Q&A with Jacob Segil

Our Department of Education, in addition to teaching hordes of inventors of all ages how to understand and play with embedded electronics, is often hard at work writing and co-authoring materials so other educators can pick up where we leave off. Over the past year, they’ve been collaborating with Jacob Segil who, when not an Engineering Education Specialist consulting with SparkFun, is on the College of Engineering faculty at CU Boulder. Together, they’ve released and piloted two brand new curricula aimed at collegiate and high school students. We talked to Jacob a bit about his involvement, and his findings after the initial program.

Hi Jacob! How did the curriculum partnership with SparkFun come about?

There has always been a strong collaboration between SparkFun and the Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory (ITLL) at CU Boulder. The ITLL is a renowned teaching facility in the College of Engineering. We have shown improved retention rates in the College of Engineering for students who take a particular class called First Year Projects (GEEN 1400) over a 20-year dataset. Motivated by these findings, we wanted to provide a similar experience to other engineering students who may not have a facility like the ITLL. SparkFun’s products, particularly the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit, allows any classroom to become a laboratory. We combined these two strengths into semester-long curricula based on the First Year Projects course using only SparkFun products.

Who does the curriculum target (age range, etc.), and what type of classes is it best adapted for?

There are two curricula:

1) the SparkFun “Introduction 2 Design” course is meant for collegiate engineering students of any major. The course is best suited for underclassmen (freshman and sophomores) and can be taught with class sizes ranging from 15 - 45 students.

2) the SparkFun “Introduction 2 Design - High School” is meant for 9-12th graders. Depending on the high school, the course can be taught as a technical elective and/or as part of the science curriculum, with class sizes ranging from 15-45 students.

What did the pilot test of the curriculum entail and how did it go?

We piloted both the collegiate and high school versions of the curriculum during the Spring 2015 semester. The collegiate course was piloted at CU Boulder by Professor Michael Walker in his section of COEN 1410 (15 students). The pilot went very well. The course included engineering students as well as students from non-engineering majors, and everyone showed tremendous growth in both technical skills (soldering, programming, manufacturing, etc.) and design-based thinking. The high school course was piloted at Centarus High School in Lafayette, CO, in several classrooms. This pilot also went very well. Nick Cady taught four sections of a freshmen “Introduction to Engineering” (117 students), and Ann Root taught two sections of a sophomore “Introduction to Computer Science” course (38 students). All students described an increased knowledge about engineering and appreciated the problem solving experience. Both instructors were impressed with what their students achieved by the end of the curriculum.

If you’re curious about the findings from the initial curricula run, the paper and presentation Jacob submitted to the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) conference last summer describing the high school pilot results is below. For more information on the Department of Education’s curriculum work, or to find out how you can use SparkFun’s coursework in your school, contact education@sparkfun.com.

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