This paper discusses the use of hands-on STEM laboratory and project activities to engage the following STEM constituents (a) pK-12 STEM students (b) pK-12 STEM educators, and (c) first-year engineering students in undergraduate degree programs. Hands-on laboratory and project-based experiences are deemed to be among the most effective means to introduce and reinforce STEM-related concepts. The constituents identified as pK-12 students are introduced to aspects of engineering design, assembly, test, and validation. The faculty from undergraduate engineering programs interact with pK-12 students either by organizing visits to the engineering laboratories and/or travel to the STEM schools to demonstrate engineering projects as well as engage the pK-12 students in engineering laboratory activities. The duration of each laboratory activity is approximately sixty minutes.
The constituents identified as pK-12 STEM educators are engaged in structured project activities using a workshop setting. During the ninety-minute duration of the workshop project activities ranging from simple resistive circuit configurations to advanced transistor and RF circuits are first outlined, then assembled and tested by the educators. Through participation in this workshop, the STEM educators gain the opportunity to identify new and/or revise laboratory activities within their pK-12 STEM curriculum. Through these activities, pK-12 educators can introduce and teach pK-12 STEM students the use of engineering technology to solve engineering problems with design and cost constraints. The workshop provides (a) an overview of necessary and sufficient detail of STEM concepts that would apply to the chosen project activities (b) application of these concepts through hands-on project-based laboratory activities. The participants are not required to or expected to know advanced concepts in circuits and electronics. The workshop provides the experiences necessary to link the theory to practice through assembly of the electronic circuit and experimental observations. The survey questionnaire administered upon conclusion of each project activity provides the feedback necessary to assess each project activity and the overall process.
The constituents in the category of first-year engineering students experience hands-on STEM-centered electrical and computer engineering (ECE) laboratory activities in the critical entry-level course, First-Year Seminar in Engineering. The short duration of the session is fifty-five minutes or one class period. The ECE activities comprise the design, assembly, test, and validation of the (a) electronic timer circuit, and (b) digital logic gate circuits. The students use electronic circuit assembly kits which consume less time on the assembly process and enable them to focus more on the purpose of their actions and the capture of the desired outcomes. Since these students are just being introduced to the disciplines of engineering, the laboratory experiences are driven more by their powers of observation i.e. following the ‘seeing is believing’ paradigm rather than any rigorous analysis of the circuit and its outcomes. Subsequent engineering courses are expected to address the M in STEM.
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