Electronics Tutorial Helps Parents & Teachers Gain Deeper Understanding

Click on this icon at the top left of the webpage to access the tutorial.

Click on this icon at the top left of Paul Mirel’s webpage to access the tutorial.

As exciting makerspaces spring up all over the place, I wonder how much attention is given to leveling the makerspace playing field in order to ensure that everyone in a 21st Century group, class, or school community has the basic knowledge for exploring and innovating.

Take understanding basic electricity, for instance. At a conference that I attended last year — an amazing event filled with countless  maker opportunities —  some people seemed to understood electricity’s basics and lots of others did not. The people without the knowledge, the “have-nots,” frequently appeared to lurk on the periphery of projects.

A friend and former colleague, physics teacher Paul Mirel, recently developed an introductory electronics tutorial for his art students at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, MD. It’s written in a way that is easy to understand and also easy to follow. He thinks that his students need an elementary understanding of basic electronics if they are to fine tune their maker skills. Check it out!              

Paul Mirel, a Spacecraft Systems Engineer for a NASA project in Observational Cosmology offered these comments.

There is a big gap between engineering education and maker community work. Makers work with electronics with very little to no understanding of them at all, repeating what somebody else did verbatim. They have no recourse when their circuits don’t work. Electrical engineers learn all about circuit theory, but they have a hard time explaining circuits to people with no background.

I wrote these lessons for the art students that I teach at MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. I am the Visiting Engineer there. I teach engineering skills to them, to help them make art that does what they want it to. Art students are great, because they are fearless when it comes to trying new ideas in pursuit of their vision. A little physics and basic electrical theory go a long way with them, as long as it comes with something they build and test themselves. This is true of the general population, too. That’s what the page is for.

The situation we find the world in now (runaway global warming) will only be solved by engineering. The more that non-engineering people understand about engineering, the better policies and social constructs and engineering solutions we will all come up with. I want to democratize engineering. People should know, in my view, at least the basic principles of how their cell phones work.

I learned a lot working my way through the unit. You can too.

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