By: Edgar Saavedra
In Elementary school, I joined the lego robotics team which only consisted of a handful of children. I did basic programming with Lego Mindstorms and understood simple circuits. I attended the tinkerer club run by my science teacher and jumped at the opportunity to learn about electronics. In middle school I couldn’t continue robotics or programming; most middle schools didn’t provide that as courses or extracurriculars. In High School, there were more options such as Robotics clubs or engineering classes but the parts used were efficient and required only minimal knowledge about circuitry. I wanted to have experience before college and I hadn’t worked with Arduino or circuit boards.
This summer in High School I heard about Bluestamp Engineering, an engineering summer program that allows students to build a project of their choosing, from scratch. When my friend told me about it, I was excited because it was everything I wanted in one program. Bluestamp gave the resources, experienced instructors, project-based learning, and I wanted to work individually on a project I was passionate about.
I was expecting the program to be held in person but BlueStamp switched to remote learning due to COVID-19. I was hesitant about the switch but I was still excited. Before the first day, students made build plans which list the major steps required to complete our projects. For my project I chose the “Phone Controlled Robot Arm” and I wanted to modify it to be gesture-controlled as well.
This project seemed impossible to me at first and I didn’t have much knowledge of microcontrollers such as Arduino and Particle. The milestones helped me get started and taught me how to focus on one step at a time. I received a box in the mail of electrical parts such as circuit boards, microcontrollers, sensors, and lots of other smaller parts. I joined the zoom call and was greeted by the instructors and all the other students. We were assigned an instructor in groups of 4-5. The instructors helped us set up websites that would serve to present our results, milestones, and document our steps.
At first, I needed more guidance because some concepts were unfamiliar or completely new to me. This could be something like, how power supplies worked, Ohm’s law, why an issue was occurring, or just what and how a certain part I received work. As I progressed in my project, I solved problems on my own and learned to assess problems or bugs.
Whenever I encountered bugs I would first try to find out what exactly the problem was. For example, on the first test of the robot arm. The arm was jittery and sometimes unresponsive, it worked completely fine at times so I concluded it wasn’t a problem with the code. The servos also weren’t broken so it had to be a problem with the circuit or wiring. I double-checked the wiring and deduced that the power was probably the issue. I tested with other power supplies and saw that some worked better than others. In order to fix the problem, I needed a power supply with a higher voltage. Other times I changed the code or wiring to see what it did to the situation and making inference off the outcomes. Problems like these continued happening and this process of finding the solution started to come naturally and allowed me to continue working.
Project-Based Learning at Bluestamp allowed me to think critically and analyze problems. Instead of a lecture, I got to learn from experience, which is priceless, especially in engineering. Not only do I have the knowledge, but I have also learned how to properly communicate the product or results.
Using my student website I can document my milestones and write out the steps I took to reach. In order to clearly convey my results and steps, I have to take the audience into consideration. In my milestone video, I use simple easier to understand terms that still show how I went about reaching my goal. In the description, I can add more details that could help other engineers that are doing a similar project. This communication skill is crucial in the real world when discussing endeavors or products to other scientists, potential customers, or investors.
Although BlueStamp has switched to remote learning, it is as effective as in person. The program is now available to everyone. I gained the knowledge and skills to continue my project and pursue new projects. Motivation and passion can’t be taught but it can be inspired through project-based learning and allowing students to work on something they can call their own. Skills can be gained faster through experience and by working past obstacles. Schools should try to implement project-based learning and more science classes should be available for students. This is my experience but I can tell from my peers at BlueStamp, that everyone shares the same passion for a certain subject.
For more, see:
- 5 Ways PBL Set a Clearer Vision for my Career Aspirations
- STEM Projects in Active Learning Spaces at Samueli Academy
- How a STEAM-Integrated Environment is the Classroom Makeover You Really Need
Edgar Saavedra is a rising senior at Browning High School. He is interested in pursuing a career in mechanical engineering.
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