on significant digits taken from a textbook, students are challenged to come up with the closest estimated values for a handful of interconnected components and learn the process of estimation, identify significant digits and find out experimentally the impact of their projections on the overall circuit potential and final reportable values while having fun!
If you have a large enough class, dividing the students into groups and assigning roles can allow the introduction of project management and coordinated group work into the classroom as well. Assinging a team leader who is the only one to read the instructions in one room and delegate other tasks by verbal transfer of the requirements builds both critical thinking and communication skills, while requiring separate individuals to read each of the individual component values and provide them to another classmate who must calculate the final reportable value encourages division of labor and effective use of resource analysis. For older/more advanced students, limiting the number of measurements that may be taken or imposing point-value “penalties” for going back to take another measurement can be used to increase the level of detail needed in planning before work begins. Placing time limits on individual elements of the process or requirements to perform one task before the next can be initiated can be used to teach students about critical path analysis and other strategies for project mangement.
Always include a “lessons learning” closing for each task, so that students can share what worked, what did not, and what they would like to try next time. In the parlance of the Boy Scouts, this is the “Start, Stop, and Go On” analysis but works well in almost any class setting for group work.